By OluShola A. Cole
My heart begins to race, and my mouth begins to water, just recalling it.
The last day of my leadership training for Courageous Community had my team practically running, panting, and sometimes literally walking with our heads down and noses to the ground. All for a scavenger hunt in New Haven’s Hill neighborhood.
And it started with my racially diverse group of community leaders sitting around a table, ready to take on a community task – filled with soul-soothing food from Sandra’s Next Generation on Congress Avenue. (Note: I cannot say enough about each of the platters, especially the vegetarian ones. This restaurant deserves its own review.)
What occurred after we ate was a predictable flurry of activity that surrounded our goal of retrieving various items from their hiding places. Knowing that we’d have to interact with people from the community while finding these various items, the rest of my team and I were still positively warmed by the level of openness, curiosity, directness, and honesty residents gave us as far as answering questions, providing us with required items, and participating in mini-interviews in which we asked folks to describe their neighborhood. They spoke of hope, violence, perception, children, love, positivity, and negativity, among other things. I can only imagine what a group of White, Black, and Latino people ranging in age from the mid-20s to mid-60s wandering around the Hill (with no bibles) talking to residents must have done for the local landscape. It gave me another incentive to hold myself accountable to my community – and to make sure I continue to meet new people, branch out, and never get comfortable in my job as the Arts Council’s community programs coordinator.
Those involved in the scavenger hunt, for example, worked together to complete the task. For example:
Jenny Carillo wandered into the New Haven Free Public Library’s Wilson Branch as I was furiously looking up a book on taxidermy. Calmy, she placed a Lotto ticket (part of the scavenger hunt) on the desk next to me and said she found it just walking around and looking down at the ground. I was sure we would never find one. What are the odds? Kelly Hebrank and Catherine Conant (both Caucasian) raced (literally and against time) out of the Black-owned and frequented barbershop on Howard Avenue with donated bottles of hair product. Looking for sequins, I slowly realized, as we passed the Boys and Girls Club, that the organization offers after-school programs that would certainly include arts and crafts supplies such as sequins. Jenny and I tumbled out of the car into the Boys and Girls Club, introduced ourselves, described our “mission,” and were soon running out of the club with a handful of sequins. From there, in a “getaway” car driven by Kevin Ewing, and with precious seconds ticking away, we made it to a bakery in time to get our hands on a loaf of fresh bread, completing the scavenger hunt.
Not bad for a belly full of soul food.
OluShola A. Cole is the Arts Council’s community programs coordinator. This is her opinion.