August 2, 1999
The media calls the John Kennedy, Jr. death "an American tragedy." TV cameras, newspapers, and radio stations, as well as media from around the world, have focused intensely on this story. I can appreciate that. After all, he was an American icon. But what about the kid(s) next door?
The following poem, written by an anonymous author, illustrates a real American tragedy among our sons and daughters. Unfortunately, this story is often pushed to the back pages and receives little or no attention at all.
Then on white paper with blue lines
He wrote another poem...
And he called it "Autumn" Because that was the season it was and that's what it was all about...
And his teacher gave him an "A" and told him to
Write more clearly.
And his mother told him not to hang it on the kitchen wall
Because it had just been painted.
And that was the year his sister got glasses
And his parents never kissed anymore
And the little girl around the corner
Laughed when he fell down with his bike
And his father got mad when he cried to be tucked in.
On a piece of paper torn from a notebook
He tried another poem
And his high school English teacher gave him an "A" and a hard searching look
And his mother didn't say anything at all
Because he never showed it to her.
And that was the year he caught his sister
Necking on the back porch
And the little girl around the corner wore too much make-up
So that he laughed when he kissed her...
But he kissed her anyway.
And he tucked himself into bed at three in the morning
With his father snoring loudly in the next room.
And that's why, on the back of a matchbook cover,
He tried another poem...
And he called it "Absolutely Nothing," because that's what it was all about
And he gave himself an "A" and a slash on each wrist
And hung it on the bathroom door
Because he couldn't make it to the kitchen.
As a community, we need to help families by investing in quality before-and-after-school activities like the Boys & Girls Clubs. Boys & Girls Clubs give children the hope, opportunity, and alternative to television, drugs, too early sexual activity, possible pregnancy, gangs, idleness, and suicide.
The need and demand for high quality after-school programs is tremendous on the Eastside. Parents, teachers, and children say they need before-and-after-school programs to help keep young people in safe places, out of trouble, and engaged in positive learning opportunities.
An example of this need is found at the Kirkland and Redmond Boys and Girls Clubs. Last year during the summer, the Clubs served 650 kids per day at several day camp sites in Kirkland, Redmond, and Woodinville. This year, an additional 200 kids a day will be participating at 11 elementary schools, two low-income housing projects, and at the two Club sites.
The problem is, there are many more kids that need to be served. The second challenge is finding space to house programs and finding enough quality staff to operate those sites, not to mention funding those programs.
There is a myth about that Eastside that says we are an affluent community equipped with everything and our children have no challenges like inner-city kids face. Unfortunately, that myth leads the greater community to believe that our kids will be fine just because of that perceived affluence and wealth. The fact is that many of our kids and families have the same needs as inner-city kids and we do have poverty in our Eastside communities.
Every day at the Kirkland and Redmond Clubs, I see hungry kids that have been neglected or abused in some cases, kids that are looking for positive role models, a place that they feel safe and protected from the negative forces that exist right here in our own backyard, the Eastside. Our community is much more diverse that most would like to think. We need to give far more individualized attention to our children before and after the traditional school day and during the summer months to really be the community that we want to be.
We need our business community to step up and help develop more positive places for our Youth. The Boys and Girls Clubs is embarking on its most ambitions project to-date. A new Boys and Girls Club 25,000 square feet and a 15,000 square foot community/famliy aquatic facility. Complete with a Technology Center, Learning/library, Gymnasium, Teen Center, Arts and Crafts room, games room, multi-purpose playfields, and a 140-foot water slide.
When completed, this Club will serve an estimated 5,500 Youth. This $5 million-plus project cannot be completed without the help of the entire community. Parents, grandparents, small businesses, and major corporations are needed to assist with this project.
Why, you ask? Because every kid deserves the same attention and care as JFK, Jr. and new expensive professional baseball fields, and if that's not good enough re-read the preceding poem.
General Colin Powell recently said, "We either get back to the task of building all of our children, or we're just going to keep building jails in our communities because we have the farm teams for those jails... It's time to stop building jails and get back to the task of building our children."
While we have done okay locally, before and after school and during the summer months, we need to do more, and we can do more. Let's do this together and create an American success story we all can be proud of here in our own backyard.