NO GIRLS ALLOWED

08.19.2015


Ledbetter is gently becoming one of the great communities in Texas in which to live and raise a family. Of the many tributaries that flow into the river of community, the act of intentional inclusion may be one of the most important. To be included is at the heart of essence of community.
When I was about ten years old, living in inner city Houston, Jimmy Strickland, Bobby Watson, and Manfred Gobert conspired to form a secret club. I have no recollection of why it needed to be secret or what the secret was that we were keeping. I do remember that the clandestine nature of the club raised the level of intrigue and importance of club membership.  We singed a benign oath in spit using a stick that Jimmy Strickland had sharpened with his Old Timer. We were going to sign in blood but we downgraded the severity of the initiation rite because Bobby refused to use Jimmy’s knife to make his finger bleed. That  diluted the scale of the oath that was to have obligated us to be friends for life. It was downgraded to a blurry commitment to be pals until we graduated from David G. Burnett Elementary.  
The first order of essential business was to build our club house in the vacant lot behind our house. With an eye for permanence we gathered every scrap board we could scrounge from the trash piles around the neighborhood and a piece of tin siding that had fallen off the chicken house at Bobby’s house. We worked for a week on that club house every day after school.  With the metal roof tied down in place we were ready for our first meeting. Only two necessities were needed to protect our opaque agenda.  One was that we needed a look out. Every secret club needs a look out. We elected my six year old sister, Gaynell, to fill that post. That duty did not, however, convey a permission to enter the sacred halls of the club house. 
The other club necessity was a sign that I personally designed and executed with a brown Crayola on a cardboard shirt insert from the cleaners that I got from my dad. The sign plainly read: NO GIRLS ALLOWED and I nailed it to the front door. This was the most visible symbol of the values and intent of our club. It was the moniker by which we would identify ourselves. It was a plain and clear statement of who we did not want. There was no boy among us older than eleven. We had no clue what it was that we were prohibiting with this juvenile assertion of our maleness but we had now declared our identity with a boyish declaration of who we were excluding. 
Few clubs can functionally survive with a commitment to exclusion. Ours didn’t. I don't mean they can't exist. I just mean they can't function like we mean when we say a family is functional. Groups either function in bringing people together or they becoming dysfunctional in creating division and segregation.  Wherever there is true community you quickly discover that, spoken or unspoken, there is an open armed commitment that values inclusion. No one is left out. 
Exclusion as adults is a regressive immaturity. We use exclusion to protect ourselves and pamper our prejudices. Exclusion has no power within it to create community, and those who attempt to exist in such cultures fall into superficial and shallow groupings ever afraid to be themselves. In that group, veneer is the only hope of being accepted.
We have a big head start in Ledbetter in being a truly functional community. And I want to suggest a signal, a symbol, of our inclusiveness. I want to take the symbol from sign language. It is the letter L. You make it with your right hand by holding index finger to the sky and your thumb pointing west. See it? What if we used that letter L as a sign of friendship and inclusion? It is a neat sign because by simply raising your little finger as well your L turns into the sign for "I love you". I sure am glad my boyhood club didn't last. Wonder whatever happen to Manfred?

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