Friday evening a friend casually mentioned that he was attending a fundraiser at a gated home in a gated community. Yes, he said, a walled house within an already walled neighborhood. That same evening I attended the San Bernardino Black Culture Foundation’s Black Rose Awards as a guest of this year’s Humanitarian of the Year honoree Tim Evans, Founder and CEO of the Unforgettables. As I sat among the 500 community members celebrating Tim and the other selfless honorees, I kept thinking of the metaphor of the wall. Earlier that week I had received a message from my husband who was in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. He noted the abundance of high brick walls topped with razor wire that crowned the many walls of the city…walls keeping people in and keeping others out. More talk of walls.
When Patricia Nelson, another Black Rose honoree thanked her neighbor for providing transportation that helped her raise half a million dollars for charity, I thought of Robert Frost’s poem Mending Wall and the opening line “something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” Clearly, the individuals honored Friday night had broken down the walls that had been built up under the guise of keeping others protected. Take Tim Evans for example. He moved beyond the walls of his church as pastor and beyond the walls of the hospital as chaplain, and filled a need by serving grieving families and assisting with burial costs for children. His Unforgettables organization has assisted over 5,000 families, raised over $2 million, and recently hosted a conference to educate parents, caregivers, and the community at large about risks to children’s health and the network of assistance that is available to grieving families who lose a child.
Also honored that evening were others who do not love walls. Angela Brantley, an advocate for underserved, foster, and homeless youth, created a facility where students in need of clothing, shoes, and toiletries can access the basic necessities. Keynasia Buffong makes sure that families are aware of the resources available to them and their children. Pastor Sam Casey’s COPE organization trains parents in community engagement. Arthur and Fredda Davis mentor young adults by teaching them to rebuild automobile engines and transmissions. Walter Hawkins volunteers his time by analyzing census related and other data to change public policy. As superintendent, Dr. Gary Thomas made a visible difference in San Bernardino County schools through his support of faith and community-based organizations. And finally Dwaine Radden is committed to changing the culture of San Bernardino’s young men through the Pop Warner Little Scholars program.
“Good fences make good neighbors,” the neighbor in Frost’s poem tries to remind the speaker as they commence their annual ritual of jointly mending the wall between their property. And like the speaker, I am not convinced. “Before I built a wall I’d ask to know what I was walling in or walling out…Something there is that doesn’t love a wall…that wants it down.” Thanks to people like Friday’s honorees who believe good neighbors are not synonymous with walls, or fences, or barriers of any kind; instead they jump over, tunnel under, or in some cases simply break through.