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Wednesday, April 16, 2008


Back in 1968-1969 times were scary on the Hilltop and that's when I got my first lessons in being frequently under attack... because I was black. I kid you not. I who knew nothing (that's .0000000 to infinity)about civil rights/open housing/interracial dating/guns and drugs and corruption... found myself way, way over my head.

I remember one time coming to a meeting of the Human Rights Commission and watching one of the folks from a local station that loved to label folks Commies and revolutionaries who needed to either start loving their country or going back where they came from was putting various bits of broadcasting paraphenalia away. As he bent over, his suit coat raised up just high enough for me to focus in on a big, black pistol he had in his back pocket.

Believe me, by the time I got ready to move on for future studies, I had gotten labeled "troublemaker," "Commie," (to this very hour I really don't get what Karl Marx was trying to say... more than that, I never read more than three pages of anything he wrote, so I am not about to get in a big critique of Marxism, Sputnik, Kruscheov, "tear these walls down," or Putin ) by that radio station.

And the principal of Bellarmine at that time, my friend, Justin Seipp, let me listen to a blistering afternoon phone call as some man I did not know went on and on about how I should not be permitted to teach one more class and should be fired immediately... So, here in Tacoma, because of my love for the people of Hilltop, I got my first lesson in the old proverb, "if you're black, get back."

Tuesday I decided to take a late morning walk on the Top and this is what I saw:
The creativity of this wonderful garden, the various items there just held my attention

And I wondered about the laughter and sadness, the dreams crushed and the hopes fullfilled that had been experienced by the people who took time to welcome others into their world with this garden.

The power of the faithful who, day after day, came to this church, to give praise to God together.

One of the great sadnesses of so many urban churches are the number of funerals of young people who have been cruelly killed take place each year. I caught myself recalling moments of wonder and awe and sorrow I had experienced in different churches over the years. I am so thankful for the sincere hard working women and men who keep keeping on.

I recalled the welcoming smiles and the wonderful dishes I had seen the last time I came to this vegetarian restaurant.

I found myself hoping that the restaurant was daily crowded to overflowing by hungry people. Restaurant business is one tough work and the only way one succeeds in it is by cheerfully and consistently supporting people in feeling accepted and respected.

Any of you know Mr. Tom Dixon? He and Justin Seipp are two of the people who got me through 68-69. Justin kept inviting me to come and spend time with his friends...
cool, cool, determined people who wanted to make Tacoma a loving place for everyone.

Tom freed me up when he was director of the Urban League-- gave me a notebook and a pin and told me to go knock on doors and ask people what they needed

Thank you Justin; thank you Tom...

Then I decided to just stand on the corner of one of the busy streets there and let things happen. It was a bright, chilly morning... I was shivering and smiling and laughing and crying and thanking God for all the people who helped me to grow during my first hard years walking the streets of Hilltop...

I shall come here again and again. This is a good place for me and so many other people to just be ourselves. I hope you find some time to wander the Hilltop. Lots of good people here, who would welcome you to their churches, their shops, and hopefully, into their lives..

Ah... Martin King and 15th on a chilly spring day... JUST ABSOLUTELY LOVELY

Love to hear stories about your neighborhood...


Stephanie Frieze said...

Since my husband and I moved to Pierce County we have watched Hilltop, anticipating it's renaissance, and been happy to see the neighborhood gradually returning to what was no doubt former glory. As people take pride in their neighborhood it will also become a safer place with a heightened sense of community.

Stephanie Frieze said...

Thanks for the great post, Joseph. It is always lovely to hear the love in your voice.

JosephMcG said...

Thanks, Stephanie... keep me in your good thoughts because I am seeking ways to get deeper into what we all know is the joy/sadness of being America... profit comes before people and I suspect that I shall find many beautitful stories to tell and many sad stories to tell...

And I really do not want the wonderful Hilltop to be my turf... other writers, those who agree with me and those who don't, please use my thinking as a spot for conversation...

Like I said to one patient I was visiting today, "God definitely did not declare me the best thinker on the planet..."

And I just want us to keep walking our talk and talking our walk...


Stephanie Frieze said...

I believe that Hilltop has the potential of being part of the heart of Tacoma as it once was. Its situation is one that speaks to how highly that area was prized in an earlier era. Its ressurection, is it were, speaks to how liveable Tacoma is and how it continues to become an alternative to Seattle for people wanting to live in a city, but not wanting to pay ridiculous prices just to be near the likes of Microsoft!