Tuesday, January 24, 2012

"Get to NoMi" Gets Real on Facebook

Post and photo by the Hawthorne Hawkman.

Today is "New Member Monday" over on the Get to NoMi Facebook page, so if you haven't yet joined in, now's your chance to see what the buzz is all about.  And the page has been buzzing quite a bit lately.  Shortly after the tragic shooting death of Terrell Mayes Jr, a community brainstorming session was organized by several NoMi residents and announced on the eponymous page.  The event went quite well overall, with everyone treating each other with civility and respect while we came up with as many ideas as possible to combat the problems that led to an innocent child losing his life to gun violence.

Up until the event was posted, Get to NoMi had primarily been used as a forum to promote real estate sales, local businesses, and an overall feel-good sentiment of north Minneapolis.  In other words, at least from my perspective, it was boring milquetoast.  I rarely checked the page, and usually when I did it was to reset a huge number of Facebook notifications.  Maybe the page had its uses, but I didn't find much value there.

Since the brainstorming session, subscribers to the page have increased by several hundred and now over 1,400 "like" this part of Facebook.  We started to talk about why it was that there was a much higher representation of people of color and renters at the vigil, but the brainstorming session was made up mostly of white homeowners.  That kind of question is essential to tackle if we're going to do a better job of engaging everyone, but too often when we try to discuss it somebody says something that offends someone else and before you know it...

...people were on the topic of racism.  In my experience nerds at Comic Con events arguing about whether the Starship Enterprise could beat the Millenium Falcon have something in common with people discussing race in NoMi.  Namely, if you care enough to engage then at some point you are going to be offended.  And it didn't take long for that to happen.  It also didn't take long for me to offend someone and for that favor to be returned.

For quite a while, conversations quickly devolved into unproductive name-calling.  But tempers largely calmed down, helped in part by a few excellent blog posts by NoMi activist Neeraj Mehta.  I remain immensely grateful for Neeraj's calming presence in the dialogue.  My approach to tough discussions is to just get the difficult things out in the open, and if I have to be the one that people are angry at for saying something, well at least it's out in the open.

The problem with my approach is that it's pretty easy to start of thinking "This is what everybody already thinks but nobody says, so I'm putting it out there," and then transition into "I'm coming off as a total jerk and I don't even realize it."  I'm thankful for someone who can articulate what we face as a community better than I could have, and I hope that dialogue continues both online and especially in person, where it will be much more meaningful.

(The Millenium Falcon is way better than the Enterprise, if anyone doesn't already know that, by the way.)

The question at hand over on Get to NoMi is where exactly that conversation continues to happen.  Some of the NoMi page members who have been around for a long time complained that all these new topics - which at least from my perspective did have some bona fide craziness at times - were diluting what was the original intent of the page.  They felt they couldn't use it to promote "NoMi" as a community or as a brand because of the contentious nature of some of the posts, and were looking for those topics to be addressed elsewhere.

After much thought, I disagree.  "Get to NoMi" is in a state of evolution.  New people are coming on board and older members are paying more attention than they had in a while.  Anytime something of this size changes, we will lose some members.  But more and more people are joining every day, and they're joining because of what the page currently is and what it might become.  I read the posts and comments much more frequently now than I did before.  I do so because even when I don't agree with the content, it's real and it's relevant, and therefore immeasurably more interesting.

8 comments:

  1. I will take a wild guess and say that Al(you don't bring me)Flowers anymore was at the meeting. Nothing like a retard playing the racist maniac card.

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  2. From what I have seen Neeraj is a great person to have in the community. More proof!

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  3. I absolutely love it. I totally agree that the dialogue has been messy and at times insulting, but from that, an amazing thing has begun to emerge - people are interacting who never otherwise would interact. The way I've seen race play out in North Minneapolis seems to be that a few loud and vocal folks call out race issues at a well attended meeting. And then everyone goes back to their own bases to discuss with others like themselves what they thought, with white people typically saying they were "playing the race card."

    That's how I think a lot of people saw the Get to NoMi page heading. That's what I thought too. But the amazing thing that happened was that people didn't just throw out "parting shots" like at community meetings and walk away. They kept engaging and engaging and engaging with one another about these issues. Whether they agree with one another or not, through that process, they are building relationships with one another. At least at the next community meeting when these folks walk into a room they are going to feel a connection with one another because of all of their dialogue on this page. They are going to feel in a small way that they actually know each other. And they will. That is what community really is. This page is actually starting to look more like the real Northside community than I ever would have given it credit for.

    I never "liked" that page before because it seemed very "contrived" and not at all like the actual community. And to be honest, there is trade mark ownership that I find to be very off putting. When I heard that the brain storming session was being organized by this group, the first thing I did was look at its membership. I rolled my eyes and thought "Yup, a whole bunch of middle class white people are going to get together to make themselves feel better." We are not even getting anywhere near the issues underlying these kind of events if we are not engaging with the black community. I didn't go to that event for that specific reason.

    Even if the race discussions are raw and members are not in agreement, I respect this continual engagement and hashing of issues over the "parting shots and everyone going back to their own bases" format that has existed up until now. And I will take the rawness of these discussions over nauseating political correctness any day of the week. I now stand with a changed opinion about the group. I am more hopeful that Get to NoMi will become an actual REAL community building tool instead of the "make believe" one it has been to this point. Not in a million years would I have thought it would ever mature to this point. I'm finally going to "like" this group.

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  4. @Anon 7:42, Al Flowers was not in attendance. I was part of the group that helped conduct the meeting, and we were prepared for that kind of disruption. We set some ground rules right at the start, and people were quite respectful. Nobody had to be asked to behave in a more civil fashion.

    Also, please do not use "retard" in that manner again if future comments are to be approved.

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  5. Yes, what a horrible comparison to make regarding the handicapped!

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  6. I agree with Anon 7:40pm, developmentally disabled people do NOT deserve to be compared to Al You Don't Bring Me Flowers Anymore.

    ;-)

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  7. Ummm... What about the gorram Serenity, huh, Hawkman? ;)

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  8. In regard to the Falcon versus the Enterprise:

    While I think Star Wars is superior to Star Trek, that's like saying a PT boat is superior to an aircraft carrier. If I'm up against serious alien firepower, I'd want the Enterprise backing me up. I mean, didn't the Falcon spend a whole lot of time RUNNING and HIDING?

    On another topic...

    Cameras, cameras, and more cameras. Whoever shot that kid would be in custody right now if their likeness had been captured by a camera. Besides the cameras, we need people MANNING the cameras, not just having them passively record. (Though passively recording is better than nothing) Since we can't afford to pay that many people, we need a core of volunteers.

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