By KRISSI HUMBARD — My second-grader recently started learning about community in his social studies class. The dictionary defines community as “a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common” and “a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.”
Living in Hyattsville, though, my son has known the meaning of community since his birth, even if he wasn’t exactly able to define it. He has friends he’s known since he could sit up on his own, kids he plays soccer with year after year, neighbors he sees at rallies and art openings and Vigilante Coffee shop. He knows there are a number of people he could turn to for help, if he needed it.
Community is a group of people living in the same place, yes — but in Hyattsville, it’s more. It’s the neighbors who are there to help when you have a baby or a death in the family; the friends who are there to loan you a coat, a car seat, a cup of sugar; the church members who serve meals to the less fortunate and give them a place to shower; the PTA members who hold coat drives and canned food drives at local schools; the police officers who take local kids shopping for Christmas (and usually end up spending some of their own money doing it); the police chief who takes time to connect with young people and snap selfies with residents; the HNParents group that organizes the HY-Swap and has a listserv with seasoned parents ready to help; the councilmembers who make themselves available to the community during meetings and listen to concerns during Summer Jams and block parties; the mayor who is visible and active in the community and always available for a hug; the people who gather to support local artists and musicians at events; the city staff who are always working to make Hyattsville more inclusive and better for all its residents; it’s the people that walk by your house and smile and say hello, even if they don’t speak your language.
Hyattsville is made up of many small communities, some overlapping. You have your community of close friends, your school community, your business community, your neighbors up the street who wave to you, your church community, the community you see when you visit the coffee shop or the local brewery.
When the world comes crashing at your feet
it’s okay to let others
help pick up the pieces
if we’re present to take part in your happiness
when your circumstances are great
we are more than capable
of sharing your pain
— “Community” by Rupi Kaur
Recently, I witnessed these community groups come together to help a family grieve the death of a fierce 5-year-old girl who passed away from complications after a heart transplant. There were numerous notes, cards, hugs, words of comfort, meals shared. But, at the memorial, the community also came together to celebrate her life. I didn’t know her well, but in her 5 years, Imogen touched so many lives. At her memorial, I heard family, friends and teachers speak about how she was not afraid to speak her mind, brave in the face of her disease, proud of her brothers and family, ready for adventure, loved fairy tales — and how she shook her booty at will. I left the memorial feeling heartbroken, of course, but at the same time, my heart felt full. I was reminded that I should take in the little moments, appreciate the beauty in life, share in the small joys. Witnessing how a little girl brought so many different people together for an afternoon filled me with hope.
I feel grateful that I experience this sense of community in Hyattsville daily. I know that there are so many people I can reach out to for help — whether I need a smile, a kind word, child care, a cup of milk or something bigger. I know how lucky I am to live in a place where neighbors who don’t really know me will go out of their way to help me. I know Hyattsville is special.
In this political climate, on this Thanksgiving Day — and moving forward — I hope we can remember how much we are alike and work to help each other strengthen this sense of community. As you gather around the table today, I hope you remember that we are stronger together, that to survive we need each other and each other’s compassion and charity. May we share our abundance with those who are less fortunate. May we work toward a more united and just tomorrow. Let us focus on the community as a whole, put aside our differences, and concentrate on what connects us as people.