Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Music, the Public Market and civility | Guest Opinion

Music, the Public Market and civility | Guest Opinion

“The City was, and still is, the Centre of a various, intelligent, enterprising, liberal, and growing population … Its people were industrious and in comfortable circumstances: not so rich as to be indifferent to the claims of humanity and not so poor as to be unable to help any good cause which commanded the approval of their judgment.”   — Frederick Douglass on Rochester in his Autobiography.

Frederick Douglass moved to Rochester in 1847 and stayed for 25 years.  Does today’s Rochester reflect Douglass’s feelings? The pronounced racial divide in wealth and income has led to the unhealthy development of two distinct communities: the urban poor and suburbia, and while it is documented that Rochester is one of the most charitable cities, per capita, in the US,  I am growing concerned that we may be trending toward what French philosopher Albert Camus identified when he observed: “Too many people have dispensed with generosity in order to practice charity.” This statement has led me to some observations:

I went  the final evening of the Jazz Festival and was part of the multitudes entertained by Trombone Shorty. The crowd was big, diverse and getting along great. It was a sea of humanity at its finest. The business of music created a non-threatening and non-judgmental medium by which dialogue could bridge the community and help its members gain a better appreciation and understanding of each other’s circumstances and trials.

It would seem to me that if we can find a way to further community dialogue on race in this setting, progress could be made, and economic opportunities developed.  The expression of an art form — music in this case — has proven to be a catalyst for innovation over the past 2500 years since the Greek philosopher Pythagoras put forth the theory that music was as equally important as mathematics.

Finally, every couple of Saturdays I go to the public market on Union Street. If you have never gone, you owe it to yourself to go. It is easily the most diverse place in Rochester as citizens from all levels of society conduct business as buyers, sellers or simply social observers.

I’ve been going to the market since my mother took me as a child in the 60’s and it hasn’t changed. Rich, poor, Black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, men, women and children can all be found there and they show great respect for each other, which is evident in the courteous and thoughtful way they interact. A Saturday at the market is a lesson in civility and promotes understanding of others and their cultures. It seems this may be another venue that could be used to further the conversation about what we can do together to address the issues of poverty, unemployment and our urban education crisis.

In 2003 the Ford Foundation published a study: “Public Markets as a Vehicle for Social Integration and Upward Mobility,” where they concluded that commercial and social integration goals are in balance when the market becomes both an ”anchor” for commercial activity and a “magnet” for social interaction. Rochester has such a gem at 280 N. Union Street. I think it could prove worthwhile in furthering our desire to become again the Rochester Frederick Douglass observed.

Patrick Burke is the managing principal of Burke Group, a Rochester-based retirement plan consulting & administration, actuarial services and compensation consulting firm. Contact him at [email protected].