Life outside the fence

We humans don’t like living outside our comfort zone.  We like familiar surroundings, familiar faces, and predictable routines.  I’m just the same though to most folks it might look like my husband and I are already living outside of our comfort zone — drug users are passed out on the stoop of the building next to our cars, gunshots are frequent, our lawn furniture on our front porch is chained down, and homeless folks walk up and down our streets all hours of the day. But while scary and crazy for some people, it’s all quite normal for us. We’ve lived for nearly twenty years in the inner city. From a bad neighborhood in a small town in central Texas as newlyweds, to the in-your-face poverty of urban Detroit, and now since 2005 in inner-city Miami — we’ve learned to be comfortable in a setting that is quite outside the comfort zone of the middle-class lifestyle in which we were raised.

Although we walk around our neighborhood frequently and have journeyed out on our bikes many a time, we don’t often have occasion to spend an extended period of time just standing in our neighborhood. My younger son recently got bus service to school, and I wasn’t prepared for what an adventure waiting at the bus stop would be.

People in our neighborhood just simply did not wait for their kids at the bus stop. It was indeed a “white woman moment” of which I’ve had more than I can count. Kids as young as kindergarten walk by themselves to and from schools in our seedy neighborhood all the time, and it wasn’t the least bit uncommon to see kids walking home after dark from Pee Wee Football or for a quick trip to the Corner Store, but I wasn’t sure my son knew how to open the gate to our complex and even after nearly 20 years in the city. I’m just over-protective that way.

As a highly motivated type-A personality, it felt awkward to just stand on the street, but I tried to embrace the moment. Less than five minutes into my bus stop wait the first day a middle aged man in a nice looking blue sedan pulled over and asked, “What’s up?” I knew he wasn’t just checking to see what kind of day I had, and I quickly made it known just how disgusted I was with his insinuation by producing the meanest look I could muster. Think I was assuming too much? Read on.

Moments later a woman walked down the street and hesitated for quite a while on the corner. I had a good idea what she was waiting for and was trying to figure out a casual way to start a conversation when she walked past, and I was indeed sadly, but very truly proved correct as just moments after she moved to the opposite corner of our block she got picked up by that same blue sedan. My heart sunk.

As the blue car pulled away, as if on cue, a police car slowed as it passed me. “O’ great!” I thought, “Now they think I’m a prostitute too! Where was he just a few minutes ago?”  After making his second pass by me the bus pulled up and my sweet son bounded down the steps. Day one!

As I continued to learn the bus schedule nuances I went outside the fence just a bit later on day two. Standing on the corner was just too plain weird, would sitting make a difference? Apparently not I learned as I was solicited again, unfortunately this time in more vulgar language.  I was again detected by another police officer who drove far too slow past me and circled the adjoining blocks more often than normal.

When day three approached, I discovered Federal Police patrolled our street. Yes, my presence on the corner had attracted the attention now of three police officers in the course of three days. This police officer, however, pulled over to investigate further.  “You doing okay?” the very tattooed officer in a blacked-out SUV called out as he blocked the lane to chat. I laughed as I told him he was third officer I had intrigued for merely waiting at my son’s bus stop. “Well I knew you looked too clean to be a junky, and you weren’t dressed sleazy, so I didn’t think you were a prostitute.”  Not the best compliment I’ve ever been paid to be sure.

“So, you live around here?!”  He asked, and I pointed to my complex behind me as I confirmed I did indeed. Without hesitating he said, “Can I ask why?” I shared that my husband and I ran a non-profit ministry in the community and believed it was important to live in the neighborhood we served. His reply was honest and refreshing, “Well, I’ve never heard of that before!”

We had a pleasant chat for a few minutes in which he peppered me with questions, and I invited him for a visit to our center. He shared about why the governor had sent his team to Miami to patrol the railroad tracks (that I lived on the wrong side of), and I shared about my history shutting down drug trafficking on the corner across the street. As he pulled away a few minutes later he said, “I’m gonna tell my girlfriend about you. She lives in that big tower on the Bay” he said as he gestured to the high-rise condos just outside our neighborhood. “She’s never gonna believe this!” A few uneventful minutes later, my son’s bus approached.

I was curious as to what the next day would bring, but wouldn’t find out. I got a call at work from my neighbor. The bus changed routes and now my son was the first stop and was dropped off 15 minutes earlier than before. He made it down the block to open the gate on his own and knocked on our neighbor’s door when he didn’t see my car. So, after all that—my son didn’t really need me at his bus stop after all!

The following week my son got a spot in the magnet school his older brother attends and realized he would no longer need to ride the bus. Although my time on the street lasted less than 2 weeks, I am grateful for it and the challenge to be uncomfortable. I needed the reminder to pray for the women that walk our streets all day, for the men who prey on them, and the police officers who risk their lives to control our streets. I’m also praying for new opportunities to slow down and look for those opportunities outside the fence.

Angel Pittman

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About the Author
Angel Pittman is Assistant Director at Touching Miami with Love serving children, youth, and families in the inner-city neighborhood of Overtown adjacent to downtown Miami. She serves as Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel alongside her husband, Jason Pittman, Executive Director of Touching Miami with Love. The Pittmans live in Overtown with their two sons, Isaac and Lucas. Angel Pittman is a contributing author on the recently published book, The Divine Duet: Ministry and Motherhood, with her chapter "The Crazy Beautiful."

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