I pushed off the pavement as my longboard coasted away from the Historic Overtown Metro station. “God’s Plan” by Drake bumped in my earbuds. I felt like I was winning, and giving an abundance like king Drizzy Drake.
As I coasted into the heart of Overtown down 3rd Ave, though, I felt a shift in my gut. From the pit of my belly came the feeling: “Oh shit, this is real.” I had a few bananas and plantain chips with me, so Gollum at least knew that he’d be fed. But Frodo writhed outward. Not only did I have to trust in myself and those around me, but I also had to show up with sincerity and heart presence.
Sneaking hobbit in me knows that other sneaking hobbits can appear friendly and fancy while sneaking your precious in the process. In an environment of pervasive distrust, chaos, and power struggle, this faculty of discernment could become highly activated.
My gut felt this penetrating eye. Speaking to the community leaders and members, I felt the tides in my belly roiling as I remained aware and steered the chaos towards my heart. Why the fuck are you here? Speak up. Come on Evan, where are your powerful gifts?
I happened to enter the 3rd Ave barber shop of the local pastor, Willy Williams. He’d remained a pillar of the Overtown community for decades and mentored some of its most gifted young people. Even as the infrastructure and economy of Overtown eroded around him, and temptations to abandon his post and surrender to corrupt powers confronted him, he kept waking up early and working at the barber shop every day for over thirty years while leading a church congregation. His deep religious fervor impressed me, and I felt his uncompromising passion for guiding the people of his community into a heart-centered space. And I felt in my own heart, especially after hearing of the painful personal stories and present circumstances of Overtown, a heavy sadness. His presence and intelligence also brought up my gut fear of being somehow exploitative or inauthentic in coming to him with the plan for a garden as a basis of health and communal regeneration in Overtown. How many others have come before me promising the same thing, only to be weighed down and capsized by the immensity of the problem they idealistically imagined they could address? Why would this plan be any different? And the question most pertinent on my mind: am I loving God and others, but neglecting to love myself, as the pastor put it? My vibrant side (sacrum) desires to eat cornbread and dance to hip-hop music with the people of Overtown, too. Can we please break cornbread together? And bump some Drizzy? And grow a garden?
I spoke with another community member at the barber shop, the son of the family that owns a prominent soul food restaurant in Overtown. He told me how the meat he bought locally was of such poor quality, that by pouring Coca-Cola on it and leaving it out for half an hour, a slew of maggots would ooze out of its flesh. That was his impetus to be vegetarian. I never faced such a visceral reason to lessen my consumption of meat, but instead chose from my intellectual tower. Anyway, he told me that he “sees what I’m trying to do” and resonated with my mission. His blessing gave me confidence, but Mordor does not become the Shire through thought exchange alone.
A sign hung up in the pastor’s barber shop reinforced this awareness in me: small minds talk about people, average minds talk about events, great minds talk about ideas, and brilliant minds execute! Tomorrow, the volunteers whom I and other project members have touched base with around Miami will be coming out for a meeting of hands, ideas, and hopefully hearts. As homelessness, crime, rising housing prices, and chaos seep into Overtown, the solution won’t be a pushback against those dark forces, but rather a fierce cultivation of a safe haven. By having a basis of heart-connected, Earth-nourished beings in the vicinity of those caught in painful cycles of addiction and violence, the crossing into self-healing and human connection will become feasible. It’ll take communities with the resources and resilience to take care of those ensnared in chaos to begin healing the psychotic undercurrents of Miami’s population. Directly facing this dragon is a monumental, and perhaps suicidal task. I see that forming a social web to hold a healing counterbalance is the more gradual, grounded, and ultimately enduring path. As Drake says, “I can’t do this on my own.” And in the field of potentiality, Gandalf reminds me “Even the wise cannot see all ends.” Maybe I will fail, and slink off into the jungle to hoe the earth and eat fruit forever. Perhaps gardens will rise out of the cracked matrix of pavement, and the crackhead on the corner will become our beloved friend. Maybe I’ll go a spiritual-but-still-in-the-city-doing-yuppie shit path. Even if this drama is all in my head, I have faith that my inner guide will continue to show me the way. This feels too real, too heart-breaking-and-expanding, to be a delusion. My inner Samwise Gamgee unflinchingly journeys onward, to the simple joy of being in the garden and sharing with loved ones. I pray to all the archetypes, and to Nature to show me how to serve.