Growing up in Montclair was a wonderful experience. Montclair had that small-town vibe where its residents were connected to one another from one end of town to the other, whether you knew each other or not. There always seemed to be six degrees of separation, so if you took the time to talk to a stranger you would find that you had a friend or a life experience in common.

The police officers in town knew your parents and more often than not for a minor infraction they would take you home for your father to deal with you instead of taking you to the precinct. Lord knows I was the beneficiary of this practice on a number of occasions.

I am a 64-year-old male born and raised in Montclair, and I have enough years under my belt in this town to be a qualified witness to the evolution taking place in town. 

I spent the first 10 years of my life on Wheeler Street in the Fourth Ward before my parents purchased their house on Willowdale Avenue the next street over. Those 10 years provided me with a lifetime of sweet memories. That's not to say that our home on Willowdale wasn't special, because for sure I was blessed. The old African proverb that it takes a village to raise a child was proven over and over again on Wheeler Street. That village didn't just end on the block, it extended to all areas of the Fourth Ward, across town, South End, the Hollow and to Montclair's other wards. There was a connectivity that was nurturing for children. A special shout-out to all of my childhood friends at Glenfield Park, Nishuane, Canterbury and Rand. A special shout-out to all of my classmates at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel School, Hillside and Montclair High (Class of ’76). These memories are special.

Post 9/11, Montclair is a completely different community. The geographical lines are the same, but the character and attitude has changed. It seems like the goal is to put 20 pounds of meat onto a bun that has a 5-pound limit. Let's see how many people we can shoehorn into town. If we can't build out we will build up.

Even sadder than the overdevelopment of town is the erosion of neighborhood unity. Come one, come all, if you can afford the high price of living here we don't care if you break the soul of Montclair. The village that I spoke of has been replaced by isolation, entitlement and privilege. Neighbors that don't speak unless spoken to, and even then the response has no warmth. What type of community do these people come from? Streets where families knew each other, children played together, had cookouts, partied together, shared recipes. That thread of togetherness has been broken.

When we do gather at a community event like a jazz festival, protest march, pride festival or some ribbon cutting for a new high-rise, inevitably some speaker will highlight Montclair's diversity. The real acid test for diversity takes place on your block. How do you interact with your neighbor who doesn't look like you, think like you, love like you, or vote like you? Otherwise the diversity that you're talking about is an illusion based on smoke and mirrors from Montclair's past.

What's happening in Montclair is a microcosm of what's happening in America. The rhetoric from the highest levels of leadership has infected communities nationwide like some kind of flesh-eating bacteria. Unity has been replaced by division, bridge-building has been replaced by wall builders, facts have been replaced by alternative facts, the truth has been replaced by lies. America is in a cycle of destruction, and if we don't get it together we will fall like Babylon.

My saving grace is that I trust the Lord, and more of my life is behind me than in front of me. I look forward to being reunited with my loved ones in the Promised Land on a Wheeler Street paved with gold where none of this earthly nonsense will exist.

Thank you, Montclair, for the sweet memories, I love the way you were.

Jeffrey Robert Grayson