By Rev. Norman Fong

July 11, 2018

norman fong

I remember riding the #30 Bus back in the 1970’s and the bus was so crowded. Standing in the aisle, there was nothing to do but to look up at all those bus posters and ads. There was one poster in the bus that caught my attention. It read: “A message from above – Love Your Neighbor”. I forgot who sponsored that poster but I really liked it. I thought it was a great simple message. I was thinking about how that simple message changed my life to look at the world differently. I remember in high school volunteering at the Presbyterian Church to help pass out bags of food to seniors living in tiny SRO rooms. I wondered just how many Chinatown Seniors lived alone and who visited them? The seniors loved seeing me deliver a bag of groceries. They are our neighbors. They are our community. Our church later fought for the Mei Lun Yuen housing project and I guess you can say: I learned to “Think Community” through the church. Today, if I could afford it, I’d put posters on our buses and billboards saying: “A MESSAGE FROM ABOVE: ‘THINK COMMUNITY’.”

30 stockton muni

There are many definitions of what “Spirituality” means. For some people it is going to church or a temple regularly and practicing religious rituals. For others, “Spirit” means the ability to love and care for another person outside of yourself and your family (who we are all expected to love). In my religious tradition, it is the idea that in “Loving God, you must Love Your Neighbor”. The question is: “Who is my neighbor?” The answer generally is any one in need… like the poor, the sick, the elderly… For me – it’s Chinatown.

I often say to people who are non-religious like youth who are searching for what they want to do in life - just two words: “THINK COMMUNITY!” Think about what you can contribute to helping Chinatown whether it’s volunteering to serve food to seniors or families living in Single Room Occupancies (SROs) or teaching English classes to new immigrants. Learning to “Think Community” could also mean wanting to be a doctor or lawyer too but eventually helping the community, not just going for the money.

cta safety graduates

Last week, I was so impressed by 250 seniors who are part of the Community Tenants Association for learning how to help others in case of a fire or earthquake. They all took a class that they could possibly use to save someone’s life through knowing what to do in an emergency. There have been so many fires lately from Chinatown to the North Bay. My home church had a fire last Sunday because a stranger came to use our bathroom and lit the trash can on fire. Luckily, there were people around who saw the smoke and got the man out, and the sprinkler put out the fire. Last year, there was a big fire on Pacific and Stockton. The fire started on the ground floor where there were no fire sprinklers. Those same seniors (who learned how to “Think Community”) went to city hall and demanded fire sprinklers should be required on the ground floor of SRO buildings.

seismic safety outreach program

“Think Community” means caring enough to want to learn how to help others, not just yourself. I am so proud of the CTA Seniors! They get it! Our youth get it too! We have a whole new generation in Chinatown who know how to “think community!” We need more people to show love and care for the community. If the seniors of Chinatown are learning to care for others, how about some of you out there? The seniors see the threats in the community and not just from fires. These seniors feel a sense of ownership for preserving the oldest Chinatown in the United States. Look for ways to get more involved in your neighborhood or Chinatown but “Think Community” and build it wherever you are. There are so many non-profit organizations in Chinatown that could use your help. You can just call one to ask if you could help volunteer or donate money towards a program you believe in. We had a big BBQ for the Ping Yuen residents for the 4th of July and someone could have donated all those hotdogs and hamburgers. We still have a food pantry at our church that serves people living in Chinatown’s SROs, and someone could donate food that the seniors like. Donating to any non-profit you believe in is probably the easiest. Caring for the community is my main message. Chinatown needs all the help it can get and could you all help spread the message?

Originally published in Sing Tao Daily on July 8, 2018

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