Big Apple Belonging

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Finding Community in the Biggest City in America

By: Miss Julia McClure
Certain things are expected when you first move to New York City. Towering apartments, honking horns, and sidewalks filled with strange new people and smells (both good and bad) are no surprise. In the midst of everything rushing by, the idea of building a community almost seems silly to consider. As Seton Teaching Fellows however, we have come to do exactly that.

The Greeks had the right idea when they said that man is a social animal but I like to stretch that thought a little further. I believe that people need more than mere social contact. Meaningful relationships and charitable love for nearby people lead to a sense of togetherness that can only be described as a community in my eyes. Communities remind us that we’re all in this life together, which to my non-native New York mind, sounded very unlike New York City in general.

Amazingly though, I quickly found that building community in a place known for people avoiding eye contact on the street has not been as crazy or impossible as it sounds. Moving to a city of 8 million strangers can be a lonely transition but not when you have four wonderful community members to go through it with. Just as charity is said to do, our community started at home and spread outward. In fact, we have two apartments to call our home and so twice as much space in which to foster our community. Living in community as fellows comes with lots of perks. For example, by living and working together, support and a listening heart are never too hard to find in our house. Neither is a good meal on nights when you forget to go grocery shopping or a bed on nights when you stay at one apartment late and realize you really would rather not make the trek . We have been able to grow in togetherness over family dinners and be honest about the joys and the struggles of being a new teacher in a tough population. Plus, a community at home makes it so much easier to go out and explore that big city of 8 million (which is so good for a group like us that seems pretty dedicated to finding yummy things to eat and some of the most beautiful lattes I have ever seen!).

Lattes and exploration aside, our community has extended past our home pretty quickly thanks to the culture of the South Bronx. When we moved here in July, I am not sure any one of us imagined how close a community we were about to break into. This is New York City after all! Don’t people just ignore each other and get on with their own business? As it turns out, these thoughts were only half right. Although I will not lead you to the illusion that the Bronx is a shiny, happy place, it has a community that Manhattan with its financial districts and big businessmen in fancy suits or Brooklyn with its hip, comfy cafes can offer. Our neighborhood of Mott Haven does not really have businessmen and cute cafes but it does have families who have known each other for years. Mott Haven has people who recognize you on the street, who stop you by name just to say hello or welcome you into your first week at Mass in a new parish with a hug. Mott Haven has fathers teaching the apartment complex kids how to dance on the sidewalks and bodega clerks who ask you how school is going when you stop by for your typical BLT lunch order. These are the things that Mott Haven has but, sadly, they are not the things Mott Haven is known for since most pass through and only see the exterior grunge. The South Bronx does not really open herself up to community with people like that. As a Fellow, I have the honor of getting to experience a different side of the South Bronx- the side where you see the beauty and the warmth of the community here. The South Bronx is not only the community I serve but also the community I am proud to become more a part of everyday and I would not have it any other way.