By Denise Badger
I have this crazy dream.
To be honest, I’ve had it for several years but I’m just getting the courage to say something, hoping in 2019 to do something, and praying this dream, or even just a part of it, is also yours. Maybe even crazier, I’m hoping you’ll let me know and we can take a step together, and the crazy dream will become a crazy reality. That’s what I hope.
So here it is.
I want to help South Apopka transform from what it is to what it can be. I want to come alongside and stand with our neighbors in this part of Apopka more intentionally. I want to be a part of turning what is too often a perceived-negative into a reality-positive, from “that section to be avoided”, to an embraced and celebrated neighborhood that is every bit as proudly Apopka as any other part.
“Proudly Apopka” not just from those who live there but from those who don’t as well.
I want to help bring residents and leaders, businesses and non-profits, government and private organizations together to figure out sustainable, long-term solutions that take this part of Apopka from barely surviving to thriving… for the good of a unified, healthy city, yes. But more, for the good and rightness and quality of life for our neighbors who live there, for their lives today and for their dreams and realities to live into a better tomorrow. I want us all to believe it’s possible, and then see it, be a part of it, and live it, breathe it, move it into being. Not on our own or on their own, but together, with neighbors on their streets and neighbors beyond their boundaries, with those who care both near and far, in the city, in the county, standing side by side saying “yes”, and working together for the greater good of all.
There is no reason, in 2019 — almost 100 years since its beginnings — that this neighborhood is still struggling to get a foothold into the flow of Apopka life.
I’ve lived in Orlando since 1990 and in casual conversations have heard almost nothing but negative impressions when the area south of 441 is discussed. For too long, whether in word or attitude, what’s been conveyed about South Apopka is that it is the “scary, poor, crime-ridden, third-world part of the city that’s to be avoided at all costs”.
There is a sense that many outside this area feel bad for those who live inside it, but, if any additional thought is given to it at all, I suspect it’s gratitude to a higher being that they live as far from it as possible. By looking at the length of time it has remained behind in development, in respect to other developing areas of Apopka — such as only receiving paved streets in the 1970s and some street lighting in the 1980s, the lack of water/sewer improvements and infrastructure, etc.—there seems to be an unspoken belief that the lack of intentional and ongoing improvement is largely “someone else’s” problem, whoever that someone else is—the city, or county, or the residents living there, or other organizations trying to make a difference—whoever the someone is, but definitely a someone other than the one thinking of it.
Eventually, it’s assumed, in time, things will change. Hopefully for the better.
I don’t know what shifted inside me, or even when really, that moved me from thinking of South Apopka as something outside my realm to being on my heart’s radar, from contributing random time and money to try and help somehow to wanting to do something on a larger, more comprehensive scale that affects not just the moment I was in, but all the future moments for the life and lives of South Apopka. I don’t know when the shift came from thinking about “them” to thinking about “us” and “we”. But something happened, somehow, at some time, and it’s not leaving me. I’m at a place now of assessing my life in terms of how I can join with the lives of my neighbors there and together move forward toward more quality of life for everyone, for all of us, by coming together and bringing the strengths and gifts we all have to offer.
I want to look 20 – 30 – 40 years from now and see change. Life instead of death—of body and spirit, of place and people—light instead of darkness, hope instead of despair, joy and growth and beauty and stories of thriving, purposeful, abounding living happening in abundance from every street and every home.
I have come to realize and believe more than ever that the change I want to see, that needs to be seen, starts with me. It starts with me, and may I be so bold to say, with every Apopkan really. It starts with every resident and business owner, every adult and child, every influencer and leader and follower and dreamer who calls this city home, who believes in loving your neighbor as yourself, who wants this city to be a magnet and beacon of light for those who live here now, and for those who will one day come, for today, and for building a beautiful and lasting tomorrow. It’s a known statement, a cliche’—“change starts with me”, “be the change you want to see” — it’s cliche’ until it hits your heart and you realize the truth of it, not letting the overused words wash over deaf ears or blind eyes.
I’ve asked myself why I feel the call, the urging inside to do this, to invest more of my time and energy and focus into this part of our city. There are many areas and people and situations in Apopka, in Florida, in the world, that needs people, needs us to be neighbors, to come alongside each other to love, to serve, to make a difference together. Maybe it’s been a progression all along, a slow dawning and drawing that’s taken time to develop.
Back in the early 2000s, I was an associate pastor of a local church. My focus was serving the community, and so I remember taking a small group who wanted to do just that into the streets of South Apopka. We walked and talked and got to know our neighbors there. We played with the children, prayed over the neighborhood, and helped repair broken homes with paint and wood and love. Through the years following there were Habitat for Humanity homes built, Thanksgiving meals served, and Christmas gifts bought for the families. Random, sporadic, but intentional drops of water to help wherever, however, hoping seeds of positive change would sprout. I didn’t know what else to do, so I did what I knew. We saw a need and tried to help. Ten years later in 2010, having stepped away from this arena and then back again, the streets and homes and general sentiments and assumptions I’d heard all along hadn’t changed. Not that I expected a dramatic change from one church, or that one group would do it.
But then, here again at the close of 2018 and at the conclusion of pastoring another church that tried to do what they could with what they had, I stand back and see again that somehow, no matter how good, how hopeful, how impactful the individual or large group actions — no matter how many the various drops, from not just one person or organization but from many over the years — it’s still not enough.
And I think, there’s got to be more.
Maybe I’m getting older and more impatient, but a little here and there over decades isn’t enough.
The conveyed “us versus them” sentiment, the negative beliefs, the ignoring, the “it’s not my problem” assumptions needs to stop. These are our neighbors. Our neighbors. Our shared family known as Humanity. These are fellow Apopkans who share space in this place we’ve chosen to call home. And I would suspect, for many, their roots go much deeper in this place than in most spaces the rest of us have occupied over our years. Our South Apopka neighbors are people like you and I trying to live their best life possible, except they have more challenges than the average resident, with limited access to limited resources and limited opportunities. The percentage in South Apopka living in poverty is significant compared to the rest of Apopka. It is a designated food desert, with challenges of transportation, employment, education and crime on top of it all.
Why? Why the disparity? Why the struggles? Why the statistics?
At first glance, I think of socioeconomic reasons that come into play when addressing demographic struggles, impacted by the challenges listed above that, without solutions become generational. But the why that stirs more deeply inside, the why that won’t let me go, is the question ‘why has this been okay for so long in our own backyard, without significant change? Why hasn’t any long-term strategic plan been researched and attempted to change the course?’
There’s no reason that this neighborhood should still be sitting largely stagnate and on the sidelines, within a stone’s throw of all that’s becoming and developing, improving and hopeful in Apopka.
Not for 100 years.
I’ve seen and felt the abundance of kind hearts and strategic minds in Apopka, witnessed experienced leadership at work in various sectors and on challenging fronts, heard vast amounts of wisdom as well as the ability to dream and imagine and create. Apopka has shown it has the capacity and resource, tools and organizations, and people within its bounds to stand and be a part of turning the tide and improving life for its most challenged places and persons. I believe it’s possible. I believe stopping what has been and stepping into what can be is possible.
And I want to be a part of it.
Little bits here and there over the course of decades isn’t going to cut it. No matter how good one organization is, or idea, or plan, or program — if it’s not in concert with another, if it’s not hand-in-hand and side-by-side with the other ideas and plans and programs and people who live here—then all the bits will continue as drops in the ocean. As I’ve started to talk with people who live and work here, residents and social action leaders alike, I hear the stories of personal impact happening. It’s inspiring and encouraging.
But I also hear of the gaps, large and small and significant, places of extreme “not-yet” that need to be addressed. The need for a more intentional, strategic master plan for unified efforts of transformation that comprehensively and systematically addresses the unique needs and frees the unique dreams of those who call this neighborhood home is affirmed in every conversation.
And I walk away wanting to help make that happen.
Change, improvement, and growth needs to be tangible, touchable, seen, heard, felt, and known to be happening in an ongoing way, on all fronts, moving forward together. It’s not another drop that’s needed, but a coalescing of the multiple drops into a rising wave that carries the dreams and priorities of our neighbors into a movement that marches on and does not stop until transformation has occurred and continues to occur in bigger and better ways.
I don’t even know how to word it all, and fear that what I say or write or share will be read wrong, perceived wrong, interpreted wrong. I fear that in my beliefs and drive to help I will unintentionally offend the people who live there or insult those who don’t. I fear my being an outsider will cloud the perceptions of good intentions, or my race, or age, or gender, or role, or timing, or something I don’t even know yet will work against what I long to do. I fear biting off more than I can chew and failing. I fear finding no one to stand and work with me, especially those committed to the long view. I fear not knowing what I should really fear, knowing there’s more that I don’t know or know to even ask. I fear being wrongly judged and fear judging others when I don’t want or intend to. I fear not being effective, not accomplishing, not inspiring, not making any difference at all when it so desperately needs to happen. But more than all these fears, I fear wanting to do something and not. I fear thinking about it and researching it and talking about it, and another year or two or three goes by with nothing being done.
Maybe you have those fears too. Maybe you’ve thought about doing something, but something stops you. Maybe it’s because the idea of another little drop isn’t enough for you either, and you long for the more strategic, comprehensive way, the way that brings people and gifts, ideas and forces together to make a plan and make a difference, neighbors of all shapes and sizes, races and places, resources and dreams coming together to make an ocean of tangible hope rise from the drops of the many.
This is my hope. And it’s my crazy dream.
I want to help. Not with a drop, but in some larger, lasting way. I want to do my part, do what I can. Offer what’s in me to give, to stand with, come alongside, contribute and bring the tidal waves of tangible, lasting, practical and transformative love to this part of our city. And so, despite my fears, I’m stepping out anyway. I’m going to try anyway. I’m going to start anyway, and hope this crazy dream will somehow make it past the paper.
I don’t know who you are reading this but I’m going to ask if this crazy dream has resonated even a little with you, will you let me know? Seeing a change 20-30-40 years from now starts with a first step, a “yes!” breathed and shared, and a belief that “crazy” and “impossible” are often the beginnings of great realities waiting to be set free. I have ideas and thoughts I’m ready to explore. I’m ready for more than research and talk. But this neighborly dream is a together kind of thing. So I want to know, is there anyone out there who’s ready for more in South Apopka? I’d love to hear from you and start 2019 in an ocean-rising, difference-making, crazy-dreaming-to-reality, neighborly kind of way!
Whether creative writing, motivational speaking, life-skills coaching or pastoring, Denise Badger’s heart and focus are on inspiring change for more passionate, joy-filled, difference-making kind of living. She holds a BA in Interpersonal Communications and MA in Religious Studies and has partnered with The Apopka Voice in advocating for social action in the more distressed areas of our community.