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Will Michael Brown and Other Children Die in Vain?

Michael Brown memorial in Ferguson, Missouri

Memorial on the Ferguson, Missouri street where Michael Brown died on August 9, 2014.


There’s been a lot of talk about the streets where the teenagers of Ferguson, Missouri and similar communities pass much of their lives since the August 9th police shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old who would have begun college this month.

Nearly two decades of experience working with thousands of black, white, and Hispanic youth in inner-city and suburban communities says what’s happening inside their homes has a greater impact than the often harsh, unforgiving pavement upon which so much of their lives blossom or burst.

There’s no disputing that those who pulled the trigger ultimately took the lives of Mike Brown, Trayvon Martin and far too many of the 10,000 other American children shot each year. Few of their names will ever be known to the neighbors, artists and activists who filled the pews of the Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis for Mike Brown’s funeral or the correspondents reporting from Ferguson.

Like many, Psychologist Marva Robinson worries about the emotional impact the death of Michael Brown has on students who live in “poor, often unstable households.”

“Long before the shooting of Mike Brown the message was, ‘You don’t matter,’” Dr. Robinson said. “This is the atmosphere Michael Brown lived in every day. This is the stress that these kids exist in every day.”

No community can expect police and politicians to own responsibility for letting kids know, “You matter,” when those same children don’t get that message every day from their moms and dads.

Without any doubt, parents struggling to raise children within bleeding inner-city neighborhoods are fighting their own daily battles. Many brought precious children into the world — kids with names like Michael, Trayvon, and Sean — without vital supports needed to help them pursue the promise of their lives.

So many of those parents missed their own childhoods in cycles of poverty and despair passed down from generation-to-generation.

As we approach the second anniversary of the horrific Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that took the lives of 20 children and 6 adults, we’ve learned that even an atrocity that pierced the very soul of America did not result in legislation to make our children safer.

When the cameras move on from the St. Louis suburb, it’s difficult to imagine the tragedy that struck Ferguson with Mike Brown’s death will do any more to impact national action than the searing wounds from which the families of Newtown, Connecticut will never fully heal.

That doesn’t mean Michael Brown’s death needs to be in vain.

It doesn’t mean the passion the Ferguson protests awoke within millions needs to be lost.

It doesn’t mean we have to abandon the renewed commitment to creating a safer, saner, more loving world we felt as we watched mothers who lost sons comfort each other through life’s most agonizing moments of sorrow.

Those victories will not come from wrongful death lawyers who feign compassion while praying on tragedies with the hope of multi-million dollar payouts, like those who reportedly collected more than $2 million from the death of Sean Bell. If there was ever a time for attorneys to give away their talents and services or reporters like Chris Hayes, Jake Tapper, Don Lemon and Steve Harrigan to broadcast without commercial interruptions, it’s when a young person dies and a community is mourning.

We’ve also learned those victories are unlikely to come from elected officials and the deeply divided chambers in which they serve.

Those victories have to come from each of us through change for which we hold ourselves and each other accountable.

It means caring enough about our children that we do our best each day to help them grow up in stable, loving homes, including learning what it takes to navigate the challenges of relationships that are the foundation of their lives.

It means mothers and fathers alike showing up at our children’s schools to spend time in classrooms and at home to enthusiastically appreciate them for their talents and good deeds, help them overcome challenges, and support them in creating a future in which their life goals have the best chance.

It means turning out on every election day with knowledge of the records and plans of candidates who seek our support and casting ballots for those whose values most closely reflect our own.

It means getting on our knees from the earliest moments of our children’s lives to look them in the eyes each day and let them know in words and actions that they matter; that their feelings matter; that their thoughts matter; and that their dreams matter too.

And as they grow, it means growing with them with a commitment that they know in their hearts and minds every day of their lives they are God’s greatest gift and our most precious treasure.

When anger and anguish transforms into tangible expressions of love directed to those we have the gift of nurturing, guiding and protecting, Michael Brown’s death will not have been in vain.

Seth D. Eisenberg is President/CEO of the nonprofit PAIRS Foundation in Hollywood, Florida, an industry leader in marriage and relationship education. He is the author of PAIRS Essentials and Loops: The Secret Saboteurs of Intimacy and How to Get Rid of Them Forever.

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August 2014
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