Wednesday, October 1, 2008

More Will Make a Difference

By Thomas Henning

Perhaps my love affair with community makes me sound provincial. As my daddy would say, I could give a rat’s ass. I never knew what that meant but it always made me giggle even when delivered in lively but less than whimsical tones.

Here is my point. Urban sophistication is more than emulating the latest spread in Vogue, Men’s Vogue, Elle Décor, or Field & Stream. Sophistication, at least in my book, is knowing more and doing better than what is merely expected of you.

When I was growing up, my house was about 5 miles out of town. Every day, I would drive by this broken down house that was still lived in by a family of less than established means. The house was a bit of an eyesore for those in town that considered themselves established. They would sarcastically refer to it as “the compound.”

When my brother and I first moved into town, it was all we heard. Townspeople were almost apologetic to us for having to pass it on our route into town. My brothers got caught up in the elitist hysteria and, once while we were driving by, threw an empty soda can in their front yard. In the middle of the road, I stopped the car and forced them to pick up the can from their yard. They were angry at me for causing a fuss but we had a long conversation about why we didn’t handle ourselves with such entitled disregard that helped to shape each of moving forward.

Don’t let me fool you. I was not a child with an angelic nature. However, even then I understood that fortune is cyclical and how you handle the good fortune will influence how the bad fortune handles you.

Years later, when my brother Sam died, the gentleman, Rick, who lived in that broken down home walked the five miles into town to pay his respects to my brother during his wake. I will never forget that. I offered to drive him home, after the service, and he shared his memories of my brother with me. It was a voyeuristic but profoundly accurate perspective of who my brother was.

He didn’t walk the five miles because we picked up the can. I don’t think anyone was even home that day. He came because of the legacy that my brother, at only 17 years of age, left behind.

To me, that is community. A legacy of character made of as many layers as there are people in that community. People are more because they have more in them to give and are selfless enough to give it.

Take this Saturday. The New York Chapter of Cable Positive is getting together to help Iris House, a community based AIDS organization that provides social services to HIV positive women and their families living in Manhattan. MTV & BET Network employees, along with New York chapter member and Cable Positive staff are giving up a Saturday to help repaint a common space at the agency used by clients and staff for meetings, exercise classes, support groups, and other activities.

If you’d like to help, Iris House is located at 2348 Adam Clayton Jr. Boulevard, New York, NY 10030. We’ll be there Saturday, October 4th from noon to 5pm. Please contact Dana Levitt @ 212.459.1547 or for more information.

It isn’t much but it’s more and that “more” will make a difference. I don’t think the size of that difference matters. It is the fact that a selfless difference will be made to help those in need of some help.

That is how community, and its legacy, builds. One day a person reaches out their hand and asks how they can help; sits down beside a person and lends an ear; walks by and shares a much needed smile. Little by little, that momentum builds and fortune smiles.

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