Wednesday, July 20, 2011

From SafeZones for ShalomZones in Macon

City of Shalom

“Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age–old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.”  —Isaiah 58:12

Macon, GA.  Mayor Robert Reichert had a vision for "safe zones" in his city until he heard about how to create "shalom zones" in specific neighborhoods where community leaders are willing to come together and rebuild.  

See video clip:   http://www.cityofmacon.net/node/12394

“When I heard about Shalom Zones I thought it was a perfect fit.  How you ask the neighbors what want and empower the residents to join together.  And then you bring municipal government into the picture to connect the resources,” the Mayor told a reporter.

The Mayor invited Communities of Shalom, based at Drew, to offer Shalom Zone Training to city and community leaders in 2009.  After six months of training, led by Annie Allen, five new shalom sites were organized and began working for transformation in their neighborhoods. Drew sent Shalom interns to Macon for the past three summers to work with the Mayor.  

This summer, Drew assigned  Ieisha Hawley-Marion, one of six current shalom interns, spent six weeks in Macon working with shalom zones out of the Mayor’s Office.  “Shalom is the kind of community outreach where you can tap into the assets of a community, tap into the love of that community, and connect all the groups,” she explained to Drew video-journalist Ted Johnsen who did a feature on Macon Shalom Zones which aired on the local news and posted on the city’s website : http://www.cityofmacon.net/node/12394

On that same online news feature, Dr. Michael Christensen, National Director of Communities of Shalom, explained how it works:  “Shalom Teams, representing different sectors of a community, form coalitions that take on a particular issue and together work to raise the quality of life in the community.” Local residents and city agencies together are identifying houses and buildings in blighted neighborhoods that need to be demolished and replaced with new and affordable housing for local residents.  New community gardens with active and motivated volunteers testify to community transformation in areas where shalom is active. It’s a model of how city governments and grass-roots community leaders can work together to transform urban neighborhoods.

According to Mayor Reichert: “Some of the critics say it will never work, but we’re in the process of showing how it can work and will work.”   

Ieisha elaborates on this element of resistance: “My assignment has come during a time when there is a heated political battle over the re-election of the Mayor. I have observed courageous people counting the cost to create peace in the community.  When you decide to stand up and follow the spirit of Christ in broken environments, much resistance comes your way and tires to invalidate your purpose. Mayor Reichert’s initiative to revive a broken city has some opposition, yet he still stands and is set on creating a city of shalom regardless of what others say. His objective is to create safe environments or shalom zones at whatever cost.  The city has waged war against drug lords and gang leaders, demolishing abandoned properties and homes controlled by vandals and looters, “repairing broken walls and restoring streets with dwellings.”(Isa. 58:12)

“For example, in one of our shalom zones there is a family of 24 which formed when the four adult parents were incarcerated and all their children left behind to care and raise themselves.  Lacking social service assistance, leaders of the shalom zone lent their support and help.  In this particular neighborhood, over 75 % of the homes are abandoned and boarded up, but bridge hope from systemic poverty to a healthy community is being built. Also, I worked in a summer camp with 75 children from challenging homes in the city of Macon.  Representing all ethnic groups, they were brought together in the spirit of Love and Peace and provided a safe haven of love and peace. What a happy and exciting time for shalom.”