Rev. John Girton Jr. of the Christ Missionary Baptist Church recently erected a camping tent on the corner of 30th and Martin Luther King, Jr. streets. He observed that there have been 85 criminal homicides so far this year, and he plans to live in the tent for 30 days to draw attention to the problem. He hopes that citizens and city officials will come talk to him about what can be done to improve life in our inner city.
According to Girton and other pastors, people living in the most troubled neighborhoods are surrounded by guns, gangs, drugs, and empty houses. They have become so hopeless that Girton says, “They don’t see a better tomorrow.” He and others argue that when people become hopeless, they lose the will to resist evil. Lawlessness and violent death follow shortly thereafter.
Hopelessness in Indianapolis? Please, take a moment and consider the meaning of hopelessness. Can any of us even imagine what it would be like to be hopeless? Indeed, being hopeful is simply a standard state of mind for most of us.
Author Bebe Moore Campbell described the word “blues” in her gripping novel, “Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine,” as a state of hopelessness that is so profound that a person ceases to even hope that their condition will ever improve. We have people in our beautiful, thriving city who have the blues...they have ceased to hope.
I am not a naive do-gooder, so please don’t stop reading. We all understand that the solutions to the problems of decaying neighborhoods, violent crime and hopelessness are very complex. No one of us has a simple solution, because simple solutions don’t exist. However, there are things that we lawyers as professional problem solvers can do.
As a starting point, we can all support the groups that provide free legal services to the poor. These groups provide hope by helping poor families find housing or collect child support. They help the elderly poor keep their homes. They hold inner city slum lords accountable and more.
We can do more than just pay lip service to the call for lawyers to engage in pro bono work. We can do pro bono work and we can encourage our friends and our colleagues to do it. At a minimum, you can help us with the IndyBar’s Ask a Lawyer program or contribute to the Indianapolis Bar Foundation, which funds our pro bono initiatives.
We can offer our support to agencies that work in the inner city to improve conditions and reduce homelessness. The list of such agencies is longer than I can cite in this article. However, the IndyBar and the Indianapolis Bar Foundation constantly raise money and awareness for the groups that are tackling inner city problems. If you want to know more, call me.
We can support and assist our public schools. Every school in the city wants and needs volunteers to help with reading, tutoring, and career counseling.
We can support initiatives for better public transportation so that chronically poor people can get to jobs or so that they can get to a grocery store with decent, reasonably priced food.
My last suggestion is simple. You can continue to ignore the hopelessness that screams from the front page of the paper every day, or you can pay attention and look for some small way to make a difference. You can also stop by and see Rev. Girton and ask him what you can do.•