CACLV’s executive director, Alan Jennings, received Communities in Schools’ Annual Community Champion of Education Award on April 6, 2018. Following are his remarks upon receipt of the award.
I want to start by thanking Tim Mulligan, Ed Baldrige, Rose Craig and anyone else who had anything to do with giving me this award. You’re all a bunch of poor judges of character… but I sure am glad you are.
Aren’t we lucky that Tim decided to return to the area to be closer to his family? He grew up in Jersey. New Jersey’s affordable housing program is called “Pennsylvania,” so he ends up here. While Communities in Schools was a pretty solid nonprofit when Tim arrived, he has done a phenomenal job of growing the agency, its services and influence.
Communities in Schools is my second favorite nonprofit. You’re doing critically important work helping kids change course and find new ways of dealing with a world that appears all too willing to pass them by.
I truly appreciate this award. I am convinced that I am the most hated person in the Lehigh Valley. So, this kind of thing makes me feel like I actually have a few friends.
Now, don’t take that humility too far. Because I don’t think I regret a single fight that I’ve picked over the last 37 years.
You have to understand: I really am mad as hell. I think too few of us take our faith and moral convictions seriously; too few of us take our role as citizens seriously; too few of us think and act sacrificially enough; too few of us take the side of the victim when confronted by a bully; too few of us care when someone is left out.
We should ask ourselves why we are finding so many kids in a world of their own, all but checking out of a world that is all too willing to neglect them.
As life forms, we all need some basic things: food, water, warmth. As humans, we need sleep, a little fun in our lives, some personal fulfillment.
But what we really need is companionship, sympathy, and understanding.
What we need most is a four-letter word: love (I know, some of you guys are thinking, “This guy needs more testosterone coursing through his veins).
Really, though. All you need is love. Love is all you need.
Let’s do a little exercise for our hearts. Look around you. Look at all the good people, people who are giving of themselves to make our world a better place; many may well be good friends. Find someone other than the date you brought along and tell them you love them. Ready, set, go.
Most of the people we love have probably hurt us at one or even many points in our relationship with them. When they do, hopefully there is an apology and other ways to make amends.
But the children: that unspoiled innocence, that look of wonder in their eyes, the hope that, unlike us adults, seems so much stronger than the forces of despair. You want to hold them, protect them, from the darker elements of life.
When society turns its backs on the kids, we should not be surprised when, 10 or 15 years down the road, the kids grow up to turn their backs on society. And, then, we may have lost them.
When one looks at that precious, hopeful expression on a child’s face, it should inspire us to do all we can to sustain that hope, to show her the way, to make sure her mother (and, hopefully, her father) can pay the bills. We should want to prepare her with the skills to survive an increasingly merciless marketplace, to guarantee she has access to health care; to make sure her neighborhood is safe.
And, yet, we don’t.
Instead of guaranteeing that each child gets the benefit of early childhood education, that we know, empirically, pays for itself, we give them schools that struggle to teach.
Instead of protecting them from harm, we let Grace Packer happen.
Instead of making sure they’ll have marketable skills, we saddle them with mortgage-sized college loans.
Instead of ensuring them access to opportunity, we give them a market that pays them too little and, because of the breathless pace of technological change, give them no reason to expect any job security, much less that they will work for the same employer for 30 or 40 years like their parents and grandparents did before them.
Instead of access to health care we give them a system that nobody understands, fewer know how to navigate and politicians want to repeal anyway.
Instead of a healthy environment, we give them an overheated planet.
Instead of safe streets, we shoot them, unarmed, in the back, like a modern-day lynching.
This is not a good way to demonstrate love, my friends.
So much is broken these days. The ideologically-driven opponents of government in almost any of its forms, including volunteer and nonprofit, have been so effective at choking the system of resources that the system is guaranteed to fail. And then those ideologues claim victory when the systems do, indeed, fail.
Amazingly, and in spite of any and all of that, many kids these days are thoughtful; they are paying attention; rather than a mass migration to the sprawling suburbs, with their fine-trimmed lawns, they are moving into the cities; rather than going to wet t-shirt contests during spring break, they’re going on mission trips; instead of staying home on election day, they are going all-in to pick responsible people; instead of being racists or homophobes, they are tolerant and embrace diversity; instead of throwing up their hands when some maniacal white guy turns a semi-automatic weapon on innocent school children, they are fighting back, with impressive organizing skills, leading with moral authority while their parents and grandparents apathetically threw up their hands and yielded to the gun lobby.
Your support of Communities in Schools is important; so is adequate funding to make early childhood education an entitlement. Volunteering your time to coach your kid’s baseball team is important, but so is funding the development of affordable housing. Going to church to pray for your own better fortune is important, but so is living a life that is consistent with the teachings of Jesus or the Jewish prophets or Mohammed. Donating a portion of your wages to the United Way is important, but so is raising the minimum wage – substantially.
I want to get back to what I believe is the simplest concept of all, one that every faith tradition embraces: God is love. And, if God is love, then the rest of our decisions ought to be pretty easy. But, if we claim to love the children, we have some serious work to do. Love is patient, love is tolerant, love is healing, love is kind. Love is sacrificial. Love doesn’t turn its back, love doesn’t leave people behind.
All you need is love, my friends; love is all you need.
[The Beatles song ended the comments.]