Wednesday, April 25, 2012
"For these are all our children, we will all profit by or pay for what they become."
When freelance writer Greg Pigott turned in his write-up of Mark Scott of Callaway High School for this "Amazing Teens" issue, he wrote: "I wish I had more words to use--this kid was really amazing!"
This is only the second year we've done the "Amazing Teens" round-up, but it's already become one of my favorite special issues of the year. There is nothing like calling attention to the positives in the Jackson area, even as we do what we can to reveal and help repair the city's problems. And if there is anything that is too often overlooked here in Jackson and around the country, it's just how many amazing young people there are in our communities, and who are getting even more impressive as the social-justice ethos becomes one of the defining factors of today's younger Americans.
These kids want to make a difference. They live in a larger world than just people who look and live like their families. They overcome challenges and use their own progress to help other people, including younger kids such as those that Miss Clinton, Jamie Ferguson, inspires her peers to help mentor and teach to deal with bullying as she did.
But great teens aren't the only thing this special issue exposes. I love putting out the call for nominations and watching supportive adults spring into action. Yes, there are those, such as Madison Burgess, whose parents are their biggest and most convincing cheerleaders. Her mother, Olivia Renfroe, wrote me:
"'Influential' and 'impressive' are only two of the many words to describe my daughter, Madison Burgess, a senior at Madison Central High School. I would also describe Madison as inspiring, encouraging, courageous and beautiful--and not just because I am her mother!"
Then there are those nominated by other adults, such as one who asked to remain unnamed who suggested Alonte Davis-Anderson of Wingfield. Alonte's supporter had observed him in his community work and wrote: "He is a part of the Dropout Prevention Council through the United Way and has spoken on numerous panels and events related to the dropout crisis. He recently got back from a trip to D.C. through this council, meeting youth from all over the nation to discuss what communities can do to prevent the crisis."
Or how about Abbie Szabo's admissions counselor at Ole Miss, where she hasn't even started, yet. Jason Welch wrote me: "Abbie is a bright girl who is mature beyond her years. She is a natural born leader with a heart of service. I know Abbie will continue to do great things for our community and has a strong interest in serving in a global capacity."
Those are just a few of the examples of adults who take seriously their own role in building the community's future, the ones who know that our society does way too little to support our young people and then way too often blames them for their neglect.
A few years back, then-first lady Hillary Clinton popularized the Nigerian proverb, "It takes a whole village to raise a child." Some people made fun of the phrase, but many took it to heart. In Jackson, we have remarkable adults--some with their own children; some without--working to help young people be the best they can be, despite challenges. Many work with nonprofits, many are educators, many just take the time to mentor a young person to let them know what a successful adult looks and acts like. They believe in the adage that we should "each one teach one."
Of course, there are others who dismiss our youth out of hand, or at least the ones who grow up in more challenged parts of the metro, or who wear baggy pants, or who have made mistakes. Too many people fear our youth instead of believe in them--which creates a self-perpetuating cycle for young people who aren't taught to believe in themselves.
And let's just be frank: Not all young people have good parents. Many of them had children too young, whether they were married or not, and have little idea of what successful parenting looks like (simply giving birth is not some magic parenting bullet, as we all know). Many children are growing up in unstable homes, whether due to poverty or the drug war or any of a number of challenges.
The fact that their families aren't doing what is needed, or do not know how, cannot deter the community from stepping up and out for young people; from taking time to talk, ask and then listen to them (rather than preach to them); and from challenging those who make disparaging comments about our young people. It is only a sick excuse when people blame "the family" for the problems that collective actions (and inactions) have done to some kids and their hopes and dreams.
It is time for our community to unite behind our young people: all of them. If we want them to prosper, we must believe in them, set good examples and high standards, and help them develop the tools and skills to be successful. We need to model mindfulness, kindness, compassion and a strong work ethic.
And we must declare an end to the war on our weakest children. In this issue, you'll read that Jackson Public Schools may lose its accreditation for its apparently abysmal treatment of children with special needs in recent years. There is no way to justify handcuffing 8th-graders (or any human being) to a railing and leaving them there for hours, not letting them even go to the bathroom. This is abuse.
We the community must demand that JPS, and all public and private schools, abandon antiquated discipline and zero-tolerance practices that hurt children and, in many cases, turn them into angry criminals. Likewise, we must insist that mindless "tough-on-crime" politicians pay attention to the need for policies that reverse recidivism and stop the criminal cycle, rather than placing young people into harsh conditions that make them act out even more, ultimately putting us all at risk.
The research is undisputed, and it's common sense if we stop and think about it. If we want young people to do well and prosper, we must believe in them and treat them well. As James Baldwin famously said, we will profit or pay for what children become. We must choose wisely.
Know a great teen we should write about? Write [e-mail missing].