The Chestnut Hill Local is often referred to as a “community newspaper.” It’s a simple term that defines a straightforward purpose. The Local is a newspaper that was created to cover the community of Chestnut Hill.
The paper’s chief founder, Lloyd Wells, and other businessmen and community leaders at the time – this was in 1957 – realized that a paper was instrumental in keeping community members informed about what was happening in their neighborhood. And in the pre-Internet era, the letters-to-the-editor page operated under a policy that all opinions would be printed, so long as they were not libelous. Published letters were a lot like the sort of back-and-forth, at times toxic, exchanges we now find on social networking sites. If it was happening in Chestnut Hill, you would read about it in the Local. We still strive to make sure that remains the case.
The Local is more significant than a simple news service. Through its stories and its published letters and opinions, the Local, and many other community newspapers like it, do a lot to shape the communities they cover. They reflect that community and help reinforce the community’s understanding of itself. People should say, when they pick up a Local, that “this is my community.”
In the last month, as the nation has taken a harder look at itself and systemic racism, a lot of attention has justifiably been focused on how to do a better job of running our police departments. George Floyd’s killing has created a groundswell of opinion in this country that police use excessive force more often against black people, and movement towards addressing that imbalance is under way. It’s something people in the black community have understood for a long time
Lawmakers will be able to reform the force through legislation, budgeting and training, but it won’t do much to address the underlying factors that support systemic racism. To do that, we can start by looking at how we define community.
In the years I’ve covered community meetings – from planning playgrounds to crime prevention discussions, I have often heard references to “us” and “them.” “They” come to “our community” and do things “we” don’t like. This has never been a majority sentiment at meetings I’ve attended, but it reinforces the otherwise unspoken sentiment that people unlike “us”– which most often refers to race – are “them.” They are not part of the community. They are outside of it.
When we look at our community, what do we see? Do we see everyone in it? When we go to the playground with our kids, to restaurants, to our private schools, our town watch meetings and churches, do we see our community there? Or are we seeing some portion of it that has excluded by accident or design some segment of it?
To get at the root of systemic racism, we have to reconsider what we mean by community. We must redesign it and realize we’ve excluded people and then blamed them for it. It’s going to be a lot harder than reforming the police force. It’s going to require real change from every single one of us.
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