The other day former New Jersey Governor Florio penned an editorial titled, "Time to present Camden to the world." He heralded development in the city, a new economic plan, a new cancer research center, and potentially a new World Trade Center. Positing that the city has turned around, he wrote,
"The city's assets, infrastructure and geography, coupled with new economic incentives for growth and development, are moving Camden from the 'no-go' column to 'let's go' in the eyes of business people and developers looking for space to relocate and available ground on which to build."
Sadly, consideration for the people of Camden and the trauma they have suffered as a result of decades of poverty was largely missing in his plans for the future. Governor Florio spoke about Camden as though what has happened in the the past and is continuing in the present has no bearing on the future. It is as though the future is disconnected from the very people who have suffered wounds and currently live in the city.
Who doesn't know someone or perhaps, experienced themselves, a new knee or having rotator cuff surgery? It isn't the surgery that heals; it is the rehabilitation that actually makes one whole again. Just ask Adrian Peterson, of the NFL Vikings, about rehab. After suffering a devastating ACL knee injury, he spent a year in rehabilitation to then have one of the best all-around seasons as a running back in 2012. It is not different for the people of Camden. The experiences that they have had, amazing amount of adversity that is a part of daily life here are not overcome by a job, a new building or entitlement.
Former Governor Florio's editorial is not without irony. In justifying his attempted leadership position on the topic of Camden's revitalization he writes, "I feel comfortable speaking about Camden, having represented the people of the city for three terms while serving in the New Jersey Assembly beginning in 1969." By 1969, according to Wikipedia "Camden had been losing jobs and residents for a quarter century due in large part to urban decay, highway construction, and racial tensions." For more than 40 years, Governor Florio has been out of touch with people in Camden!
Like radiation, endemic poverty irradiates all that is around it. In Camden, there is an irradiated people, a wounded city that Governor Florio's World Trade Center fails terribly to acknowledge. The wound is not that crumbling buildings or poor infrastructure that can be replaced by new development, but rather in the people who have experienced years of chronic stress from violence, endemic poverty, and neglect. The people have been impacted and sadly, plans that don't allow for healing, are plans that are fanciful at best for the people of Camden.
What is happening here? It is the same thing that happens in cities all across the country. Development becomes the solution for symptoms of trauma and poverty is normed. We attack symptoms, not the root cause, which requires us to separate people from progress and conveniently chastise the wounded for their inability to play the "game" at full speed.
Sadly, the same thing happens when we simply claim that we just need jobs, jobs, jobs. Without attention to the healing, will lead to reenactments of violence. The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACES) has been nationally recognized in connecting chronic adversity -- poverty, neglect and abuse -- with subsequent dire health issues. If people experience ongoing chronic stress and do not receive time to heal, the likelihood to participate in the new developmental landscape of Camden, Detroit, Chicago, Oakland, Philadelphia, etc. is greatly diminished. That would be like Adrian Peterson trying to play for the Vikings without having had rehab.
I have been working in Camden for 16 years and in that time I have come to realize that jobs and paychecks do not solve poverty. The needed healing is not a static thing, but a changing dynamic that is as fragile as the people who live in it. For Camden to have the future the Governor intends with the World Trade Center development, the men, women, and children' healing must be an active crucial part of it. "Future" is not a concept that comes easily to individuals just trying to survive their present. It requires care that helps them first own their past by naming what has been done to them, healing from that and moving forward.
Until we all -- Governor Florio, Governor Chris Christie, Mayor Dana Redd, and other politicians elected to represent the people of Camden on November 5 -- recognize and heal the history of Camden's people, we will not be ready to take on the world.