~This includes bits of a local story. I am not a news reporter. You can find more information and details on the story reported by The Post Dispatch on their website. These are my opinions.~
This is going to be a long story, but I hope that you take the time to read it.
I live in an area of St. Louis that has a stigma of being dangerous; you can look up the North Side if you like. My area has a stigma, a mark of disgrace as it were, because of the rise of violence, burglaries and yes, even murders that have occurred in areas close to me.
Inside of this dangerous area are communities like mine with very neighborly people who take pride in where they live, who walk their dogs, jog down the street, take their kids out to play at the park, have some great schools (and some unaccredited schools that we’ll get into) and so forth. Nothing different than anywhere else. It is very multifaceted as well as multicultural and has deep roots in its French & Spanish history. There are Pentecostal, Christian and Catholic churches next to a Mosques and each one respectful of the other. You can see flyers were the Muslim and Christian communities and hospitals have come together to make sure that their elderly and young are taken care of. Everyone has bridged themselves together here in what they call ‘The Valley of Flowers’.
… but on my anniversary, not 15 minutes away, there was a double homicide. On the 1st there was a body found 9 minutes away from me and on the 7th a man was shot on the street and another man while just driving his car. Yesterday not 9 minutes away from me there was a drive-by. There is much more, but you get the point.
Both views of my city are right.
There are two sides to my city. One that is incredibly beautiful and one that is utterly frightening. And what is happening here is what has happened all over St. Louis for generations upon generations… people are leaving. One side calls it “White Flight”, where as areas become predominately black that white families leave and the other side says they are leaving for the safety of their families due to the rise in violence (which is attributed to earlier generations of ‘white flight’ for the same reasons). To get into more of the history of when this started and the deeply rooted segregation of St. Louis city and counties you can read a very well written article called Mapping the Divide on StL Mag written in 2008. Regardless, the cycle continues.
Both sides are right.
The point that everyone does not argue with is the fact that if all of these families (myself included) leave this area then it will become only the stigma. Violence will only increase, stores will close and board up their windows and those that cannot afford to move elsewhere will be left behind. That is what has arguably happened to a few areas that hold the titles for some of the most violent schools in St. Louis and both of which are in my county.
These two schools hold pretty frightening incidents; such as a student trying to run over a teacher with a vehicle. Due to being unaccredited from poor test scores, the school system had to give the parents a choice to go to any school they wanted but would be required to choose schools where they would have to pay for transportation / tuition for those children. In a twist of Fate, or perhaps a purposeful choice to make things impossible, they chose two of the most highest ranking schools outside of their counties in the areas where generations ago families had ‘flown’ to. Kids that chose to go there would have to take at least a 1 hour bus ride (though quot-ably more) in order to reach the schools. The school knew that the more kids that left the more money it would take away from their already damaged school and parents on both sides knew that it would bring up old wounds.
Parents on both sides are afraid.
Back in 1995 this situation had happened and a very mentally disturbed boy had transferred to my son’s current school, unfortunately without all the paperwork that went into detail regarding his incidences and mental health. The day after his transfer he pulled a girl into the bathroom, raped, beat and murdered her during school. This brought about a change in paperwork transfers for students called The Safe Schools Act in 1995, however there are many incidences that do not go on record due to schools fearing accreditation, papers that are confidential or those that simply do not show up.
The fears and anger of the parents in the chosen schools are valid. They are afraid of violent kids transferring into their district, they are afraid because their test scores are dismal and they found that their scores will be added into their own children’s in the coming year and that because of their lower education level the teachers will have to take on teaching classrooms with a deep divide in educational understanding and skills.
Case in point: Many kids in my son’s geography class (a Freshman Class) believe that the capital of the United States is NY and that Mexico is located in Africa.
The parents in the transferring school district are afraid that those fears of the chosen schools are already setting up failure for their children. That accepting them with negatively already brews the pot and that they are choosing to manifest their fears rather than taking a role in positive change in their lives and doing what they can to help them become smarter more promising students than they could be in their home district. That putting that negativity on the accepting children in the chosen district creates an adversarial environment.
Both parents are right.
If you have made it this far then you are probably wondering where I am going with this.
You see, currently there are a lot of problems going on with race, stereotypes and stigmas of people, places and even things (just read about the Asparagus) and the world is feeling frightening to everyone, regardless of their skin color, ethnicity or heritage. People forget easily that each side has their reasons, that both sides have very valid reasons and many times all sides want to blame the others. In the midst of all this unreasoning, misunderstanding and blame are all of our children. Children that grow up color blind to the world until they inherit these issues from us. Children that don’t see any difference in anyone or any place or any thing. Children who have enormous hearts that overwhelm us daily, who seem so wise beyond their very small years and who are ultimately better people than us.
These children live in safe neighborhoods, they live in bad neighborhoods, they attend unaccredited and/or violent schools and also some of the top schools. Who these children become largely is fallen on our shoulders and the weight of that responsibility is sometimes forgotten in our fears, in what we feel we deserve and our anger.
No side in any of these issues is wrong and no side is right. What we are left with is the acceptance of what is left behind and how we will mold the future through our children. We all are stereotyped, some more and some less, but we all are. We all stereotype people everyday whether it is a woman, man, child, white, black, Latino, Asian, Christian, Muslim, disabled, special needs, conservative, liberal, Republican or Democrat – there are stereotypes all around us. We view everything around us with stigma and stereotype, consciously and subconsciously and oftentimes whether we want to or not. The idea is to accept that we do this, all of us, and work towards doing our best to teach our children to look beyond those things and also to be better than those things with which we are sadly measured. Not to blame one side or the other due to those differences, or seeing those differences, but accepting those differences are there and understanding that those stereotypes exist and carry some truths – regardless of the right or wrongness we feel towards them.
Many people across the world will look upon my city and see it for what they read, their very justifiable fears due to the actual incidences and facts related to this location and there are those of us that live here that see the beauty in it and how not all the places are as they seem.
Many people will read the incident reports of the unaccredited schools and be afraid of who might come out of them, and many people will see those families with little ones that really need help and the parents holding onto the last shreds of hope for their education.
Many people will see the rise in violence or drugs or mental instability in one race or ethnicity more than the other, but for all the bad apples there are many of us who know that there are many apples on a tree and many bad ones can be turned into something sweet with a little effort.
The fact is that all of the things are right. Things are never black and white, things are never that easy. We have to accept that there are underlying truths to the stigma’s and stereotypes in our society, take the responsibility of those things within our communities and learn through our children’s hearts how to re-look at each other and re-acknowledge each others sameness and build something from that.
If anything has taught me these truths exist in all of our sides it is the disabled and special needs communities who have since the dawn of time been judged, tossed aside, used as lab rats, murdered, treated as worst than second class citizens, do not have the rights we have, do not have the equality that we have and do not even exist in many people’s eyes as even being “people”. By every race, by every ethnicity, by every age, by every country and by everyone from the past to the very present time.
No one of us is exempt from these things that anger us or hurt us, that make us afraid or lose hope. The decisions of the generations before us was not our fault, but the decisions we make for the generations that come after us will be. The responsibility we have as parents goes far beyond the seeds we have created in this present time and it is about time we all own up to that. Myself included.