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What is the Real Cost of Being Raised by a Single Mother?

Anti Gun Button on Shirt
Photograph by Getty Images

For me, the low point in Tuesday night’s debate was when Mitt Romney blamed single parents for contributing to gun violence in America. I felt myself gasp, because I am a single parent. In a flash, I felt myself relive the challenges that caused my marriage to dissolve, and for a moment I considered whether my divorce from my ex-husband might lead to our child’s one day using a gun to end the life of another child.

Rewind back to reality: I have lived in inner-city communities my entire life. I was raised by a single parent. And if there is one thing I know for sure, it is that it truly does take a village to raise a child. I also know that gun violence within inner-city communities is strongly associated with the availability of resources that support the young residents in achieving success.

I will never forget the day my second-grade teacher came to my home to speak with my grandmother about the opportunity for me to be bussed to a school in a middle-class, white community where the educational resources would better match my potential. At the time, the schools in Watts were not fully sourced with music, academics, and sports programs. Over the years this teacher had watched my progress and offered whatever she could to enhance my educational experience. Often she took me to her home on weekends and to plays at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. I look back today and see our time together as enchanting and inspirational. She was a part of the village that nurtured me into who I am today.

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The following year I did attend another school in a community several miles away from my home district. This school was surrounded by homes with two-car garages and manicured lawns. When I returned home each day I watched the kids in my neighborhood begin to join gangs and sell drugs. In the community where I lived, selling drugs was celebrated and aspired to by many boys. Crack had come to the streets of Watts, and gang violence exploded. The parents of these kids were often working long hours or struggling with their own demons, preventing them from participating in the lives of their children. These parents, both single and married, were left with the effect of inadequate resources to nurture their children. By the time I left town to attend Howard University, the majority of the boys I played with as a little child were incarcerated for drug activity or had been killed in a fight over drug turf.

Yes, the candidates are right that gun violence must be addressed, and families and education need to play a big part in this effort. But gun violence will continue unabated if the NRA has a blank check to do whatever it desires and the money from drug sales is one of the few things that can make inner-city kids feel seen, powerful, and successful.

Single parents are not the reason we have a culture of violence that is devastating our communities. To lift such struggling communities to a place where violence is no longer an option, it absolutely takes a village willing to take responsibility for creating nurturing, loving environments. That village includes a NRA that does not protect the sale of automatic weapons, even as young men die at alarming rates. That village includes local and state government agencies that are effective in the war on drugs. That village includes schools and teachers with the resources to support kids that need more than math and reading. And that village includes parents, single and married, who have the strength of will and hope for their children to assure that they’re surrounded with loving, caring people and the resources that will lead to success, rather than an early death.

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