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What do I know about my city? I mean, what do I really know? Well, let’s see… We have a racetrack, a pretty cool children’s museum and what… a canal?
Um, ok. To be completely honest, I know very little about Indianapolis.
But my ignorance doesn’t extend to just our sightseeing destinations. I also know very little about the people who live downtown, the issues they deal with and the struggles they face every single day.
In my world of video games, manicured lawns and caramel macchiatos, it’s easy to forget that there are families struggling to survive just 40 minutes from my front door. Sure, I’ve seen poverty in India, Ukraine and Kenya, but when was the last time I spared a thought for the urban poor in my own hometown?
The fact is, I can’t remember.
But all that is about to change. As of this past week, I am living downtown for one month. And not in some upscale gentrified neighborhood, either. I’m staying smack in the middle of a struggling community with a first generation immigrant family from Mexico.
I will be exploring urban poverty from the inside, doing police ride-alongs and spending time in our public school system. But most importantly, I will be learning all about the work of Shepherd Community Center, which is dedicated to breaking the cycle of poverty on the near-East side.
And what a cycle… In Shepherd’s neighborhood, less than 30% of students graduate High School. Almost a quarter of the population is under the nation’s poverty line, and out of 40,000 zip codes in the U.S., 46201 is 16th in the nation in foreclosure filings.
Parents in this community can’t afford to send their children to private schools. Often working two jobs just to pay the rent, they don’t have the time or energy to adequately care for their kids. Their children grow up, fail school, get minimum wage jobs and eventually have kids of their own.
And the cycle continues.
But Shepherd is here to break that cycle. Through preschool classes, after-school tutoring and summer programs, Shepherd gives the children of this neighborhood a chance to succeed in their education. Through parenting classes, a food pantry and a free medical clinic every Saturday, Shepherd gives parents a chance to properly care for their kids.
While I am here, I will be writing about these programs and more. I will be learning from Shepherd’s staff, interviewing families from the community and attempting to discover what God is doing in this place.
It may not be as exotic as eating goat brains in India or living in a slum in Kenya, but living downtown will undoubtedly teach me a ton about the brokenness of this world and the hope that can be found in the Kingdom of God.
By the end of October, I may still get lost trying to find the Indianapolis Zoo, but I can tell you one thing for sure… I’m going to know a lot more about my city!
About the Author: Barry is the founder and director of World Next Door. A storyteller, traveller and giant nerd, he lives to compel suburban Americans to get engaged with social justice and find their place in God's kingdom revolution. His ultimate dream is to adopt a pet monkey named Kevin.