Let Us Dream

We sat in the most empty classroom, some Dunkin Donuts coffee in hand and a white board. To my left sat long-time Syracuse stakeholder Mark, and at the white board with marker in hand stood Jamison, one of the newest arrivals to the not-for-profit tables. And then there was me, perched on the middle ground between newbie and seasoned, still learning the ropes yet increasingly aware of the terrain we are navigating. 

Our task is one of the best collaborative efforts I have had the chance to build in the last eight years in the community. Three invested organizations saying, "We can't do this alone. Let's do it together." Northside Learning Center, RISE and Hopeprint are each focused on the post-resettlement season with refugee families, spanning from 91 days to 5 years in country. While our programs and initiatives differ, we share a common ultimate goal: Each New American resettled in our city would be able to live into their full potential, to thrive. 

To varying degrees based on our tenure in this community, we each had witnessed the beauty, struggle, capacity, barriers and all that thrust our friends towards a thriving life, or prevent its pursuit. We know that for many of our friends, even the concept of dreaming and goals are as new as the ABCs to a toddler. How can one thrive if they cannot even hope it? How can they even hope it if they cannot even imagine it? How can they imagine it if they have not witnessed or experienced it? How can they witness it if they have lived in survival? 

The ability to dream is far too often a mark of relative wealth. It is a luxury that comes from having enough imagination left after bellies are fed, tongues are quenched, babies aren't being bitten by bed bugs, and the sound of gunshots do not awaken the dead of night. To dream, to engage the broader world, to advocate, to inspire... these are beautiful gifts. To take the journey with a survivor to the splendor of a dream is remarkable. 

It is a journey that tells stories like 7th and 8th grade students Ky and Woonequia who rang my doorbell as the sun is setting for the evening yesterday. They had a notebook in hand and a dream in mind that they could be a part of a movement on behalf of others. "Miss Nicole, can we have a Black Lives Matter picnic? Like for people of your race and all races to come together? Can we raise money for people who need it? Can you help us?" 

It is a journey that takes a top-down conversation about highway infrastructure, and determines to forge a different conversation about transportation needs in the most populated neighborhood in the impacted city. It demands to have silenced voices heard not by screaming but by organizing and dreaming together. 

It is a journey that welcomes a small group of English language learners into a classroom this afternoon where there are backpacks provided to them by local businesspeople, and teachers ready to walk with them. It is a new neighbor's delight when she put on her backpack and finds the few English words she knows to express her excitement, "Bag no... now yes!"

It is a journey in which those who were once the newcomer and the student are now leaders in 6 out of 9 programs this semester. Watching their eyes light up when they are asked to take on this responsibility, and the beautiful way in which they own the role. 

It is walking the house with our exterminator Brandon this afternoon as he recounted, from his perspective, the very first day he came to spray for bedbugs in what was then a new adventure. In his bi-monthly visits, he has watched this dream morph and grow, and gets to be a part of it being possible. 

It is in hearing the way that the stories of my friends impact those watching them via parents at a suburban middle school tonight. Parent after parent sharing how their child came home so excited to be meet these new friends from around the globe, and to be a people who leave their hopeprint on the world. 

I may be a little biased, but I am pretty sure I have one of the best jobs in the world. I get to stand back and watch amazing people use their skills, talents and stories integrated with those around them to foster a people of hope empowered to thrive. Young black activists, seasoned stakeholders, exterminators, suburban families, city planners, teachers, former refugees... these are the characters of my last 48 hours. 

As these characters in this shared story dream together that highway infrastructures, public schools, urban neighborhoods, policing, language learning, economic opportunity and more could be of, for and by the people, rhetoric moves from dreams to plans. As we reimagine space, neighborhood and possibilities together for our mutual thriving, communities change.

The world is full of problems, and low-to-moderate income neighborhoods have the unfortunate experience of bearing them in an exasperated way. When one walks these streets, tries to advocate in community meetings and push towards a better future, it is easy to grow disillusioned.

There is a narrow road that leads towards hope. It journeys through dreaming birthed out of witnessing sparks of possibility. Yet, in most cases sparks fizzle unless met by parched tinder, which is almost always produced out of death of what was once a living thing. When sparks of possibility encounter seemingly insurmountable problems, dreamers bear witness to the fire not as a fear to be escaped, but a possibility to be fostered. Problems foster dreaming to those who are willing to lean into them.

Young black activists, seasoned stakeholders, exterminators, suburban families, city planners, teachers, former refugees and others are learning in. Will you? Let us dream together.