Merlene Davis: Don't lose hope; the American Dream is still obtainable

I've been waiting for someone a lot smarter than I am to come up with a solution for the rash of murders, shootings, robberies, home invasions and unsettling violence that has made headlines in Lexington.

That's when I will dive in, I said, and give all my energy to help with the cure.

But if I am really truthful with myself, I'm really hoping it all dies down and I won't have to change anything in my daily routine.

That's what happened in 2011 when there was a similar surge in violence in Lexington. That's what always seems to happen.

The trouble is, waiting isn't working this time.

What I'm seeing is a loss of hope. Our young people no longer believe going to school and then working hard will culminate in the American Dream. My parents fed me and my siblings a daily dose of the American Dream. Get good grades, go to college and success will come knocking at your door.

Back then, teachers, preachers and neighbors all sang the same song. They believed in the dream, too. Young people were bombarded with high hopes that they assumed were their duty to fulfill.

We are not telling our young people that anymore. In recent years, the "I got mine; you get yours" philosophy has coupled with poverty, a nominal education, fewer jobs and lax parenting to birth a generation that we are now losing.

We tell parents who have served time in prison that we won't hire them, but we expect them to provide for their families.

We don't want to drive through neighborhoods some children live in even though it is the best housing their parents can afford.

We send the least experienced teachers to school districts that need the most wisdom and then criticize the kids for not learning.

Where is the American Dream in that scenario? And where are we, the community, the people who can affect change?

Rabbi Aaron Alexander, associate dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at American Jewish University in Los Angeles, wrote a piece for the Huffington Post in October challenging our leaders to act more intentionally to stop the violence.

"We also must demand from our leadership a serious attempt to identify areas prone to violence, conditions ripe for abuse, and inundate them with programs and resources that work to stem the surge," he wrote. "That necessarily means reaching out to urban areas, too often forgotten and ignored, seeking out those saints who dedicate their lives to elevating the existence of others in danger, and asking for their assistance."

But that doesn't let us off the hook.

Gloria Bonilla-Santiago, board chair of the LEAP Academy University Charter School in Camden, N.J., wrote, "Throwing more dollars against tighter law enforcement is only one part of the solution. The community needs to play its part, too."

She suggested organized community watchers as a proven effective way to supplement police patrols. That means we have to be concerned about our neighbors.

"As teachers, parents, mentors and role models, we must be a light for our children and teach them that peace and justice will never come through violence," she wrote.

That message must be fed to our children every day by everyone, just as the American Dream was fed to my generation.

We have to support the eight women of Sisters and Women Against Gun violence (SWAG) as they try to unite the community and end the cycle of violence in Lexington.

We need to send parents, children and friends to the YOLO (You Only Live Once) Stop the Violence two-day conference on Aug. 8-9 at Imani Family Life Center. The first day is a college and career readiness fair that is meant to help youths improve their chances for a good education and help their parents, even if they have a past criminal record, find better employment.

The second day is filled with workshops after a keynote address by Marlon Shackelford, a violence prevention specialist from Dayton. You can register here. Cost is $5 and includes lunch.

Several youth ambassadors have helped design the event because this problem requires everyone's input to solve it.

Paul Prather, pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling and a columnist at this paper, wrote that chronic poverty, a situation often cited as a reason for violence, has many causes "including physical disability, mental illness, ignorance, family dysfunction, violence, drug addiction, despair, self-loathing, isolation, bigotry, and inferior health care."

When you address one problem, others appear from a hiding place behind it.

"So you just keep giving, keep loving, keep caring with your pocketbook and your prayers — knowing you're bound to fail," he wrote. "You stay at it because it's the right thing to do. It's what St. James called 'pure and undefiled religion.'"

And it is what my parents' generation called the village.