Inner City Diary
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Young home-wreckers welcome in the West End
April 6, 2003
If you drove down Maryland or up Sherbrook this week, you may have seen large gangs of youth wreaking havoc in our community. Armed with masks, steel bars and hammers almost two hundred youth dedicated a chunk of their spring break to get down and dirty in our neighbourhood. They helped gut several West End buildings to prepare them for renovation.

These youth were not like the droves of youth who skipped valuable school time protesting war without proposing solutions. They congratulated each other for “making a statement,” but I’m not sure who listened. And in the process, organizers usually divert police from the task of fighting criminals in our neighbourhood to babysitting protesters on downtown streets.

These youth were not like the punks that beat, kicked, and robbed a senior citizen earlier this week. They weren't stealing cars, vandalizing buildings, or lifting goods from local businesses. They weren't out capitalizing on government's abdication of responsibility in the new Youth Criminal Justice Act.

Lots of the recent news about youth is negative. But sometimes the news isn't necessarily new.

"Large numbers of these youngsters belong to organized gangs of thieves and cut-throats, and are in the regular employ of old criminals who teach them the tricks of the trade. Many such have no homes. Some cannot even return to the gang's headquarters, unless the day's profit amounts to a stipulated sum. From these thousands of young desperadoes, the chief mass of hardened criminals is recruited. Half the number of persons actually convicted of crimes are youths who have not reached the age of discretion."

Sound like something from yesterday's paper? Actually, the comment was made in 1831 and quoted in The Atlantic Monthly of December, 1926.

Or, consider the following comment from a prominent historian:

"In the good old days every man's son born in wedlock was brought up, not in the chamber of some hired nurse, but in his mother's lap and at her knee, and that mother could have no higher praise than that she managed the house and gave herself to her children. Nowadays, the parents themselves make no effort to train their little ones in goodness and self-control. They grow up in an atmosphere of laxness and pertness in which they come gradually to lose all sense of shame and all respect, both for themselves and other people. Again, there are the peculiar and characteristic vices of this metropolis of ours taken on, as it seems to me, almost in the mother's womb, the passion for play actors and the mind for gladiatorial shows and horse racing. When the mind is engrossed in such occupations, what room is left for higher pursuits?"

If some of that sounds goofy, consider that the historian, Tacitus, wrote those words in 117 A.D.. It gets even more interesting if you substitute unqualified baby-sitter, bands, hockey, and Playstation for some of his words.

A 10th century B.C. inscription in an Egyptian tomb read: "We are living in a decadent and dying age. Youth is corrupt, lacking in respect for elders, impatient of restraint."

Troublemakers are nothing new. Neither is the focus on negative news.

But every once in awhile, it's great to be reminded about the quiet majority of youth who study hard, learn fast, and live well. This week, it was great seeing almost two hundred youth from churches and schools around Manitoba who didn’t grasp for money or recognition. Passersby marveled at both their attitudes and the tonnes of debris they cleared.

These youth could have stayed home playing video games and watching TV. They could have hung out at the mall or homes of friends. Instead, they chose to don masks and wield hammers, helping rebuild our community. They lugged appliances, smashed plaster, bundled lumber and pulled nails.

If they were just concerned about comfort, they wouldn’t have come out on this cold and snowy Friday to gut the interiors of two large buildings.

If they were concerned about image, they wouldn’t have worked in a situation where there’s no chance of looking pretty. One commented, “I’m covered in white dust and blowing black snot at the same time. I know I’ll be sore for a few days, but I really love helping here!”

The dusty, dirty Spring Break “statement” made by these youth has left a real impression on our neighbourhood and in my heart.
Copyright 2003
Rev. Harry Lehotsky
Rev. Harry Lehotsky is Director of New Life Ministries, a community ministry in the inner-city of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
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New Life Ministries
514 Maryland Street
Winnipeg, Mb R3G 1M5
(204) 775-4929