For the Children

Symposium sponsored by University and Boston looks at ways to improve situation of the city's kids

By Mark Sullivan
Staff Writer

A Faneuil Hall symposium hosted by Boston College President William P. Leahy, SJ, and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino on April 30 launched what BC administrators hope is an ongoing partnership between the University and the city to build a more caring community for Boston's children.

Fr. Leahy offered a brief welcome to the symposium, sponsored by the Boston College Center for Child, Family and Community Partnerships and the Mayor's Office, which capped the first annual "Boston Children's Week," a series of events intended to educate, motivate and celebrate the young people of the city. Brennan Professor of Education Richard Lerner moderated the symposium, which included education, community, business and religious leaders offering their visions on how best to promote the positive development of city youth.

University President William P. Leahy, SJ, talks with symposium panelist Rev. Richard W. Richardson of St. Paul African-Methodist-Episcopal Church and Community Affairs Director Jean S. McKeigue at the event.
"We must make sure we enrich these young people," Menino said at the symposium's end. "The ages between birth and 4 years old are so important. It's all of us in this together to make sure our children have the brightest future of all."

The participants were: Wheelock College President Margerie Bakken; State Rep. Kevin Fitzgerald; Deborah Gray, a member of Parents United for Child Care; Bank of Boston Executive Director of External Affairs Ira Jackson; Boston Foundation President Anna Faith Jones; Stephanie Killbride, representing the Child and Family Network; Rev. Richard W. Richardson, pastor of St. Paul African-Methodist-Episcopal Church in Roxbury, and Children's League of Massachusetts Director Barbara Talkov.

Organizers said they hoped the symposium would inspire an agenda for improving conditions for Boston's young, an area in which Boston College is prepared to work closely with City Hall. In his remarks at the event, Lerner drew a parallel to the civic activism urged by Colin Powell, President Clinton and other national leaders at the recently concluded Philadelphia summit on volunteerism.

"The breadth and depth of the challenges to the health and safety of Boston's children exist at historically unprecedented levels," said Lerner. "We can turn it around, but the effort will require a commitment from the key institutions of the community to work together and integrate their expertise and resources. What we commit to tonight can provide a model to the rest of America."

Panelists outlined private and public programs available to aid children and their families, urged greater collaboration between public and private sectors on community initiatives, and encouraged citizens to become more involved in the lives of their neighborhoods' young people.

Bakken noted the successful 21-year collaboration between area colleges and universities and the Boston Public Schools, and the almost $40 million in scholarships local higher education institutions provide to Boston students.

"Of course, higher education is not the only model of community life for young people," Bakken said, "but it is an obligation of higher education to enable our students to experience a living community and have leadership experiences there. We try to enable our students to emerge from the college and university with a sense of responsibility for creating community wherever they work and reside."

Talkov recommended that businesses create more family-friendly, flexible policies that would enable parents to take a day a month to attend a PTA meeting or their child's sports event or play. She also urged more citizen participation on agencies which influence public policy.

"It is as important to work on policy as it is to work directly with children and youth," she said, "for in many instances policy - at all levels of government - creates the conditions under which we all live."

Jones urged greater responsiveness to the employment, educational and health-related needs of the city's poor, and their desire for "dignity and respect."

Rev. Richardson spoke of returning to the community values of an era when neighborhood residents joined to help one another with child care.

Interviewed following the event, Lerner said the Boston community must take advantage of a unique "window of opportunity," inspired by the national volunteerism summit, to unite in support of its young.

"This community has a great number of strengths," Lerner said. "We have an enlightened business community, a creative university community, committed and capable parents, and a vibrant faith community. We have unique potential to act together to provide a vision for positive development for kids. We must coordinate our efforts to provide a convoy of support for kids from conception to adulthood, so no kids fall through the cracks."

Return to May 8 menu

Return to Chronicle home page