Commentary

Focus on problems we can solve

In our typical “out with the old and in with the new” fashion, most of us view the arrival of the New Year as a chance to start over. As we begin again, there’s a sense of excitement and expectation. In our typical “out with the old and in with the new” fashion, most of us view the arrival of the New Year as a chance to start over. As we begin again, there’s a sense of excitement and expectation. We all have made our New Year’s resolutions in good faith in spite of the knowledge that we’ll probably disregard most of them before the year ends. This time, however, I am finding it difficult to greet the new year with my usual anticipation. I find myself asking: “Is the glass half full or half empty?”.

Everywhere I turn I am faced with what seem to be insurmountable problems. Our community has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the nation; our babies die in infancy three times more often than white babies; cardiovascular disease is a primary cause of death for our mothers and fathers; our women are 100 percent more likely than the general population to develop diabetes. The likelihood that our young men will die as a result of firearms is 25 times greater than for White youth. Those who survive are over-represented in the criminal justice system. The plight of our children within both the Minneapolis and St. Paul school systems is worsening.

The State of Minnesota faces a $4.5 billion dollar deficit that could get worse with the next revenue forecast in February. That is a bleak picture especially for those who are disenfranchised, underemployed and discriminated against. The huge shortfall has cut the heart out of so many ideas for positive change in health, employment, education and youth development. Will there be enough in the glass to sustain us for another year?

As a community we need to keep this picture in perspective. Although we will be impacted personally by our inability to meet expenses or to do all the things we want to do, we have to remember that this is a national condition —not a household or a community or even a state condition. We must avoid being hard on ourselves because doing so only results in other problems. Instead, we have to bring our collective intellectual, financial, and spiritual resources together in order to obtain the sustenance we will need in 2003.

I believe we must be collectively optimistic and declare the glass half full. We must concentrate on the problems we can solve and the conditions that we can better. For example, community efforts to mediate with the city on the critical issue of police use of force policies have been beleaguered with internal struggle. I know we can solve this conflict. But only if we take seriously the charge to become more unified in 2003 and begin to look at what we are capable of achieving as a community. Only then will we see the potential in all of us as individuals, as leadership groups, and as advocates for the good of every member of our community. Finally, I wish all of you a happy new year.

January 13, 2003
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