Movin’ On Up

“No they won’t be naming no buildings after me to go down dilapidated” – “A.D. 2000″ by Erykah Badu

The well-heeled streets of the Upper West Side section of Manhattan are rarely the setting where stories about fenced-in, abandoned buildings begin. So as I walked down Amsterdam Avenue on the first Sunday of the new year, I was surprised to come across an abandoned building occupying such prime real estate.

By the profile of the building, I assumed it was an old church. So I was even more surprised to see the Hebrew inscription above the now-defunct entrance. An abandoned, old, boarded-up synagogue?! In Manhattan?! On the Upper West Side?! This must be an omen. Clearly we are living in the last days.

I had to take a picture – for posterity – so that there was a record for whichever life form came after us of the moment we knew our days were numbered.

Old NYC Synagogue

I continued down Amsterdam trying to figure out how an institution created by and for the area’s Jewish residents – many of whom live close to the synagogue in one of the wealthiest zip codes in one of the wealthiest cities in the world – could be subjected to the kind of slow, death-by-obsolescence normally reserved for businesses in marginalized neighborhoods.

The answer came one block later.

New NYC Synagogue

I had my answer. The congregation had upgraded. They stepped their game up. They raised the bar.

They didn’t leave their neighborhood. They didn’t abandon their core mission and purpose. They didn’t rebrand themselves as an institution serving all people of all faiths. They did not change their name to something more pleasing to groups who harbor anti-Semitic beliefs.

They got their financial and social resources together and built something stronger than they had before.

Is there a lesson here for the Black community in America as we move into a post-Obama, post-post-racial America? Is there a message here for the larger global African diaspora throughout the Caribbean, the Americas, Europe, and Africa?

What will it take to upgrade the abandoned and neglected lives in our communities? What will it take to practice the kind of self-love and self-respect needed to build institutions for our people in an increasingly hostile climate in the U.S.?

– Day G.

Host, Class of Hope & Change