Healing the Village

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We often hear the old adage “it takes a village to raise a child.” We understand its premise to mean the village “community” in which a child is reared is expected to be an extension of the immediate family. Basically, every adult within the community should have a vested interest in the upbringing of the child(ren), in order for the community to flourish from one generation to the next.

However, what are the generational effects of a community that was once prohibited from learning how to read or write and now suffers from reduced funding for education, health, social services and workforce development? What happens to the community where one in three Black males will face incarceration in their lifetime and where women and girls are now the fastest growing population within U.S. prisons?

What happens to a community where its members are ravished with health ailments and mental health illnesses? What happens to the community whose neighbors are no longer cordial to one another and the children are daily witnessing the tragic effects of gun violence?

If the village totters on the brink of self-destruction, who will raise the children?

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Reflecting back on March 26, 2019, I was privileged to be a part of leading the first youth delegation to Community Renewal Society’s Day of Faith at the Capitol. This is CRS’ biggest annual lobby day, where we take busloads of our member congregations, supporters and leaders down to the state capitol for an action packed day that consists of a rally, prayer vigil and face-to-face meetings with state legislators to discuss our legislative priorities that seek to intentionally and decisively transform communities that are negatively impacted by racism and poverty.

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I initially met this group of teens back in November, 2018 during a film screening and panel discussion about the documentary, MILWAUKEE 53206, which was hosted at CICS Longwood, on the South Side of Chicago. During the Q&A period of this event, I heard some of these youth articulate their perspectives about the film and how issues of mass incarceration impacts their daily lives. Some were courageous enough to share how detainment/incarceration of a parent has resulted in having to deal with feelings of neglect, abandonment and anger.

Whether its gun violence in their community; domestic violence in the home; a friend or family member being arrested and/or jailed, these young people are taking in a lot of abnormalities, then expected to learn the average school curriculum at a normal rate. These are highs schoolers, young African American boys and girls, teenagers who were/are experiencing unaddressed forms of adverse childhood experiences—trauma.

Being able to converse with these youth before, during and after our trip to Springfield was soul satisfying. For most of them, it was their first time engaging in conversations with state legislators. The feedback I received from them varied from, “Some of those legislators are rude,” to “I felt listened to and empowered to do more advocacy work in the future,” to “I learned how effective lobbying can move issues forward.”

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I also recall being amongst the three other African American men on our bus ride to Springfield: Carl Reed, Darryl Cooke and Saeed Richardson. The four of us shared insightful stories about how significant it was to safely chaperone a busload of inner city teenagers down to the state capitol, exposing them to a meaningful experience that could potentially alter the way they view and address systemic issues affecting their communities.

Our communities didn’t digress into decadent conditions overnight. I think deeply upon The Speech of Henry Berry in the House of Delegates of Virgina on the Abolution of Slavery, from 1832:

We have, as far as possible, closed every avenue by which light might enter their minds: we have only to go one step further to extinguish the capacity to see the light, and our work would be completed; they would then be reduced to the level of the beasts of the field, and we should be safe; and I am not certain that we would not do it, if we could find out the necessary process…”
— Henry Berry

We can no longer afford to inadvertently lead future generations blindly onto a pathway of engulfing racist policies/practices. The village has a responsibility to intentionally seek out viable options to break the cycles of passing on generational trauma and oppression.

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As our children and young adults approach a new season of school, the village should approach this season by incorporating new healing practices that will provide new opportunities and experiences for our children that expand our current knowledge base and help the next generation move forward.

CRS’ Restoring Opportunities and Justice Reform platform will continue to work in partnership with CICS Longwood, and is in the process of forming a new working relationship with Story Catchers Theater to build up powerful youth advocates for systemic changes.