Rite of passage, South Central style

One of the consistent things in our neighborhood is the very steady flow of ice-cream trucks up and down our street. In the six years that I have lived here, I have never bought ice-cream from any of them. Until yesterday

I can’t remember the occasion, but I had told the kids last week that I would set a dollar out and the next ice-cream truck we heard, we could go outside and spend our dollar. Well, we never heard one that day (hard to imagine), but yesterday the kids remembered what I had said and when we heard the familiar music, asked me if we could go. Something truly remarkable had just happened in our home: all three kids took afternoon naps. At the same time. And so I was happy to allow them this special treat.

We ran down our stairs, without shoes, and out our front door but we were too late. The truck had already crossed 30th and I wasn’t going to cross the street barefoot. “Let’s sit on our step and wait to see if there will be another one,” I suggested. The kids were thrilled to run around in the grass and build little twig houses and blow dandelions while we waited. And sure enough, a few minutes later we heard another truck

We met the ice-cream truck (van, actually) on the corner of 30th and Kenwood, and Mercy very quickly pointed out the pink ice-cream cone she wanted. After realizing that just about everything else pictured on the side of the truck cost more than a dollar, I asked the man for the pink ice-cream cone. We walked back to our steps, and the kids giddily sat down to share their treat. They took turns with bites and licks, and their soon-pink faces and big smiles gave me much joy. Doug arrived home from his study session while we were still out front, and he was given the bottom of the cone filled with melted pink to eat.

While we had been out front waiting, we had made friends with two little kids riding scooters on our street. I had not seen them before, and they motioned a few houses south of us when I asked them where they stayed. When we heard the ice-cream truck, they ran home to get some money, but by the time they made it back the truck was gone. I assured them that another one would likely come soon. When it did, I was horrified to see these two kids running after the truck, begging it to stop, while the driver accelerated and drove away. And I could not help but wonder if it was because of the color of their skin.

About the same time we had heard the first truck approaching, a cruiser had come racing up our street. Having just seen a flurry of young men on bikes and on foot, streaming from 30th, I had that moment where I had to decide if we should turn around and go back inside. For whatever reason I decided to keep going and so we walked, barefoot, Elijah dangling from my arms and the two big kids holding hands, to a corner that has been the center of so much violence in our neighborhood, with the black and white cruiser creeping slowly next to us. A second cruiser came from the opposite direction and the two met just north of us on Kenwood, parked their vehicles, and entered the property of one of our neighbors. And we picked out our ice-cream.

Doug made a comment to me the other day about how people make a big deal about where we live but “it’s not like we are saving the world or anything.” My response to him was that while that was true, there is a constant level of fear and tension that we live with that most others (at least those who have a choice) do not. I was especially struck by this on our trip to Denver when I was standing in the backyard of Aunt Kristin’s house where my kids were playing, and I caught myself constantly looking around and looking behind me and I realized: wait, I don’t have to do that here.

It’s hard to quantify: the fear that hovers over little decisions like buying ice-cream. It’s hard to quantify: the ever-present shadow of young men, murdered. It’s hard to quantify: remembering all of the kids who were out playing the night someone was shot, and choosing to walk outside with your own.


  1. Growing up out in the back of beyond, I only got have an ice cream truck when I visited my grandparents who lived in the city. So when my husband & I realized that the ice cream truck visited our townhouses regularly we were delighted. When our children were old enough, we allowed them that treat on occasion as well. We were horrified to discover, however, that so many of the children in our neighborhood were getting dinner from the truck. Night after night, the bag of chips or sweet confection was all the nutrition they’d get for the evening.

    At least, though, they could all play outside without fear of gunfire.

  2. That is why I love both of you, because so many aspects of faith are both/and.

    Doug, of course, calls out the temptation to exoticize ministry in the “inner-city.”

    And you, reminding us that nevertheless, it is like sheep being among wolves. Dangerous. Scary.

  3. Your skill wielding words and obvious honesty keeps me reading.

    I appreciated Masaki’s take, though.

    A lot of individuals and families who have lived in your context and contexts like it haven’t experienced the same ‘constant level of fear and tension” or anything like it.

    I don’t know you personally so I’m not sure if you’re the operatic yin to your husband’s prosaic yang that Masaki seems to suggest.

    Lots of truth in every perspective.

    But I often hope that all of us yins and yangs can find a better balance in our witness while still staying true to character. Hard to do. But important, particularly if we’re trying to encourage people to take risks and if we’re attempting to help the ‘haves’ to lose their pernicious stereotypes of poor people.

  4. When I consider out neighbourhood, with its own struggles with violence, drugs and racial tensions, I echo Doug’s sentiments- we are saving this community. If anything, it is saving us, forcing us from the neutrality of our indifference to become part of a community that is rich in culture, history and purpose.

    Thanks for a great post, as alwasy, Erika!


  5. I don’t know how high of a Mexican population you have in your area, but our old area in Chicago used to have Mexican guys come by with little carts selling homemade ice cream in flavors like mango, coconut, tamarindo, etc. If you EVER get the opportunity to, try their mango icecream bars. FANTASTIC. 🙂

  6. Hi Erika,

    I just stumbled across your blog and I found it quite interesting. We just moved and started attending a three year old urban church plant. We discovered that none of the church leaders (or most parishioners)live in the city. I am certain its because of the reasons you described in your ice cream truck account. My husband and I are taking a look at ourselves to see where God would have us minister.
    Thank you.

  7. Tom,

    And I am glad you keep reading and sharing your thoughts along the way…

    Doug and I are a pretty good example of the Yin and Yang of things…we were the couple who basically failed the compatibility tests in pre-marital counseling due to our marked differences in personality 🙂

    And maybe we will actually meet in person one of these days!

  8. Marlena,

    I am glad you stumbled our way!

    That sounds like a fascinating (and I would think difficult) venture: to church-plant in a neighborhood where one does not live. I would be curious to hear more about it!

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