"One more thug off the streets."
Those were the words used to describe the death of a young man whom I had spent time in foster care with. He was shot to death after an alleged robbery. Out of respect for his family and his privacy, I won't speculate on what I believe may have led him to do this. But I will say that he was a loving, caring young man who was struggling to survive on the streets of New Haven after being failed by multiple public systems.
I wish I could say that his story was unique and that all of my other foster siblings are living in environments that allow them to realize their full potential. The foster care system takes in the most vulnerable children in our community and works hard to ensure they are able to be healthy, productive adults. But when children are discharged from the foster care system, it is the community's responsibility to ensure that these fledging adults are given opportunities to succeed in all domains. Whether it's providing career opportunities or being a mentor, the citizenry must be held accountable to assist these youths as they transition into adulthood. I wish I could say that our society was willing to take on that mission.
But that's simply not the case in this two-tiered state. In Connecticut, we have cities that people go to thrive in — Glastonbury, West Hartford and Fairfield — and cities where people experience social and physical death — New Haven, Bridgeport, Hartford. We are too complacent with the disparities in our state that allow certain children to be successful and deprive other youths of any chance at a life of success.
We, the state of Connecticut, are failing our children.
When we drive through rough neighborhoods, we lock our doors and roll up the windows. Rather than recognizing and mobilizing the assets of these cities (of which there are many), we hide ourselves away from what we view as broken environments.
Great leaders see potential and fullness in any city or person, regardless of their socioeconomic status or life circumstances. Great leaders recognize that they have a civic responsibility to better the lives of their neighboring children and adults. Great leaders save lives, as they could have done with the life of my foster brother before he ended up on the streets.
I implore you: Become a great leader. Recognize that you are as half full and half empty as the cities and citizens that have been deemed as broken. Recognize that you have a responsibility to assist vulnerable children in your community and that you can be the force that allows them to live the life you wish for your own children. Recognize that the state of our world depends on the next steps you take after reading this article.
I could refer you to a number of organizations, but I want you to take control of how you serve. Conduct a quick Google search for ways to get involved in your community with at-risk youth, as a mentor, volunteer or even as a foster parent. For the sake of children, take action.
Lexie Gruber, 21, is a senior at Quinnipiac University in Hamden and a child-welfare intern for First Focus, a bipartisan advocacy organization dedicated to making children and families the priority in federal policy and budget decisions.
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