30 May 2015

For the Children...and the Artist

Life is strange. A week after chasing these boys to get my purse back -- a theft they perpetrated about 3 feet away from where they're sitting in this photo, I was serving them pizza on the same front porch. Some folks now describe me as heroic, a mensch, an inspiration. High praise...  And you know how difficult it can be to accept praise.

Honestly, it was never a choice between heroism and cowardice. I will allow that somewhere in me there must exist the capacity to press criminal charges against children; but that day in the police station, pressing charges was beyond me. It was out of reach. It was somebody else's movie.

I've spent a good bit of energy this week trying to find work for these two ready, willing and able candidates. Their stated reason for stealing my purse was "We weren't thinking. It was just something to do." I'm trying to find them something else to do -- and it is not easy.

Chores around my place require a financial investment I can't make yet:  cleaning supplies, a ladder, tools, lawn mower, etc. Chores somewhere else in the community require getting the word out -- and that takes time. Two possibilities have presented but one is an opportunity that won't begin for another two weeks. The other is a secondhand offer that has not yet been substantiated...though I've called at least once a day, leaving voicemail, for the last 4 days.

The summer youth program accepted applications in March and final placements were completed this week. All 30 of them. According to latest statistics, nearly 50% of the population here is under the age of 22. Judging from what I see, most of them are unemployed.

I don't know what I want. As I chased the boys, I wanted my purse back. By the time I was standing in the police station, embracing them, I wanted a productive outlet for two bored adolescents; a few days later, the objective had become paid summer employment for them and as many other Holly Springs youth as possible.

In pursuit of that objective, I've had conversations around town with identified adult power brokers. My inquiry about summer jobs has provoked long-winded diatribes about rampant irresponsibility and lack of ambition among (variously):

  •  young people generally, 
  • single mothers, 
  • all young black males, and 
  • black people generally 
I've heard self-righteous umbrage at the ungrateful behavior of people the speaker has"tried to help." And I've received sharp warnings from people who recognize the family names of the boys that my goodwill is sure to end badly.

It's been a disheartening and exhausting week on this front. I recognize that I cannot find or create work for the boys -- and the other unemployed youth in the community -- by myself. Yet, I don't yet see much assistance in the vicinity.

If I were to mount a bully pulpit today, I would express my dismay and disappointment that the community finds resources to sustain a church on every other street but can only muster summer jobs for 30 kids. I am asked over and over "What church do you attend?" as proof of my character; but, to my eye, folks are long on thumping the Bible and short on living its precepts.

Placing blame on people who need help (and who among us does not need help?), can allow a tiny clearance for wiggling away from our human responsibility to help; but for Christians, there is no such clearance available because the basis for the practice is the life of Christ, a man notorious for opening his arms and his life to people rejected by their communities for one reason or another.

I don't know exactly what I want. I know I don't want to talk to any more people unwilling to look beyond their own needs or relinquish their death-grip on well-rehearsed tirades about people who (they think) need to change their ways and attitudes. (Am I talking about myself?)


I accept there's no way to avoid interactions with such people. I can't do this alone. I'm not "from here" so my personal influence is limited.

I feel out of my element. If I could tackle this thing with purely artistic intention...