On a visit to the Photo Fence, where the writing and photographic works of grade-school children were displayed, I notice an essay and some pictures of flowers glued to a poster board by a small girl. The pictures were of several small clusters of flowers in a bed littered with flakes of paint peeling from a gray, weathered house. The essay described the condition of the house and neighborhood at night. The little girl couldn't sleep because of gunfire in the neighborhood, and she was afraid because her older brother and father weren't getting along. Her brother had recently purchased a gun. The flowers, like a dependable pet, may have been the little girl's only security in the world.
Her essay communicated more about the neighborhood and the condition of her life than any sociologist's statistical analysis of the average income, crime rate and infant mortality rate ever could.
There are many important forms of communication and expression that are not well-recognized. I want to ensure that we bring credibility to ideas, however unconventional, that represent the interests of individuals seeking a better quality of life and help us understand problems in our society.
It is important to understand and appreciate many diverse cultures as they interact daily. I read of a public school in New Jersey where African American and East Indian children could not get along and many of them spent their time and energy harassing each other. A Black child called an Indian child "dirty Hindu" and chased the girl home. In school, where it seemed children had the best chance to learn from each other and avoid the prejudices of more selfish people, the opportunity evaded them. Because the conflicts arose from paranoia over religious differences and economics, the parents' were manifesting their own intolerance and ignorance in their children.
Local Economies and Cultures
From Dr. B.A. Turner, of Texas Southern University, I learned that the economy is not one thing to all people; it is something different to each person. Different people have different experiences that are guided by their local economy and their culture. The inability of some people to understand and accept cultural values of other people can create tension in a community.
Minister Louis Farrakhan made a speech at the University of Houston in which he called for Blacks to support Black-owned businesses. His call for this type of activism was labeled racist by many of his critics. But, as was indicated by B.A. Turner, the mostly-Black Third Ward community neighboring the universities needed to increase its number of Black-owned businesses to strengthen the economics of the neighborhood.
Strong local economies make stronger communities, whether in Mexico, small German towns in the Texas Hill Country, or Houston's historic wards. The way local economies thrive is for those who live in them to be able to earn their money locally, and to spend it at locally-owned businesses whenever possible. When an inordinate amount of services and goods must be purchased outside the area, a growing financial imbalance occurs. A greater portion of local income is lost.
Many neighborhoods in Houston are racially diverse. Other cultures sometimes have different methods and motives in business operations and locals, as potential patrons, must decide what values they support. Houstonians hold tremendous power to improve communities through their spending habits. The old "locally owned and operated" sign should be a great asset for any business with a good product or service to sell. Local people should want to support their efforts. Hopefully, all Houstonians can see that Houston's diversity of cultures can make local communities better and more interesting.
Resource for Communication
The Internet is a concept that many hope to prosper from. Many powerful companies will utilize it thoroughly to generate higher revenue. It is also an electronic vehicle for communication. Most any message can be delivered through the wires. More people are gaining access to the Internet, though there is still an enormous gap. The "digital divide" is a growing concern because the Internet is such a powerful tool that communities without significant access to it will be left without the understanding of many new technologies and will lack opportunities for education.
An important goal for the Houston Institute for Culture is to connect Internet users to organizations and individuals with valuable ideas and information to share. It is important to make cultural and educational information available where it may be very limited or lost in the frivolous or self-indulgent world of the Internet. And it is important to demonstrate worthwhile uses of the Internet.
If you like some of these concepts, or feel you have important ideas to contribute, please send me an email at email@example.com. My plan for the organization is to make the communication of folk artists, community activists, civic leaders and academicians available on an equal and accessible level through the Internet and other means.
Thanks for visiting and supporting us. Please return to see us soon.
Mark D. Lacy
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