I doubt that the layout was intentional. Of course, I have no way to really know.
What I do know is that it was startling to me.
I suppose it was the raw juxtaposition of the two photographic reports, sitting there side-by-side at the bottom of pages 2 and 3 of the Metro Section in The Dallas Morning News on Monday, New Year's Day.
On the left I read about four promising young men. All were students at Highland Park High School. They were all 16-17-years-old. All were white. Each had completed the requirements for their Eagle Scout rank, the highest for Boy Scouts of America. To earn the prestigious rank a scout must design and complete a significant community service project. Earning this rank is no mean feat.
On the right I read about six men whose promise was all but spent. All six were described and pictured in the "Crimestoppers" column. They ranged in age from 23 to 36. Five of the 6 were "minorities." They were wanted for various crimes.
Don't get me wrong here.
I know that children raised in Highland Park, one of the wealthiest areas in the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex, have problems, issues, disappointments. I also know that some have trouble with law enforcement and some are convicted of and are wanted for criminal acts. In fact, it is possible that one of those pictured on the Crimestoppers page may have grown up in Highland Park surrounded by wealth, advantage and opportunity.
Possible, but not very likely really.
I also know that many children reared in impoverished areas grow up to be productive, law abiding citizens. I know that most come from loving homes and many could achieve the rank of Eagle Scout if given the chance.
But, I guess that is my point here.
The six young men displayed for their alleged criminal activity most likely never had such opportunities. I would surmise that most, if not all, grew up in very poor households, surrounded by a very poor community that was not ripe with either hope or opportunity.
As I allowed my eyes to linger on the graphic contrast, I just knew at a place very deep within me that I was looking at our challenge.
No doubt, the men who chose the way of criminal activity, if they are indeed found guilty, made bad choices.
And, they are responsible.
And yet, I wonder what were their real options? I wonder how they felt about those options? I wonder where they imagined their lives going, given those options?
The young Eagle Scouts also made choices, good choices. But then, how were they set up, how were they positioned to make those choices? How hard was it to choose the right path given their life-experience?
Life circumstance has a way of setting us up.
As I stared at the newspaper, I found myself wishing that the non-poor could just for a moment understand the forces that keep people down and that often send them off in destructive directions.
Privilege is a wonderful and daunting reality. Those who fail in spite of its blessing and advantage become the stuff of news reports and novels.
Severe want is a miserable and daunting reality. Those who succeed in spite of its harshness and disadvantage become the stuff of news reports and novels.
Remove the advantages of economic well-being and the disadvantages of poverty and the playing field begins to appear very, very level.
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