Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Youth Safety Summit
August 19, 1998
Good morning, and thank you so much for being here today.
As we gather this morning for this statewide summit meeting on youth safety, we have a lot to celebrate, a lot to grieve, and most important, a lot of work to do.
We can celebrate the fact that overall, the incidence of youth violence is declining.
We can celebrate – both here in this room, and back home in our communities – a growing number of genuine heroes: people who have literally saved the lives of young people by giving them the time, the role models, and the opportunities that they need and deserve.
But we must also take the time to grieve – for Melissa Fernandez, who was killed in 1994 at Ballard High School; for Arnie Fritz and Manuel Vela and teach Leona Caires, who were gunned down in Moses Lake in 1996; and for the children and adults who died earlier this year in Springfield, Oregon.
And we must grieve for the wasted lives of the young people who commit these crimes -- children whose lives have gone so terribly and completely wrong.
We must never forget or deny the tragedy of these losses.
And we must never forget the children and the teacher who died, the families who still miss them every day, and the classmates who will carry horrible memories for the rest of their lives.
For those who lived through these awful events, and for those who lost loved ones, these tragedies have not ended. On the contrary: these horrifying events have become a permanent part of their lives.
And as if this were not sadness enough, just last week we were confronted by an even more incomprehensible event: the murder in Chicago of an 11-year-old girl by two boys who were 7 and 8 years old.
These events are so frightening and so alien that they make us feel as if our society is coming apart at the seams.
To most of us, the welcome news of the recent decline in youth violence is just not enough to overcome this fear that our world is descending into chaos.
We want to live in a world where there is no youth violence.
We want to live in a world where childhood is a time of learning, a time of innocence, and a time of abundant unconditional love, all in an atmosphere of absolute safety.
We also want to live in a world in which every child is taught to be kind, responsible, and to respect their peers and their elders.
That doesn't seem like a lot to ask. That just seems normal.
But it's up to all of us to create that norm of safety and responsibility.
That's why we have so much work to do.
I am deeply grateful to those of you who've already been hard at work on this issue. Today’s Summit is the culmination of 64 community forums in 35 counties, attended by more than 3,000 people of all ages and all walks of life. I want to thank the many people who helped organize those community forums, served on the advisory committee for this Summit, and worked so hard to make your communities safe, healthy places for kids.
Your experience and expertise will light our way both in the course of today's deliberations, and in the months and years to come.
I know that you've developed the six pillars that today's agenda is organized around.
As I think about those pillars, I’m reminded of our beautiful state capitol building held up by pillars on every side.
Those pillars have stood for over seventy years, and we expect them to stand for at least a thousand years.
In 1927, people built our capitol to last. And they built it to inspire everyone who sees it and everyone who works inside it.
It is truly a temple of democracy, and a testament to the legacy that one generation can leave for those who follow.
It has a massive foundation that isn’t visible. Tourists don't take pictures of it. No one drives past the capitol and says "Wow, what a great foundation." But every stone in every pillar depends on the soundness of the foundation. And the foundation had to come first.
That's why I think we need to start this morning with some reflection about how to create the solid foundation on which we can build those six pillars of protection against violence.
The foundation under those pillars is the basic character and nature of our society: something that is also hardly visible to us, only because we rarely focus our attention on it.
But the character and nature of our society is the sum total of all that we are, all that we believe, and all that we do.
And we cannot make the six pillars on today's agenda stand for long if we do not repair the foundation on which they will rest.
To repair that foundation, we must create a society in which children do not live in poverty.
All children must have enough food to eat, a decent place to live, and parents who are not overwhelmed by economic insecurity.
But to truly prosper, our children must have much more than that.
They need both mothers and fathers who put their children's needs ahead of their own.
They need grandparents and aunts and uncles who think they're wonderful and tell them so.
They need neighbors who will stand on their front porches and holler at them if they see them doing something wrong.
And they need adults to teach them that the richest and happiest people in the world are not those who get the most, but those who give the most.
But more than anything else, our children need much more of our time.
Let's face it, our society is not organized in a way that makes it easy for working parents to give our children enough time.
At the beginning of this century, the majority of kids lived on farms where both parents – and often their grandparents – were home all day.
Today, most children live in families where nobody is home all day.
And most parents – myself included – come home tired at night.
We can't all go back to farming, although some days, it sure seems like a good idea.
We have to face the fact that our world has changed, and that raising children in today's world has changed, too.
We can't go backwards; we have to move forward.
But in moving forward, we have the power to make choices about what values we bring with us from our past, and what we leave behind.
We can choose to carry with us an old-fashioned but time tested commitment to our families and our community.
We can choose to bring with us the tradition of neighbors looking after neighbors, and of always putting children's needs first.
And we can choose to leave behind racial prejudice, homophobia, and gender stereotypes.
We also have the power to shape the culture around us.
This is easy to forget, but it's true. It matters what and which television programs we choose to see and watch and which we let our children see and watch.
And we can drive those decision-makers in Hollywood crazy by choosing to simply unplug ourselves from that part of our culture, and to create our own, home-grown arts and entertainment.
We can also create a culture of learning and support for our children. With the time we don't spend watching television, we can help our own or other people's kids with their homework or in youth activities like the Scouts, the "Y", or sports.
We can talk with them about the importance of doing well in school, and we can show we really mean it by volunteering in efforts like the Washington Reading Corps.
And we can actively support our teachers and principals by backing them up when they insist on high standards of student discipline as well as high standards for academic achievement.
If we made better choices about how we spend our time, about the values we want to shape our children's lives, and about the culture we surround them with, we could make significant progress in repairing the foundation of our society and preventing youth violence.
But to do that, we will have to remember, every moment of every day, that our children learn more from what they see us doing than from what we say.
And we will have to be far more mindful of that invisible foundation we create and sustain with the sum of all that we are, all that we believe, and all that we do.
I know that many people – and many young people especially – feel that they don't have the power to make a difference in something so vast as the foundation of our society.
But if you ever have a chance to look at those historical photos that document the construction of our state capitol, you will marvel how tiny the workers look against the backdrop of that enormous building.
Do you think they came to work every morning believing that they couldn't make a difference in such a huge undertaking?
No. They came to work every morning knowing that by working together, they were building a legacy that would last a thousand years.
For the sake of our children and our children's children, we must do the same.
We must build the foundation on which our children and our communities can flourish in a new millennium.
Every child, every young person, and every adult of every age has the power to make a positive difference.
That is the legacy of our country's founders and all those throughout American history who have worked and died to preserve our freedom to choose the way we live, and to shape the society we live in.
We owe it to them to make better choices, and to be better guardians of the future of America: our children. And we owe it to our children to make sure that they have a solid foundation on which to build lives that are rich in kindness, in community, and in personal responsibility. Our society should be one in which childhood is truly a time of learning innocence and unconditional love, all in an atmosphere of safety.
Let’s get to work!
Thank you very much.