What is the most important thing for you?
E L L I O T
The Official Definition of Community is; “A group of people who have attributes or interests in common.” Though my understanding of the definition is very different. It was late 2005 when my father decided that it was time for a new life abroad. I had known for a while that we were moving, but not where. Originally we were moving down the road from Stockport in Greater Manchester, to Poynton, in surrounding Cheshire.
Then we moved to New Zealand.
I was a young, hyperactive, emotional and sometimes volatile child. This was nothing to do with my parents or my upbringing but rather to the fact of being unsure of myself, my identity and where I fit in. Moving to Christchurch did not help this. Very quickly I found myself the bullied rather than the bully. I was mocked for my accent, I was mocked for my mannerisms, I was mocked for my voice and my height, just about anything that I can think of. It wasn’t until my second High School that this finally stopped and with it came a sense of comfort. I began to sink into my own skin and grow, develop. The thing about it was that it was a tight-knit community. Nobody cared who you were, where you came from or how you looked; so long as you let people do their own thing, they did the same for you. Now, this was of course far from idyllic and in no sense a real community but it was refreshing. We weren’t at each other’s throats and that was that main thing.
It’s now 2016, I have graduated (just) and am working full-time in a food shop. After a long day at work, I came home at about 1 am and was watching tv with my partner when the ground started to move. “Too long to be an aftershock,” I thought, as the ground continued to shake, “Too weak to be here,” I confirmed with myself while I held the tv in place. At first, I was sure that the dreaded alpine fault line had gone off, but once this had been confirmed not be the case, and a tidal wave had hit us from Kaikoura, we were sure that everything was over. I broke down.
The seventh major earthquake, the thousand-and-somethingth aftershock, the very thing that had started the collapse of my home unit, my Whanau, the closest people to me, had struck again.
Six days later I was in England. It had been too much.
Having left behind everything I had known for the past 11 years I set off to a place where I now knew no-one, where even as a citizen I had no real rights anymore and where my parents literally refused to move back to.
It was, of course, the only option I had, to me at least anyway.
After finding a job and settling down, I was introduced to Canal Street, a small cluster of clubs in central Manchester. This was almost a salvation. It was a weird experience to be for the first time, surrounded by people who were just like me. There was nothing to hide, no reason to be scared. I was then introduced to even more LGBT friends at the University of Manchester, Salford University and the Manchester Metropolitan University. I had people around me who understood what I had been through to come to terms with who I was. They had been through similar hardships at school, work, church and they sympathised. They shared experiences with me, we laughed together, cried together, danced together.
AND THE DANCING! I was in Musical Theatre when I was little but never in my life had I felt comfortable enough to just freestyle dance, but the energy of the club pulsated through us like a network, lighting up each individual nerve and tendon and sending electrical impulses through us to make us an expression of the song. What was most important though was this; I had a group of people I belonged to who were ready to fight for each other and face persecution hand in hand. Which has led me to realize how important it is to belong to such a community. Each one acts as a cell in a cluster, each community acting as one body in a crowd. If all communities were here to provide what another needed, we would all work as one giant network. It is why I think that every College, Iwi, Church, Book Group, Friend Circle and even, so help me, Football Team need be ready to spend their time and energy, reaching out into the suburbs, into the streets, ready to support whoever is in trouble, because at the end of the day, that is what makes us human, the ability to work as one giant network and be the help for the helpless.
“A true community is not just about being geographically close to someone or part of the same Social Web Network. It’s about feeling more connected and responsible for what happens. Humanity is our ultimate community, and everyone plays a crucial role.”
Elliot Stephen Russell.