Name: Nanette Buchanan
Title: Stolen Innocence
My childhood brings back pleasant memories. My yesterdays were filled with experiences, both good and bad. Oh but the lessons I learned. I told my children, now adults, on several occasions, “Your life has value; the life you choose to live will determine its price.”
I remember the excitement I held each morning welcoming a new day. I loved school, after school activities, and the freedom I shared with my friends when playing outdoors throughout the community. The school day included playing in the playground and learning in the classroom. Everyone was on the same accord. We respected the teacher, male or female, and anyone who taught us all they knew. We stood proudly, saluted the flag, and said our prayers. There were unspoken words that sounded loudly between us and our educators - one of trust and loyalty. They were committed to teach during and after class; we were committed to learning. When asked, who we wanted to be,” we would proudly answer the title of the job we often dreamed of.
There was a sense of community consciousness. Each household held the values of their neighbor closely and it had its benefits. The ‘village concept’ was embraced as I, my family and friends were raised by the community. We too had parents that worked. There was no distinction between single parent homes or those who had both, the mother and father. Those with less were not ridiculed for each household held on to prayers that they would be able to provide for their home day by day. There were grandmothers who held down the homes waiting for the latch key children to run home to their loving arms. Homes were shared; we each had that extended family, that extra love. Through it all we knew our place, a child was a child and we had to wait to become an adult.
I can vividly remember playing on the block, childhood games, and snowball fights. The sound of the basketball bouncing in my neighbor’s yard signaled the need for me to finish my chores on Saturday mornings. As children we had little to no fear of walking from one side of the city to another. We’d wave to adults who would certainly report our behavior to our parents before we got home. We were taught responsibility as we kept our eyes on the younger siblings. The oldest of the group took the place in the absence of our parents - and this we cherished. The thought of being older, we yearned for the years to pass on.
As a teen, I remember the courtships and the giggles we shared as we talked about who we liked or “went with.” The tears of excitement as we won awards in sports, academics, and community achievements became motivation to become next year’s nominees. We longed for summer jobs. Getting our own check gave us a little freedom of choice for at least two school outfits. We had our trends, our music, and our circle of friends. Our hair went from crew-cuts to afros, from pony tails to cornrows. We made our own statements but none were bias toward others. We went through the phases of being a teen. We were becoming adults, taking on responsibilities and loving the challenges. We moved on, understanding you work for what you want no matter how long it took. Our confidence was supported by our upbringing. We were strong individually, and stronger as a group. We were risk takers, never seeking to harm anyone. We experimented with marijuana, alcohol, and sex; never fearing the dangers or the long lasting effects. We loved good times, good music, and we were united in becoming what our ancestors would call good people, living good.
My college years led to my adult years, marriage, children and the cycle had changed. I was now the one raising another. Reflecting, I can remember the days I used my mother’s methods, my grandmother’s examples and lessons I learned from my father. If you can’t work for what you want, you really don’t want it. If you lie, you’ll steal…..it was just that simple. To my son, “You are not typical, you’re above that and don’t let anyone group you with those who are;” to my daughters, “love yourself and others will see how you want to be loved.” I longed for them to have more than I had, but I needed to keep the rich foundation that was passed on to me. The opportunities for them were abundant but so were the challenges, the diversions, and the fears.
My children were teens when I saw undeniable evidence that our youth were losing their innocence. Children who lost part of their childhood, a generation of males and females that had no guidance were left to raise themselves. Many blamed the rise of crime stripping the homes of fathers. Others blamed it on teen pregnancy, children raising children. The restrictions were necessary, changing the life of a child while stripping them of their innocence began. Decisions for the youth are made in court and not in the home. Strangers have become the same people we once had faith in. Children had to be told about sex and how to protect themselves from pedophiles. The boogeyman was real. He had moved in the neighborhoods. Babies that are left on buses by daycare workers, children being a part of domestic violence and abuse have no choice but to step into the adult world. They have become an adult not long after being potty trained.
It seemed so simple yet it became foul. I feared for my teens to take public transportation or walk further than I could see. I became their constant transportation. Monitoring their education ensured they wouldn’t be thought of as the “typical” child. Education was no longer a class united with one goal. My children watched as the National anthem was only sung at sporting events, and the pledge was only recited when requested. Together we couldn’t understand the arguments about prayer in the school when the streets were riddled with violence. My children made it to adulthood unscathed and we prayed and gave thanks for that.
The neighborhood’s graffiti warns us that there were others fulfilling family extensions. Children who are confused about family love and life, never being in a structured home they long to belong. Gangs open their arms to all who need intimacy, protection or an escape from the hypocrisy preached in their broken homes. Wayward youth, learn from the streets, avoiding school, grandmothers and the village concept. We lost our girls to the beds of men who valued “a pretty young thing” as long as she could satisfy his needs. We lost our boys to the pretense of being a man would be confirmed once they made a child. We lost our girls, who allowed their name to be anything other than what their birth certificates read. We lost our males to other men who stole their manhood and dared them to speak about it. We lost our girls, we lost our boys, and today we’ve lost the foundation. They were never taught the beauty of their bodies. They weren’t told that there was no need to wear the letters R.I.P with pride because a friend took a bullet and died. They didn’t stay in school to learn that this war in the street is nothing more than the new genocide. Society stole their innocence, allowing Planned Parenthood to teach our youth that sex is okay if you protect yourself from STD’s. No one told them that pregnancy is a responsibility of two -for life. The village is being terrorized, we’re losing our youth. They are on the street and those who helped in the past have moved on seeking refuge and peace.
Teachers can no longer press youth for better grades, give any input on a child’s behavior or conduct, or tell them to pull their pants up. The dress code is no longer just a fashion statement it often speaks sex, or desire. The entertainment, though rated exposes young audiences to adult themes. Parents work to give more, hoping what they give will deter their child from wanting the negatives. Most are shunning their responsibility. Having sex without love has replaced after school activities, sports, and childhood games. The fears of my yesterday are no match to the trauma of today.
As we watch the increase in dropouts, their education is in jeopardy. As we accept the disrespect, lack of morals and values to be displayed, we give permission for their behavior. As we make excuses and give them more than they deserve they will never know what it is to work for what they want. Our children lost their innocence and we’re holding on to their dreams hoping they will reconnect with life’s realities. Today is the foresight of tomorrow. When one knows better they do better.