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Sense of Community

Written By: Stephen Despin

Growing up in a small town, community was a huge and everyone in town knew each other. I never thought there was anything unique about it because it was just the way things were. It wasn’t until I moved out of that small town that I saw that even in other small towns this was certainly something that was out of the ordinary. After the eighth grade we moved from Massachusetts to Lehigh Acres, Florida. I attended high school at Riverdale High School in Fort Myers, Florida. It was a good school and the town I lived in again was fairly small. However, despite being a small town it certainly didn’t have the sense of community that Oxford had. I noticed right away that something was different than I was used to. I made friends easily, enjoyed the town, and always found something to do but it wasn’t like back home.

I didn’t immediately notice what it was that was missing because I was young and more concerned with making friends. It wasn’t until I got older and was out of high school that I realized what it was that was so different. It didn’t take long before I moved back to Massachusetts in search of that sense of community again. It was only a few years after graduation that I was back living in Oxford. The only problem – that loss of community had finally hit Oxford. The Flagg family who owned the gas station at the end of the street had sold it off to a corporate chain, the small businesses that used to be in the old mill where sold and all replaced with impersonal stores where no one even knew who you were. It wasn’t the same town I had grew up in and in only four years the town was completely different. There were still a couple of the old families in town but for the most part it was nothing like it had been.

When I was growing up the neighbors cared about each other, we all looked out for each other’s houses, and if someone was having a rough time the entire neighborhood would come together and help out. When I went back the neighborhood had new families that had moved in, no one knew each other, and the entire landscape of the community had changed. For the first time in my life my hometown felt distant and disconnected. It was so strange to see the neighborhood this way. When I was a kid the people in Oxford cared about the town, they attended town hall meetings, and they took an interest in what was going on. None of that was there when I went back, I watched my generation taking the town in a different direction where people went about their lives only caring about themselves and never even taking an interest in anything else that was going on with the town or the people who lived within it. There was a severe disconnect and my generation was in so many ways responsible for it. We tried so hard to pull away from the generation before us that we moved into a direction of self-seclusion by moving into our own little silos and blocking out the rest of the world.

I didn’t know it at the time, but this would lead to horrible consequences for the town of Oxford long term. In 2007 I moved back to Florida. I spent 6 more years in Florida before moving to New Mexico. In 2017 I went back to Massachusetts for a funeral. The town was completely different by this point. Highly progressive local fiscal policy had led to heavy restrictions on small business and new business licenses and most of Main Street was just empty storefronts. Many of the entry level jobs that used to be filled with High School kids working there first jobs no longer existed and the cost of living drastically had increased. With these policies came the increases in taxes that often come with them. Due to the loss of the sense of community that Oxford used to have the neighbors no longer looked out for each other. When people were hitting hard times, they were on their own and there was no one there to help them. This has led to the citizens to lean more on government, elect more big government officials, and has led to high taxes, less freedom, and high cost of living. I was sad to see this happening to the town I loved, the town my family had been in for over a century, the place where my family’s roots were. 

I’ve watched this breakdown in community happen all around the country. I’ve lived in many states, many different towns & cities, and it was the same story all around. It became even more apparent during the 2016 Presidential Election. We watched neighbor pitted against neighbor simply because of party lines. We watched the country get divided in two along partisan lines and that divide just continued to get wider as the time after the election moved forward. The true sense of just how bad this divide in our nation had gotten was on January 6th when the Capitol Building was stormed by angry citizens in an attempt to disrupt the House floor. I never in my life though I would see American citizens storming the US Capitol Building. I had seen it throughout history books happen in other countries, but I never thought it could happen here in our own country. This divide had grown to epic proportions and that’s when I truly knew that things needed to change.

That’s when I decided to dedicate my life to building community, uplifting people, and working towards a society of mutual benefit where people succeed by helping others. I got involved with issue advocacy and activism and became a grassroots organizer and lobbyist. I began advocating community driven solutions and the principles of a free society full time. More importantly I work within the community. This is the area where I find the most fulfillment & happiness. I get the opportunity to work with people in the community, find the issues important to them, and work with them to create the change they wish to see. I get to help mentor, educate, and train them how to create change and communicate with legislators to help create that change. I get to help empower them break both internal & external barriers to realizing their full potential. This helps lift up individuals and thus simultaneously lifting up the community. I help amplify their voices to government and bring forward amazing change in our community.

During this process I get to bring communities together, get them talking to each other, helping them get to know their neighbors, and bringing that sense of community back to small towns all around the Land of Enchantment. One of the best ways to bring back that sense of community that has for so long been gone is to bring communities together. This couldn’t be more important of a time for this than now. We need to find a way to unify, to communicate, to talk to each other despite or disagreements. There’s no reason why simple disagreements cause us to mistreat or hate each other. In order for us to bring back this sense of community we need to learn to put aside our disagreements and realize that life is more important than our petty disagreements. Together as a community is the best way to solve some of our states greatest issues. The institutions of Business, Educations, and Community are far more effective at handling issues than government and those institutions all depend on people in the community taking action towards change. It takes us talking to one another and getting to know our neighbors, getting to know the cashier at the local gas stations name, getting to know people in the community, and finding ways of getting involved in helping in our communities. It takes all of us taking an interest in the community we live in to build them back up. We can build strong, prosperous communities if we just came together and spoke. We can have an amazingly strong state if we as a people came together to work with anyone to do right and create incredible change. People are all capable of extraordinary things if only given the opportunity. Through community we can make strides in education, criminal justice, economic opportunity, poverty, and so much more. Together we can make a difference if only we tried. Are you ready to try?