It was an August afternoon and the sun was blazing. I was a penniless seven-year-old, and I decided I was going to have an ice cream by any means necessary. I strolled down to the corner store on Broadway and Fremont. In that time it was the “76” gas station.
As I walked down the store’s narrow aisle, I kept an eye on the checkout counter, waiting for my opportunity. Within a few seconds, an unfamiliar lady approached the checkout counter to make a purchase.
With the clerk’s attention diverted, I swiped a blue Jumbo Freeze Pop out of the cooler and jammed it under my shirt and into my waistband. My chest pounded rapidly as I scrambled to the exit door. Enduring the numbing sensation against my belly, I pushed through the door and dashed to my backyard, only three houses away.
I sat on the back steps and started to devour my icy treat with a triumphant blue smile spread across my face. A few bites later, while I was trying to recover from a brain freeze, the woman who diverted the clerk’s attention eyed me while passing through the alley.
“Mmm-hmm,” she muttered. “I thought that’s what I saw. Ain’t you Michelle’s boy? I’m telling your mother what you did.” My stomach instantly knotted and my sweet Jumbo Freeze Pop turned bitter.
I threw the Freeze Pop to the ground, hoping the overgrown tattletale would accept this gesture as my repentance and reconsider informing my mother. It was a futile attempt. Later that day, both my mother and my aunt tanned my behind. I never stole from that store again.
It takes a village to raise a child. Unfortunately, the village is an anomaly these days. Resurrecting the village will help save the children.
During my childhood, I was part of a village that included extended family, next-door neighbors, the ice cream truck driver, and the corner store clerk. Wherever I went, a pair of concerned eyes kept me in check.
Adults made it their business to know members of the community and who each of the neighborhood children belonged to. Grandmas and grandpas made it their duty to sit on the porch, in the garden, or in front of the picture window all day and watch over the community.
Neighbors were quick to tell a child, “You betta not, boy!” and dare him to holler back, “You can’t tell me what to do, you ain’t my daddy!” If he did, there would soon be a congregation of family and neighbors tearing up his backside.
Toward the end of my adolescence, the strength of the village withered away. During school hours, I roamed 26th Street from Dupont to Penn Avenue up to no good. Not once did a neighbor or store clerk question why I wasn’t in school.
Not once did a neighbor knock on my mother’s door and inform her of my activities in the streets. Some didn’t care. Others were afraid of trouble.
Today we see kids being deviant on our block and we say, “Glad they ain’t mine” and then turn our heads. This contributes to the disconnection our youth feel toward their community. When I speak to the young men I meet inside prison, they often say, “Man, they don’t care about me. Why should I care about how my actions affect them?”
It’s time we take responsibility for our community and give the youth a reason to care. It’s time we show that we care about our youth and resurrect the village.
The rebirth of the village begins with you initiating small talk with a neighbor you don’t know. Invite the neighbor over when you’re barbequing. Make time to attend block meetings. Learn who your children’s friends are and who their friends’ parents are.
The village has the power to keep children from stumbling into the prison pipeline. Take the lead in uniting the community and saving its youth from my unfortunate circumstance. Resurrect the village.
Jeffery Young welcomes reader responses to Jeffery Young #213390, 7600 525th St., Rush City, MN 55069.