Charles E. Richardson

The village is on fire, let’s put it out

Let’s take a walk through the village. One northern section is pristine with nice big huts with manicured grounds, good schools where the best teachers teach and where businesses locate. Those businesses hire workers from the same section of the village and do business with their neighbors. Residents there rarely leave the perceived safe confines of their section.

But there are other sections of the same village that aren’t so nice, where the schools aren’t so good, where the school district set up a system that used test scores inappropriately to prove the schools in that northern section were better — until someone beat them at their own game.

That person was Vivian Hatcher, principal at Burke Elementary School, located in one of the poorest parts of the village. Her school beat out the perennial winners of this little farce, and when that happened, the district ended the practice of using test scores to rank schools.

Hatcher wasn’t the first to defy the narrative that schools in the certain sections of the village couldn’t achieve: W.C. Whitley, Gloria Washington, Ella Carter, Ulysses Byas, David Dillard, Leontyne Espy, Drucilla Hardnett, Martha Jones and too many others also knew the game was rigged — nd they beat it too. But they had help in the form of stable two-parent families. That help is now generations in the past and most of the above have gone on to their eternal reward.

So what happened? Let’s begin at the beginning. I can trace the decay like a laser beam to May 17, 1954. That’s the day the U.S. Supreme Court handed down the Brown v. Board of Education decision that forced school systems to integrate. Bibb County fought the decision and we are still seeing the fruits of that fight today. We are roughly two generations, some would say four, removed from Brown, and we are still reaping the bitter harvest of our neglect.

What’s the harvest? We have a 17-year-old and a 36-year-old exchanging gunfire at lunchtime on Houston Avenue. One brandishing an AK-47. I’m not making this up. The night before, in that same section of the village, a teenager taking a shortcut behind a closed restaurant was hit by random gunfire. And yes, as I write this, we sit at 26 homicides for the year. Check that. On Friday, a 24-year-old, who would have turned 25 on Dec. 2, made 27.

Enough. How do we fix our village?

First, we have to recognize that no matter what section of the village we live in, it is our village. And if we don’t fix the brokenness of one part, it will spread, like a virus, everywhere.

Case in point. This country is in the midst of an opioid epidemic. People are dying. Coroners can’t keep up. But when crack cocaine was devastating the black community, there was hardly a peep. No national outcry, just tougher prison sentences for crack than for powdered cocaine. Chemically they were the same, but in Washington, D.C., there was a difference: the skin color of the users.

Now look what we have wrought. Broken families and unemployable men with felony convictions, but no help for their addictions. The crack cocaine issue was just the canary in the mineshaft.

There is hope, and as always, it lies in education. There is a new generation of educator and concerned citizen out to change the narrative. Blake Sullivan is one of them. He lead the effort to raise money to allow the “Leader In Me” program to spread district wide; Bibb Superintendent Curtis Jones is another for setting a goal that every child is reading, on grade level, by the third grade; George McCanless at United Way for providing resources for new education initiatives; The Peyton Anderson Foundation for its Teach To Inspire Program that granted $532,875 to 111 Bibb County teachers to fund their ideas to propel learning experiences in their classrooms. Ray Rover at Heritage at Houston’s Streets to Success and Roger Jackson’s, Motivating Youth Foundation. Both programs offer tutoring, mentoring and life lessons.

What sets successful programs apart from others? Two essential things: Motivation. They are in it for the right reasons, and perseverance. They are in it for the long haul.