Thoughts from a guiding spirit.
by Joe Svehlak
Following up on what our President, Emma Guest-Consales, has recently advised-- listen, communicate and get involved-- here are a few thoughts from an old "I Remember" New Yorker.
I remember riots, drugs, impending bankruptcy, fires, and looting back in the 1960s and 70s. The night of the 1977 Blackout, I slept inside the front door with a crowbar while stores on the avenue were broken into. The subways covered with graffiti were not safe. On trips to the Bronx I would have a two-foot chain wrapped around my hand in my coat pocket. I know this all sounds very dramatic, but they were very uncertain times and we got through them. However, racism and social injustice are still with us.
I'm sure you are all doing your best to help make a better life for everyone. I think it's in a tour guide's DNA to interact and teach by example. Dealing with the chaos back when I was a lot younger, I learned about organizing neighbors and community. For social change to happen, grassroots community activism is most effective.
If you don't know your neighbors, introduce yourself. Drop a note under their door. Communicate your concern for their well-being. Offer to take them on a walk for free around your neighborhood when it is safe. (Future business? I've done "Know Your Neighborhood" tours for real estate firms.) If you don’t have one, start your own block, building, or neighborhood association.
Join local civic associations (community boards or school, library, park, police associations) and other community-oriented organizations. Your voice can make a difference. Offer them a free tour. Again, who knows where that may lead.
Run for office. In my old Sunset Park neighborhood, a friend's daughter is now running for State Assembly.
As you know, change starts with our everyday acts and interactions. When possible, communicate with protesters and police alike. A simple "thank you" may lead to more dialogue. Listen to what others have to say. At Brooklyn's Cadman Plaza last Thursday, thousands of demonstrators of different races and ages (a majority were young) came together peacefully. Police were on the perimeter nearby. I didn't notice anyone in dialogue with the officers. They should know that we appreciate their good services. They also have a difficult road ahead and could use a kind word. As a kid, I remember the days when they walked the beat and used to talk to us. If we saw them coming, we would hide the stickball bat (mother's old broom handle.) They warned us about breaking a window when we played ball.
We are witnessing and making history. As an old person with memories of times past, I have faith in our common humanity and that working together, the world will be a better place.
I am so grateful to GANYC and for all my fellow guiding spirits especially at this most difficult time. Thank you for indulging me about what many of you already know and do so well. I wish you all the best of health. I have plans for many FAM trips. Hope to see you soon. Better days are ahead. In the meanwhile, let the NYPL lions, Patience and Fortitude, be our guides.