Tis The Season For Potholes

On a recent Saturday morning run, I was just past the intersection of Westham Parkway and Beechwood Drive in my Richmond, Virginia neighborhood.

I noticed two potholes near the double yellow lines. Seemed unusual for potholes to be so close to the center of the road, but there they were.

I’m sure being a road surface is challenging. Vehicle weight, weather whims, and driving habits impact the asphalt.

All it takes is a tiny fissure on the blacktop, and we have the beginning of a pothole.

As I trudged along this familiar route, I thought more about those potholes. I reasoned that a tiny fissure in the life of a human being can quickly become a hollowed hole of never ending struggles.

In our communities, I sense that teachers, preachers, mental health providers, and families are in a struggle. Their morale is battered with a worn weariness that treads upon any chance of hope.

Without question, the pandemic had an impact on public schools, churches, mental health providers, and families.

Attempts to recover from the impact of COVID-19 will take a long time. That prolonged recovery is grounded in this reality: schools, churches, mental health providers, and families were already experiencing difficulties prior to the pandemic.

Personally, I’m not sure how teachers maintain their sanity. They are constantly in the sight lines of politicians who in many instances have no earthly idea of what it takes for a teacher to survive in a classroom. Yet, research bears out that the skills of the classroom teacher are often the pivot point in making a positive difference in the life of a student.

For many years, researchers have documented the decline in church attendance. The latest Pew Research Center report from September 2022 doesn’t hold much hope for a reversal of this spiral. Preachers and their congregations haven’t been immune from political division, challenges to their doctrines related to sexual orientation, and a longstanding stubborn resistance to change.

When it comes to mental health, America is in a crisis, a crisis that our country is reluctant to admit. Sadly, for many Americans, the most reliable means for solving a conflict is to pull out a gun and shoot. How many more lives are we willing to lose courtesy of this mentality? How many lives could have been saved if we were better equipped to provide mental health services to trigger pullers?

Clearly, I’m not an expert, but my career working in our public schools keeps bringing me back to a recurring concern—the erosion of our families.

In an August 2022 report issued by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, “nearly 24 million children live in a single parent family in the United States, or about one in every three kids across America.” During my career, I worked with many successful single parents, but that wasn’t always the norm.

I can only imagine the strain endured by a single parent— working multiple jobs, attempting to support children with food, clothing, health care, and education while housing the family in a rundown motel.

Repairing the two potholes on the road in my neighborhood is simple.

Repairing human potholes is complicated.

How might we start the repair process for our human potholes?

A good starting point is to understand how schools, churches, mental health providers, and nonprofits who work with families are already communicating and collaborating.

In those collaborations, it is important to identify what works, what doesn’t, including the courage to disassemble ineffective practices.

Additionally, the assessment must include a careful analysis of data and trends so that more effective templates of service can be implemented.

Assessing community real estate is essential to the process. How might blighted store fronts, empty school and church buildings be repurposed into housing and community service centers for families?

And there is another critical piece, assessing a community’s human resources. How do we utilize the skills and experiences of people who are active, but retired? How might we retool individuals who are looking for employment that will give back to families in a struggling neighborhood?

But the real question is this: do we understand that potholes are more than a seasonal challenge?

Teachers, preachers, mental health providers, and struggling families experience the reality of their pothole entrenchment everyday.

We are at a crisis point.

Continuing to ignore the needs of our human infrastructure is unacceptable.

On December 14, Virginia’s Governor announced plans for reforming mental health. This is a long overdue starting point.

Yet, I fear these proposals will fall victim to the very predictable potholes of political division on both sides of the aisle. Our political inability to play nice will only continue to hurt people.
As the holiday season rushes by us, weary hearts of people in the battered potholes of life need hope.

Our politicians need to deliver.

Two potholes on Westham Parkway (Photo by Bill Pike)

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