There are people who complain, seeing insurmountable problems everywhere, and there are people who take action infused by hope and informed by facts and evidence. We were thrilled to see people in the latter category, working for the future of the city's children, and thus all of us, honored this week by Colin and Alma Powell's America's Promise Alliance. The alliance named Jackson one of the country's 100 Best Communities for Young People.
What's farsighted—and very Powell-esque—about this award is that it's not given to communities with few challenges or to those that have overcome their problems. It is awarded to communities that unite to solve them.
Often lost in political and crime rhetoric about Jackson is the vast alliance of groups and individuals who are determined to attack our problems at their roots. This coalition contains Democrats and Republicans, young and older, and a variety of races. These are people who recognize the challenges our young people face in a city where a quarter of the residents live in poverty. Poverty is not the sole cause of crime, but as Richard Rhodes reports in his book, "Why They Kill," young people who grow up in poverty are more likely to act out when other difficult conditions exist. Those conditions range from growing up in violent cultures and abusive homes to being from communities that are constantly disparaged in the mainstream media, thus increasing feelings of hopelessness and inequality.
It's not easy to dismantle the deck many of our children have stacked against them, and many will shrug and tell us just to arm ourselves against "the other."
Fortunately, the solution is more sophisticated than yelling "DRAW!" This city is blessed to have dedicated people—from city leadership to social-service organizations—who take the time to learn the best practices that it will take to change our city. They are also smart enough to know that we must plant a tree today in order to see it grow leaves a few years from now.
Powell's group knows that just one thing, or one person, cannot solve the challenges. It urges five promises for children: caring adults, safe places, healthy habits, effective education (including early childhood) and opportunities for young people to then help others. In his book, Rhodes reports on the need for "pro-social" behaviors to help children develop empathy skills for others. (See Elizabeth Waibel's report about teaching etiquette skills to Chastain students for one example. Kids with good manners are more successful.)
It may not be fashionable in some (boorish) circles to believe in Jackson and our young people, but it is the only route for anyone serious about reducing both poverty and crime. It should not be political, and Republicans such as Powell and our own Jim Barksdale, a strident proponent of public education, demonstrate how smart people must approach crime and poverty. Let's all follow their lead.