The recently concluded Tokyo 2020 Olympics was an opportunity for the world to see the best athletes in the world. I am sure we were all impressed with the speed, precision, endurance, technique, and balance of these young (and not so young) superstars.
The Olympic Games took place far away in Japan. Watching those games on television was thrilling. However, when I look at what takes place right here in the Virgin Islands, the feeling is more chilling.
Some of the news items I have been reading in our local media regarding incidents of criminal behavior have me shaken. While our crime rates are going up, the ages of our perpetrators are going down. Some of the charges include: theft of a vehicle, possession of an unlicensed firearm with an obliterated serial number, attempted murder, and domestic violence. Ages of four recent suspects (to include a female) were reported as 21, 20, 20 and 18. Teenage – school age — boys now add to the growing number of criminals in the Virgin Islands.
Too many of our young people have a dangerous and deadly affinity with guns, and what seems like a morbid fascination with killing and dying, even if the death is their own. While the sportsmen and women of the Olympics live for the adrenaline rush of throwing farther, jumping a greater distance, and landing sure-footed after a complex routine, our youngsters’ adrenaline rush comes from plotting, seeking out, and harming their next victim(s).
While athletes line up to receive their medals, our young people line up for mug shots; and while the Olympians make and break records, our young folks accumulate criminal records.
The sporting industry is in the business of creating champions. Silver and Bronze are just not good enough. The goal is to go for Gold. Coaches, psychologists, physicians, family members and mentors plan, reimagine, refocus, and sacrifice to ensure that their athlete has the best environment for success.
What type of environment is our “village” fostering? Are we genuinely committed to seeing our youngsters through to success? Parents must take on the sometimes daunting and always deliberate task of parenting! They must hold themselves, their children and the society accountable for their child’s success or lack thereof. Where are our mothers and fathers who are forming coalitions and affirming “Not my child!” Why aren’t they screaming “Enough is enough!”?
Are our churches looking beyond their pews and into their neighborhoods? Are our community organizations and universities offering grants/financial assistance for programs that target at-risk youth? Yes, those on the right path are receiving scholarships, but what about those who can’t seem to find the right path? Are we focused on making our scoundrels into scholars thus thinking of “scholarship” in a new light? We build interns into productive workers through internship. Perhaps we can build a new internship program where you may not begin as a scholar, but you end up as one, or at least as a productive member of society. Are we prepared to plan, reimagine, refocus and sacrifice to make this happen?
Do we prioritize and create vocational opportunities? Does our educational system acknowledge and design for the fact that boys and girls learn differently? Are financial and emotional management part of our teachings?
We want our children to become productive workers, yet every week we sing the same song “Thank God it’s Friday,” every Monday we groan, and still spend much time complaining about our jobs and our bosses. How then will the youth have a favorable view of work? And when they observe the workings of our islands, they get a very blurry view of transparency, and must feel very confused about what honest and ethical behavior really is.
Are we doing enough to have our young people involved in the tourism sector, engaged in technology, sports, small business creation, inter-generational activities and working in geriatrics (in light of our global senior boom).
All young people, whether athletes or our own adolescents, have energy that must be channeled, potential to be honed, and a need to express their individuality and test boundaries. Are we prepared to handle these with understanding, insight, and creativity? Many of the competitors dreamed of being the best in their field while still quite young. What are our young people’s dreams? Do we know? What are our dreams for them? Do they know?
The amazing athletes are fully aware that they are representing their country every time they move a muscle. When flags are raised and the anthem is played, the sense of patriotism is palpable! Their countries have made an investment for which there is a successful return. Do our young people understand how their behavior impacts these islands? Have we invested time in teaching them about ancestry, beliefs, culture, heritage, and values?
Until we become clear and consistent about our policies and punishments, until we understand the multi-layered causes of crime, until we are committed to providing resources, promoting reforms, and preventing recidivism, the answer to the question “Does crime pay?” will always be YES.
Then, and only then can we hold out the baton for our future leaders to grab, cross the finish line and claim the GOLD!