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Belonging in Transition

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By Jason Wyman

Everything is in transition: our earth, our neighborhoods, our bodies. In fact, Heraclitus said, “Change is the only constant in life.” Adolescents especially know this truth because their bodies rapidly develop between the ages of 10 and 19. According to the World Health Organization, it is second only to infancy in terms of physiological growth.

Adolescence isn’t the only space of rapid development. Neighborhoods, especially neighborhoods in metropolitan areas, area also experiencing incredible transition. In San Francisco, the cost of living has increased dramatically, and it is forcing out families, elders, and lower income individuals all across the city. As an example, artists and long-standing community members Rene Yanez and Yolanda Lopez were evicted in fall 2013 from their home of over 35 years.

While their contributions to the vibrancy and vitality of their neighborhood and community are invaluable and are what draws people from elsewhere to the neighborhood, it is not valued in the same way as land and property. So when people who can afford higher rents move into a neighborhood, the people that have called that neighborhood home for decades are pushed out.

This rapid transition, whether in adolescence or neighborhoods, calls into question: Where does one belong?


The Minnesota Department of Health defines belonging as “finding [one’s] place in the world”.  For adolescents, finding one’s place is crucial to their healthy development. It is what nurtures positive relationships, builds a support system, and creates meaning and purpose.

To cultivate belonging, young people need opportunities to:

  • deepen caring connections with others,
  • hone critical thinking skills,
  • experiment with new behaviors, values, and belief systems,
  • broaden perspectives,
  • contribute to a greater good,
  • develop civic habits.

Neighborhoods, especially neighborhoods in rapid development with increased cost of living, need similar supports and opportunities as young people in order to develop in a manner where all belong and where the existing community that lives, works, and own businesses there can “still recognize it as their own and still be able to afford to stay there if they choose.”

As demonstrated with the case of Rene Yanez and Yolanda Lopez, existing community members in San Francisco are currently being evicted and displaced. With increasing rents, residents cannot find places to live within the community they currently reside. Thus, they leave their neighborhood and place they call home.

So…Where do you belong? What would happen if you suddenly lost your home? How can neighborhoods become places where all belong and where the existing community still prospers?

Jason Wyman is many things. Today, he is a social practice artist examining belonging across the ages through video, storytelling, installation, and education. He is the Co-Founder and Creative Director of 14 Black Poppies, an ensemble member of OutLook Theater Project, and on the board of directors for Independent Arts and Media. He was the production manager for BAYMN FEST, a celebration of youth media from the Bay Area and beyond. You can learn more at www.14blackpoppies.com.

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