The Importance of Showing Children Their First Alligator

Images from Baltimore took over my Saturday night. The city stumbled toward a precipice after a day of mostly peaceful protests after the death of a man in police custody last week. Live Internet feeds showed groups of youths sprinting around the city smashing windows. Other groups held silent vigil, blocking traffic and generally protesting in a peaceful manner.

But what does this have to do with Florida?

When kids feel tied to the community they will protect it and cherish it as their home.
When kids feel tied to the community they will protect it and cherish it as their home.

Earlier Saturday I spent some time at the Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve. I hooked on with a tour group for a bit that included a couple of kids. They were doing general kid stuff – talking a little too loudly and not really paying attention to the volunteer tour guide. But, as they approached a pond, the tour guide told the 5-year-old girl, “I’m going to show you your first alligator.” This might seem like a small thing, but it’s not. Florida gators are special and knowing about them creates an investment in the community.

What happened in Baltimore would not happen if the people who were committing the vandalism felt a sense of community and investment. As a former teacher in Baltimore City Public Schools I can attest to how little knowledge the students have of life outside their block. Some students might not even see many of the tourist attractions in the city. With no reliable transportation and little disposable income how could they? These kids who commit crimes need to see their first alligator, or the Baltimore equivalent to bind them to the community.

There’s a legitimate argument that years of neglect and violence perpetrated against the citizenry have led to an inconsolable relationship in the city. I hope not, for the sake of those kids who might have been taught to believe that change comes through violence. Violence begets violence, community investment begets change.

Alligator Slu 2

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