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A Connected Community

By Rev. Donald L. Perryman, Ph.D.
The Truth Contributor

Since we live in a changing universe, why do men oppose change? If a rock is in the way, the root of a tree will change its direction. 

  - Melvin B. Tolson


Rev. Donald L. Perryman, D.Min.

Emmajean Road has been the pride of the “black suburbanite” class since the late 1960s and early 1970s. Along with its distinctive ambience of pastoral peacefulness, this two block-long residential sanctuary shares a geographical border with its esteemed neighbor, the moneyed bedroom community of Ottawa Hills, and remains relatively unchanged since blacks first moved to the community nearly six decades ago.

Recently, however, a battle has begun over control of the community’s “spirit” or mystique. Michael Leizerman, a wealthy local attorney, recently purchased 20 acres of land at the end of the cul-de-sac on Emmajean. Leizerman then built a house on 10 of the acres and donated the remaining acres to the Buddhist Temple of Toledo.  The Buddhists plan to erect a new temple on the connected property to serve their small 30-member community.  

Although construction for the temple satisfies all zoning and code requirements, some of the long-term Emmajean residents oppose the project.

While concerns over potential increased traffic are often expressed as the reason for the resistance, the fear of change usually rises from beneath the surface.

“A lot of us [residents] have concerns about the amount of traffic,” said one homeowner, “But we haven’t really got street lights or curbs and storm sewer tile in here, so we like it because it is nice and quiet out here, the way it’s been for years. But having a temple down there in the woods changes things,” he quickly added.

Would the long-term residents’ interference occur if a Baptist Church were to be built rather than a Buddhist temple?

“The type of religion never came up at all. Just about how it will affect our neighborhood. Folks have been living here a long time,” the homeowner continued.

On the other hand, longtime Emmajean Road resident and pastor Rev. John Roberts concedes that the street is narrow and lacks curbs, but adds, “but you know me, I’m not going to get in a fight with anybody about ‘church.’ I’d rather have people angry with me than God,” he chuckled.

Rev. Rinsen Weik, the temple’s leader who is credentialed as a “fully transmitted teacher” according to Zen practice and is also an accomplished musician and professor at the University of Toledo, has been frustrated by the intensity of the opposition given his organization’s promise to be a good neighbor.

“When I have asked for the residents’ vision for improving the neighborhood, all we hear in the public meetings is ‘We want our neighborhood exactly the way it is, so go away,’” he laments.

With a plan commission hearing scheduled for June 13, can anything be done to reach a satisfactory outcome?

If so, the answer lies in knowing how to manage change in, what is now, a rapidly changing society.

Peaceful change is unlikely to take place when those most effected by the change do not feel a sense of ownership or involvement, posits Alison Gilchrist author of The Well-connected Community. Mutuality has to override feelings of ‘us’ and ‘them’ in order to address inevitable conflicts and misunderstandings that come with change. One essential way to accomplish this, says Gilchrist, is by “extending informal networks to tackle social exclusion and build neighborhood or community cohesion.”

Rev. Weik has hired consultant Jason Daniel to attempt to connect the Buddhist Temple organization and the Emmajean Road residents into a well-connected community. I am convinced that building mutual trust and ensuring more representative involvement is the only way to bridge the current differences. The discovery of joint solutions or the development of alternatives that are acceptable to both the old and new neighbors are, only then, likely to take place.

Contact Rev. Donald Perryman, D.Min, at drdlperryman@centerofhopebaptist.org



Copyright © 2019 by [The Sojourner's Truth]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 06/06/19 19:14:57 -0400.



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