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Neighborhood Connector: Kevin Ressler

Name: Kevin M Ressler
Neighborhood Group: Southeast Unity; Elm Street Project, Meals on Wheels

Your work as one of the leaders in your Neighborhood Group is important because:

Communities thrive when they come together to share in their strengths. A neighborhood that is just a collection of people living close, without relationship, is a hotel. I love seeing a neighbor helping someone whose car is in a fender bender, or helping someone get their groceries inside, or just being kind.

My part has been to use my social resources and understanding of the way power gets used and abused through activism to speak for my neighbors who don’t have the time or opportunity to speak out when something wrong is happening in the community. And it’s important because that’s my part just as my at-home neighbors like Melinda or Max’s part is letting me know of suspicious activity around my house while I’m at work with Meals on Wheels of Lancaster, which is also an important part of ours and every neighborhood in how we can show up for neighbors who cannot get out.

Challenges that you are facing in your neighborhood right now:

Gentrification is occurring rapidly across Lancaster. With renaissance and rejuvenation of cities (all cities, not just Lancaster) comes displacement and disenfranchisement. This naturally, but not healthily, leads to decisions around how communities are policed, prioritized, and perceived. There are not enough voices from my part of town, the racial demographics of my part of town, or the economics of my part of town involved officially in the processes of power. Too often, when people are invited in to represent the neighborhood they are still those amongst us who are well connected or wealthy or both. Or, they are people who used to live here a decade or more ago. It is really important that people are not just seen and spoken of but are invited and listened to.

What are some of the rewards from being a neighborhood connector in your Group:

I’m always impressed with people who have been rooted in this community not just for years or decades but generations. The way people talk about individuals here isn’t as transactional as many other communities I operate in throughout my day, they are relational. They relate to “when this happened” or “when they did this.”

They are also historical. One of the things about the Southeast is it feels more historical than other neighborhoods. There is a long history here, too often painful. And people feel it acutely and it influences their caution when “development” comes to the neighborhood because they’ve had broken promises before. When someone returns to build a park, people remember when they left. When someone promises better policing, they remember when there were different rules for different parts of town. People remember not philosophically bur personally the urban renewal policy decisions that felt criminal to people who lost not only their home but their doctor and lawyer and favorite shop.

Where is the reward? The reward comes in being a translator. Living in this part of town helps me know personally those who remain. Those who didn’t leave when others fled because they wanted to make an impact. Connecting with those living legends and also working with those who have power now can be a trust builder and a BS barometer. I’m grateful to be a new generation mindful of the old generation’s story and working with friends and collaborators like David Cruz, Jr. and Tanay Lynn Harris who are torchbearers raised upon the legacies and good work of their parents and grandparents revolutionary civil rights action.

Can you give a specific example of how your neighborhood has worked together?

When it was announced that our District Magistrate was going to be closed the community banded together and took up the call to make a noise that could not be unheard. Signs were bought, meetings were attended, and many of us met frequently to figure response. While there were differences of opinion on strategy one thing remained: our community more than any other in Lancaster requires proximity to its MDJ and we would take the fight to whatever heights required. And we won. They didn’t close the magistrate. The next time they come to take it away we can ask, “have you yet solved our lacking public transportation?” If the structural barriers haven’t been addressed than our community should not be further punished with inadequate resourcing.

What is your secret to meeting new neighbors and welcoming them into the community?

This is one of the hardest things to do in part because our community moves a lot. We have many refugees who are settled here. Our community is one where people start out and move when they can buy a house instead of renting. Still, something Melissa and I have been glad to take part in is a community garden. Tim and Sonya Charles lived on our block and attended In The Light Ministries. They asked their church if we could create a community garden intended to welcome local refugees through partnership with at Tabor Community Services and Church World Service.

And I think this is key. You have to not only work in isolation but partnership with organizations and individuals who have vested interest in the success of the neighborhood. It can’t just be about the politics of it, how it looks when talking about it in an interview like this one, or driven by guilt that someone else is lower on the wrung than you. I’ve gotten to know neighbors like Troy and Michelle who have moved out, and some who stay. I’ve watched as people who have come to the neighborhood like our neighbors Nick and Erin Myers quietly keep the garden up more than I could dream of doing. It’s a new way to interact with our neighbors who are also our tenants Jazzy and Karen. And it’s a great opportunity to call up In The Light at least once a year and say, “hey, we appreciate you as a neighbor, can we use your land again?”


Favorite way to spend a day with family, or friends in Lancaster City:

You think of phrases like “concrete jungle” when talking about cities. Lancaster doesn’t feel like that and it’s great that no matter who we are visiting anywhere in this city there is a park somewhere nearby to take Acacia (4 years old) and Iriana (1 year old). Now, if only we could do something about the mosquito problem in this city it would be great to enjoy the playset in our own back yard!

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