Communities are built on the will of the people . They should never be built on the backs of the people . Empowerment is the only effective way to make a community prosper .
I was walking in the drizzle of a cool October afternoon in the rough underbelly otherwise known as the heart of Park Extension on my way to La Place Commune , a community organization that just celebrated its 1-year anniversary in August . I had an appointment with one of the managers there, Ana Paula Duran , a Park Ex resident . It was 2.30 on a Saturday afternoon and it was nearing the end ofthe weekly Saturday brunch.A 3-piece band was in the middle of the café playing some experimental jazz . I noticed a big bass , a flute , and an unidentified instrument . I realized who Ana was by the way she seemed to be involved in the whole rhythm of the running of the place . I waited for her and she brought her black bean lunch to a table in the middle of the café . It was loud and we went back to sit by the side of the kitchen . Ana is such a friendly person , and she brings this positivity to everyone in the place . The staff seem dedicated and the patrons , if you will , look content. I’m taken back to a time when I was neck deep in the community stuff . The patrons looked like they were not from the area . As Ana admitted , only part of her target audience is taking advantage of the organization .
Park Extension is a marginalized and segregated place , where people need community projects . This didn’t exist when I was young and growing up here . Ana explains that financing is almost non -existent, but she wouldn’t turn down anice donation from someone with the means . The idea of the community outreach involved here is focused on collective gardening . Thisis different from the city -wide community gardening in that it is communal . People all participate in the growing of the vegetables and use them together . They share where in the community gardening they just have a plot of land to themselves . The collective promotes sustainability. Whereas the community promotes solely individual empowerment, the collective is, ironically, focused on community sharing. As Ana states, the purpose is to empower people by making them feel like they have contributed to the project. To me, this is the bona fide cause and effect of Empowerment 101. The café is also a way of eating great local food and not relying on packaged and processed foods . As I found out a while back , it is very fulfilling for the soul as well as the palate to be able to sit down to a wholly natural meal you helped create .
But the local population , made up heavily of immigrants , whether older European ones or newer Asian ones , seems to be aloof or even unaware of the existence of the place . Some see it as a coffee shop that has nothing to do with them . And therein lies the challenge of getting them involved . They are the heart and soul that Park Extension is made of . They also need to be part of the empowerment process . It’s time to get the word out .
The picture above is of the burnt Greek Orthodox church a few meters from the collective . It is where the Greek community was gathering to feel empowered in the 1960s and beyond . The people need to see the collective as an extension of this . We need to fulfill out soul as well as our body and mind . A sense of community belonging is paramount as opposed to trying to fit in as a square peg .
The show ended and the flutist , a native Californian , came to say goobye to the gang and my talk with Ana was over. His name is Mike and he’s an experimental musician . We spoke of the Chicago Cubs and his love for Montreal . I got up and slowly greeted everyone goodbye .
Associated with the collective is the art hive, an art collective bringing communities together through art. The collective is also available for other community activities .
In short , people in the area need to support the organization that they are fortunate enough to have in their community that provides them with alternatives and new ideas . Above all , it offers a sense of achievement.