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Reading the Writing on the Wall

Reading the Writing on the Wall

Jeremiah 29:7” Seek the peace and prosperity of the city (neighborhood) to which I have carried you into exile”.

Orange Mound isn’t exactly exilic, but many who live here feel they are in exile compared to the prosperous and gated neighborhoods they drive past.

We are not gated here; we are boarded up.  Windows are nailed shut, doors are bolted, and crime is ubiquitous looking and finding foot holds where we let our defenses slack.

Memphis has received yet another unwanted distinction. We are THE most dangerous city in America according to FBI statistics. We are a proud city despising that nomenclature.  We who are loyal and committed are determined to bring peace. I imagine most in our city who still want to initiate law, order, peace, and safety would consider Orange Mound as a logical place to start remediation.

Last week I invited 5 of our employees into a conversation and asked what might be contributing to our community’s high crime rate. One said,

“Babies are having babies, and don’t know how to raise a child in the way he should go”, as she quoted Proverbs 22:6.  

Another added, “

Young kids are walking around with guns in their hip pocket, skipping school and joining gangs”. 

“No decent jobs,” answered a third.

What can a dozen women working in a tea company in a crime-ridden neighborhood do to further peace and safety? Could we find courage to step in where there is a need we can help meet? 

“The teens don’t listen to us” said the fourth, and mother of yet another teen who is pregnant and expecting a baby boy this winter.

“What is our responsibility as citizens to the young women who are birthing children in their teens?  What is our role for reaching their babies?” I asked.

One answer to a complicated problem with many needed interventions can be found in improving literacy. Members of three churches have stepped up to address struggling literacy rates in our public schools.  Arise 2 Read, a successful, faith-based literacy intervention nonprofit has agreed to guide us.

The statistics are heavy-laden as of May 24, 2023, 84% of third graders in Shelby County did not meet proficiency requirements on the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP). Professionals who administer and evaluate the results attribute this to the tragic truth that 76% of these third graders in Shelby County cannot read at grade level.

Experts universally agree that reading proficiency by the end of the third grade is one of the crucial markers in a child’s educational development. Failure to read proficiently by then is linked to high rates of school dropout, which impacts their confidence, productivity, and contributions to the community.  My pastor has said that prisons expand as students drop out of school.

Sixty-five percent of students who are not reading on grade level by 4th grade will eventually be incarcerated or on welfare. By contrast, 89% of students who are proficient by 4th grade will graduate from high school drastically improving the chances they will thrive as adults.

If a child is not reading in the third grade, he or she will most likely eventually drop out of school and look for something to do with lots of time and no diploma to leverage for a job.  The statistics continue to predict that unsupervised youth find each day full of dangerous options, and their choices include drugs, car theft, reckless driving, and gun violence. High school dropouts are 3.5 times more likely to be arrested than their peers who complete high school, for example.

I asked all five ladies if they would be willing to help second graders learn to read at our neighborhood elementary school, and they said “yes”.

Two who said “yes”, became proactive and attended training by Arise 2 Read last Thursday night. Now, within a week’s time they have joined 500 more women and men who want to be part of the solution for our stressed public schools. Low literacy rates in our elementary schools are a burdensome and sobering fact, and though we can’t enforce criminal laws ourselves, we can coach a 7-year-old how to read at grade level.

 The investment of time, which is one hour a week, and prayer will be faith-wrapped. 

But when the righteous prosper the city rejoices and there is dancing in the streets”, Proverbs 11:10. 

 The righteous are those citizens who are seeking peace for our city.

 Prov.11:11 encourages us,

 “Through the blessing of the upright a city is exalted.”

 “A kind-hearted woman gains honor.” Prov 11:16.

 In a few weeks, our ladies will join other coaches commencing fresh relationships with second graders, the graduating class of  2032.

This Spring 8000 Memphis kids will drop out of high school, if conservative estimates prevail.

 We must try.