We’ve grown accustomed to adults taking out their “beef” by pulling out a gun and shooting the other, too many times, resulting in the death or permanent injury to the victim. We wring our hands, mothers cry, cousins’ curse and cry out, “why”. The scourge of violence has gripped the youth of this community where it’s not even safe to travel from one neighborhood to the other. The view of the world for these children, yes children, is bleak. Memorializing a young man or woman has generating a constant run on balloons at the neighborhood Dollar Tree. A 15 year old child, killing another should set off alarms in every household in Syracuse. Things like this aren’t supposed to happen.
Syracuse was once a different place, beautiful neighborhoods, bustling crowds in our downtown stores, our neighborhood commercial districts full to capacity with businesses owned by local people. This can’t be the city I was born and raised in, parts are unrecognizable. Life for a 15 year old was fun and exciting, we were children.
Growing up between the East Genesee Business District and Syracuse University’s Marshall Street aka “M Street”, there was plenty for a 15 year old to do. In the summer there were robust programs in all our city parks. That’s where you learned how to make Popsicle stick boxes that you’d bring home saying, “look at what I made”.
Each neighborhood had the presence of a Community Action Agency such as PEACE, Inc. which had Community Centers in every poor neighborhood. These centers employed people living in those poor communities. The City of Syracuse had a number of jobs programs funded by the Federal Government. During the hot summer, there were programs at Grace Episcopal and University Methodist Church, giving us young people something to do all summer.
If you were old enough to have working papers, during the summer there were jobs available to children coming from low income families. It was a position with a Community Action Agency or some entity that allowed them to earn money and gain some introductory work experience.
Syracuse Housing Authority had an award winning Youth Program that employed people residing within SHA properties. This program contributed to making SHA among the safest Housing Projects in the country.
Not qualifying for the government supplied jobs, I worked every other store on Marshall Street, Taking out garbage, sweeping and cleaning, fast-food at the old Carroll’s Restaurant or frying chicken at The Red Barn. And when that was done I’d hope for snow, fast growing grass or garbage night, so I could rush to Mrs. Louchs house to do my work and get paid.
Others I knew had summer jobs funded by the city or county that lasted about 8 weeks, but young people were making money and had something to hope for.
Children spent 4 hours during the hot summer playing on the park equipment and supervised craft making in our beautifully manicured city parks. We were kept busy.
At Christmas time the best party in town were those hosted by the large manufacturers’ for their employees families. Crouse-Hinds held theirs at Leow’s Theater (now called the Landmark), and they showed Bugs Bunny cartoons on the big screen. Local children’s TV show celebrities from The Magic Toy Shop appeared and entertained the packed theater. At the end, we were sent home with candy and age appropriate toys.
It appeared as though everyone had something to do, a purpose. Children were kept occupied all day and we were home by the time the street lights came on.
Today, none of the aforementioned conditions exist. The factories are gone, the P.E.A.C.E. Inc. Community Centers no longer exist as they did a generation ago. Summer Jobs programs for young people experienced death by budget cuts. The once acclaimed SHA Youth Program was cut by the Federal government and the friendly Corner Store is now replaced by entrepreneurs who hire family only. Even Syracuse Housing Authority, has had recent problems with increasing incidents of violence on their properties.
The remedy is simple, return hope to the inner-city, and spend money to create jobs for young people and their parents. And if jobs are located too far out from the CENTRO bus route, we need to find a way to get them there, to work.
When we eliminate from our schools; art, gym, sports, music, extra-curricular activities, and field trips, we shouldn’t be scratching our heads looking for answers to gun violence. They’re right in front of us looking us dead in the eyes, our youth. We’ve long stopped investing in our youth and now we’re seeing the results of this sanctioned neglect.
When one 15 year old kills another, a community has to do more than cry, march and pray. We have to do more than pay lip service to the myriad of issues challenging our youth, especially when hope is on life support.