Community, family, and the individual are all interconnected. There’s a reason the age-old saying, “It takes a village to raise a child” is still used to this day, because when a community is strong, chances are the families within that community are strong, and therefore so are its children. In Syracuse, particularly in our Latino and Black communities, this sentiment has faded away to a point where it is practically non-existent. The sense of “community” is no longer of importance and when a community is weak, chinks in the armor are exposed for the ugliness of society to seep in.
Syracuse is overrepresented in too many negative social statistics. We are first in the state in dropout rates (ahead of Buffalo, Rochester, Yonkers, and New York City), we lead the state (and the Northeast region of the U.S.) in poverty rates, and Syracuse has double the state average in teen pregnancy rates. These aren’t statistics to boast about and the city has had a history of allowing these statistics to become the “elephant in the room” that no one cares to (or dares to) address aggressively enough that the city-wide action is enacted. Why is that? Why do we not aggressively work towards changing these poor representations of our city? Because a reform to any social issue begins with a strong community and Syracuse’s urban neighborhoods cannot enact change until the communities begin to truly and authentically unify and take accountability for themselves and its members. This goes beyond gatherings where everyone has their “sound bytes” about how we “need to do better.” It goes beyond saying it and actually doing it when the crowds dissipate and there’s no microphone or news cameras.
Change in this regard, however, is not solely up to the community on its own. There’s a reason local, political, and community leaders are deemed “leaders.” It is their job to lead communities into unifying and owning their territories and its constituents. Local politicians who represent these communities need to step up and rally communities into becoming accountable for its young people who hang in the streets when they should be in school, working, or in the house rather than be out late at night. They should be fighting and advocating for employment and academic programs and support for youth, families, and individuals who need the support to be productive members of society. Local politicians should be (and are supposed to be) the “voice” of the people…but it’s the people’s job to demand this from them.
Police should be more present in high-risk communities in the capacity of building relationships with community members, not just driving slowly down streets to hopefully induce fear in potential wrong-doers and impose a sense of authoritative oversight that only induces crime rather than prevent it. There was a time when police “walked the beat” and knew every person on their assigned blocks and everyone in that community knew (and trusted) the officer. That doesn’t exist anymore and it’s no wonder why no one trusts the police…they have no reason to and it shouldn’t be that way.
Community leaders, out of all those responsible for creating and sustaining a community’s sense of ownership and accountability, are the ones who are the most obligated to lead the charge for building strong communities. These leaders include leaders of places of worship, education officials and teachers, and nonprofit organization personnel. All of these groups of people are the ones who actually substantiate a community and whose sole purpose is to unify people into a community! Leaders of places of worship (pastors, priests, reverends, etc.) preach the word of God in order to unify people for the sole purpose of creating a healthy community. Education officials and teachers are those responsible for educating the youth of a community and are currently (in many schools in the city) severely disconnected from the communities they operate in. Nonprofit organization personnel exist purely to serve the needs of the communities they operate in yet many organizations do not collaborate with one another, across communities, share information or resources, nor do they (in many cases) do more than what is expected or demanded of them. This defragmented mode of operation is a clear indicator as to why it is so hard to not only create a sense of community across the city but maintain it…because no one, at any level, is willing to do so.
Syracuse, its communities, and its citizens have so much to offer one another, the city, the state of New York, and the world. There’s more to this city than high crime rates, gang violence, and poor school district performance. And by more, I’m referring to much more than the SU men’s basketball team. Our communities are diverse, some of the most diverse in the state. Fowler High School, on the city’s Westside, is 40% Latino and the other 60% speak 21-different languages…and that’s just one high school. Our streets are beautiful, are neighborhoods have so much history, and our people have so much to share and learn from one another. But we must demand such change from those who are deemed our “leaders,” from the organizations who are supposed to provide the services and support, and most importantly, we must demand such change from ourselves. In order to change what we need to so we can take back our communities, we must accept our failures, own them, and move forward with solutions, not dwell on our problems or what we can’t do.