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Wisdom Comes in Small Packages

by Tanya Cromartie-Twaddle My fifth grade daughter is interested in prostitution. “Momma, did you see those ladies on the corner.” She inquires on the drive home from school. There are prostitutes in her community and a host of other societal ills, but I’m not in the mood today. “What ladies, Dylan?” I reply hesitantly not quite ready for this conversation…rolling my eyes so she’ll spare me this one. “You know you saw those ladies, Momma. Well, I have to write a paper on something I would change in my community and I picked prostitutes.” Why prostitutes? Why not the standard “cigarettes are bad” or “don’t litter” essay. I bravely look my daughter in the face. I sense an invitation to nature’s purest intellectual concoction of innocence and wisdom. It could only be good for me. “What about the prostitutes?” I offer. “Listen. I’m going to write about how I feel they are addicted to selling their bodies because they feel left out. They don’t feel special. Somebody didn’t include them and I think they just don’t know they can do something else. And they should do something else with their lives because the men that buy them don’t care about them and they can hurt them by raping them or giving them diseases like AIDS, but I don’t know anything about that stuff yet. I’m not old enough.” Young minds never cease to shock me back into reality. Our children grow up too fast and die too soon. Prostitution, gun violence and drug dealers are real life for my child. They are a part of the fabric of her neighborhood and our routine trip from the schoolhouse is full of observation and youth’s curiosity. I am learning to value the opportunities theses exchanges afford me. Unfortunately, I go through phases of desensitization. I think it is my survival mode. I get overwhelmed and don’t see desperate women and drug addicts on the corner. Bullets don’t just come through windows and kill people and little girls don’t get snatched from bus stops. These periods are short-lived and followed by phases of civic focus and frantic attempts at solving problems that are complex and stretch far beyond a block club meeting. However, there are never periods when I just don’t care and I realize that a critical portion of us have become apathetic. I appreciate the rollercoaster ride and my daughter’s social prescriptions for change because they prevent me from becoming totally desensitized and accepting of these destructive conditions our community family faces. We can’t let ourselves get used to it…like, that’s just the way Milwaukee is. My child speaks loudly in more ways than one. Bill Cosby’s public chastisement of our community is well-deserved. The VOTE OR DIE campaign approach is hardcore, but understandable. Sometimes we need a firm slap in the face to pull it together. I hope we use this fearless energy and bold voice to truly effect change. But perhaps the biggest voices are the smallest ones who tell it like is without sensationalism. We know what’s best for them and they are the most precise indicators for what we adults aren’t doing right. “Momma, do you think George Bush is bad for us?” She asks after wading through the latest television campaign ads. “You tell me.”