My grandmother – my father’s mother – made a big deal out of birthdays with lavish gifts: money, clothes or concert tickets. She made us look forward to getting older. Every box or envelope she handed out put a smile on our faces. She always remembered.

I turned 32 last weekend. I’m too old for presents and the excitement has dwindled. These days, I’ll settle for sushi and red wine. I’m just thankful to see another year.

While 32 is still young, for some it is old age.

Chicago’s violence has become a stark reminder of how some black youth never make it past 34. It doesn’t matter what side of the law you’re on, as seen with Officer Thomas Wortham IV, 30. Senseless murders dramatically cut the average life span of black men living in the inner city. Consequences for those actions do not quell the bloodshed. There is something amiss when offering bounties cannot get the information needed for arrests. Children growing up see no point in investing in a future that may never come.

And with no hope for tomorrow, how do you tell a child he or she can grow up to be anything they want to be? How can you put a child’s mind at ease when gunfire turns sweet dreams into nightmares and .22 bullets cut short a simple afternoon bike ride not far from home? Why should they even look forward to college when, in a given school year, 60 school children die?

“They say there ain’t no hope for the youth, but the truth is, it ain’t no hope for the future,” Tupac Shakur raps in “Keep Ya Head Up.”

I could not have said it better. The answer to saving the future lies in addressing the problems of our youth. It is a cycle that perpetuates the same hopelessness. The few who do succeed are still prone to the mayhem. Your financial state and educational background do not shield you from semi-auto bullets. All of the canvassing and prayer vigils do not guarantee safe passage to another birthday.

Addressing the holistic needs of an entire community can offer a beacon of hope to its residents. It is through quality education, positive images, employment opportunities, surrogate mothers and fathers, quality extracurricular activities, substantial health care and community banks that we can begin to revitalize the thinking of underserved areas.

We can have boys and girls celebrate birthdays and look forward to growing older.

I am so thankful and blessed to have made it to another year when so many of my childhood friends haven’t. But it is with trepidation that I gaze into the future of an entire generation. So I celebrate with caution until I turn 35.

austintalks.org@gmail.com