Parks and Recreation: Continued Complicity or Time to Stand Up?

Posted by Jamie Sabbach on Jun 1, 2020

Why is it that “social equity” is part of parks and recreation’s daily nomenclature yet is not part of any substantive collective action? Public statements about helping those who are disenfranchised and not afforded equal opportunity while giving less than our best must be scrutinized as good intention only goes so far.

If we really pay attention to the news feeds right now we may deduce that today’s protests and riots, while prompted by a tragic action, are symptoms of something much bigger than any one issue. And the fundamental problems at the core of these symptoms have been lingering for a long time and out of plain sight of those insulated from many people’s heartbreaking realities.

Decades of inequality and ignorance have perpetuated intolerance, unacceptance of anything or anyone different, and a focus on “me” and not “we”. Fundamentally, this is the essence of social inequity and sadly, it painfully continues today.

Why is it that “social equity” is part of parks and recreation’s daily nomenclature yet is not part of any substantive collective action? Public statements about helping those who are disenfranchised and not afforded equal opportunity while giving less than our best must be scrutinized as good intention only goes so far.

In many ways, an equitable society seems like a distant fantasy. With what feels like irreversible damage having been done over the years and now on full display, anything short of a complete reconstruction of systems that are supposed to serve all people will not do.

Where to begin in our little corner of the world? We can start here understanding there is significantly more work that must be done.

First, let’s be clear that scholarships and reduced rates do not qualify as a comprehensive effort to address social equity. While financial assistance is a way to provide access for those in need, it is a singular method that is commonly under-utilized for many unfortunate reasons. Having a scholarship program does not opt us out of our responsibility to dig deeper to understand the barriers that many face. When we spend more time on satisfying wants than on understanding needs, we compromise opportunities for profound community impact. Connecting with local schools, public health providers, and other human services organizations can provide better optics of a community’s profile including sub-communities, which often tend to be overlooked and go unnoticed. Once a more complete understanding of the needs of the community as a whole are in focus, we can begin to design relevant strategies and actions that align with these needs. This work will always be more effective if done in collaboration with organizations of similar purpose.

2018 27 dorling inequality

Next? We must stop kneeling at the feet of entitled community members who have the resources to pay but do not want to by virtue of an inflated sense of self or an ignorance of how far their tax dollars actually go. For example, the $25 that youth sports groups pay to use fields that cost organizations tens of thousands of dollars each year to maintain is nothing less than a travesty (note: this metaphor represents any service that should not be subsidized to the degree they have or continue to be). Allowing special interests to raid the cookie jar time and time again only dilutes finite financial resources and limits opportunities to affect community needs. It is past time to stand up to those who have an ability to pay yet little to no willingness on behalf of those who rely on us and our voices to be their champions and advocates.

Finally, we should do all we can to ensure that policy makers are educated and informed about the communities they have been elected to represent. While many of these people believe they know it all, they may know very little about the community they serve. They are likely representing people who may never vote due to their mistrust of government, may never attend a meeting as they believe no one will listen and that the system is corrupt or pitted against them, and in some cases, may never engage simply because they fear government. Take a chance and begin a dialogue about designing an education and training program for policy makers based upon the critical and timely topic of “the common good”.

Will we actually learn something this time around and not allow our subconscious short-term memory to take us back to “normal” – a “normal” that was profoundly inadequate offering a way of life tilted heavily in favor of the vocal, entitled minority? Let’s hope so.