Eighteen years after the fact, I still struggle with the shooting that left my little brother paralyzed from the neck down. He was shot multiple times on the streets of St. Louis City, and I have spent the last two decades trying to make sense out of a senseless act. I resolved during that time to do all I could to create conditions that allow more young people to make it out. Everyday committed people and strong organizations throughout our community work to fight poverty, reduce violence and support people in their diverse paths to live their best possible lives. Yet our ability to move the needle on stubborn issues of violence and generational poverty are slow and small compared to what is possible, because we often work alone. We must do better together.
This will mean mustering the will at all levels of our community to achieve more, not just for one person or agency, but for whole communities. It will require everyone giving up something and working toward a common vision. It will require investing in infrastructure that keeps our region focused on the common vision and the data that informs if we are on track. It will require a new level of accountability from all who are entrusted with public dollars to meet needs. At United Way, we’re inviting people to the common table to ask the questions “How can we be better together?” and “How can we respond collectively in service to the common good?”
Each time I turn on the news, I shudder at the increased violence in parts of our region. In fact, I don’t even have to turn on the news to see it. This past Friday, I received a terrifying text from my sister after her efforts to reach me by phone failed. The text read: “Your nephew has been shot.” I froze and struggled to gather my thoughts. It’s too much. For a moment, I was again that 19-year-old boy who walked into Barnes-Jewish Hospital to see his little brother fighting for his life. My prayer last Friday on the way to St. Louis University Hospital was, “Lord, give us another chance.” My nephew was shot through the chest, and the bullet pierced his lung. Fortunately, his prognosis, and that of the other young man who was wounded, is good.
I am not so naïve as to believe that projecting a unified vision for our region around young people and working collectively to achieve it will be easy. But my cynicism hasn’t reached a level that prevents me from trying. There are so many positive groups in our region who are working to tackle poverty and its symptoms: violence, substandard educational systems, gang activity, high rates of incarceration and sexually transmitted disease, untreated mental illness, etc. For our region to be excellent for all citizens and create the highly skilled workforce of the future, we need to stretch our imaginations and we need to set the bar high for our children. Children will rise to the level of expectation that we set for them as long as we are firm, consistent, patient and thoughtful in how we engage them.
Originally published at www.helpingpeople.org.