In 2016, as the new founding director tasked with creating a connected community in Gulfton/Sharpstown with four non-profits – St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, KIPP Public Schools, YMCA and Legacy Community Health – I spent the first several months meeting everyone I could. But what I heard over and over was, “You need to meet Cece and Sara.” Who were they? How could they help me in my quest to understand what makes the neighborhood tick? Well, I got my first taste when I co-led a parent session at KIPP:CONNECT with the City of Houston Planning department to discuss possible new bike lanes. As I was presenting, a woman near the back of the room stood up and said “That won’t work. No one in this neighborhood rides bikes. It’s too dangerous.” Finally, I thought, someone who engages and pushes back. Later, I struck up a conversation with her and she introduced herself as Cecelia. I asked if she was the famous Cece that everyone talks about, and with a swagger she said, “Probably.”
The next week, my Y partner invited me to a Zumba class at one of the apartments behind SLUMC Gesthemane. I showed up and encountered a room full of women in full burqa (all but their eyes covered). Once everyone arrived and the women were satisfied that the door was locked and curtains drawn, they got ready to Zumba. It was rather surreal – the Y instructor and myself in yoga pants and t-shirts gyrating to the beat while the Afghan and Pakistani women, in their black robes, made valiant efforts to keep up to what I imagined was a very different kind of music. At the end, we all collapsed into a sweaty heap on the floor and one woman, unwrapped her hijab and said “Meet my face, I’m Sara.” Stunned, I asked her if she was the Sara that everyone said I must meet, and with a sly chuckle she said, “Probably.”
Serendipitously, I had met the famed Cece and Sara. Little did I know the deep and rewarding friendship I was to build with them over the next several years as they taught me and the broader community about their food, religion, and culture. On the surface, it looks quite improbable that a Catholic Mexican housekeeper and a Muslim Pakistani stay at home mom would strike up a friendship. However, after five minutes with them you understand the warmth, humor and caring that undergirds their unique friendship. Their constant joking and needling of one another helps to draw others out, inviting a broader discussion of faith, culture, and general girl talk. And, as they jokingly claim, “We are sisters from different misters.” We can almost agree with them.