Sunday, August 9, 2009

"don't trust anyone." - jackie, 8/5/09

i am familiar with fear.
but this kind, i had only heard about.

on Wednesday, i experienced it.
i walked back to the barn chugging a new concoction of fear & intrigue.

jackie & elena (below) saved me from the unknown danger that I was in – a danger that I had no idea about. my encounter with them was divine. God literally sent them around the corner and around my way to “interrupt” a conversation I started having with a neighbor down the street.


if you know me, you know that I’m friendly. I like talking to strangers. I’m trusting. I like to engage and hear people’s stories. & I’ve especially been eager to get to know my neighbors here in my new neighborhood.

last wednesday, it finally hit me. I live in “the hood” … it’s a place that I can’t roam freely or run/bike/walk whenever I want … it’s a place where I need to be careful of who I trust and interact with. Unfortunately, that’s just sort of the way it is. It’s what I signed up for when I decided to move here.

it ain’t no Palo Alto anymore, sista.

I’m in East Palo Alto now. A new city. A new county. A new demographic and class. A new dynamic of social injustice that i haven't had be aware of. now, it’s my town. It’s my home. & I believe it’s just the beginning of observing and understanding the powers at play that cause this place to be a place of fear, danger, violence. And at the very same time, a place of hope, community, & love.

I get it now. Choosing to live somewhere makes the problems of that place your own. It’s not just “that community’s unfortunate situation.” That “community” you’re referring to is now mine– all of it – the joys and the mess that comes with living in an (sub)urban poor neighborhood.

I had come home later than usual from work that night, and decided I needed to take a walk to shake some life into my body from all the sitting I did. A simple walk to and through the baylands…and o yes, I’ll take my camera. I’ve wanted to shoot around my neighborhood. My gut told me: 1)be careful. 2)take your ID only. 3)don’t be out too long. 4)put your camera in a bag. My gut also forgot to tell me… “stay home, it’s gonna be dark soon.” (ha!)

I was halfway down the block, when I stopped to take pictures of an abandoned lot. There was a beauty in the abandonment that I saw and wanted to capture. A man came out of his home and asked me what I was doing. He was big(ger) than me; maybe 5’11” and heavier set. I got a weird vibe, but oddly still wanted to engage.

It was probably about 30 seconds later that Jackie and her 15 month old daughter walked over and said hello. She was drinking beer out of a Gatorade bottle, and told me about the street and how dangerous it is….and that even though she grew up around the corner, she still gets scared to walk down the street at night. She went on about the evil and dangers of EPA...meanwhile, the man was still lingering around.

Call me dense, but I wasn’t picking up on the cue. Jackie finally says, “I’ll walk you home” and gives me a wink. It hits me; I’m supposed to go with her. So, I take a couple more snaps and then we walk/talk together. The man slowly walks away as we walk back to the farm.

Jackie tells me that she was going to go the other direction, but felt like God told her she needed to go the other way, and down my street. "Do you understand, God sent me this direction." She goes on warn me about the dangers of being here and share some of her story with me, including: almost being killed by her boyfriend, the death of a baby, another horrible relationship, and the miracle of her baby Elena that brought fresh tears to her worn eyes.

She imparted some of her lessons learned, street smarts, and clear direction about what not to do next time – or ever again. Jackie invited me to her god-parents' home on the 2000 block of pulgas ave. as a safe place to go where "there ain't no trouble there." We hugged and departed ways.

I walked back to the barn, alarmed. My heart was caught off guard. It was fully open, ready to receive, ready to give … yet jolted into a new reality - neither good nor bad - just new. This encounter has changed me.

I’m in a city that needs a lot of love, commitment, & prayer for healing and justice.


honestly, i’m kinda scared and am reflecting on what it means to make home here. i have no plans on moving out.away.far.escaping. this place. most people try to get out of the "ghetto" and escape all the dangers that come with being in such a place, but what drew me to move here has seized my attention once again and is shedding light on a facet i did not know existed.

this experience has caused two realizations:
1. i must have a rightful fear and respect for these streets i live on.
2. documenting life on the farm is a beautiful thing, but it does not capture all of it's beauty unless the context in which it dwells, is represented (i.e. the city/people/culture of EPA)

so, welcome to this journey.
i hope that the discovery of all the facets of this place ultimately illuminates the beauty of this gem of a city....and that in seeing that beauty, we are all changed.


  1. glad to hear you are learning street smarts. Another one - never ever leave anything of value in your car ever!

  2. i am grateful that jackie came into your life at the right place, right time. :)


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