Emma Underwood

When I moved to Knoxville to start college, I had no intention of staying past graduation. My plan was to get in, graduate and get out, but as I spent more time living in this city, I fell in love with it. This year I started working at a non-profit in Lonsdale, a neighborhood five minutes north of campus, and realized that the city I loved was only half of the story.

Lonsdale is a low-income neighborhood in Knoxville. It is crowded and often has multiple families living in small houses, resulting in its population being 4,670 people per square mile versus Knoxville’s average of 2,010 people per square mile.

As soon as you get off of the highway in Lonsdale, you see that the houses are crumbling. The sidewalks are cracked and their school buildings are visibly too old.

Lonsdale Elementary has been closed multiple times this school year alone for gas leaks. This problem is unsafe and needs to be addressed. There is gang activity on their streets and in their parks.

It is not lost on me that issues like these are not exclusive to Lonsdale. They are everywhere. There are neighborhoods that are falling behind the cities they are attached to and no one seems to see it. I also want to be clear in saying that Lonsdale is a neighborhood I love. The people who live there are incredible and I count myself as lucky to get to spend so much time there.

As I have spent more time in this community, I have started to wonder why no one knows this is happening. Why aren’t more people outraged that elementary-schoolers are at risk for gas poisoning in their own school? Why does no one care that the infrastructure in this neighborhood is quite literally falling apart?

I wanted to be mad about it. I wanted to blame people for their apathy towards this entire neighborhood of people until I realized that I had spent my first year in Knoxville not even knowing that Lonsdale existed.

It had nothing to do with my level of care and everything to do with my lack of information. I have the privilege of living in a nice area. I spend most of my time in the downtown area and occasionally in West Knoxville. Thanks to gentrification and the high levels of income in the places I live, I could go my whole college experience in Knoxville not ever having to see the issues this community is facing.

This brings me to the point of my column today which is this: We have to choose the discomfort of seeing poverty and brokenness.

If I didn’t want to, then I would never have to see these problems. I could live in a bubble of my own privilege and I wouldn't even know. We need to push ourselves into the spaces of discomfort or we will live our life blind to the issues of neighborhoods in our own city.

My guess is that when asked about Knoxville, very few people would immediately think of its low-income suburbs, but maybe we should. If we love our city and want to love its people, then we have to see the forgotten parts of it.

Emma Underwood is a sophomore double majoring in Philosophy and Political science. She can be reached at eunderw4@vols.utk.edu.

Columns and letters of The Daily Beacon are the views of the individual and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Beacon or the Beacon's editorial staff.

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