Commentary: Where Are the Big Mamas?
Warm Weather's Return Highlights Neighborhood Changes
By Derrell Connor Special To Channel 3000
I love this time of year. The days are longer, weather is warmer, and in my neighborhood, everybody is busy reacquainting with each other because we've been cooped up all winter.
With summer fast approaching, our kids are starting to spend a lot more time outside playing games and sports, and riding their bikes, scooters and skateboards. Some of the older kids will soon have summer jobs or attend camp.
Unfortunately, there will also be kids with not much to do. They'll be hanging out, and some of them will be up to no good. Every spring and summer there's at least a couple of articles in the news about incidents like vandalism and burglary in neighborhoods across the city involving young people. Whenever I read them I wonder: What happened to the "Big Mamas"?
For a lot of us growing up back in the day, a Big Mama was special. She was both feared and revered. She could be a grandmother or a great-grandmother, an older woman who lived on your street or block but the important thing about her was she knew everyone?parents, kids, relatives, the mailman, maintenance workers ? everybody. She knew where you lived, where you were supposed to be, whom you were playing with, who belonged on the block and who didn't.
If you were up to no good, Big Mama was always there to stop and scold you, and in some cases, punish you. And then she?d tell your parents. If you went on vacation, Big Mama kept an eye on your house or apartment. And if she thought something funny was going on there while you were away, she called the police. She was the neighborhood guidance counselor, referee and enforcer. And for it all she was loved and respected. Big Mama helped organize the block parties and other social activities. She took pride in her neighborhood, which made everyone else take pride in it too. Because of Big Mama, people looked out for each other.
Today, so much about our communities has changed, and Big Mamas seem to be all but extinct. Sure, there are still lots of neighborhoods where people know one another. But there are too many places now that are filled with young people playing outside or hanging out unsupervised. Residents don't talk to each other. The respect for other people and their property has diminished. Someone could break into your home, or steal your car, and no one would see or know a thing. It seems like no one looks out for anyone anymore.
How did this happen? How did we go from neighbors being neighborly to disconnected communities of people who stay inside their homes and keep to themselves? I think there are a couple of reasons. First, there?s this sense that you can?t intervene or get involved if you see some else's child doing wrong. That even trying to break up a fight between kids could be grounds for litigation. It?s to the point now where most people just look out for themselves and their families, and no one else.
Second, I think that the "no snitching" movement has damaged many neighborhoods here across the country. The threat of retaliation from petty troublemakers to dangerous drug dealers and gang members for reporting a crime is too much for a Big Mama to overcome, especially if her neighbors don't have her back.
Let me be clear: I'm not saying that Big Mamas should raise our kids or be solely responsible for keeping crime out of our neighborhoods. What I am saying is that it's always a good thing when you know other people are looking out for you, your loved ones and your belongings. And for those fortunate neighborhoods that still have a Big Mama, I'm willing to bet there are lot fewer incidents of theft and vandalism because she?s there to help keep an eye on things.
They say that it takes a village to raise a child. If that's true, then we need more Big Mamas in our villages.
Derrell Connor works in the insurance industry in Madison and hosts a weekly radio show on WIBA AM. His column will run the second and fourth Thursday of the month on Channel 3000.Copyright 2012 by Channel 3000. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.