You may remember these opening lines from the first verse of the children’s song, “Dem Bones.” Civil rights activist James Weldon Johnson and his brother J. Rosamond Johnson wrote the song, first recorded by The Famous Myers Jubilee Singers in 1928. You may know the Johnson brothers better for having written the lyrics and music for “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
The song has lessons for us in Shreveport today if we listen to it carefully and apply the lessons of Ezekiel 37 that inspired the song.
While Elizabeth and I walked in neighborhoods across Shreveport seeking signatures for my nominating petition, we saw the dry bones of Shreveport up close – people worried about crime, neglected buildings, dirty and litter-strewn streets, disregard by some residents for the comfort and sensibility of neighbors, a sense of hopelessness. In neighborhoods most affected by blight, we heard homeowners lament that their neighborhood was deteriorating around them.
We had to ask ourselves, “Can these bones live?” We knew the answer was “yes,” but getting the bones to live is demanding work. And everyone has a job to do to breathe life into the dry bones.
Here are some ideas:
- All hands on deck. We must make sure that every post-certified police officer is doing actual police work. Any task that a non-post-certified employee can do should be done by a non-post-certified employee to the greatest extent possible.
- Greater interaction between actual patrol officers and area supervisors and people in the neighborhood. Communication through community liaison officers (CLOs) is not enough.
- Demonstrating to police officers that they have the respect and appreciation of the City administration and the public. Our officers must not be afraid to do their jobs responsibly.
- Enforcement of care of premises and property standards, as well as noise regulations and litter ordinances, to prevent further deterioration of neighborhoods, breeding crime. This “broken windows” approach has succeeded in many communities. It helps make neighborhoods more livable immediately. It can work here, too.
- Evaluation of summer and after-school programming for pre-teens and teens to encourage mentoring and positive life choices. We must find ways to let young people hear from those who once turned to crime, and even went to prison, and have a testimony to give to vulnerable young people, especially young men.
- Ensuring that City parks and community centers are safe and well-maintained to host the summer and after-school programming.
- We must bring the business community back into the conversation. The City must work with the business community to create jobs for which currently unemployed and underemployed citizens qualify or could be trained and determine how to deliver that training.
Breathing life into the dry bones is not a one-person job, or even a one-government job. It requires finding out what is working in other communities, bringing our community together to work for common goals, and realizing that every violent crime affects all of us, not just the immediate victims of the crime or the neighborhood where the crime occurs.
Just like the bones in the song, we must connect each part of the City to each other part. Our neighborhoods are not islands. They each form a part of a whole body. We can have a joyful and hopeful conclusion, as one version of the song’s chorus proclaims:
When we all work together, the bones of Shreveport can rise again. Please join us in the renewal of our great City. Yes, these bones can live!
Tom Arceneaux, a former City Councilman, is a candidate for Mayor of Shreveport.