This is the first part of a longer conversation we had in May 2016, discussing the differences and similarities in contexts and issues between Niddrie, a housing scheme in Scotland, and the hood in West Atlanta, GA, USA.
In this video, Mez chats with John Onwuchekwa and some of his church members at Cornerstone Church in Atlanta, GA, about their first impressions of a Scottish housing scheme. They discuss what they’ve observed during the 20schemes Vision Trip and how Niddrie compares to their experiences of social and economic deprivation in the United States.
Mez: Ok welcome guys. Welcome to Niddrie, you’ve been here a couple of days now, why don’t you just introduce yourselves, say a little bit about yourselves, then we’ll get down to business.
J.P.: Ok, Jon Parker I’m from the greatest state in the union of California. I’m at Cornerstone Church now with John and Tara and just excited to be here.
Mez: Good lad J.P.!
Tara: Tara Blasingame, I’m originally from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and right now at Cornerstone in Atlanta, Georgia with John.
Mez: Go John-O!
John: John Onwuchekwa from Atlanta Georgia, so they’re now at the church.
Mez: Well thanks for being with us, now you’re over on a short Vision Trip here, just to come and have a look at our ministry and I’m just interested to get some initial perspectives because obviously you guys are in the hood in Atlanta, and this is not the hood, not even close to the hood, where we are in Niddrie, or is it?
Tara: There really are a lot of similarities. I don’t want to call it the hood, but it does look like it to me… No it doesn’t, and that’s, I think one of your members said something that was so key. He said this place, they make it look nice so that it kind of camouflages the issues and it really, that really clarified things to me. I think I did look at it initially and said these are nice houses! These are better than the houses we have better when you do look inside, you get inside and you see and you to meet the great people you do see what it really is and the question becomes is this being done so that no one can complain so that it could be said, no you have good things you shouldn’t have anything to complain about or so. But nah, this is clear and visible and this is some of the same stuff that we go through in the area that we’re in, its some of the things.
Mez: So, it’s interesting the houses, we’ll come back to gentrification later, but a lot of people come here, visit us and even people from our own country they come and see the houses, cause they’ve spent like, man, 500 million over the last 15-20 years, gentrifying us, and people come initially they look at the… it looks, tidy, it looks good, and you think man, this is… this isn’t tough! [bctt tweet=”‘this place isn’t poor enough, it looks the business…’ (@mez1972)”]Actually when I came here nine years ago one of the reasons I nearly didn’t take the job, because I thought this place isn’t poor enough, it looks the business, and it was only until I stayed around for a couple of days, I came out at 2am on a Saturday night…
J.P.: It was going down?!
Mez: That’s one of the reasons I took the job, I’m thinking now, yeah… now, now I’m seeing. Cause I was put off at first, but what’s your perspective J.P.?
J.P.: I mean it is interesting because when I first heard about the trip, I was like, oh… I can be like a reverse Paul, I can take the gospel to these white folks being a black guy, as opposed to colonisation, right? But then I started doing the research and you know the stuff that’s posted on the website and 20schemes stuff and I’m like, man, the things that are happening in these schemes are the same things that are happening where we are, places I’ve grown, where my cousins have lived, and it’s just like, fatherlessness, crime, poor education, drug abuse, alcohol abuse… [bctt tweet=”fatherlessness, crime, poor education, drug abuse, alcohol abuse… #20schemes #hood #poverty”]Yeah, and you know, and the list going on and on, and I’m like, man, like okay what’s going on here, like, I’m used to having a context where people that look like me are oppressed and in America we’re taught that it’s white folks that have done this to us, that may be doing this to us, and the oppressor is them, but then I look at what’s going on here, and I’m like there’s white folks in the same condition, potentially being oppressed by other white folks – I’m assuming that’s who runs the country – so it’s clearly not just a racial issue, but that’s what the State’s makes it, you know it’s about race, right. And so we have to be divided on that and hate people on that line. So when I come here and seeing and hearing and reading about all these different things that are taking place I realised the bigger issue is it’s a sin issue. Oppression is, you know, may the best man win, right, and whoever I have to keep under my thumb in order for me to win it doesn’t matter if they look like me – could be my grandma, my auntie – it doesn’t matter, if my heart is bent towards winning, I just going to win at all costs, and winning I mean by financial and, you know, whatever other games are to be had at someone else’s expense, and it’s just, it’s heartbreaking but it’s encouraging at the same time to see that, all right, I can diversify, I can spread out my angst, it really just be, you know, trying to figure out how to make the system better, you know, and if it’s through the church, through the church, yes, and if I need to do some social justice stuff, cool, I can do that too, but I don’t have to be as angry when I see fellas that look like you in the States, hey, man, you know it’s all good.
John Onwuchekwa is the lead pastor of Cornerstone Church in Atlanta, GA. He’s originally from Houston, TX. He’s married to Shawndra. John O visited Scotland in May 2016 to check out the work of 20schemes as part of a 20schemes vision trip.