America’s Great Lawn – A Louisville Story

Onyx Contributor:  Tim Druck (@southendtimd)

Everywhere in America, a garden grows.  Each generation plants the seeds for the next, and with each crop, a new harvest begets the next planting.  We stand on the shoulders of giants.  And the crop we raise is how we respect and contribute to their legacy.

What’s growing in America today?  Poverty and hopelessness and a lack of education.  And kids, especially poorly educated ones who are frustrated by generations of zero opportunity to be anything but society’s forgotten trash, don’t know how to properly express their pain and frustration so they lash out at the people they see as holding them down.

How would you feel if you were a poor black kid who just saw his friend killed, then went to this huge gathering place that’s supposed to be for everybody and all you see is yuppie whites walking designer dogs and climbing back into their BMWs to head back to their condos?

Would it be easy to TARC your ass back to the West End?

I’m not justifying their behavior.  But I want everyone who reads this to be absolutely sure:  “We Built This.

This seemingly national attitude of “those single/poor parents made their bed, they can lie in it” has got to end.  Why?  Because a large part of the problem is socioeconomic.  Single parenting, poverty, teen pregnancy and more – those are the real root causes of mass youth insurrection, of systemic violence.  The real class war is not in Washington, it’s in every assault on every street in America.

In an ideal world, there would be equal pay and fair pay – people cannot be expected to raise their children while working 16 hours a day to feed them.  And there would be resources for those people who need them – people who want to do the right thing should have the tools to do so.

Crime and violence are directly related to poverty and education.  That’s common sense.  Raising children to be responsible and to have the empathy for other human beings that prevents violence takes time and attention, two things in short supply for the working poor.  Teaching and supervising children is a tough task at best, but when you’re working two jobs at eight bucks an hour to put a roof over their head… well, there are only 168 hours in a week.  When you spend ninety of them at work, and another thirty on the bus because gas is four bucks a gallon, you have 48 hours a week to cook, sleep, bathe and raise your kids.  Assuming you sleep six hours a night, you now have six hours a week to spend, exhausted, trying to teach your kids the right way to live.

Now do you see why low wages lead to crime and violence?

If you have to be all conservative about it, love to give companies tax breaks, how about a serious corporate tax break for companies whose median hourly pay is $15 or higher?  Nobody’s forcing or legislating businesses to do anything – they choose whether they want the tax break or not.  Nobody’s putting value into jobs that shouldn’t be careers.  But companies would have incentive to pay their people.  I would strongly recommend that we eliminate ALL corporate tax breaks except the one in this paragraph, and use the extra revenue to pay for what I’m going to say next.

We used to have nice things.  We used to pay fairly for things we wanted, like well-educated and well-raised children.  The two may be related.

We used to pay for real educators and leaders spending the time to teach youth who are currently neglected and forgotten.  We used to have career and vocational programs for kids who aren’t necessarily college material – I know plenty of successful adults today who learned a trade in high school, anything from auto mechanics to printing to agriculture.  Today, if you’re not college-bound, an athlete, or an entertainer, you are entirely on your own to find a trade or a career – no wonder ‘pro athlete’ and ‘gangsta rapper’ are the only goals of so many children.  Kids don’t learn that there is success in working for a living – in our culture, in our education systems, in the media, either you are fabulously wealthy or you are nothing.

If you’ve ever complained about calling a help desk in a foreign country, why aren’t you complaining that there is not a high-school level technical program for Technical Support in your community?  It doesn’t take a college degree to troubleshoot a PC, but not a single community in America is graduating young people with an A+ Certification that could get them a decent job.  They’re all focused on college-prep for students who can’t afford college, because we measure success for high schools via college acceptances, not employment rate.  And don’t get me started on corporate involvement – General Electric built the John F. Welch Technology Center in India instead of Indiana and got a tax break from the Reagan Administration for doing so.  That’s not right.

Parks and recreation should mean something again – I remember my grandparents telling stories of community sports programs – youth leagues that last all year and make sense.  Kids don’t get in trouble when they have legitimate things to do and good people to teach them how.  Our parks are empty and our playing fields are rotting.  When all we have are volunteer programs, the programs are focused around the interests of the volunteers, not the kids who need them.  And I’m not disrespecting the people who give their time for craft programs or summer camp or Girl Scouts, but I bet in a lot of communities you’d get a lot more youth around an arts and sports program stocked with photography equipment, a recording studio, an indoor gym, and qualified teachers and coaches.

We have to have real, honest drug and sex education because kids are not stupid and they know when they’re being lied to, and they’re being lied to.  We don’t teach the truth about drugs in our communities, so they learn on the street – the only thing our children learn about drugs is that there is money to be made.  And to add insult to injury, we take teenagers raised on our hyper-sexualized culture, at an age when their hormones are raging against the machine, and we give them nothing except “Don’t have sex with each other.”

I pose a question – what’s more important to you?  Some antiquated sense of propriety, or getting your daughter through school with a chance at a future? Are you so embarrassed to talk about sex, or even to allow someone else to talk about sex, that you’d sentence your son to a life of child support and baby mama drama?  We have to teach our children the truth, before they learn that you pay child support or buy diapers and formula with drug money or by robbing liquor stores for quick cash.

But we do nothing but complain.  It’s time to ante up.  Time to plant the seeds of the cure.

The reason poor kids lash out is to make more-well-off people realize that poverty has consequences for ALL of us – I’m positive those kids who were wilding out last week were just out to whoop some rich white people for no other reason than not being poor.  This is not to be taken lightly – this is AMERICA, and poor people are rising up violently in response to what amounts to decades of economic hopelessness.  To hell with class war in Washington.  It’s starting now, on the streets of our cities and towns.

We are doing something drastically wrong.  We have to fix endemic, generational poverty and help parents who WANT to do the job do it well.  To honor the giants upon whom we stand, and to raise the giants who will stand upon our shoulders.

photo credit:  Thomas Hawk

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