In August, we successfully launched the first in a series of community dinners — Who is my neighbor? — at the College Park United Methodist Church. The dinners serve as an invitation to all people in our community; we want to meet you. In this not yet post-pandemic time, there appears to be a need to connect with people, in general, but also the opportunity to learn more about our community. We often hear expressions of pride about the diversity of College Park, but what do we know about the people who live here? Have we stopped to think about the needs that some of our fellow neighbors might be experiencing? What unfulfilled dreams and talents have yet to be met? Is there anyone suffering in silence, feeling not counted for and devalued?
In my recent studies about people and community, I came across an inspiring word: “sawubona.” It is a Zulu greeting which means I see you. Sawubona conveys the importance of recognizing the worth and dignity of each person. It says, “I see the whole of you — your experiences, your passions, your pain, your strengths and weaknesses, and your future. You are valuable to me.” Every person deserves and desires to be treated with dignity. And when we see people, we also listen. A Chinese definition of listening implies seeing, hearing and healing. Each of us has a need to be heard and understood.
Our dinner series — Who is My Neighbor? — calls for us to create moments to celebrate with people our common humanity. The focus of these events is to bring people together around food, social justice and care. We reached out to the neighborhood across social and economic lines. We sought to create a safe gathering place where people felt respected, honored and celebrated. Furthermore, we worked to promote dialogue between our local leaders, community members and resource organizations.
In my opinion, people are important, and when we treat them accordingly, we create inclusive communities. As an immigrant from Paraguay, South America, coming to the U.S. was a childhood dream of mine. Though raised in a different culture and speaking a different language, I discovered very quickly that there were more similarities than differences among people — I saw my humanity in others. When I relocated to College Park, I easily identified with my neighbors.
Earlier this year, I opened the College Park Here & Now newspaper for the first time; I felt a further sense of community and was proud to live here. I fully enjoyed the pieces I read and thought to myself, “I’ll call the newspaper and volunteer to translate some of the articles – some of my neighbors may enjoy them.” To my surprise, several months later, I was invited to join the Streetcar Suburbs Publishing board of directors. And now, I am humbled to provide this little piece on my thoughts on community. Stay tuned, as the paper is working on making a Spanish version available.