Resident Chastises Some in Community For Only Giving Lip Service to Helping Teens

Rod Jennings is a University City parent, resident and a member of the U City School Board.

In recent months talk of creating a youth/teen center has been brought up on this site by some in the community as a place for teens to hang out as opposed to the Loop. At a U City Youth Forum last week, a teen/youth center was suggested by those in attendance.

Next month, University City Mayor Shelley Welsch and other leaders from the St. Louis area are holding a"Regional Initiative on Youth" here in U City. It's not known if a teen/youth center is on the agenda.

Below is an open letter from Rod Jennings, a University City parent, resident and member of the U City Board of Education, concerning the possible creation of a youth/teen center.


As far as a , I want to make these comments as a black parent that grew up as a troubled youth in UCity. Forget that I am a school board member because that was a recent occurrence in my life. I have been associated with UCity for 41 years. I have been to the WigWam, worked summer jobs, worked as a teen-aged youth counselor, been mentored by the best, and have spent time in City Hall's basement.

I am going to be criticized for being painfully honest and many will call me a bad example of a public servant, so please forgive me in advance. This is no reflection on the City or School Board and District, but here goes my opinion anyway.

There will never be another teen center or real youth activities in UCity or this region because people don't have the commitment that was in parents and community members years ago. I remember we had little league baseball where I met my friends before high school days and siblings and parents as well. I knew many dads as well as I knew classmates because they were present and engaged in our lives. I knew Mr. Davis, Mr. Watson, and Mr. Dean who later hired me as a youth counselor because he really knew me.

Today as an adult, I served as a PTO vice president for 2 years and very rarely saw another black male at meetings and events. Truthfully, I didn't see enough women also. And we wonder why our kids are not behaving. Black parents, we have got to be more visible and active in the schools. I go to schools with more white students and I see mom and dad building projects and raising hundreds of dollars for their PTO'S and children, while we won't show up for free book giveaways for our black boys and girls. There are differences in the performances of our children but it is based on us as parents.

People, whether your child is a scholar or a convict it is your fault, your responsibility. I am not a perfect parent but for both of my children I went to their classroom once a week and read to the entire class from Kindergarten to 6th grade. My kids saw me, but I also watched, monitored, and evaluated what they were teaching my children. I dealt with the bullies because they knew me too as the schoolyard kick ball playing dad that talked to them about peace and respect. That's how I was raised by the parents of the 60's and 70's.

We will never eliminate the violence and under performance in our schools until we start acting like the freedom fighters of the 60's that broke Jim Crow's back. It wasn't just KING, it was Jewish people from New York, Catholics from Michigan, and Blacks from the South that came together assessed the problem, strategized together, and committed themselves to change even if it meant their very own lives.

Our young people don't have roles models like that anymore. You work 40 hours, drive your Lexus into your garage and watch your flat panel televisions at the expense of our young people. All the while, MTV, BET, lil Wayne, 50 cent, Real Housewives of the ghettos, wanna be gangs, and peer pressure raise our children. And you blame the schools because they are not prepared to be law enforcement, social workers, nutritionists, and mentors. They were only trained and hired to teach your children. The rest of the job is your responsibility.

Crucify me on this, but you couldn't even as a community raise money to send to further their training as leaders among their peers. But why should . Here is why: Since those 4 were trained in Atlanta at the MLKing center we have buried two young UC students and another is paralyzed for life. And as a community you ought to be ashamed of yourselves with your selfish excuses...not my child, I give at my child's school, I don't have kids in the district......tell that to a mother that has to bury a young child or try to find money for a wheelchair ramp for her front porch.

So if you are going open a teen center in UCity we are going to have a common goal and work collectively. Don't come with lip service. This is so much bigger than the Loop or ACT test scores. We are not talking just about educating every child in every subject everyday. We must provide options visible to young people that will usher them into being responsible adults, but we must give so much of ourselves to save and change all of their lives regardless of what part of town they are from. And we must show them how to serve and lead in this community by example. 

I will work with anybody to open a teen center if they can check egos at the door and be prepared to really get in the trenches and build something from scratch and get the entire community involved.  Otherwise, get your black suits cleaned and be prepared to bury more young people that could have been college grads if we just pressed a little harder. I look forward to your reponses...

God Bless,
Rod Jennings

Editors’s Note: This column is for University City residents to voice their opinions on happenings in U City. The views expressed are not those of University City Patch nor its editorial staff, and solely reflect those of the author. This content has not been edited other than to fix spelling or grammatical errors.

Holston Black Jr. June 20, 2011 at 05:11 PM
Rod, I as a long time fighter for U. City youth applaud your willingness to stick your neck out for the valuable children. "It takes a village", truly it does, we as human beings have to recognize our children don't come here with sufficient instincts to make it on their own. We as citizens have to realize it costs more to incarcerate children, a yea,r than to send them to Princeton. All of us who pay taxes are going to pay one way or the other, personally I would rather my taxes go towards EDUCATING. Many parents don't even realize they can visit their child's classroom, I am glad you as a school board member are pointing this out. It's essential that the leaders really start taking their leadership roles seriously. I and other advocates for children have long maintained that they aren't going to just disappear therefore it behooves all of us to help them reach their full potential. I remember years past when we had to fight the leadership to hear our concerns about the youth, now we have you and the Mayor (Shelley Welsch) fighting for them. With you, the mayor and hopefully many of your peers and other citizens we can sincerely address this issue.
Lois June 20, 2011 at 05:36 PM
Rod, as always, thanks for your candor!
Rosa Sharon June 26, 2011 at 04:36 PM
Rod, don't throw in the towel. Your article is seriously motivating and inspirational. Keep the faith, Rod. Keep saying what needs to be said, keep setting a wonderful example. I think you'll be delighted to find that plenty of folk will emulate you, join hands with you, make common cause with you. It's not only black kids at risk, by the way. The problem is more one of poverty, low income, perhaps families with inordinate struggles with sickness and stress. By that I mean families that have an incarcerated parent, a disabled or ill parent. Our community needs to circle the wagons around these families, around the kids from these families. Wherever there is isolation from strong ties with extended family and with community, one is more likely to see youngsters go awry. I'm just not real sure how to do it. I need a leader to show me the way. How do I know what families and which youth need a friend? How do I approach them, how do we get started? Thank you for speaking up, Rod, and please don't be discouraged. We need you to let your light shine so we can follow you.
Rosa Sharon June 26, 2011 at 05:03 PM
A couple more thoughts: It is not necessarily the parents' fault if their kids become convicts or more laudable types. Kids do make choices. Even kids from homes where the parents are very involved can make wrong decisions or fall in with and be influenced by the wrong peers. I think children need not only strong parents, involved parents but strong schools and strong religious institutions. Also, what I said above about helping others - there are times when I could use help, too. Or times when I maybe need to take care of my job, my home, etc. and don't have the health or strength or plain old time to give. You are self-employed and you can, at least to some degree, set your own hours. Those of us who have to jump to the boss' drum, who have to punch a timeclock - well, it is a little different. Not that we can't fine SOME time and energy. We just have to be more structured, plan more. Again, I have nothing but praise for you, Rod, and hope you will be strong and be constant and keep on leading.


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