The horrific happenings of the past week in Detroit where children Stoni Ann Blair and Stephen Berry were discovered murdered in their home by their mother underscores what is really so sorely, painfully lacking in our society today. It’s not about race and its not about poverty – its about a lack of personal responsibility for one’s actions and the actions of others.
Columns today by Rochelle Riley and Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press and Nolan Finley of the Detroit News each touch on these issues (and far more eloquently than I) yet I felt compelled to encapsulate some of their views, melding them with mine. Maybe if we all write about it and talk about it and, in turn, live it, a difference will have been made.
Stoni Ann Blair and Stephen Berry were innocent children who deserved to be protected, loved and guided through life like any other 9 and 13 year old. Instead, they were tortured and murdered by the very person that should have sheltered them most vigilantly. Far be it for them to have counseled their mother on personally taking responsibility for actions that lead to four children by two fathers; neither of whom seemed to care for the ramifications of their actions before or after their children were born.
Albom also asks where the neighbors in the family’s apartment building were and it is a legitimate question. National news outlets last night showed video of a man on a public transit train in St. Louis repeatedly punched and kicked by three young punks. And no one did a thing. Not one person stepped in to intervene, even though the men were using fists and appeared to have no weapons. Would you have stood by idly? What kind of human being does? Riley asks other, equally legitimate questions in the Detroit case: Where was the state? Where was the school truancy officer? It is obvious that these poor souls were not heard or looked out for by anyone – and that cannot stand.
In the end it all gets down to family. As Finley writes, 70% of all babies in Detroit are born to single mothers. Moreover, teen mothers give birth to half of all babies in the city. It is a recipe for a vicious cycle of despair. My grandparents immigrated to America from Italy in the early 1900s, settling in southern Illinois. Terrorized by the Ku Klux Klan and dirt poor they worked hard in the coalmines, grew and raised much of their own food and survived – largely through love, support and community. They raised their own with great responsibility and looked out for their neighbors. Idyllic? Concepts whose time have passed? No, they are ideals that need to be brought back and fast.
In an urban world where traditional family units are few and far between, community leaders also need to act and speak more responsibly. This week at a vigil of mourners for the slain children, the Reverend Horace Sheffield did just the opposite, saying: “We can run this city. We need another Coleman Young-like mayor…I’m tired of being treated like we can’t run nothing.” Ridiculous comments that give the irresponsible an open door to continue destructive behavior. Instead, we all need do all we can to underscore the importance of taking responsibility and accountability for our actions, working hard to better our station in life and, most importantly, possess a selfless concern for humanity. To do anything less dooms our society to failure and our children to a terrible future.