The problems and challenges facing our community cannot and should not depend on the predilections of grant makers, according to Dr. William C. Bell, president and CEO of Casey Family Programs, in St. Paul.
“We cannot solve these life cycle issues on a grant cycle mentality” he said addressing a community summit earlier this month.
When God questioned Cain about of his brother Abel, Cain retorted with the eternal question: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
This question, heard around the world, still lingers, challenges, and even haunts us today.
On Tuesday, June 2nd, Ramsey County held a Local County Action Summit: “How are the Children?” at Maplewood Community Center. The event, sponsored by Casey Family Programs, challenged us all, citizens and officials alike, to respond.
The Summit was planned and presented by St. Paul County Commissioner Toni Carter, who kicked things off setting a warm, yet thought provoking atmosphere.
Maplewood’s Mayor Nora Slawik, Ramsey County Commissioners Victoria Reinhardt and Jim McDonough, and County Attorney John Choi addressed the packed auditorium of 230 participants. Additional greetings came from Minnesota Council on Foundation, President Trista Harris.
Jan Mandel, and Dr. Darlene Fry of “Irreducible Grace Foundation” with a troupe of young actors, many of whom lived the life, gave the most in depth performance, providing insight into the minute-by-minute lives some children live all day, everyday.
Here are some of the themes and ideas they presented:
• The Gavel Knows Best – Elder siblings struggling to help single mothers keep family and siblings together, even realizing mom ain’t perfect, would rather stay home. But to no avail, because the gavel knows best, separating them from family and familiar surroundings, placing them in houses full of strangers, to worry about mom, brothers and sisters… not knowing if they are well, where they are, or how they are doing.
• Professional strangers – “Lookin’ out the window, waitin’ n’ watchin’ for a father out there who loves me.” Eatin’ mayo n’ ketchup sandwiches, cold cereal with water. Life at the mercy of professional strangers who know what’s best for them.
Treated as a workload. Clerical staff treats them like stock piles of data, instead of as human beings.
Commissioner Toni Carter, graciously recognized and honored the youth actors and production, then introduced keynote speaker.
Dr. Bell came out swinging, and in a deep, commanding, preacher-like voice, lowered the boom. “How are the children?” he asked, allowing the resonating sting to fill the air.
Then he prescribed that the response to this call should be: “The Children are well!” The condition of the children is crucial to the future of a nation, he said, as he delved into excruciating stats on violence, education, employment, homicides, and youth suicides. The statistic describe a reality that is way too dire, almost discouraging. Bell called Ramsey County out by communities: Frog Town, East Side, West Side, North End, Summit University. He mentioned a few by zip codes: 55103, 55106, and others.
He said conditions in Ramsey County are even more severe than national averages. But he applauded Ramsey County for being a national example of how to face challenges of race and poverty, of identity and equity, for the entire country.
“My Brother’s Keeper is not a program!” It challenges us with 5 questions.
1. Am I my brother’s keeper?
2. Who is my brother?
3. How long am I willing to let my brother’s children live under these conditions?
He took a moment of pause. We cannot solve these life cycle issues on a grant cycle mentality. To Dr. Bell, the “term not-for-profit” is inapplicable because, the profit is our youth. He proclaimed, “You can’t pay me enough to do what I do!” He then proceeded with the questions.
4. What is your limit? What steps are you willing to take right now?
5. How far am I willing to go to make my brother’s children safe?
Bell said where you live matters. Resolve won’t happen by itself. Willing people with willing minds must make this happen.
Dr. Bell left us smoldering for the following table discussion questions.
What did you hear?
How will you apply this to your work?
What impact will this have on boys and young men of color?
Closing comments were made by, Keith Allen, Mary Kay Boyd, Gevonee Ford, Julie Kleinschmidt, and Terri Thau.
Commissioner Carter, pleased with the quality of presentations, speakers, dialogue and turnout, was deeply moved by all the support and quality of participation, expressing concern that the table discussion really needed more time.
She said, “Where do we go from here to harness all the feedback? How do we build on this work done this day?”
And finally, I ask. Are we truly our brother’s keeper? What does that mean? What steps are you willing to take right now?