Earlier this month, 6-year-old Jahiem Holliday died as the victim of a shooting. The alleged shooter was a 13-year-old. I have been unable to simply process the facts of this case and proceed with life as usual. But I believe this horrific tragedy represents a pivotal moment for Baton Rouge and other communities for whom violence is all too familiar.

For far too many in our communities, gun violence in certain neighborhoods is something to be avoided or contained, but not addressed in a serious way. We clutch dearly to the illusion that this is “their” problem, and as long as it stays with “them,” we are fine. Not only is this perspective short-sighted, but it is also not true.

And there are those among us who will trot out well-worn narratives about the dysfunction among families and communities. We attempt to capture complex realities in simple statements about absent fathers, teenage mothers and broken windows. There may be something true in many of them, just as there isn’t in some, but they don’t lead to change. Nothing is different after we point out the sociological deviation du jour.


Is Holliday's death, the incomprehensible incident, the tragedy that compels us to rise up as a community and begin the hard work of change? Or, does he simply become just another statistic?

Our cities stand at a fork in the road. One is the familiar road of apathy and resignation; the other is strategic and collective action. The road we take will ultimately determine where our community will end up. Now is the time for the reasoned and fair-minded among us to choose a different path.

Education is certainly a component of this different path. In Baton Rouge, 41 of 80 public schools are graded as D or F schools; this is not acceptable. Similar discussions about the effectiveness of schools have occurred in New Orleans and Lafayette as well. I believe the mayors of these cities should convene education leaders, key community members, business representatives, child-serving nonprofits and philanthropists for the express purpose of outlining community expectations and accountability for the improvement of the educational outcomes of our children.

But government alone is not the answer. The path forward must involve more from the people and entities in the heart of our cities. We must at every point seek to dismantle the culture that protects those who prey upon others. Beyond this, community members, activists, elected officials, clergy and other stakeholders should convene and develop strategies focused on community connections-building. Research shows that “social cohesion,” stronger relationships among neighbors, is effective in reducing violence.

Finally, city leaders must become laser focused on the strategic reinvestment in communities that have been systematically neglected in the appropriation of public funds. It is the height of hypocrisy to not purposefully and equitably invest in parts of the city and then criticize them for not having resources.

These three suggestions should not be seen as a completed strategy to transform inner-city communities in a way that ends violence. Rather, they should be seen as sincere discussion-starters intended to say, we must do something differently.

The death of Jahiem Holliday is a tremendous tragedy. Sadly, it is an unfortunate fact that we have experienced more than sixty such tragedies. Doing nothing in response would be an even greater tragedy.

Raymond A. Jetson heads Metromorphosis, a Baton Rouge-based nonprofit that focuses on urban communities. He’s a fellow with Encore Public Voices, a national program in which older community leaders think and write about issues of public concern.