Flashy scandals frequently rock the City of Richmond’s government sector. From bad investments, to bad investments, to a lack of financial accounting or accountability, the administration routinely fails to make good choices about how the money it collects from all of us is spent.
And there is a percentage of citizens who routinely spend their time, energy, and money pushing back against the choices being jammed down the throats of us ordinary folks. Locals seem to lose out when local government decides how to spend money. This seems to be a consistent theme.
For the record, I will mention a few of these recent follies – the Redskins Training Camp, the Shockoe Baseball proposal, the Stone Brewery deal, and the UCI Bike Races. All four of these involved large amounts of money, big financial promises, flashy promotion, and stepping all over the wants and the needs of local citizens, their businesses, and their projects and passions.
This is all frustrating, complicated, disheartening, at times even maddening. But what is missed, too much, is that this is quite frankly leading us to an incredibly scary situation. A situation where kids are getting shot on a semi-regular basis and there is no reason to think things will get better.
Mayor Jones will have you believe that these long term investments of his will pay off and help the City. I want you to understand that we do not have time to wait for these schemes to possibly pay off. As of the 2010 census, 40% of the youth in Richmond lived in poverty. This is a scary high number. Combined with our failing, falling apart, and floundering public school systems we are setting ourselves up for a generation with too few skills, too little education, and not nearly enough hope.
In 10 years, today’s 5th graders will have graduated high school. Or dropped out of high school. And if something does not radically change in our culture and in our school system a high number of that 40% are going to have a hell of a time surviving without ending up involved in crime.
Of course the real crime is an administration who dismisses school as important only to the 11% who send their kids there now. The real crime is people with money and power repeatedly ignoring the pressing need of these kids, who have done nothing to deserve the situations they find themselves in. And the real crime is the failure of the administration to think to the future regarding our schools and support systems for youth.
Currently, trendy coffee shops and breweries are attractive to many young people, who then move into the City. But in the future you better believe that those who can’t afford private school will move right the hell back out of the City when they start having school age children. This is a long term issue that is not being addressed by current efforts regarding the schools.
Currently those 40% of the youth in poverty are minors. Growing up in poverty does not necessarily result in criminal behavior or an adulthood of poverty. But there is a predisposition which occurs. There is a well established connection between poverty and crime. Especially when the poverty at home is combined with a poverty in the schools. Some kids may be able to overcome the adversity facing them. Some will find ways to graduate high school and even attend college. Some will be able to find jobs that pay a living wage. But without a good education, without good support, leadership and organizing and team opportunities in schools, these kids will have a hell of a time succeeding as adults. Without sex education and conflict resolution and other basic skills we are setting the next generation up for a hard life.
More poverty will affect the City as a whole. A less educated populace will affect whether companies decide to move here. Without a competent work force many companies will stay away or move away. Or demand even more concessions and tax breaks from the local government in order to move here.
Many people fear the past of Richmond, with our reputation for murder and violent crime. Honestly, that was not very long ago, and we are not very far from returning to a situation like that. We feel a false sense of security about the future of this City. We need to step up and support the kids of the City before they become the adults and find themselves struggling.
A coming generation without the skillsets necessary to get out of poverty will damn sure affect more than 11% of our population. The costs of policing, courts, jails, public housing, social services and more will increase – and that’s not counting the human cost, the pain and suffering and sadness.
This issue is not as exciting as building a new whatever. It does not garner the flashy hub bub that trendy restaurants or breweries do. It is not a feather in the cap to address the poverty and failing schools. But if we do not do something now to help the kids who live in poverty things will head down hill very quickly as they come of age.
It takes a village, and our village sucks at parenting right now. And the whole village will suffer for it if we do not rethink our priorities very quickly.