We Are New Town, USA

By Kim Anderson, CEO, Families First

In the wake of the horrific tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, President Obama emotionally shared his remarks to not only soothe the unimaginable anguish engulfing a community and a nation, but to also illuminate our collective path from the darkness that now seems to engulf us:

“It comes as a shock at a certain point where you realize no matter how much you love these kids, you can’t do it by yourself, that this job of keeping our children safe and teaching them well is something we can only do together, with the help of friends and neighbors, the help of a community and the help of a nation.  And in that way we come to realize that we bear responsibility for every child, because we’re counting on everybody else to help look after ours, that we’re all parents, that they are all our children.  This is our first task, caring for our children.  It’s our first job.  If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right.  That’s how, as a society, we will be judged.  And by that measure, can we truly say as a nation that we’re meeting our obligations?”

With his words, the President is issuing a call for us to reimagine what it means to be part of the American fabric that we know as community – to envision a New Town, USA in the wake of this horrible tragedy in Newtown, CT.  As we begin the slow journey from the pain and hopelessness that currently clouds our spirits, we must fully embrace the unending truth that with hope we can achieve and realize anything and everything; without it we fall victim to peril and despair.

As we often discuss but do not always exemplify, children are undoubtedly our greatest gift and most valued progeny. The question is not whether we can afford to invest in the future of each and every child; it is whether we can afford not to.  Our success or failure as a community, nation and society depends on it.  But what does it mean to envision a community that truly values, supports and cares for all children?  Where do we even begin?  Now more than ever before, each of us individually and all of us collectively, must work harder than ever before to inspire and lead a movement that rekindles our united commitment and responsibility for the well-being and success of all children.  We must increase our personal awareness of the challenges facing children and families throughout our nation. We must inspire and galvanize people to untangle the web of inequity and despair that weakens the fabric of our communities and collectively work to strengthen families, all families, to ensure the success of all  children and ultimately our communities.

Successful and functional families are at the core of our individual and collective success.  But we know that all children do not enjoy this luxury. And that many families around us face struggles that most of us can only imagine – whether it’s economic pain, the anguish of mental illness or the unbroken cycles of abuse and neglect.  But without this core foundation we may have fleeting moments of individual triumph and happiness but ultimately, we as a community and society will suffer. If we are to be successful and happy and leave the world a better place for our children, and our children’s children, we must reach back, as well as to our right and to our left, and care for the others around us.

As the coming days and weeks pass and the rhythm of our everyday lives calls us away from this national heartbreak, let us be prayerfully aware of the grace that envelops each of our lives and take a few moments to reflect upon our responsibility to care for one another.  It is our duty to reach back with the heart and hands that characterized many of our parents, grandparents and neighbors. It is our responsibility to demonstrate extraordinary empathy for conditions we have not visually witnessed but have envisioned in our hearts.  We must respond to the outrage for and against the shameful inequities and injustice in the world and take the leadership and responsibility for eradicating the horror in the eyes of children around the world and down the street.  What does this reflection call you to do?  To rethink?  To act upon?

In this moment today, we are all trying to make sense out of utter senselessness. Many of us find ourselves reflecting on the sanctity of our own childhoods and wishing they were more part of today’s reality for the children in our lives. With each and every news story and the latest terrifying details of Friday’s events, we tighten our embrace on the children around us, may they be our sons and daughters; nieces and nephews; neighbors; students; or the child standing at the bus stop or in the grocery store, who we do not know personally but who we feel powerfully connected to and humanly responsible for.  But let us all heed the President’s call, understanding that the children of Newtown, and the children in every town across America, are all our children.

Kim Anderson is the CEO of Families First, an Atlanta-based non-profit organization that works to create communities where all children have the opportunity to succeed, flourish and give back.  http://www.familiesfirst.org