My little brother was 17 years-old when he was shot multiple times in St. Louis City. A bullet pierced his spine and he is currently a quadriplegic living in a local nursing home. I believe his most productive years were sacrificed partly because he wasn’t exposed to a different path. Exposing young people to options that challenge their current realities makes economic sense for the individual and our community.
I am convinced that the vast majority of poor people strive to do everything they know how to position their kids for a better life. As a person who too hails from a socially and economically deficient background, the reality is that there are simply some things that you don’t know because you have not been exposed to them. This doesn’t have to be the case. I believe that it is one of our region’s greatest responsibilities and opportunities to light the inner fire of young people and those who had a rough start. We can accomplish this in a systematic and thoughtful way.
Every kid in this region should experience art and history in a way that captures their imagination. For me, my exposure to music as a young person led to my exploration of writing – first it was lyrics, then poems. While in remediation courses to enter college, I was shocked that my English professor believed that I was a decent writer. Her words encouraged me and placed a passion in my heart that still burns bright.
Every kid in this region should have an opportunity to build a relationship with a college campus. This goes beyond a one-time visit. This relationship requires multiple visits over a period of time, including the opportunity to have meaningful interactions with students and instructors.
Every kid in this region should have the opportunity to visit manufacturing plants, construction programs, financial service firms, medical facilities—or whatever career path their heart desires. They should be able to talk to workers from a variety of life paths.
Every kid in this region should have the opportunity to discover what they enjoy doing and meet people who get to do it for a living.
These opportunities are no longer as available to students in schools like in generations past so it’s our duty to identify ways to organize and scale exposure opportunities for youth, and then rally individuals and institutions to help. This is one solution to the increased violence – showing young people alternative paths and helping them walk along those paths. To change the trajectory of a generation we have to capture the hearts and minds of young people in our most distressed neighborhoods.
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