In our experience the reality of family has changed, and so has the definition of family. Most of us do not have two parents. In our families the oldest boy is the man, siblings raise siblings, foster care or grandparent care is common. We deal with negative family influences daily, including drugs and alcohol, unemployment, dependency, and poverty. The family once influenced and defined society. Now it seems that various forces in society have broken our families.
For children and youth to overcome these negative influences, society must find ways to answer our deep need for human connection. Every child needs a father or another strong positive male influence, and we all need a mother, someone to talk to, someone to hug us, whether it’s a blood relationship or not. We need something we can call a family, where we know that people care about us. We are struggling to answer the questions “Who Am I” and “What’s my Purpose in Life?” We need people to help us answer these questions.
In a larger sense, we also need to belong to a more united society with a positive culture that does not discriminate against people based on race or culture, income level, or residential zip code, and where neighbors take an interest in each other and help each other. We understand this is a big challenge. Neighbors are more afraid of helping each other than they used to be.
Here are some specific suggestions:
- Strengthen all nonprofit community-based support organizations for children and youth, including things like Big Brothers, Big Sisters, community centers, and all forms of mentoring programs.
- Create caring and smaller school communities where teachers and counselors take a personal interest in the students.
- Reform foster care, screening foster parents much more thoroughly and making sure the motive for serving as foster parents is not money.
- Add respectful and sensitive curriculum in schools and community centers about various groups’ cultural history to help us answer the question, “Who Am I?” and to counteract the internalized negative stereotypes that we experience growing up.
- Expand the job, education, and service programs that allow us to belong to a positive peer group gaining skills, supporting each other, finding caring mentors, and giving service to our communities, so we can build a positive identity and realize that we have value and can build a responsible future. This brings us back to our top recommendations.
- We believe that in the absence of a strong family it does take a village to raise a child. However, not only our families but also our villages are in disrepair. Now it will take a nation to repair the village.
- We ask the leaders of our nation to please invest in the programs that have already saved our own and many other young lives, and will do the same for the young people coming behind us. These programs help repair our villages and they create surrogate families.