There must be a way to save our children before it’s too late to help

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 23, 2004

Around Our Town / By Jean T. Martin

Columnist’s Note: I repeat excerpts from an older column, due to the fact that a proposal for a curfew in Selma will be discussed at the regular meeting of the Selma City Council. Although this article is about young men, teenagers, it is equally as applicable to young women, teenagers. There are stumbling blocks before adoption of a curfew becomes a reality. Too frequently the sound of gunshots ring through residential neighborhoods, too often yet another felony committed by a teenager makes headlines. The newly formed Crime Commission is working to eliminate the increasing incidents. Citizen input and suggestions are welcomed.

The Old Depot Museum is a regularly scheduled stop on the tourist bus agenda, along with Sturdivant, Smitherman and the National Voting Rights museums. In addition, we open our doors to school tours, both local and out-of-town, and to historic associations and groups.In past years we have welcomed graduates of the Boot Camp, some of whom were entering the “CITY Program,” housed at Craig Field and one of the more outstanding programs available, as well as students assigned at the Phoenix School. I became familiar with the Boot Camp through my one-time appointment to its advisory committee. (Now serving as vice president of the CITY program – Wallace College President Dr. John Mitchell is president –

I am firmly committed to its purpose as well as convinced of its necessity.)

As I greeted these young people, I was reminded of my own three grandsons, who through the grace of God, have been more blessed than these boys (not yet young men), and it became increasingly difficult to maintain a detached attitude. My emotions get in the way.

From the years of rearing my own sons, from the happy hours spent with my grandsons, I know that boys like to play baseball, ride bicycles, swim, fish and watch television cartoons. I remember that their stomachs are bottomless pits and their appetites ferocious. No batch of fresh-baked cookies was ever large enough to last more than one day. No platter of fried chicken, no grill filled with hamburgers and hotdogs, no pan of hot biscuits ever held enough for the morrow. Milk disappeared from the refrigerator, ice cream from the freezer and apples from the fruit basket as if on magical wings.

On weekends their father had time for batting practice, pass throwing and basket shooting. On winter evenings we played board and card games, chess and worked jigsaw puzzles. On Saturday mornings we visited the public library as a family. On Sunday we occupied our church pew as a family. We supervised homework, checked that assigned chores were completed. And every evening we kissed them and said “Good night, sweet dreams, we love you.”

Routine to the day for each were baths, teeth brushing, haircuts and fingernail clipping. Their clothes were clean, their sheets were clean, their lives were orderly. We reared them as we were reared and as my grandsons were reared.

I am told that almost without exception students in the CITY program are the product of abusive, usually one-parent homes or no homes. This is true also of most of the students of the Phoenix School. Yet a few minutes conversation with them reveals quick intellect and a keen interest in the world around them.

If there is no one to see that a child is given the creature comforts necessary for good health and hygiene, can we expect that child to grow up into a well-groomed young man? When there is no one to read a book to a little boy or to check his school work or to sign a report card or to visit his class room, can we expect that little boy to work hard enough to earn a diploma and thus open the door to success?

When there is no one, absolutely no one, to hold and comfort a child when he stumbles and falls, can we expect that child to do other than struggle and fail?

And if no one ever hears his prayers at bedtime and says to him, “You are my son in whom I am well pleased. I love you.” can that child grow into a loving and concerned parent?

With each juvenile crime report

– and there are too many – my concern grows deeper for these children and the hundreds like them whom we have abandoned. My heart aches in the knowledge that our indifference to their plight and our neglect of their circumstances are largely responsible for their being outcasts from their peers and journeying down a long and lonely road.

It is far more pleasant to look the other way, to speak glibly of “today’s terrible kids,” then go on with our own lives.

I can no longer turn my face from the bright promise still visible on the faces of these young people, whose hands I shake as they leave our museum. I long to hold them close and tell them that we care, that some of us care. I want to take the fear from their eyes by reassuring them that the world of tomorrow will have a place where they belong. No one can do it alone. We must find a way to save God’s children, who are also ours.