Fighting off the cynic

Published 9:22 pm Friday, August 27, 2010

It will come as little surprise to most folks that journalists can be a cynical lot. Something about frequent exposure to self-promoters and others looking to use the media to serve their own personal agendas tends to lead to a jading of even the giddiest reporter.

No one ever accused me of being giddy. And after a couple of decades in the newspaper business, even the sweetest story about the Brownie troop that raised money to build a homeless shelter has limited power against the daily grind’s bitterness of street crime, white-collar corruption and shattered dreams. A skeptical approach to life may already have been my tendency, but a career in journalism has refined it into an art.

I found myself thinking about my own cynicism after a meeting Thursday of about 60 community members seeking to form a coalition against violent crime in Suffolk. It was the second in what is to be a series of NAACP-sponsored gatherings in response to the murders of three young people from the city since January.

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The first of the meetings, held at St. Timothy Baptist Church on Aug. 17, gave members of the community a chance to vent their anger and frustration over the tide of violent crime that threatens to swallow a generation. Thursday’s meeting was intended as a follow-up for those who are truly committed to working on behalf of the cause, a chance for them to form a coalition of the various civic leagues, church groups, community organizations and government agencies with the goal of finding some answers to the problem and sharing them with everyone in Suffolk.

The goal is, obviously, an appropriate one, and one must respect the folks who share the conviction that a community can rise up in opposition of crime — and in support of its youth — and make a difference. My skepticism certainly had nothing to do with the people who were at the meeting.

Still, though, I struggled to fight back a feeling that all the words were, in the end, inadequate to the task at hand, a frustration over the lack of ability to take quick, decisive action without resorting to committees or coalitions. I was reminded of my father’s response to my disobedience — full of love, but decisive and tough at the same time.

A community’s response to crime — especially among its youth — must be similar in character, I think, and I wondered Thursday evening how all of the meetings and discussions help display that character. I formed a mental picture of a community of fathers walking the streets with their belts in hand, ready to provide discipline where it was needed.

As I realized how unlikely that response would be, it occurred to me that my dad’s discipline showed both love and toughness. I saw once again how skepticism must be tempered with optimism in order to avoid despair. And then I understood how a group of 60 people could find comfort in the act of planning ways to lift up their youth, rather than simply demanding justice and deference.

I still believe there’s a time for firm deeds to be done in the pursuit of the community’s protection. But now I’m a little less cynical about the soft voices that must precede those deeds. And I pledge the support of myself and this newspaper. Suffolk’s youth need all the help — the love and the discipline — they can get.