ALTARS IN THE STREET by Melody Ermachild Chavis


A Neighborhood Fights to Survive
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 A thoughtful memoir of community-level social action and spiritual development. First-time author Chavis tells many stories in this fine book. At one level, she relates a tale of her conversion from somewhat aimless '60s survivor to committed Buddhist--and committed grown-up, with children, a mortgage, and a job. At another, she examines inequities in our judicial system, drawing on her wide experience as a private investigator in an agency employing ``overeducated actors, writers, and veterans of the civil rights and antiVietnam War movements,'' and on her ongoing service to economically disadvantaged prisoners. At still another level, she recounts the difficulties of ``steering a family ship through Berkeley's troubled waters,'' meaning not the well-heeled Berkeley of campus and coffeehouse but a tumbledown, mostly African-American district on the Oakland line that for two decades has witnessed epidemics of gang violence and drug addiction, problems met by official apathy. Taking matters into her own hands, Chavis organized a neighborhood group that set in motion such programs as the recording of the license-plate numbers of drug dealers and consumers, which were then filed with the police. In a time when cocaine governed the lives of so many people, these efforts were at best holding actions, and Chavis admits that community gardens and street fairs could do only so much good. Still, she writes, ``every war stops sometime,'' and she counsels patience for those defending neighborhoods of their own. While refusing to admit defeat, Chavis has since left South Berkeley for a less stressful clime. This news, delivered at the very end of the book, comes as something of a disappointment, given her many labors in its defense and her earlier protests that she would ``refuse to join the refugee lines of white flight out of the city.'' Her book, full of compassion for crime's countless victims, offers plenty of ideas for appropriate community-action projects.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-517-70492-7
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Harmony
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1997