Truth is, many of our children won't wake up tomorrow morning to a warm smile or a hot breakfast or words of encouragement before they're sent out the door to school.
But a far greater truth is that every child deserves a champion. One to encourage in that child a spirit of resilience and heart filled with hope for the future.
Instead, many of our children are left with broken spirits and no hope.
Much of this has to do with bad decision-making by adults. Of course it's easy to blame parents. They're closest — or furthest, if you will — from the hopeless child. But it's far more relevant to consider the role that our own actions — our own decisions — play in how hope is lost and how the light of joy at learning and of living goes out of the eyes of a child.
We must ask ourselves as citizens: What do we consider most important and most valuable to our city? How, in short, do we want to spend our money?
Of course, we want nice things. And we have them. CenterStage, the Altria/Landmark Theater, the Redskins Training Camp and now the $200 million proposal to build a new stadium for the Flying Squirrels in Shockoe Bottom. All of these things do or will offer amenities to city residents that make our collective quality of life better.
But what about the hopeless child? His or her reality is not baseball or ballet or football or Broadway plays. Our children, most of whom are are consigned to Richmond Public Schools, sit in classrooms that are in major disrepair.
Certainly, this city has seen fit to undertake the construction of four new schools. But what about the other 40? Last year, we budgeted less than the combined salaries of the top five men and women in city administration toward the upkeep of our existing buildings. Some of those buildings are more than 100 years old. Many have leaking roofs. And that's the least of their critical issues.
The reality is four new schools every 15 to 20 years aren't enough. We leave thousands of our children in obsolete, antiquated facilities that fail to meet their educational and social-emotional needs.
So where do we spend our money for the hopeless child? Because make no mistake, we spend plenty of money on their care. Decades ago, we invested millions of dollars to create public housing that keeps them contained to just a few densely populated areas of the city. These neighborhoods are bleak, blighted and offer a self-fulfilling prophecy of what the future looks like — and what's expected for the children who live there as they grow into adulthood.
In the past four years, we've invested even more. Showing how much concern we have for the hopeless child, we've spent at least $135 million on a place that caters to their future needs. The new Richmond City Jail is a state-of-the-art facility that sits just down the road from the Mosby Court and Whitcomb Court public housing communities and just across the way from the Gilpin Court public housing project.
Turner Construction, which is building the jail, paints a picture on its website that sounds like this will be a veritable castle rather than a dungeon. "The unusual topography of the site — the residential portion of the Center is nestled against an 80-foot bluff — offers privacy, and the extensive sitework [sic] and landscaping create vegetated views from each room."
Not only that, the future home of the hopeless child will be energy-efficient, even as he or she enjoys privacy and a glimpse of the landscaped outdoors. "The Center is seeking LEED Silver certification and pursuing minority- and woman-owned business utilization goals exceeding 50%."
More than 60 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ended the institution of "separate but equal" in public schools and in public facilities. Sixty years later, the hopeless child enjoys equal protection under law. But he does not enjoy equity. And not only does he not enjoy hope, he also bears witness to the hopelessness of his future every day.
Somewhere about 50 years ago, a champion of the hopeless child offered his view of that to which we as a society can and should aspire. "I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits," said the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. "I believe that what self-centered men have torn down, men other-centered can build up."
Nowhere in that statement did King suggest handouts or giveaways — unless we believe he meant the prison cafeteria where we're legally obliged to provide three squares daily. The only thing King proposed giving away was far more valuable than any baseball stadium or football field or performance stage.
Like education, hope is priceless. But hope also is invaluable. And hope also is an investment that pays dividends.
Hope equals opportunity.
In these next few months, as we consider our city's priorities and our spending, as we prioritize those things in the budget we think will be investments toward making us great, I ask that we take a moment to consider this:
How much hope are we willing to invest in the Hopeless Child? S
Kim Gray is a member of the Richmond Public School Board and the mother of seven former and current RPS students.
Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.