Despite all the "best of" year-end lists, it doesn't seem like there was much to applaud about 2015.
With mass shootings from Charleston, S.C., to Roseburg, Ore., and with gun deaths of young people from Tyshawn Lee to Laquan McDonald, we seemed to have collectively lost our way. Add a poisoned and polarized political environment, and it's no wonder we all seem eager to get this one in the books.
But before we move on, I wanted to hear from some experts on how we can improve things. I asked them for one step our society can take to make progress on our overwhelming problems in 2016. Here's what they had to say:
Ellen Alberding, CEO, The Joyce Foundation
"Mass shootings are horrifying and rightly get a lot of media attention but account for just a fraction of gun homicides in the U.S. They are far outpaced by the daily scourge of urban gun violence, which is fueled by the easy availability of firearms and has a devastating impact on communities of color. Police shootings are another factor creating justified outrage.
For too long, these have been treated as separate issues, often with a top-down approach that ignores the communities most affected. It's time to bring together police, clergy, ex-offenders, elected leaders, young people, policy advocates and others for a broader conversation about solutions to reduce gun violence while restoring police-community trust and without contributing to mass incarceration ...
Despite what's at stake, these groups are not often asked to sit at the same table and talk about solutions. The conversation now starting to happen is long overdue, and must grow."
Robert Harris, Cook County public guardian
"Over the years, I've learned that the best way to help children in need is by making a personal commitment to them. Through any of the local mentoring programs, every well-intentioned adult should find a child, who is not their own, and become a constant in that child's life. That means being present for every birthday, graduation, baseball game; for every holiday, wedding, birth and death. It means offering your best advice. ... It also means, to the extent possible, putting your money where your mouth is by paying for tutoring, after-school programs or music lessons. What I simply mean is to be a constant that a child can always depend on."
Heather O'Donnell, vice president of Thresholds, the city's largest provider of mental health services
"There's no easy answer. I believe it's mostly a race and poverty issue that, for whatever strange reason, are hard to talk about in our society. … We need policies that focus on eliminating poverty and inequities in economic and educational opportunities. The violence in parts of the city isn't going to go away by putting more police on the streets. We need real leadership on policies that deal with poor education and economic opportunities on the South and West sides over the long haul. We also need to just raise enough tax revenue to pay for programs that really tackle the problem rather than nibble around the edges. Because society pays no matter what."
Art Dykstra, CEO, Trinity Services, a nonprofit for people with developmental disabilities
"When I was a teenager I would often accompany my father to the grocery store. Being a time before cart corrals, I would gripe about the many people who didn't return their carts but left them blocking potential parking spaces. My father's response was, 'Why don't you grab a cart and we'll take them back for them.'
"'Why?' I would ask angrily. His response was always the same: 'Art, you don't know — maybe a young mother was in a hurry and had to pick up medicine for her sick child, or a fellow who had to pick up milk for his kids and his boss threatened to fire him if he was late again.' Like my dad, each of us, in our small part of the world, need to think the positive, say the positive and practice the positive before we leap to the negative."
Mary Hollie, president and CEO, Glenwood Academy
"While we cannot change the circumstances all students come from, we can and must work together to provide them with safe, secure and stable environments that allow them to flourish despite larger social ills. A move from violent and unstable environments to structured, residential schools empowers children from challenging circumstances to achieve success by eliminating external distractions. While the concept of out-of-home residences may be difficult for families, it offers multiple benefits such as … eliminating the need for round-the-clock child care and eventually halting the cycle of generational poverty."
Melvin Brooks, attorney
"On a jury, a mix of folks somehow come together to collectively reach a solution. They learn to respect each other and their unique life experiences … and we seem to have lost that respect, especially with police/citizen relationships. I'm old enough to remember the Officer Friendly program, where police would meet with kids. We need to do more of that and get officers back in the community, interacting with citizens in other than confrontational situations."
Myles X. Mendoza, executive director, One Chance Illinois
"It begins with the understanding that there are no do-overs. … Schools should have greater autonomy over their budgets, curriculum, hiring and programs, so that they can deliver a personalized education that best meets the needs of children. … But from a broader perspective, we need to stop 'managing students as liabilities' and start 'growing them as assets.' Today's students are tomorrow's leaders."