This past weekend on her popular eponymous MSNBC program, Tulane University professor and political commentator Melissa Harris-Perry took the last few minutes of her show to talk about how a simple tradition like trick or treating on Halloween is an excellent barometer by which to measure the health and wellness of our communities (click here to watch a clip of her closing remarks). After waxing whimsical about the array of politically-inspired costumes–culled mostly from the 2012 presidential race and featuring such obvious options as President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, and tapping into the more creative with humorous takes on Romney’s now-infamous “binders full of women” gaffe–the fearless leader of #NerdLand launched into a thoughtful and relevant commentary about how families’ willingness and comfort in allowing their little ghouls and goblins to go door to door accepting candy from neighbors reflects how folks feel about where they live and the people by whom they are surrounded.
Harris-Perry’s remarks triggered fond memories for me, as I recalled donning my costume back in the day and heading out into my middle-class neighborhood in the suburbs of Dallas, TX with my plastic pumpkin bucket, ready to ring bells and shout “trick or treeeeat!” and watch with absolute glee as the door swung open and chocolates, caramels, and other goodies poured into my candy carrier. I reminisced about the annual Halloween party and youth lock-in our church hosted; my friends and I would arrive in the evening of the Friday closest to Halloween with our costumes, sleeping bags, and sweets receptacles, and gather in the fellowship hall for games, dancing, hot dogs and sodas, and finally, at the end of the evening, retreat to our sleeping quarters on the linoleum floor. The next morning, we’d rise and shine for choir rehearsal and other activities before going home for more Halloween fun. As an adult, I became just plain giddy watching Halloween decorations go up in my beloved East Dallas neighborhood, spent way too much money on candy and goodies, and waited anxiously for the trick or treaters to begin ringing my doorbell. I’d excitedly fling the door open and invite the kids–whether young or young at heart–to take handfuls of candy to their hearts’ content. I am sure that my efforts alone made some dentists very, very happy!
What struck me most about Melissa Harris-Perry’s epilogue was the realization that, more than being a perfect excuse to indulge in copious amounts of sugar, Halloween represents the best in our communities–the ways in which families and neighbors come together to host parties and sponsor events that allow kids to be kids. Watching the cavalcades of children meandering up and down sidewalks and running across front yards in pursuit of fun-sized candy bars and bubble gum, their laughter filling the air with joyful sounds, warms the heart and, at least momentarily, can take the mind off of the daily struggles we all face. In her commentary, Harris-Perry also acknowledges that there are far too many neighborhoods and communities where the idea of kids roaming the streets on Halloween or any other night is out of the question; that crime, questionable neighbors, and uncertainty about the safety of the surroundings renders trick or treating unthinkable. I, for one, haven’t spent much time considering these neighborhoods and areas, despite being aware that I’ve lived in communities where, just a few streets over, an entirely different reality existed for the children and families who called those neighborhoods home.
As we prepare to celebrate Halloween once more, I’m taking Melissa Harris-Perry’s charge to heart and challenging myself to not only be more mindful of, but, most importantly, more active in the communities in which I live, work, and socialize. How can I make a difference and ensure that all kids have the opportunity to enjoy Halloween as well as the simple joys of childhood, period? What efforts can I endeavor to step out of my comfort zone, out of my “bubble,” to make substantive change and more than merely symbolic gestures? To some, it may seem odd to link a holiday like Halloween with a pensive conversation about the ways in which we can build and strengthen our communities and our ties. But Ms. Harris-Perry inspired me to begin this season thinking critically about what it means to be part of a community, and all the ways each of us can engage from right where we are in creating the kinds of communities and neighborhoods that not only support a festive night of trick or treating but that promote growth, prosperity, and overall wellness beyond Halloween and the holidays.
The challenge now will be to put the thoughts into meaningful action.
Here’s to a fun and safe Halloween!
Rhonda Nicole is an independent singer/songwriter, lovin’ and livin’ in Oakland, CA, currently performing with San Francisco-based soul band Midtown Social. Download her EP “Nuda Veritas” on CDBaby and iTunes, check her out on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter and Instagram @wildhoneyrock.