Graduates, it’s time to fulfill your civic duty

A mandatory term of community service for graduates would benefit everyone involved.

John Thomas

I cannot recall a bloodier, more unforgiving year than 2016.

The problems highlighted by catastrophes this year — police brutality, racism, homophobia, socioeconomic injustice — are not new, but they’ve just now reached a boiling point. 

A complex web of issues precipitated the injustices we’ve seen in Orlando, Louisiana, Dallas and Minnesota, and now, the healing must begin with the young people in our communities.

Our society must create communities whose members respect each other by instituting a required period of civic service after high school.

This, to me, is just an extension to a solution fostered by a number of activists, police officers and pundits alike — community policing, a practice of cops maintaining an active presence in the neighborhoods they’re responsible for, instead of being detached and ignorant of the space they serve. 

Some people still have reservations. Even if police departments instituted community policing across the nation, many citizens would still find it hard to see themselves and their values, community and history reflected in their local police force. 

This concern has merit. Many parts of the government are opaque, awash in whiteness, disconnected from the communities that they are supposed to serve. However, cops — by the virtue of their profession — are required to be right there, in the community, every day. Therefore, they must be attuned to the intricacies of their community.

I propose that each high school graduate spend two years in a position that puts them in a place of responsibility and understanding in their community. This would place young people in public programs in need like schools, social services, parks and recreation or the police forces. 

Successful communities are constantly restructuring themselves by providing new services and improving the quality of life of their residents. There is no better way for a community to serve its constituents than by employing its own members to ensure order and peace. Put simply, we need young people to help develop our communities because they will inherit them.

The night that Philando Castile was murdered, I went to the Governor’s Mansion and listened to different individuals describe their truths to the crowd. It made me realize that one of the greatest things Black Lives Matter has done is create a community for people disaffected and disassociated from the government and social services that so many of us, myself included, take for granted.

Black Lives Matter and organizations like it will always be necessary. Racism and other forms of bigotry will unfortunately be around for the rest of my lifetime and my children’s lifetime. However, the disconnect between the people that the state is supposed to serve, and those the state employs does not have to continue indefinitely.

John Thomas welcomes comments at [email protected]