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July/August 2021Vol. 22, No. 7Message From Associate Commissioner Aysha E. Schomburg

Written by Associate Commissioner Aysha E. Schomburg

One of the best ways that we can support children and families is to care for them in our daily lives, in our communities. I'm sure many of us can remember seeing stories in the press about a child who had been repeatedly abused or maltreated and wondered, "Didn't anyone know?" or "Why didn't anyone help?" When we ask those questions, we are asking not necessarily as child welfare professionals; rather, we ask because we are concerned citizens who value the lives of children. 

In New York, where I grew up, the characteristic of a good neighbor was one who minded their own business. In the communities where I lived, neighbors who minded their own business were ideal. We might say, "Good morning" or "Goodnight." Any more conversation than that, or any attempt to find out what was going on in your neighbor's life, was deemed being nosy. We can turn that idea around. 

A few years ago, I suddenly became the temporary guardian of my 2-year-old grandnephew. Literally overnight I had to figure out how to incorporate a toddler into my life. I remember having to choose a day care. It had to be nearby, it had to be very safe, and it had to be an environment where he would thrive. At one day care visit, I found myself sitting quietly in an office with another parent while I waited for a meeting with the director. That parent, a mom of a child who was already enrolled, suddenly started talking to me. She offered her unsolicited opinion about the day care. She had great things to say. As it turns out, she was right! And I was so glad that she didn't mind her own business.  

Another neighbor of mine saw me with my grandnephew and asked me what was going on. I told her the story. The next day, she rang my bell and gave me a bunch of toys. Another neighbor slipped a note in my door to let me know that she had retired and would be happy to babysit if I ever needed help.

I was so proud of my neighbors, and I was so thankful. They didn't mind their own business. They stepped up, stepped in, and rallied in support of us.

In 1967, Congressman Adam Clayton Powel, Jr., delivered a speech titled, "What's in Your Hand?" and in it he says "'ve got in your hand the power..."

We don't have to be child welfare professionals to want to see families thrive. Think about how you can help our own neighbors. Perhaps it's the family down the street with a newborn baby, or a single dad of two who lives down the hall, or the woman who just became a kinship guardian. Think about what's in your hand. When I needed it, someone had encouraging words, another person had a basket of toys, and yet another person offered her time.  

Make a commitment to heighten the visibility of the families in your neighborhood. Pledge to be concerned, helpful neighbors. And ask yourself, reflectively, "What's in your hand?"