The Street Where I Live…

Carol A. Hand

The challenge of living on the margins is seeing both what is and what could be. Yet using that perspective to raise awareness and inspire people to work together has proven to be a challenge that has gotten me into trouble many times. Sometimes our greatest strengths are our greatest weaknesses. It’s something my friend Maxine Jacobson helped me realize.

“I was anything but an ally during my Native American colleague’s first year in the school. I responded defensively when she commented candidly on the social justice mission of the department as more fluff than substance. I wished she would take more time before making judgments to understand the culture of the department and all the work that had gone into creating what White faculty members believed was an innovative program. In retrospect, I find it disturbing that what I expected from her was something I was not willing to give: I was not at all prepared to see “our” world through her eyes. It was okay for her to direct her critique at the child welfare system. But when she directed it at the organization I had invested inordinate amounts of time building, that was too close to home.” (Maxine Jacobson, 2012, pp. 275-276).

I moved to Duluth Minnesota in October of 2011 to be closer to my daughter and grandchildren. I was also seeking a sanctuary to heal from decades of battle wounds, but it didn’t take me long to see the inequities and divisiveness in my new community, as I described in a post some time ago, Communities of Relatedness. Blogging has helped me work through the wounds and find hope, to remember past lessons and share them with a network of gifted people from around the world. I am deeply grateful for the gift of knowledge, creativity, kindness, and love that blogging has given me. Yet I’ve reached a point where I’m finished telling stories from the past, at least for now. Facing my greatest fears – the possibility that I would lose my sight and perhaps not survive corrective surgery – has awakened my excitement about living and learning new things.


Photo: The view of my house from across the street – March 31, 2015
(It’s the white one in the middle, set back from the street behind the large weeping willow tree)

In the past, I really didn’t always taken the time to understand the newest contexts that surrounded me. And because people sensed my openness to difference and my sensitivity and compassion, they started downloading their troubles as soon as I arrived. I listened to their stories about all of the factions and observed the conflict and power struggles. Of course I felt people’s pain and wanted to do something about it – immediately. I am quick to see oppression and unfairness, but I haven’t always taken time to plan how to deal with inequality and oppression effectively. I have many internal battle scars as a result and I’ve been reluctant to have much to do with “organized” people during the past few years.

But I’m alive. I have some skills and experiences that may be important in these times. Recently, I’ve begun searching for answers to crucial questions. What truly inspires me and ignites the fire in my heart? Two things come to mind. First, I have promises to keep to myself and others. I have begun working on two books that need to be completed: one about my mother’s life, and one about my research study of Indian child welfare. (For more information see Lara Hentz’s blog.) But I know from experience that focusing on past suffering and oppression needs to be counter-balanced by also being involved in initiatives that are focused on future possibilities. This is what I have been pondering for the past few weeks.

How can I use my skills and past experiences to build a foundation for transformative changes without offending others and closing down possibilities for partnerships focused on constructive collective efforts? What can I do to keep learning and contributing by applying the principles of appreciative inquiry and community-based participatory research ?


Photo: A View of the Alley – March 31, 2015

The answers are beginning to surface, forcing me to overcome my fear of failing yet again. It’s easier to sit on the sidelines and criticize others. The first step – learning about the community’s past and present online – doesn’t take courage, merely curiosity and discipline. But do I dare look foolish, an old woman roaming the streets with her camera? Calling strangers and asking them if they have time to tell me about themselves and their organizations? Well, I won’t know the answers to those questions until I try. The possible gains far outweigh the costs.

I want to begin by learning about the history of Duluth, and by exploring the street where I live. I want to take the time to get to know my neighbors beginning with the pastor of the church and the manager of the elder apartments across the street. And next, the principals of elementary school at the end of my alley and the high school just four blocks away. I want to learn about all of the initiatives and agencies that are involved in helping residents and the community development agency that is interested in improving conditions in the most challenged neighborhoods (including the one where I live.) I am beginning to frame out this new initiative and have grabbed my camera to start taking photos of my neighborhood.

So, here goes. I’m leaving my sanctuary to look for people’s strengths and visions for the future. I promise to keep you posted about what I discover on the way.


Photo: Our Savior’s Lutheran Church (Directly across the street) – March 31, 2015


Photo: Faith Haven Apartments for Seniors – March 31, 2015


Photo: Laura MacArthur Elementary School – The view from my back porch – March 31, 2015


Photo – Denfeld High School (a few blocks away) – March 31, 2015

Works Cited:

Maxine Jacobson (2012): Breaking Silence, Building Solutions: The Role of Social Justice Group Work in the Retention of Faculty of Color, Social Work With Groups, 35(3), 267-286. To link to this article:

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

28 thoughts on “The Street Where I Live…

  1. This is a really amazing, eye-opening post, Carol. I live in a community that I know nothing about. I have my “walks” and I get in my car and drive to where I absolutely have to go. I live across the street from my the small City Hall for pete’s sake–how many missed opportunities have there been, when I could find out what’s going on all around me, and maybe, eventually, using my own voice to make a difference? You have just raised my awareness in me by your new discoveries, and I thank you for that. (I look forward to hearing more about your neighborhood!)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m so grateful for your comments, Mandy. It really is so much easier to see the bigger picture, isn’t it? (And I look forward to hearing what you discover at City Hall! Just think of what they might be able to do about child abuse at the local level. But I’ve learned to ask first what they’re already doing …)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Deeply touching words. I do hope you get your books finished, they will make such a contribution to the world. I wish you all the best with your eye surgery and hope you can manage the anxiety this must create and remain grounded in hope. Warm wishes and thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Carol what a great post. Tubularsock loves this. What a great opportunity for you. Tubularsock would recommend that besides your camera you buy and ride a Harley! That would wake up your community! And how fun for you to be able to outrun the cops!
    Good luck with your quest! And full throttle ahead!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s so good to here from you, Tubularsock 🙂 Now I would be a truly funny sight on a Harley, but thinking of it does make me smile.

      Thank you for your encouragement, and as always, for making me smile.


  4. Dear Carol, what a wonderful thoughtful post~ You are an inspiration to never just take a back seat and let life pass us by. You have an incredible mind and heart for the downtrodden and actively want to help. I look forward to what you discover in your community. Best wishes and lots of healing in your upcoming surgery. Many Blessings!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I can think of no one more qualified for such a worthy endeavor, Carol. Good luck, I believe you’ll have an exciting experience. And thank you for sharing your photos.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I am so sorry to hear about your eyesight. I will send my best wishes out to the universe for your health.

    There is so much to do! And all of it is important: remembering the past in a world where it tends to get buried but also building something better against impossible odds. I love your plan of action. I think you have the courage and compassion to pull it off. Have you heard about The Next System Project? I am almost to afraid to hope. heh

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Debra, and for sharing such important observations and resources. The Next System Project sounds fascinating – I signed up to learn more. (The alternative to hope isn’t something I want to live with, so let’s keep trying new approaches while we can 🙂 )


    1. This winter, we really didn’t have much snow until February – but it was often very cold (-20 F or below). Then, the 2 or 4 feet or so of snow we had gotten melted during a sudden week of warming, creating a little lake in my front yard.

      The past winter was only my fourth here, and no two winters have been the same during that time. The first winter (2011-2012) almost never went below 32 F, and last year was the polar vortex (temperatures rarely went over -20F, and were frequently colder) with over 120 inches of snow. And in June of 2012, we had a deluge – 9 inches of rain fell in 24 hours washing out hillside roads and flooding lower areas. So unpredictability is the new normal here. It makes it hard to garden…


  7. Taking those steps out into the unknown is the hardest part in making a transition, but you’ve already made up your mind and found your portals, your feet, your camera and you ability to ask and listen. Blessings on a delightful journey, Carol. I’m looking forward to reading your posts, love. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  8. it’s a wonderful opportunity for a journey of discovery – although more than a bit daunting. We often take our surroundings for granted, and never really see what’s right in front of us. Good luck & enjoy! Look forward to reading about it. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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