On May 6th history will be made. On that Saturday morning the residents of Martin Street Plaza will assemble, picks and sledge hammers in hand, and tear down the graffiti covered wall that surrounds their public housing project. There will be inexpressible joy in every crashing blow - joy that only those who have endured years of deprivation can know. And as the wall comes tumbling down, a symbol of separation will at long last be eradicated from the soul of the Summerhill community. The wall-breaking signals the dawn of a new day for the residents of this dilapidated government project. After years of persistent, diligent effort, they have finally gained control of the management of their complex and will soon become its owners. These low-power people trapped in a low-hope environment have become for all of us a living example of the dramatic distinction between "will" and "willingness".
Will, they have taught us, is a combination of vision and mind-set committed to a course of action. It is a stubborn single mindedness propelled by a deep conviction about what must be done. For more than a decade now, this small group of dedicated residents have held tenaciously to the vision that their project could become a healthy place for children to grow up. After six years of letter writing and an endless string of appointments that led them to all the way to Capitol Hill, they finally secured HUD's approval to allow Martin Street Plaza residents to purchase their complex. HUD officials, it turned out, were remarkably supportive. However, willingness alone is never enough.
Four more frustrating years dragged by. HUD secretaries (of two administrations) continued to publicly pledge their commitment to the effort. Encouraging photo-op press conferences were staged at politically strategic times. A succession of Housing Authority executive directors gave assurances of their wholehearted support. Countless bureaucrats reviewed forms, interpreted regs and requested reams of information. Everyone seemed quite willing to support the residents' dream. Yet the will to expedite remained strangely elusive.
Will has an imperative nature about it. Risk and sacrifice are its companions. When willingness says "we should", will insists "we must". When willingness says "let's support it", will declares "let's do it!" People of good will process while people of vision act. The visionaries at Martin Street Plaza refused to acquiesce to a long litany of disheartening delays. From reserves fed by faith-streams deep within their spirits they summoned energy and remained consistently on the offensive. They attracted the attention of the media, secured corporate support, pulled political strings, marched, petitioned, even staged a peaceful occupation of the HUD regional office when officials reneged on a promise. These were not the angry protests of bitter adversaries. There were no enemies here - everyone was willing. These were merely the activities required for will to prevail in the midst of willingness.
Finally, after a decade of persistence, the residents of Martin Street Plaza will realize their dream. They are now in firm control of the management of their property. They have expelled the drug traffickers. Their grounds are clean, their grass is mowed and their toilets flush. They have formed a small construction company and, with architectural plans in hand, are poised to begin a major rehabilitation. By the time they have completed the work, their limited equity co-op will hold title to the property. Construction begins at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday, May 6. For one brief moment in one small corner of our world, we can celebrate the triumph of will over willingness!
The residents would like their friends to join them in this celebration. They invite you to meet them at the wall on Georgia Avenue at Martin Street. Bring your hammer.