Detroit was recently ranked as the worst place in America to raise children, according to Children’s Health Magazine. Since KwameGate this type of sentiment has been heaped upon Detroit, by the rest of the nation through the media. About 2 years ago, another magazine named Detroit as one of the most interesting cities in the world to visit. Neither of these sensational claims is wholly accurate but there are certain “truths” associated with each assertion.
About fifteen years ago, I became aware of the fact that Detroit had a higher infant mortality rate than some Third World countries. The death rate of newborns has been one of Detroit’s “dirty little secrets” for many years. I have not heard any recent information that dispels this unfortunate shame. I also know from my work, over the past twenty years, that too many young mothers are delivering premature and low birth weight babies that end up with a multiplicity of congenital problems that affect the children’s physical and mental development.
“The Village” is not adequately preparing its best and brightest to compete in the ultra competitive world of the 21st century because 15 to 20% of its children are not receiving proper nurturance.
In November 2008, I attended Michigan’s first ever Poverty Summit, sponsored by the Michigan Department of Human Services (DHS). It was an ambitious yet chaotic attempt to get service providers and consumers together to strategize about ways to end poverty and strengthen families. Some of the DHS staff were unhappy because attendance for many of them was mandatory and some customers were openly hostile to the “suits”. Emotions ran high in a session I attended as customers came face to face with DHS personnel and took out their frustrations on them knowing that they would never get away with such conduct in front of their case workers. We accomplished little at that particular session. I attended another session that involved discussions about at risk children from infancy to about age 5. I found out that Afrikan American and Hispanic children in that age group, who are at or below the poverty level, tend to have the highest rates of mortality, congenital problems and learning deficits here in Michigan. Sitting there listening to moribund statistical information that afternoon and being one of only four blacks in a room of about forty people, was very unsettling to me. It was one of the few times in my adult life when I felt absolutely helpless. The statistics that were presented to the group revealed a statewide crisis in black and Latino communities, yet there was very little visible representation by the two groups in our session. The one positive that I walked away with that day was that the presenting Agency (I don’t remember its name but I remember is a publically funded organization) was (is) lobbying to have mandatory educational services begin for children at 3 years of age, here in Michigan. And the Agency appears to have the means to influence legislation to make this goal a reality.
I know from my professional experience that the sooner at risk children are placed in structured situations the greater their chances for improvement in all areas of life. The most readily available “structured environment” that a child has these days is the school that he or she attends. We could argue to infinity about how good the current educational system is here in Detroit but that’s another blog.
There is a national movement, promoted by President Barack Obama, to increase the amount of time children spend in school each year. I am hoping that the effort here in Michigan to enroll children in school by age 3 will succeed, as part of the national effort to improve each child’s education.
Problems related to day to day existence in Southeastern Michigan have reached critical mass. Poverty remains as the underlying source of most of the regions problems. Efforts are being made by national, state and local government agencies to correct some of these problems but bureaucrats cannot correct the dysfunction that occurs within families. We need to reclaim ownership of The Village by taking personal responsibility for our lives and the lives of our children.
Ann Arbor, Detroit and surrounding areas have some of the finest medical delivery systems in the country. We need to move legislatively to ensure that children’s health and education are the region’s main priorities. We have known for decades about the problems that plague our children. In the 21st century, such problems should not exist in a region that boast of superior health care delivery or one that provides tax incentives to lure media and technology to the area. The dichotomy between available resources and the plight of the poor and disenfranchised is too great to be ignored. The whole world is watching us. And more importantly, we should be striving as a cohesive group to resolve these problems. We need to have a greater sense of urgency when it comes to resolving issues that we are savagely critisized about by the national media.
We cannot make the legacy of Kwame and allegations of corruption go away but we can remedy the health care crisis, have better educated children by utilizing existing community resources. We must have regional cooperation and must take more collective responsibility.