Parents remain the vital link to child’s development, as I was reminded when I watched a recent documentary, “Undivided.” The picture told the story of a relationship between a local church and a public school in Portland, Oregon.
Southlake Church initially connected with a struggling public school, Roosevelt High, and its St. John’s community, through a CityFest beautification event. Following the event, the church continued to come alongside and serve by providing support and resources. Their only agenda was to show love with no strings attached.
Eventually others joined them in this ministry. A lot has been done and it is a great story!
In the last part of the film, some of the school staff, members of the community, volunteers, and partners comment on the impact of the efforts.
- There is no point in being here if we are not going to be here for the long run. Change does not happen overnight.
- Roosevelt is not going to change in six months, not in a year. It’s never done. Each year presents new challenges.
- We still have questions about what’s working and what’s not … and the depth of the problems.
- It is probably a ten-year project, and then, and only then, will we know if it’s been a success … and if it’s not a success it will be a magnificent defeat.
- Southlake isn’t saving Roosevelt. Roosevelt has to save itself, but it’s getting help from the outside and from partners, and Southlake is an integral player in that.
As I heard these comments, I asked myself some questions:
- What really needs to change for success to take root and grow on its own?
- What is the element that, once in place, will sustain and maintain change?
- What is the solution that, once rooted, will continue to grow and produce more good results?
- How were the efforts of the school staff, community, church and business partners contributing to this solution?
Some of the answers appear in the film. Forty years ago, Roosevelt High and St. John’s were doing much better. At the beginning of the film a number of persons in or from the community reflected on what had changed since then.
- Families were tight.
- No matter what you did, your neighbors would report back to your parents if you were not on track.
- If I wanted to smoke a cigarette or write something stupid on the wall, I had to go at least 15 blocks, and if someone called your name out … you knew … you were busted. … My parents did not have to do an investigation, because there were adults who already informed them of what was happening.
- There were men in our neighborhood. I mean men. They did not take any guff. If they said, ‘You are not going to throw trash in the street.’ That’s what they meant. If they said, ‘It’s time to come home.’ That’s what they meant. But, they were the same guys who paid for little league uniforms, who sponsored basketball teams. My dad went to every one of my basketball games, every one of my little league games.
- Many of these communities were intact until there was a breakdown between adults.
- The family unit became less frequent than it was in the 50s and 60s. So, I think that was what led to a lot of the deterioration of the student body and the school. That left an area unprotected. Gangs became the replacement for young people. They wanted to belong to something, anything. They didn’t see it as a criminal enterprise. They didn’t see the danger. They saw it simply as their family… but it wasn’t.
- Some of the men had left. Some (of the youth) were in single families.
- In my house, it’s just me and my brothers. My dad made my brother my legal guardian.
- I think that’s part of the thing that’s missing in a lot of these children’s lives. It’s the poverty of the lack of intimate relationship with positive adults. They’re just not around them.
- The majority of these young men who are in trouble, who are in gangs, who murder and are murdered, are without a male figure authority in the home. That’s a matter of fact that no one argues any more. There used to be a discussion about it. But today no one argues that.
The theme in all this is the same. The solution or element that will sustain and continue to produce positive change is good parenting – engaged, able, healthy parents, especially male parents.
In the film we see volunteers, staff, and partners doing what parents do – providing food, clothes, encouragement, help, advice, accountability, and communicating value and worth to the children. Every child needs these in order to grow and flourish. The solution is parenting.
Neighbor Larry Anderson puts it this way, “I used to do gang conferences and everybody wanted to know in the end, ‘What’s the solution.’ I’d say, ‘Build front porches.’” He explained how his mother used to sit on the front porch and keep watch over him, his friends and the neighborhood. She parented him well.
What has changed? The loss of parenting, especially fathering. What is the root solution? Good parenting.
Who has God designed, equipped and placed for the purpose of forming healthy, honest, responsible, civic-minded, law-abiding citizens? Parents. Who nurtures children to become citizens capable of caring for themselves, their families, and people in need? Parents. Understanding and supporting the role of parents (the family) is core to the health of our children and communities.
Where this is lacking or has been weakened, our options are two-fold.
First, we need to support and equip all parents to better carry out their role – no matter what their state. My wife is a counselor. Her experience proves that one “pound” of investment in the adult translates into ten pounds in the child because of the incredible influence for good (and for bad) that a parent naturally has in the life of their child.
Second, we need to nurture and equip all children and young people in such a way that when they have children themselves, they become part of the parenting solution.
We often say children just need love. But that love must be rooted in a wisdom that will enable the child and family to go forward in a healthy way.
Christian Swain, the coach in the film, captured this kind of love in his vision. “My vision and goal is to love these families, the kids and their parents…to embrace their problems and recognize that fact that these people need help. They don’t need people judging them. They don’t need people pointing fingers. They don’t need people calling them bad parents. They need people to love them. That’s the vision. …All these kids that we’re talking about, they are going to be successful human beings if they just have people continue to love them and stay in their life.”
The core solution: build front porches, help develop good parents. This means supporting and helping existing parents so they can better parent their children. It means raising up a new generation of parents by building into young people so they can become parents who love and provide for their children as God created. The UnDivided story is an example of a community, church, school, and partners doing both.
– Dwight Vogt
Dwight Vogt serves as DNA’s Director of International Programs, supporting the work of DNA champions and trainers worldwide. Before coming to the DNA, he worked for over 20 years at Food for the Hungry, including field leadership roles in Bangladesh, Peru, Thailand, and Guatemala. Dwight is author of Footings: Biblical Worldview for Children. He earned his Master’s degree in intercultural studies and missiology from Biola University. Dwight lives with his wife Deborah and their three children in Phoenix, Arizona.