[What follows is the conclusion of an essay written while I coached an inner-city baseball team in the Texas Rangers Rookie League. For Parts 1-3, see my posts on the last 3 days.]
Economic Disparity and America's "New Economy." Observing John's world reveals that the use, trade and delivery of illegal narcotics involve not only serious criminal, health and addiction issues, but crucial market issues as well. The drug trade in Dallas promises (actually one of urban America's most tragic lies) to provide the highest income possible to persons whose limited skills mark them out for a life to be scratched out well below the poverty line. When faced with the option of taking a job that pays just above minimum wage or becoming a player in the illicit drug industry that promises to pay much more, many people, especially young people, chose the more dangerous route.
While I am not attempting to relieve anyone of personal responsibility, the fact remains that the teens and adults in John's house do not possess the skills needed to compete in America's "new economy." Our community has the will to support the revolving door, created by our criminal justice system that shuffles adults in and out of John's world. Evidently, what we lack is the will to adequately fund training programs that could provide real economic options for these same teens and adults. Add the powerful factor of addiction to the mix and we create a recipe for social destruction, one person, one family and one neighborhood at a time.
[When I wrote this essay, Dallas corporations were crying for qualified employees, especially in the technology sector. The need was so great that immigration policies were being reformed and relaxed to accommodate the need for foreign workers who could fill the need quickly. The economic bust of 2008 changed all of that, but the need for livable wage employment skills for our citizens remains very urgent.]
The mental leap necessary to move from coaching in a summer youth baseball league to a discussion of drugs, crime, the state of public education, employment training and market-driven economic options may seem strange or even strained.
But not if you know my buddy John.
He lives in the tough world of inner city Dallas.
As a result, I estimate that John has possibly two more years of semi-innocence before he faces some very tough choices forced on him by the circumstances of his world. If he takes the wrong turn, he likely will end up repeating the mistakes of his older family members.
Fortunately, John has a number of friends in the neighborhood who are committed to staying near him to help navigate these critical times of decision. Not every Dallas child in his position possesses his small advantage.
Since serving as his coach, I know I will never be able to watch a baseball game in the same way again. From sandlot to second grade Little Leagure, the game has always been very special to me. Now I think I know how I'll occupy many of my thoughts during the slow, steady progress of America's game.
[Eight years after I first wrote this reflection, I am pleased to report that John graduated high school, went on to college and served last summer on our AmeriCorps team. I expect that he will graduate with his degree in about two more years. Would that John's story could be repeated across urban America a million times over.]