Say a Prayer: But then get down to the business of healing what plagues us

But then get down to the business of healing what plagues us

I had an interesting conversation with an old neighbor the other day. The retired Charleston County school teacher still lives in the house on the peninsula’s East Side she once shared with her mother, sister, and her sister’s children.

Her America Street block near Columbus Street has gone, over the course of some 40 years, from an exclusively residential community to one dominated previously by C.A. Brown High School, Johnson & Wales culinary university, and now by Trident Technical College’s Palmer campus.

A stone’s throw from her home is one of the peninsula’s most prolific illegal drug trafficking centers, marking a second dynamic change in the community.

The Roman Catholic church next door to her house 20 years ago served as a community center for the scores of young children. Today the basement serves as a soup kitchen and food distribution center.

My former neighbor recalled the old days with fondness as she bent over to plant summer flowers between the street and sidewalk in front of her house. But her voice took on a melancholy tone when she began to reflect on how violent the neighborhood has become since illegal drug trafficking started to outpace the kids who used to play in the street.

The attending violence is also cause for concern. Summer evening walks through the neighborhood are no longer safe, she said, as gunfire can erupt at any time. Several young men have been murdered within earshot of her home in recent years.

Some of those young men were children she’d watched grow up in the neighborhood. That’s why she gets so angry about the prayer vigils.

Noting a June 2 prayer vigil at Stoney Field, the woman’s eyes began to roll as she asked, “Why do our City Council members and church leaders always want to address the violence in the community with prayer vigils? Councilman Wendell Gilliard was one of the key coordinators. As a city councilman, doesn’t he have the ability to develop job training programs for these kids?”

She said it’s time that Charleston’s black community realized it must use its own resources to stem the tide of violence within its boundaries. Government and local businesses have stood idly watching as crime and violence overwhelm black communities.

Black churches are perhaps the most organized entities in the black community. They also have the most resources. That’s where violence within the black community will be addressed, she said.

Noting that most predominantly black public schools are low-performing, she said rather than spend time on street corners praying, those who hope to impact the crime and violence in the black community may be better off holding those vigils at county and district school board meetings, demanding resources be provided to bring failing schools up to par.

When almost half of black students fail to graduate high school and many who do leave with only minimal academic skills, it behooves those who consider themselves leaders to demand better education.

“I could have stayed in the classroom another five years, but I could see there was no commitment to these children from the administration,” said the former teacher, who retired about four years ago.

Now that Charleston County School District is getting a new superintendent — Nancy McGinley will succeed outgoing Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson this month — this is an opportune time for the black community to help develop some strategy to enhance the delivery of public education in black schools, she said.

The faith-based community, with the support of black elected officials, may indeed impact the violence in our communities, but prayer must be followed with concrete and consistent effort — for faith without work truly is lost.