Normally I like to make my last column of the year a review of what has gone on in 2011. This year I want to change up and concentrate on all the things that a new year can bring. A couple of days ago, it came to me that we need to make 2012 the “Year of the Child” here in Austin.

 I am not one who feels that our young people should be “written off.” Yes, many of them have issues. But those issues are usually the result of what we as adults have failed to do for them. I am tired of hearing about our young people being senselessly murdered. I am tired of watching folks attend funerals where tears are shed and then in keeping with the definition of insanity, continue to allow the same things to happen over and over again while expecting a different result.

My solution is simple: If every one of us got involved in just one organized group (Local School Councils, Park District Advisory Council, church youth groups, Boy or Girl Scouts, etc.) we could begin to ensure that our children are given the same opportunities as children who reside in wealthier areas.

Many of the reasons our children have become lost is that they lack guidance, which was once the role every adult played in their lives. Instead, we have so many who profess to being scared of our young people to the point that at every turn, the message is given that folks don’t want to be bothered with them.

So it’s no wonder that many of them make poor choices. They are rebelling against us and, without guidance, that rebellion is leading them to make life decisions that affect each and every one of us.

This past year I had the opportunity to observe parents at Downers Grove High School. Every Saturday, there is a plethora of activities going on at the school. As I watched the parents drive up to drop off their children, I wondered when was the last time parents in Austin were that involved in their high school-age children’s lives, attending sports and/or other after-school activities? Will the extra minutes in school that Mayor Emanuel has been promoting lead to more opportunities for children to have a well-rounded education or will it be time that is simply used to babysit or warehouse our children even further?

A while back, a number of community groups were calling on the old Brach site to become the location for a new high school for Austin. I countered that bad idea with the city acquiring the old Shore Bank location at Harrison and Laramie, along with the vacant land just east of Michelle Clarke High School to turn it into a high school campus. Plus, Rockne Stadium is just across the bridge at Central and Roosevelt. Put all of that together and we can have a magnificent campus for our children that gives them space for every activity imaginable.

If adults don’t begin to actively guide what is and isn’t offered to our young people, then it is the entire community’s loss. Our children are constantly being experimented on as they are offered “charter” school education while even our mayor knows to put his kids in a traditional program offered by the University of Chicago’s Lab School.

If our children do not learn to think, solve problems, and understand, then they are being allowed to fail and become the ones who will fill the prison cells.

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Over the next 12 months, I am going to do a lot of writing about how, as a community, we can really begin to address the needs and wants of our young people. I hope you will join me in doing something to better their lives while reconnecting with our young people so they know we care.

Remember to celebrate Kwanzaa and have a Happy New Year.