A sufficient measure of civilization is the influence of good women.
--Ralph Waldo Emerson
Just the other day when visiting the local mall with my children, I happened to run into a young lady I had worked with a few years ago as part of a program designed to encourage and provide tools and resources to overage students and students in danger of dropping out. At that time she was a fifteen or sixteen year old eighth grader who could not read.
I guess that would make her maybe twenty-three or twenty-four now. But she didn’t look a day under thirty. And I’m being nice. In fact, when I had finished speaking with her, my children asked me how I knew her. When I explained, they were a bit incredulous.
“You mean you worked with her at the university?,” they asked.
“No,” I answered. “She was in middle school at the time.”
They just looked at one another in disbelief. But they did not know her narrative.
The first time I read her narrative I was shocked. Someone delivered her cumulative folder to my office, and after I read it, I just sat there for an hour, perhaps more, in total silence, not knowing what to do, what to think, how to move forward.
From her psychological report, I learned that she had been sexually assaulted in her early teens. As had her mother. As had her grandmother. And both mother and grandmother were now a none factor in her life. They were given over to drug abuse. There was no mention of a father, and she was being shuttled from relative to relative.
There was more I found, much more, but I will stop there.
I mentioned what I had found to a couple of colleagues, and their nonchalance about it enraged me. It appears everyone already knew the narrative. It appears the whole community already knew the narrative.
In fact, despite how shocking the narrative was to me, the narrative was not that uncommon. And since that time, I have read too many similar narratives. I have gotten to the place that I can observe a young lady new to the program for a while, and after watching her behavior and how she interacts with others, pretty much predict what I will find when I read her file.
Quite routinely I find narratives of abuse, sexual and otherwise, perpetrated mostly by family members or other persons the young lady should be able to trust. I find narratives of young teenage girls being left to “entertain” their mother’s live-in boyfriend, who doesn’t work, while the mother works two or three jobs. I find narratives of third or fourth generation young, teenage mothers. I find narratives of young ladies being required to miss days and days of school so that they might stay home and baby sit their younger siblings while the mother works. And lately, more and more, I find young girls in their early to mid teens dating men who are ten, sometimes even twenty years older with the tacit, if not open, approval of their mothers or guardians or older family members.
A female friend and feminist scholar tells me that this type of thing has been going on for some time in our community, but in the past, the community has closed ranks to keep it hidden. She scoffs at what she calls my naïve, middle class sensibility.
But the first question that comes readily to my mind is why are we not doing more to protect those in our community most need of protection? Why does this issue not receive more attention? We should be outraged. We should be in an uproar. We should be doing all within our power to assure that this ceases.
And consider this.
We shake our head at the behavior of the younger generation. We shake our head at the behavior of what appears to be a subculture within the African American community. We question the future of the African American community given the actions and behavior of a large segment of our community.
And these young ladies, these broken and abused products of our community, will be raising the next generation. They can only impart to that generation what they know; the lessons they are able to teach are conditioned by the limits of their knowledge And if all they know is privation, neglect, and abuse, what is it you think the next generation will know best?
My wife sometimes accuses me of spreading myself too thin. She accuses me of having so many irons in the fire, spending so much time trying to raise other folks’ children, that I sometime neglect my own. And no matter how vigorously I deny it, this may be so. But I know that between their grandmothers, grandfathers, and their many aunts and uncles, my children are loved and cared for and protected and will continue to be so.
However, there are so many in our community who are not. And who will love and care for and protect these? I do the very best I can to do my part. I do my very best to go back into the community and attempt to lift up even as I climb, to remind these children that someone exists who is concerned for them, who loves them, who cares.
But I am only one person, and daily I am becoming older and more weary; my free time is becoming scarcer and scarcer. What are you doing in your free time?