Several years ago, a young man I know made his first trip home after a semester away as a freshman at a historically black college. As we spoke about his college campus life, he told of dealing with gang-bangers, drug dealers, crime and more. All the while he was trying to pursue his college education.
When I inquired as to why he had to deal with those issues while away at school, he reminded me that historically black colleges are located in historically black neighborhoods. The social ills of those neighborhoods are imposed on the college campus life of the students.
How to deal with the safety of children as they make their way to and from school has always been at the forefront of some people's agenda. Take the case of DeLaSalle High School on the South Side. It is the alma mater of Mayor Daley and for years the white children from Bridgeport would cross State Street and make their way to a school located in a predominantly black neighborhood.
So when the time came to build a new police department headquarters, wasn't it a coincidence that the new station was built at 35th and Michigan, directly across the street from DeLaSalle High School? For now through perpetuity, the children attending DeLaSalle will be safe because their school is patrolled by default by all those police officers who come and go to the police headquarters across the street.
Those children at DeLaSalle will never know what it is like to have to wait for the police to show up. As they travel to and from school, one of their concerns won't be having to deal with any of the social ills of the neighborhood being imposed on their high school campus. Those children will never have to deal with gangs of young men with golf clubs milling around waiting to start another fight over some insane reason.
Ever since I wrote about not supporting the idea of a high school on the site of the former Brach Candy factory, I have been hearing from those who do support the idea. One of the most unusual things I heard during our discourse on the idea was the notion that putting a new school on that site would revitalize the community and help to do away with drug dealing, gang-banging and all the other bad behaviors that go on in that neighborhood.
After reading that suggestion, I was taken aback. What kind of people would argue that children who are already burdened with the "growing pains" of just trying to grow up in this world should also have to bear the burden of being the ones on the front line in the battle against the social ills of a neighborhood?
If we as a community are truly concerned about wanting a state-of-the-art high school in Austin and want it to be a safe environment, then we need to take a page from the Mayor's handbook and put the school in a location where our children can feel just as safe as those who attend his alma mater. So I want to be the first to put forth my suggestion for an alternative site.
On Madison Street at Menard Street sits the brand new 15th District police station. It also has sitting across the street, 3 blocks of prime business land that was used to put in several parking lots for it. My suggestion is, rather than place a brand new school in a neighborhood that is still struggling socially, put the new high school for Austin on the land currently used as parking lots for the 15th District. With a school directly across from the police department, our children, like those at DeLaSalle, can concentrate on their education without the worry of having to deal with gang-bangers and drug dealers.
Now I am being facetious to a certain degree about putting the school on the parking lots. But what I am not kidding about is the notion that our children cannot be the social and moral scapegoats at the forefront of any neighborhood battles whenever a new school is built. What they need most is to have a secure environment in which to learn.