Charles E. Richardson

The ‘village’ is on fire, what to do?

wmarshall@macon.com

Last week I wrote about the brokenness of the village — you know, that village that’s supposed to help raise a child. Rightly so, responses from readers have been positive with the caveat: OK smarty pants, what’s the solution?

I won’t restate the problems. If you don’t know what I’m talking about go back and read last week’s column or the dozen or more columns I’ve written over the years on the subject of the decaying black community. And it’s not just the black village. The societal village is on fire. Want evidence? Look around. When did it become OK to throw trash — from cigarette butts to old mattresses — on the streets? When did it become OK to show disrespect in almost every avenue of life, from the “You lie” hurled at our past president, to our current president’s disrespect of a former prisoner of war and a Gold Star family?

That said, how do we start to rebuild our local village? First we try to understand it. It’s hard to maintain any village where the villagers are working 24/7/365 just to survive.

The partial solution is no mystery. It’s really basic math. It takes two. It takes two to make a baby and it takes two to raise one to become a functional adult.

Before all the single mothers drive off into a ditch and start cussing, let me be crystal clear. I don’t mean to offend, but lets be real. Raising children alone is tough and the reality is that two salaries add more income to the household than one. Two people multiply 24 hours into 48, and two parents can divide and be in two places at once. That’s particularly helpful when raising kids.

If having two parent families is the solution, how can that be achieved? We don’t have the power to implement the solution, so what to do? First, stop generalizing and start improvising.

Stage I: Begin from the beginning. When an expectant mother is identified as being, young, unmarried, indigent or not, she should be assigned a family counselor that would meet with the woman each week from the time of discovery until the child starts pre-school, maybe longer. (I know, it’s expensive, but pay me now or pay me later.)

This family counselor would be a well-paid, probably female and would become surrogate teacher, confidant, life coach and financial adviser. What’s the incentive for the mother to go along with this program? No counselor, no benefits. For those not receiving benefits, who couldn’t use this kind of help?

Stage II: Education is the great equalizer. It is the answer to all of the village’s problems. People aren’t equipped to solve complex, multi-generational issues without the cudgel of education.

To that end, our education systems have to improve. Expectations for every student, regardless of background, have to be at the highest levels. And the curriculum would have to adjust to put more weight on life skills than high-stakes testing.

Students with behavioral issues — and their families — would be dealt with. Example, if a family on public assistance has a child that cuts up in school, gets arrested or otherwise acts a fool, or their parent(s) fail to attend parent-teacher conferences — payments stop. No public housing. No Section 8 vouchers. The message sent would travel faster than a bolt of lightning and we would see instant change.

For those children not from families on assistance, they need an alternate venue to continue their education. More on that next week.

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I would be remiss if I didn’t note a special anniversary. In September 1957, 60 years ago, Ernest Green, Elizabeth Eckford, Jefferson Thomas, Terrence Roberts, Carlotta Walls LaNier, Minnijean Brown, Gloria Ray Karlmark, Thelma Mothershed and Melba Pattillo Beals, better known as the “Little Rock Nine,” integrated Little Rock, Arkansas’ Central High School. All but Jefferson Thomas are still alive.

No need to rehash what they went through, but for those who say, “All that racial stuff is in the distant past.” It’s in the past alright, but distant? Not. The other reason I couldn’t ignore this anniversary is that Thelma Mothershed is my cousin Thelma. And yes, her courage and sacrifice makes me very proud.

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