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How to build better communities

October 12, 2011 | Midwest Voices

In my Christian faith tradition, we spend a lot of time thanking God for his blessings.. But I've been wondering how many of my blessings are from God and how many are privileges assigned to me by society.

I think of friends who have been exploited by absentee landlords or payday loan shops, deprived of dwindling social resources, or denied access to opportunities for safe, healthy lives because of where they live, where they're from, or the pigment in their skin. They've done nothing to deserve this, and I'm no better than them.

The dominant narrative - the story society tells us - says, "This is the way it is. Don't try to change it." But as people of faith, we can't accept this lie. We are called to change it. And we have the chance to do just that.

At 6:30 p.m., Oct. 18 at Union Station, we all can be among people from around the city who will join together to take a stand during an event called Communities Creating Opportunity Now! During the event, we'll stand together to advocate and work with officials to:

Help pass a ballot issue that would reduce predatory loan interest rates to 36%, (down from a stunning 445%) and support an alternative product to replace payday loans.

Ban mortgage prepayment penalties and initiate mediation to help prevent unnecessary home foreclosures.

Improve access to health care while lowering costs by designating Kansas City as a test site for an innovative program that has improved health care for low-income patients while reducing emergency room visits and costs, and by enrolling all eligible children in existing state children's health insurance programs.

Create opportunities for citizenship, quality education, and safe neighborhoods.

I'll be there because I believe that the way things are may not be our fault, but it is our collective responsibility to make them right.

Where I came from, Prospect and Troost were practically dirty words. What we saw on the news convinced us that we would get shot or witness something terrible by setting foot in the neighborhood. Now these streets feel like home to me because I drive them every day. Instead of being afraid or apathetic, we should be outraged that all members of our metro community don't have access to resources and opportunities that make neighborhoods west of Troost such beautiful places to live.

We have bought into the illusion for far too long that what happens "over there" has nothing to do with us. It does. It matters to all of us that so many of our families don't have access to quality, healthy food and that our students aren't being educated. It affects all of us when kids I work with at the Kansas City Urban Youth Center tell me that evading gun violence, abandoned lots, blighted homes and drug houses is a normal part of growing up.

This should not be normal, and the fact that it is should move us beyond charity toward action.

That's what the Oct. 18 Opportunity Now event is about - standing for solutions to make things right. Join me there, and be part of something that changes people's lives.

Beth Falkenstein is the Student Leadership Coordinator with the Kansas City Urban Youth Center and a volunteer leader with Communities Creating Opportunity (CCO). Visit cco.org for information about Opportunity Now!