Monday, December 24, 2007

"The Love of Liberty Brought Us Here"

The motto of the Republic of Liberia seems at odds with a nation wrestling to find ways to integrate thousands of child soldiers into mainstream society; children permanently scarred by decades of civil wars and regional conflicts with neighboring nations.

On December 14th New York Times reporter Ellen Barry wrote an article examining the incredible trans-Atlantic solution Staten Island resident Musu Sirleaf took to try and shield her teenage son Augustus Massalee from the violence, poverty and lack of economic opportunities available to young African-American males living in the isolated Park Hill section of Staten Island.

In a story that sheds light on the complexity and scope of both the damage inflicted upon and the hope created by the culturegeist, Barry looks at Ms. Sirleaf's controversial decision to send her own son back to live with her relatives in the same war-torn African nation she herself fled as a refugee.

My sister Lisa forwarded me the article and like many who read it my first question was how could a mother send her son back to live in an African country ravaged by a brutal civil war for over 14 years without telling him?

Ellen Barry's article contains some startling insights into the everyday realities of life for young boys of color born into communities like Park Hill. Is Ms. Sirleaf's choice typical?

Certainly not, in fact there are some who might find her decision extreme, even bordering on dangerous or draconian. But if it is tough love, it is a piercing snapshot - a sad testimony of just how serious the levels of violence, drug trafficking and gang violence have become in countless communities across America.

Think about it. Here's a West African nation founded before the Civil War and Emancipation took place in the United States.

Freed slaves from America were populating Liberia as early as 1822; determined to escape the government-enforced laws which kept millions of slaves of African descent in a state of indentured servitude.

Flash forward about 185 years - the violence in the streets of Park Hill, Staten Island, New York is so bad a working mother sends her teenage son to live in this West African nation gripped by civil war.

The same cycles born of greed, fear, violence and moral apathy that permitted the tolerance of an institution like slavery in the United States until Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the executive order known as the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862 - these cycles continue today, in areas of both Liberia and America.

The nation of Liberia was founded along the west coast of Africa by former slaves from the Caribbean and America with a government modeled after the US Constitution in 1847.

Liberia's troubled history is replete with examples of economic exploitation of human and natural resources and government overthrows; today the country's newly elected president, the first female African head of state in modern African history Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf faces a daunting task.

Has the nation simply written off communities like Park Hill?

We're sending US troops to defend democracy in foreign nation? Who's helping the residents of our nation's poorest urban communities enjoy the fruits of democracy?

If we're not careful the gap between socio-economic realities in this nation is going to become so great, we're going to find ourselves a nation that isn't one nation under God at all.

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