I went to a great block party the other day in East Durham. The host neighborhood didn't look like it had much to be cheerful about. It was mostly a sad string of worn-out houses, crumbling streets and empty lots along Angier Avenue.
But outside a brick apartment building near the corner of Young Street, a crowd had gathered in folding chairs and along a wooden fence to listen to music, eat a picnic lunch and celebrate the work of Love and Respect, a new halfway house for recovering drug users. Since opening its doors a year ago, Love and Respect has helped dozens of people fighting to kick their drug habits. Along the way, it has also become an anchor for the neighborhood, a place that shouts "Home!" loud enough to chase away the prostitution and drug dealing on nearby corners. (See "Halfway house is former addict's program, passion," Independent, Dec. 22, 2004, www.indyweek.com/durham/2004-12-22/triangles2.html.)
It was the first day of real summer weather and the sun was breaking through the clouds like a prizefighter coming out of his corner. Two silver-haired women sitting next to me fanned themselves with brochures from the health information table set up in the apartment-house yard. Kids ran off down the block to check out the city fire truck that had arrived as part of the afternoon's entertainment.
It was one week after three burning crosses jolted Durham's leaders into public calls for unity. But the people gathered for this party didn't need to be convinced of any shared bond. Those ties were visible in the very lines on their faces--lines carved by harsh, daily struggle. Nobody in this crowd had to debate the issues or count heads. They already knew to start small, to stick together, to stay focused on the present moment.
A visiting pastor led a prayer of thanks over the food. Then, we watched as the rhythm-and-blues band from Triangle Residential Options for Substance Abusers (TROSA) set up a row of microphones, drums, guitar and organ, and tore into a set of Motown and funk. The performers, all residents and staff of TROSA's drug recovery program, wore white shirts and black pants, each with an individual flourish--an extra ruffle here, a flared leg there. They weren't exactly glamorous, these singer/dancers, yet their music had an inescapable pull. Cars slowed down as they passed and new people kept appearing on the sidewalk, slightly dazed as if they'd been awakened from a long sleep.
We all danced, too, and sang along with the choruses. For a moment there with the sun shining, everything seemed just right, all right, even blessed. The sight of the hip-swiveling singers blotted out the charred, abandoned building in the background. The soaring music eased the anxiety of the previous week's events.
As I got back in my car, I unfurled a brochure I'd picked up at the information table. On the front was the image of a small house resting in the palms of two powerful, cupped hands and above it, Love and Respect's slogan: "The Message is Hope." At that moment, it seemed that simple.
(For information about Love and Respect or to make a donation, call Dennis Garrett at 672-0934 or John "Tahti" Moore at 824-2035.)