Let’s save our children

Moderated by Rick Badie

In August, we launched a series regarding black-on-black crime in our communities that we hoped would become an ongoing discussion for our readers. Today, as we present the fourth installment, that initial topic has been broadened to encompass young people of all races and nationalities, as guest columnist Kate Boccia writes today. Meanwhile, Evander Baker offers his perspective on urban crime.

Reach out and help communities

By Kate Boccia

As the mother of an addict son now in prison, I stood alone in my cul-de-sac neighborhood trying to make sense of it all. I felt the urge to scream: “Somebody please help me.” When no one answered, I began to solve the problems myself. This is my journey. This is what I have learned.

The challenges suburban families face are complex and they devastate lives and derail futures. Kids are becoming addicts, being arrested, going to prison and dying from suicide and overdoses.

Recently, Forsyth County held a drug summit with a panel that included former Braves pitcher John Smoltz, judges and a county commissioner among others but, most importantly, the mother of a child who committed suicide because of his heroin addiction and looming prison time. Here’s a haunting statistic: 15 Forsyth County kids have died from overdoses this year. I looked around the room of nearly 500 people and recognized the faces of scared parents. I have begun to realize this story needs to be told, and that the disconnect must stop. I have also begun to realize the African-American community and so-called inner cities have dealt with similar issues for decades. Until the problem hits home, people will pay very little attention. Children are being destroyed in every corner of metro Atlanta.

Thomas Cousins of Purpose Built Communities wrote an article called, “America’s Greatest Untapped Resource.” In it, he explains that the total annual revenue of the U.S. charitable organizations exceeds $1.5 trillion. He says, “We should ask ourselves: Are we achieving a trillion dollars worth of results?” The answer is no. It’s not that small groups aren’t making a difference; it’s that we don’t have a handle on how to utilize these resources to transform struggling communities. And right now, when it comes to our children – rich, poor, black or white – all communities struggle to maintain.

The No. 1 priority is education — not just our our children, but also parents, business and community leaders, churches, local celebrities and athletes about what is happening in our towns. Each community has its own set of problems. Until we address what they are and have town hall forums where people can openly discuss their needs, we cannot possibly solve them.

I am certain we are finally ready to stop hiding behind shame, ignorance and racial discomfort to face this head-on. As a mother who’s been through it, I can tell you it’s going to be a bumpy but necessary ride. Hang on for dear life because that’s exactly what is at stake.

I currently serve on Fulton County Commissioner John Eaves’ Smart Justice Advisory Council, which helps to identify the needs of our communities. I challenge all who read this to reach out to me and find out where you can help at kateboccia@yahoo.com.

Kate Boccia lives in Alpharetta.

Knowing is half the battle

By Evander Baker

I’ve been very fortunate and blessed in my life, raised in a close-knit family with a devoted and intelligent father, a cautiously wise mother and an older brother who offered advice and perspective my parents could not. It’s hard for me to fully comprehend what a lot of other young black men experience.

With his constant presence, my father never had to tell me about “keeping my elbows up” or determining ulterior motives of people. He was an example of how to navigate situations and explained why it was paramount that I do likewise.

Despite my white friends’ insistence that my cynicism regarding life isn’t necessary, I find it to be absolutely crucial to living my life as a young, African-American, heterosexual, introverted, articulate, college-educated man.

The collective experiences of young people vary. Science hasn’t gotten the whole transferring-of-consciousness-thing down, so no one can really know what it’s like to live in another person’s shoes.

Even beyond knowing a person’s current circumstances, we need to know what shaped his life before the present predicament. Just as I go through life with the defensive and cautious outlook I inherited from my family, we all approach life based on what we know for ourselves and from our own experiences.

When trying to understand crime for any group of people, one should take into account the subjective experiences that belie those criminal patterns and behavior. Not everyone can be expected to approach morality the same way when morality centers on trying to “make ends meet.” We can certainly think of a few laws that may not even be concerned with issues of morality, but the adherence to such laws may be detrimental to you and your loved ones when more illicit tactics yield needed benefits.

When I think of young, black men who have not experienced the advantages with which I’ve been blessed, it’s easy to understand how quickly and frequently crime can occur. These are risks many black men are inclined to take, not by nature, but through circumstance.

So I don’t really have an answer to crime. In truth, no entity like government will be able to fix criminal behavior without redefining what is “criminal.” Perhaps being able to understand experiences of black guys like (and unlike) myself could be a start. This is something that would take more than a couple courses in the social sciences or African-American studies.

When we try to understand crime committed by young black men, I suggest we try understanding what is valued and what means are available to obtain it. When society considers the context and experiences that often shape their view of the world, we may start to know what needs to be done to make a lasting change in criminal patterns among young, black males.

Knowing is half the battle.

Evander Baker is a research coordinator for the Georgia State University National Safecare Training and Research Center.

14 comments Add your comment

Daniel Allen

December 6th, 2013
11:12 am

For everyone commenting that has had to deal with this demon of addiction, especially heroin. I also commend you. Keep fighting the good fight. Having a healthy, addiction-free life is worth every ounce of energy you can muster up. Unfortunately 1 of the worst parts is that not only does the addict suffer, everyone around them does as well. I’ll be praying for you all and hoping all of your loved ones get help and live a productive sober life. It’s possible. I have 4 years behind me, and it’s been the healthiest 4 years of my adult life. I have a new found reason to live. Kate, you AND your son are troopers. Never forget how strong Both of you are.

Daniel Allen

December 6th, 2013
11:04 am

I find it so ironic that the majority of people who have such strong opinions about drug addicts/drugs themselves, tend to come from a background in which is so privileged, so sheltered and naive, that it puts them into this self-entitled know it all attitude that they know more about drugs and addiction then those actually involved. Those people have 0 reason to speak out about drugs/addiction. Don’t talk about something if you have no experience with it. Educated or not, until you’ve been there, or someone close to you has, you have no idea what you’re saying. Morris Devereaux, if you were raised in an area where it was as easy to get heroin as cigarettes. I gaurantee you would have a different attitude. For future arguments, I recommend you actually having experience before you spew out biased opinions. Talk about fixing a problem? The problem is education, the problem is these areas flooded with drugs and crime. If the drugs weren’t there in the first place, no one would have the choice to use them. However if you have thrill seeking behavior and what has been taught as the biggest thrill of all time is sold on every corner, well I don’t have to explain the obvious. And for Amanda, I hear you, I agree with Alcohol being a serious problem. However, being under-age, heroin was easier to get in my hometown than liquor was. I’m not bashing or insulting, I’m simply saying —Educate yourselves with real life experiences, real people with real problems— You can’t read a book about addiction, or watch a movie, then give a lecture to someone who has been through it. They see right through it.

Denise Allen

December 6th, 2013
10:52 am

Darlene, you are Loved. I am praying for you & your son. Ty for sharing.

Denise Allen

December 6th, 2013
10:42 am

~ I applaud you Kate not only for your courage but for your vulnerability, sincerity and love regarding your voice to this “let’s keep hidden epidemic” in our suburban towns and through out the U.S.
“I have begun to realize this story needs to be told, and that the disconnect must stop.”

Kate Boccia

December 6th, 2013
8:10 am

What people don’t realize is that most young heroin addicts start with prescription drugs like Oxycoton. Kids get prescribed them for sports injuries then gateway to heroin when they can’t get anymore. I don’t propose we ignore victims, I propose we educate people on the facts about addiction, suicide, incarceration and ignorance. Mr. Devereaux’s comment is a classic example of how little most people know about addiction.

Starik

December 5th, 2013
9:16 pm

Anybody, even a teenager who samples heroin, crack, or methamphetamine is a fool. The adults who criminalize a harmless substance like marijuana are also fools.

Darlene Knight

December 5th, 2013
4:35 pm

I too, am a surburban mother of an now imprisoned heroin addict. I know well the feelings of shame, hopelesness, and sadness. I am exhausted from riding the roller coaster of hope and defeat. I trust and get hurt. I doubt and feel guitly. I want to scream as well in my own cul de sac “someone come and lift us out of this hell”.. I live between Roswell and Woodstock.
Watching the cruel drug called heroin swallow the boy I love it wass the most painful place in the world to be. I rejoiced when I read Kate Boccia’s first article because she said everything I wanted to say to people. I have my PHD in detecting manipulation and lies. I am an outstanding detective in seeking evidence of him using. I have my masters in putting on my game face for work and my friends.
My son has been in and out of county jails for 2 years now. He received no help while he is there. He does his time and is released.He has been held accoutable for hs actions by our court systems. He was offered no help along the way. I was the best parent I could be. I am college educated, provided a stable home life and provided good examples. Yet my son choose to experiment with drugs and they hold him hostage. (and any family member of an addict is held with them) I tried compassion, I tried tough love, but nothing broke him from the bondage.

Thank you Kate for your words. If you ever need a partenr to scream with you in that cul de sac, let me know…

Amanda

December 5th, 2013
3:02 pm

Well, addiction has been proven to have a genetic link. No one would to CHOOSE to be an addict. Quite a large percentage of the population does not have an “off switch” to stop after one or two drinks/hits. It is hard to understand unless you are unlucky enough to have this predisposition. However, having the predisposition does not absolve the addicted individual from responsibliity, not at all. AND, In families that have a history of addiction, it is the parents’ RESPONSIBILITY to ABSTAIN from all mind altering substances as an example for their children By abstaining, they set an example that life without mind altering substances is possible and can be joyous! The main topic of the article was how to help our communities and it starts at home with parents.

Morris Devereaux

December 5th, 2013
1:33 pm

What I do not understand, is why the responses focus on helping the addict rather than demanding that (a) personal responsibility for one’s own actions is taken and (b) the impact on victims. Where is the restitution to these victims? Why is the entire discussion slanted as though drug addiction is like cancer…something anyone can come down with and no precautions are possible? Drug addiction comes from people CHOOSING to take addictive drugs. It isn’t an accident or random chance. It’s a choice. And all the feel-good, warm mush in the world won’t change that.

You want to fix the problem? The start looking at reality.

Amanda

December 5th, 2013
11:48 am

Suburban moms need to take a hard look at their own alcohol use! Most often, beer is the first thing a teenager tries. they just don’t start off with heroin. The glorification of drinking by adults is noticed by our teenagers. Our society could really help our kids by modeling better behavior as a start.