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Boomer Grandpa: 'It is easier to build strong children, than to repair broken men'

April 7, 2016


LOREN ELSE, news@postbulletin.com

Demonstrators riase their fist in the air at the Government Center in Minneapolis on Wednesday, March 30, 2016, to protest County Attorney Mike Freeman's decision that charges will be filed against two Minneapolis police officers in the fatal shooting of a black man, Jamar Clark, 24, in November 2015.

As usual, a rough week on the national news front. Of particular attention in Minnesota was the announcement that the two Minneapolis police officers will not face charges in the Nov. 15 shooting death of Jamar Clark. There are a great deal of different opinions and beliefs on what has transpired this past week. It has been difficult for some to even comprehend all of the emotions.

You may not believe this but I naively thought after I became a father in the late 1970s that the kind of prejudice that I witnessed growing up would no longer exist by the time my children and grandchildren would grow up. I am poorly qualified to speak of the plight of the African-American population. I experienced what it was like to live in the South when my family moved to Alabama in 1961. I was 8 years old. We lived there for 2 ½ years. I remember the signs in business windows, "No colored allowed."

To get some response on the issue I called Percy Pitzer, a retired warden from the U.S. Department of Justice. Percy and his wife, Sununt, started the Creative Corrections Education Foundation in June, 2012 with the purpose of providing scholarships to children of incarcerated parents. CCEF has awarded scholarships and financial aid for 156 young adults to enroll in college or trade school in various states nationwide.

The foundation has also created an initiative called the Right Path program. This program helps young men and women who are unskilled, poorly educated and lacking tools to gain meaningful employment. Pitzer's foundation is providing opportunities that are changing many lives in a positive way. Although this mission of providing scholarships and training is very important to Pitzer, he strongly believes that we need to help kids before they get in trouble. He told me about a recent study he read by the U.S. Sentencing Commission that stated young men arrested at 21 years-old or younger have a 67.6 percent re-arrest rate.

"Many of these young adults in the African-American communities have no vision of success and what you can't visualize is very difficult to attain," Pitzer said. Important segments of the solution to improving the lives of young African-Americans is making progress in the fight against poverty, hunger and keeping kids and teens in school. Support is needed at home, mentors are sought in these neighborhoods, assistance is required in the community and schools and our churches need to provide love and direction. Programs that cities like Rochester and Minneapolis have in place that provide assistance in various ways need our support.

People might say it's the parent's job to point these students and teen-agers in the right direction but what if the parents need help as well. Percy talked about community leaders needing to recognize that helping at risk kids is part of their responsibility. Citizens in the community need to be educated on what the issues are and what they can do to help. He feels leaders need to bring people together at all levels.

When I volunteer in my granddaughter's elementary school classroom I do not see prejudice or the students seeing differences in each other. It makes me wonder when and why we lose kids to gangs, drugs, alcohol or dropping out. My hope and the hope of many is that by supporting struggling students in various ways this will pay positive dividends.

We need members of our minority population to become police officers, firefighters and teachers. Diverse staff is critically needed in so many professions. We have a diverse population right here in Rochester. With education, skills and jobs they will become involved in our community. They will serve on boards and leadership positions.

There is work to be done with our criminal justice system and keeping arrest situations from turning deadly or violent. Pitzer and I talked about beginning work with the Federal Bureau of Prisons in the 1970s when the federal inmate count was around 24,000. Today, the number is close to 200,000.

"We are still thinking the way we did 20 years ago," Pitzer said. We need to think differently and part of this would be to look at different options in regards to incarceration. On the other hand our communities need to do their part to come together to help and support these young men or women. It was positive to read the story in the St. Paul Pioneer Press about the #BlackTruce movement, which is calling for a summer free of violence among members of the black community.

I am no expert, but I think the Rochester community leaders are doing a good job of educating us on issues as our city grows. Much effort has been put forth to be proactive with the recent implementation of police body cameras and the work of the Police Policy Oversight Commission. This builds trust.

A letter was recently received at the CCEF by someone who was assisted in acquiring a trade by the Right Path program. A part of the letter said, "Thank you so much for trusting me. Even though you knew me and my past, you still believed in me. " Frederick Douglass once said, "It is easier to build strong children, then to repair broken men." We need to do both.