Photo: Andre Wallace
In last week’s article, we addressed an uncomfortable topic surrounding corruption and, this week, it might be just as uncomfortable but also equally important – “Accepting the Truth.”
Let’s examine why every turn we take in Mount Vernon seems to land us in the same place we started.
Why are we against thinking or coloring outside of the box and favor rigid conformity? Is it a hard-wired human fear of being cast as an outsider or afraid others might think less of us? If so, we need to stop being afraid.
I remember growing up as a child faced with a few challenges, but nothing seemed more challenging than facing my own identity issues. Taunted by kids in the neighborhood because of my dark complexion, I was made to feel broken and inferior. I remember someone even trying to help me by giving me cream and soap that would lighten my skin so I could “better fit” in with those around me. It was an embarrassing and painful time in my life.
The constant taunting required me to create a life of pretense to avoid the pain of dealing with the acceptance of who I really was. As painful as it was, I learned to embrace what was perceived as a weakness, transforming it into one of my greatest strengths.
Getting past that taught me that it’s okay to look, feel, and think differently and that coloring outside the lines can, sometimes, produce better results.
Those of you who know me know that I have a very independent perspective and won’t hesitate to go my own way at times. I have been characterized by some Democrats as someone who is too unpredictable because of my views and past actions. I was even told that it’s impossible to have conservative ideas and be a Democrat at the same time. If I wanted to succeed in the party, I would need to choose one or the other.
This was my first lesson in how conformity works.
It is not something we fall into naturally, instead it’s something forced upon us. Why do so many of us believe that reaching across party lines to work with others means you’re not loyal to your party. Why does having a different view of a candidate the party endorses seem unacceptable? Why, because we are told that, and it’s reinforced in every election when outliers are publicly punished for failing to “hold the party line.”
But, blind loyalty is not real loyalty, and taken to the extremes can actually be dangerous. We’ve “outsourced” our intellect and shirked our responsibilities to think for ourselves. As creatures of habit, we take the position of sitting back and having others do our work and research when it comes to electing officials, while reserving our right to complain when it doesn’t work out.
If we are going to change our city, we first must change the way we think.
What held me back as the child who once thought he was broken was, essentially, the way I processed my thoughts. I’m not perfect by any stretch, and sometimes I’m riddled with doubt even today. What helped me then and continues to help me now is the realization that my so-called “flaws” and my alleged “weaknesses” were actually projections of the weaknesses of others.
When they were telling me how “different” I was, they were actually just announcing their fear of being seen as “different.” Once that realization hit me, I could embrace my true self and move forward without fear of what others may think.
As a community, we should examine what is really holding us back from accepting our true selves. What are we hiding from others for fear of being seen as “different”? What’s our individual and collective story hidden in fear of being called “weak”? What are our actual fears, and are they even real? Has this made us complacent in thinking this is the best we can do?
Mount Vernon has many challenges, one more serious than the next. But, we can never move past them until we are willing to be brutally honest with ourselves and truly acknowledge the existence of our problems. Admitting we’ve failed at something doesn’t mean we’re failures; it just means our attempt at achieving something didn’t work.
Albert Einstein once stated “anyone who has not made a mistake has not tried anything new.” In order to be successful as a community, we must embrace our failures as much as we acknowledge our successes. However, what we cannot do is continue to ignore our problems by pretending they don’t exist.
Our problems are clear. We have a police department that is corrupted by a few bad actors and their co-workers who sit idle and doing nothing about it. We have elected officials selling out this community, cutting side deals to enrich themselves on the backs of the taxpayers.
We walk down our streets, stepping over homeless and mentally ill people as if they don’t exist. Our school system lacks the discipline and desire needed to educate our children; instead, our children are merely pushed through the system, leaving them unprepared for the world just to make some bureaucrat’s numbers look good. Our taxes are through the roof, our streets are filthy, and many homes and stores lie vacant.
The fact that we see all of this every day numbs us into thinking this is a normal state of affairs that has become “acceptable” to us. We complain about it, but do nothing to correct it because it’s always someone else’s fault.
Simply put; those who we have placed in charge have failed us and we have also failed ourselves. We have voted for candidates because we went to school with them or a family member. We vote the way the party tells us, or risk being ostracized.
We have confused being “born in Mount Vernon” with somehow being able to run this city. If that was the case, why are we still facing so many problems? If what we’ve been doing hasn’t been working, then we need to step outside the box and try something new. We know that our past practices have not worked, so why continue the same methods without deviation?
Let’s stop being afraid of doing something different and embrace our perceived weaknesses. I can promise you that the smallest step in the right direction will end up being one of the biggest steps in our lives, producing newfound and lasting strength. The only things we have to lose are the problems that we’ve caused for ourselves.
If you have thoughts or comments about this issue or any other, reach out to me at [email protected].
Andre Wallace is the former mayor of Mount Vernon.