GENDUSA COLUMN: ‘The Escape Route’

Published 2:20 pm Wednesday, July 12, 2023

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When I read the morning newspaper, there is usually a story regarding the death of a child caused by youth gun violence.  Some victims are teens, and some are younger, but their lives ended way too soon. What causes a child to become a killer before they can even vote? 

Some folks say it is due to the family breakdown, but I think that is only a piece of the puzzle. Others would declare that gangs, drugs, poor leadership, or lack of education lead children to be murderers. Perhaps each factor contributes, but they don’t complete the puzzle.

Children who feel trapped in a world where they see no clear way out often find power by carrying a weapon and joining like-minded peers. All of us desire to control our destiny, but when we no longer believe we have a purpose or future, the sanctity of life fades away.

A study by US News and World Reports* conducted in 2021 found that gun violence disproportionately impacts young people living in low-income areas. The risk of dying from firearms rises as the concentration of poverty in those communities increases. 

With the deepening divide in wealth distribution in America, I only see poverty worsening. The darkness settles over destitute families, and the children see no light, opportunities, or reasons to achieve. 

According to Pew Research*, gun deaths among US children and teens rose 50% between 2019 and 2021. They also cited that in 2021, 46% of all gun deaths in children and teens involved African-American youth, even though only 14% of the under-18 US population were African-American. Yet, the color of our skin has nothing to do with such tragedies; poverty and despair kill our children. 

What can be done to help these kids find productive, purposeful lives? There is no magic cure to end youth brutality, but there could be a more holistic approach to prevent at least some bloodshed.

My dream began with the lottery. If someone wins the Mega Millions today, they will receive half a billion dollars. We all imagine what we would do with that kind of money. First, I would help my kids and grandchildren to ease their burdens. But in my dream, I visited a sizeable campus-like facility surrounded by darkness, yet the buildings were bathed in light. 

A bold red sign above the door read,” The ER.” It was an exact replica of the Emergency Room sign at a hospital. But the ER on this massive establishment stood for “The Escape Route.”

If I won the lottery, I would build a complex with two gyms, outdoor basketball and tennis courts, after-school care, an expressive art center including music, and a study hall providing tutors. The campus would also provide safety for the vulnerable child because “The ER” would be surrounded by fencing and guarded 24/7. 

Why would the campus need protection? Because I would build it in the center of the most crime-ridden inner-city area in Atlanta, Chicago, or Los Angeles. The Escape Route could become a means to break the cycle of lost children by providing opportunities and offering parenting classes to their families. These young people require assistance at an early age to find the means to replace hopelessness with dreams.

The ER would be staffed with community leaders, volunteers, coaches, teachers, and ministers to offer a guiding light to children who desperately need it. They would learn that power is gained not by using a weapon but by achieving their purpose. 

Many organizations aid impoverished children, but if we give a child a place to go rather than a place to die, we allow them to rise above systemic poverty and achieve goals.  If those with much would lend a monetary hand to those with nothing, we all gain more than mere dollars. 

Of course, we could never aid every child, but I have learned that kindness spreads, as does hope. I know dreams, if given a chance, can become reality. We can only benefit each other if we use charity to allow the innocent to live peacefully. 

Is it more beneficial for society to build and equip more prisons, or is it better to construct a facility to help keep our future adults stay out of jail or, worse, buried below ground? Where is money better spent than on God’s children? 

I have a dream, but it’s just a dream. Yet, I still envision an escape route for those who need aid to find a way out of the darkness. Could those who have many blessings light the path for the children who need a few? 

“For if you give, you will get! Your gift will return to you in full and overflowing measure, pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, and running over.” Luke 6: 38