ISN'T IT TIME?
James Coakley was 17 when he died of gunshot wounds on Monday night. He was a victim of a culture of violence that has left 24 people dead this year and thousands more wounded, traumatized, grieving and scared.
The press is quick to label James. But no label can come close to describing the 17 year-old who participated in Trinity's Street Potential program this year. We'd like to tell you about him.
The James we knew was thoughtful, quiet and composed. He could relate to people honestly and communicate clearly. One of the goals of our program is to form a family-like community of support for young men committed to the Department of Youth Services. James was a leader in our family - just as he was a leader in his own family and in his neighborhood.
N, a fellow Street Potential participant, wrote, "James was the type of guy who would always encourage his peers for the better. He always thought about the future instead of right here and now. He brought this positive energy to wherever he was at and wherever he was going."
The culture of violence can be like quicksand, so much easier to slip in than to step out.
James had every reason to hope. His Street Potential internship was at Grove Hall Community Center and he loved working with the kids there. On Tuesday, the day after he died, he was supposed to start a summer job. James' leadership and communication skills could have carried him far.
We can't help James now, but there is much that we can do. The quicksand needs to go.
How? Here are three ways:
- Treat the trauma. At the Trinity Boston Foundation we have prioritized clinical support to the most vulnerable young men in the city who are at highest risk of harm. We also work with those who are grieving, the family members and friends, to help the community heal. Boston is filled with excellent mental health professionals and we need all of them to find a way to get involved.
- Build up our schools. Children who are succeeding in school are far less likely to get involved in a crime. At Trinity, we are participating in partnership programs at the Dearborn Middle School and Orchard Gardens K-8 School. Every business, faith community and social organization should consider picking a school and getting involved.
- Create jobs. This summer, Trinity has hired 52 Boston high school and college students. Mayor Menino has made this a priority. Is it a priority in your business, faith community or social organization?
The government has a key role to play in strengthening schools, increasing access to mental health care and creating economic opportunity. But we won't get rid of the quicksand and develop a culture of peace unless all of us make it a priority to get involved -- by giving our time and money and by building relationships that strengthen the fabric of our city.
The last time we saw James, he was worried. Worried that his time was running out. Worried that because he had not fathered a child, he would die without leaving a legacy.
Let's join together and create that legacy for James and for all who have died on Boston streets. Isn't it time?
Louise Burnham Packard