There are no sidelines in this battle

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John Fountain III


We want your voices, too. Share your views about what’s happening in Austin.

Is fighting to save neighborhoods overrun with poverty and crime really worth the effort? Can you really believe in a community where some of its residents do not value life? What do you say to a family that has lost a loved one who was on the moral side of the fight? Where is the comfort?

These thoughts ran through my head as the news anchor read the details of Thomas Wortham IV, 30 — a military officer surviving two tours of duty in Iraq, a three-year veteran of the Englewood Chicago police district and community activist — shot dead in an alleged robbery attempt supposedly stemming from a dare. It was a hideous crime where the offenders deserve no pity.

People make choices that lead them to their own fate.

There are too many crutches in impoverished neighborhoods: “I never had parents that cared enough. I got picked on in school. My family never had any money. Nobody ever promoted college. The white man keeps me down!”

John W. Fountain III

As a taxpayer, I feel offended when criminals get to lay around on my tax dollars in a jail cell with rights and privileges — free meals and healthcare. And upon release, some of them remain so institutionalized or beyond help that they turn into a career criminal.

It concerns me when a mother realizes she can get money for childcare costs, more SNAP benefits (food stamps) and low-income family housing if she continues have more children. But she dare not take advantage of SEOG, Pell Grants, subsidized and unsubsidized loans for a university education or GED program.

Enough with the excuses!

Frankly, I believe that many ex-offenders, drug dealers and the single mothers with gaggles of children have it easier than someone who doesn’t lean on circumstantial vices and cannot go and sign up for benefits or get help from social service organizations.

These people thrive in mediocrity. This environment does not breed a work ethic. And anyone that displays a “conscious endeavor,” as Henry David Thoreau once wrote, is an anomaly. They are considered “lame” or “square.”

It takes guts to sometimes be the only black face in a classroom full of students who cannot identify with your circumstances. It’s hard living in a dorm seeing all of your friends’ parents come to visit, spend the whole day with them or transfer money into their bank accounts just so they won’t have to worry too much about finances.

It’s difficult being away from all of your friends, not having a support system and feeling alone. But then again, if no one around ever told you about the joy of stepping out of your comfort zone and meeting new people in spite of how you feel, then how will you ever fathom the possibilities?

It takes internal motivation to maneuver between serving country and serving community. The local newspapers emphasized Wortham’s successful return from Iraq. Some of the children he encountered got to hear stories of far off places and interesting things. Maybe a few were inspired, and maybe for Wortham, it was worth it.

Just maybe, Wortham shouldn’t be one of the few trying to motivate children to dream the impossible. I guess if his death symbolizes anything, let it stand for the need of mentors unafraid by media reports to uplift at least one child. Allow him or her to connect with the outside world.

If everyone pitches in, then the battle to take back our communities becomes less intimidating.

4 thoughts on “There are no sidelines in this battle

  1. Too often educated masses see the limitations of others as excuses or are unforgiving of their struggles with personal and public limitations. Quite a few single mothers do often pursue their GED and university or trade school education but it is never as easy as it seems. For one this country or rather society is not supportive of those who do not stay on the “straight and narrow”. Those mothers who do pursue their education must contend with day care costs, daily and living expenses and not to mention the toil of studying and juggling parenthood alone. Especially in hostile environments where progressing isn’t championed. Not everyone has the courage or the desire to want to “color outside the lines.”

    Honestly, the choices we make are far more complicated than what you present. We may get an education but that’s no way a guarantee we will be able to serve society or ourselves any better than those without an education. Perhaps focusing on accountability and responsibility would be better ideas to ponder on.

  2. I appreciate your comment and believe me, I share in your concerns.

    All I am saying is that there are choices one makes that determine their destiny. There are no straight and narrow paths. Nothing in life is an absolute. Too often the uneducated believe the route of becoming educated is easy or a sure way to success. I, for one, am no stranger to the teasing, taunting and ridicule of seeing education as a way to better myself, not just financially, but as a way put into perspective the reason behind the social and economic caste system that defines America.

    There are too many examples that perpetuate the state that some inner city communities are in. I am just baffled at why some choose to join in rather than step out. The goal is not to get everyone to attain a post graduate degrees. The goal for education should be to examine and determine your existence in relation to your community. History plays a key role in that. And then if you choose to tackle the world, fine. I commend single mothers, ex-cons and any one who does not allow the past to be a shackle on the way to self-actualization. There comes a point when there are no more excuses to the actions being committed. So, in a sense, I am touching on “accountability” and “responsibility.” The problems that we face are extremely complex. It is rooted in the tearing down of our psyche and image along with the dissemination of resources. And it is an up hill battle. But I believe there are two sides and one choice; break the cycle or participate in it!

    Again, I thank you.

  3. We both agree on many levels but perhaps we are approaching it with different language. Yes choices make a huge difference in life direction but there is no guarantee that choices, particularly “positive” ones, will lead to a life that is basically sanctioned by society. Some are black and white and some are very multicolored.

    John I sense you are grappling with issues that are as old as time and that’s a good thing for a journalist. We need to keep prodding and poking and pushing to find the answers that bring solutions or at least enlighten those who will never have certain life experiences. However, I feel your opinion on this situation is *tad* bit belittling of those who don’t choose to step out of what isn’t deemed acceptable. These communities are no different from educated communities in the sense they are just participating in the ethos defined by the majority. In Oak Park, the group has placed value on education, family and building wealth. That could also mean, a value is placed on capitalism, inclusion, and classism. In certain parts of the Austin community, it’s not people aren’t desiring to move forward in their lives–oh they are very much so– but are trying to survive and subsist with the tools they were given. The middle class has time and resources to be social activists. The poor don’t and often feel they don’t have recourse or a voice in matters.

    To combat many of society’s ills, it will take a concerted effort from all stratums of American society.

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