Sunday, October 25, 2015 || By Rev. Regi Ratliff
Abraham Lincoln was elected to congress in 1847. The Mexican War was going on and Lincoln opposed the war. His anti-war speeches displeased his political supporters and he knew they wouldn’t re-elect him.
So at the end of his term in 1849, he returned to Illinois to practice law. Then in 1858, he was nominated by the Republican Party to run for Illinois state senator. Addressing the state convention at Springfield, he gave the first of his memorable speeches. As his hands tensely gripped the speaker’s stand, he declared slowly and firmly: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
Although Lincoln was talking about the country being divided on the issue of slavery, this nation is still divided in many areas. Issues such as the division of race, socioeconomic class, political parties, and religious beliefs have brought our nation to its knees.
Nationally, the presidential election is around the corner and voters will need to decide if they want to elect quirky candidate Donald Trump, liberal Hillary Clinton, retired medical doctor Ben Carson, Jeb Bush, or a relatively unknown candidate in Bernie Sanders.
When watching presidential debates, each candidate attempts to separate themselves from their competitor by making divisive comments to get their point across. Apparently, in recent years, divisive barbs in debates have caused more division among voters than unity.
There could be various reasons why this is the case, but nobody knows. It could be because of a lack of trust towards the nation’s first African American president. It could be due to the nation’s economy still negatively impacting many families. A new Rasmussen study finds that 67 percent of likely U.S. voters say America is a more divided nation than it was four years ago. In addition, just seven percent think the country is less divided now; while 21 percent rate the level of division as about the same.
In Illinois, division has reared its ugly head to the point where very few politicians appear trustworthy. I don’t believe the voters paid any attention to businessman and gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner, when he proclaimed during his campaign, “Now let’s work together and Bring Back Illinois!!!”
Who did you think he would work with to make this happen if he became governor? Did you believe he was referring to the blue collar workers of Illinois? To the employees who provide social services to youth, senior citizens, the mentally challenged, the homeless, military veterans or citizens who are trying to overcome drug and alcohol addictions?
Rauner openly stated before becoming the 42nd Governor of Illinois that he was against raising minimum wage and he was still elected by the people of Illinois. So, why are we complaining about him now? Rauner is not a politician, he is a businessman.
What did we think would happen after defeating incumbent Pat Quinn? That he would change his mind and care about the less fortunate? Educational funding is still in limbo.
Schools, police departments and child care services across the state are impacted. Springfield is so divided that Democratic legislatures are unable to work together with Rauner to resolve the budgetary crisis. Moody’s Investor Services has cut the state’s financial position to three steps above junk as its budget stalemate drags into a fourth month.
Recently, I attended a Village of Maywood Legal, License and Ordinance Committee (LLOC) meeting. Talk about divisiveness! In the meeting, trustees were berating fellow colleagues publicly on various issues.
One trustee read a letter, publicly admonishing two of her colleagues for rejecting a proposal by a local school to utilize space at the Maywood multipurpose building on Fifth Avenue. Since the school did not follow proper procedures to obtain space in the building, which includes making a presentation to the Village board, questions arose about how they were able to obtain space. There were several additional arguments which took place, but they really aren’t worth mentioning. The point is we have a village of municipal leaders who spend more time plotting than planning.
Overall, the Village of Maywood is a community with great potential, but leadership leaves much to be desired. The unemployment rate currently stands at 11.8 percent, which is above the state average of 6.6 percent.
In addition, the average family income is just above $59,866, which is below the state average of $71,980. Only 33 percent of the population has at least a high school diploma, seven percent of the population has a bachelor’s degree, 3 percent has a master’s degree and .5 percent has a doctorate degree.
So what is causing such divisiveness in the Village of Maywood? How can a board — the members of which have lived in the village for decades, whose children and grandchildren attended the same schools as they have — lack the ability to work together?
Where are the families with a decent income spending their money? With a lack of industry, money does not circulate within the village and is quickly leaving the community. Families are shopping, entertaining and participating in recreational activities in neighboring communities. A weak economy results in a high crime rate, below average schools, and a village board who bickers over usage of the only real recreational building in town.
In order to restore a sense of unity from the state to the local level, several steps must be taken.
One, citizens must vote. If you don’t vote, you don’t care about your community.
Secondly, citizens must work together. This means spending time to volunteer at a local organization or church. Leaders in neighboring villages may not get along, but they have built a strong foundation of bringing in businesses, as well as providing services for their youth.
This brings me to my last point. If we expect our youth to stay out of trouble, it is incumbent upon us to provide year-round employment opportunities for our young adult population (18-25) and not just provide summer jobs.
As adults, we need to teach our youth about money management like leaders do for their youth in other communities. We need to teach our youth that it is more important to be student-athletes than mere athletes. There are many philanthropic and corporate foundations that provide funding to nonprofit organizations and local municipalities who service youth.
Do I expect everyone to get on the unity train and immediately take action to empower their community? Absolutely not! However, as a citizen, I expect more individuals to work together and make a pledge to improve their homes, their blocks and their communities.
We should elect leaders who really care about their constituents and who will make rational decisions that are in our best interests instead of their own.
In the end, I believe that once unity takes place at the local level, our communities will improve and that benchmark of success will rise all the way to Springfield. VFP
Reverend Regi Ratliff is the Founder and Executive Director of Eternal Light Community Services, located at 200 S. Fifth Avenue in Maywood. Eternal Light provides the following programs:public speaking, financial literacy, health and wellness, and entrepreneurship classes to youth, ages 5-18.
Contact Rev. Ratliff at (708) 813-4722 to register your child for one of our programs today.
The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of The Village Free Press.