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Grace Ross: We Must Do Better for Our Youth

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


Grace Ross, GoLocalWorcester MINDSETTER™

I stood last night next to a friend at a funeral of yet another young adult in our community. Tears in her eyes, matching the tears in mine. She said, as she had so many times before, that no one- no one- knows until it’s your daughter, your son, your nephew, or even your sister or brother. People do not get it.  She was referring not just to a death, but referring to a life that was taken, someone who was killed, and as the grief of a mother who helped found a really important community network in our city, Women Together, Mujeres Unidas.

I have stood at too many vigils or gatherings for sharing our grief to be at yet another funeral. The service was huge and beautiful and about as multi-racial and multi-cultural as you could get. But what bound us together was the grief of our humanity at another life lost.

And for what? The eulogy given by this young man’s aunt was so raw, truthful, heart-rending and indelibly printed on my memory. In the midst was her recognition that this was not a nameless young person who was killed (as was initially reported by the press before they figured out who he was and what his name was). When she spoke of his enduring love and caring of others and also his sense of hopelessness at times. Why? Because, she briefly referenced, he had tried so many times to make it, and he had not succeeded.

I was reminded that no matter how much we want to tell these stories as if they were just individual stories, they are the story of a generation. Young people ages 18-21 have an official unemployment rate of almost 23%, and yet we know that real unemployment rates tend to be double the official account, and given that one of the ways that they don’t count people is if they’ve never held a job, we can only imagine that the unemployment rate among young people that age must be approaching 50% at this time. Even older aged kids, African Americans up to age 28, run an official unemployment rate of 24%, and Latino 17% something, if you add figures together. If real unemployment rates are at least double, these are minimally 56% and 34%.

This powerful, grieving aunt mentioned briefly too that now, he was with God, and could not be evicted from where he was. And I thought, well that’s a telling word for our time as well. With perhaps 80,000 households evicted because of foreclosure and counting, with job loss etc, some 100,000 Massachusetts children have been displaced at least. And with recent regulation changes, our state has abandoned any commitment to shelter them and their families while our societal leaders flounder about even talking about our economic realities, let alone facing them and calling on all of us to work together and fix them.

We had only earlier in the day, I and another friend, been talking about how with young people growing up these days, we don’t even ask them what they want to grow up to be any more. We have been unaware that we had censored ourselves; given our sense of and knowledge of the lack of a pathway for most young people not only to get a job, but to have any sense of success or a vision for what their live could be. We have stopped encouraging them to even consider the future by not asking.

What more do we need to know, to say, that this is a depression? And that we cannot stand by and let it continue.

It’s powerful to hear the faith of those who know in their hearts that God does not evict anyone after they’re dead. But what would it mean to live in a society so committed to each other, that it does not allow our young people to be evicted and homeless for long periods of time?

This week there are also the hearings around the state for the new shelter regulations that no longer even pretend to shelter families and children in need, but narrows the categories down so much that one wonders where policy-makers’ heads are at. They know that foreclosures have accumulated into the many, many tens of thousands. Where, as a society that claims to be moral, can it claim to stand when our leaders do not even choose to shelter those who they have refused to change the laws to protect?

And what do we say to our young people? Each death is different; each killing will have its individual explanation. But, just as when hundreds of millions face foreclosure across the US in a historical anomaly, we know that this is not because of a few bad individual choices. So too, we know the unacceptable numbers of young people homeless, jobless and too often killed, cannot be explained away as a few bad choices.

Somehow, we need to reach through our hopelessness for each other, for each other’s children, and for our commitment to a future for them that we believe in, so that they can have a future that they believe in.


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