In his latest book, “David and Goliath,” best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell talks about an experiment in Brooklyn, New York City, that has been going on for the past six years. In 2003, when a former police officer, Joanne Jaffe, took over as head of the Housing Bureau, she realized her job would take more than constructing buildings for shelter.
In 2007, she started an experiment in Brooklyn, Brownsville, one of the roughest neighborhoods in the city. It was home to over 100,000 residents. Despite the drop in the city’s crime rate since the early 1990s, Brownsville continued to be plagued by crime, mostly muggings committed by teenagers.
Jaffe started the Juvenile Robbery Intervention Program or J-RIP. She got the records of the teenagers who were arrested for a crime the past year. This yielded 106 juvenile offenders, who Jaffe and her J-RIP team monitored closely or what is called high-intensity modern policing. It was pretty much a “big-brother-is-watching-you” tactic, 24/7.
But beyond the strong arm tactics, she also chose the right police officers who did not feel negative toward the young, and who had kids and a healthy family life, to be part of her J-RIP team. Jaffe, in the words of Gladwell, “was also obsessed, from the very beginning, with meeting the families of her young J-RIPers. She wanted to know them.”
This turned out to be frustrating at the start. They went to all 106 families, but got this common response: “F*** you. Don’t come into my house.” The police officers were seen as enemies.
But they had a breakthrough during the Thanksgiving holiday. One of Jaffe’s J-RIP officers, Dave Glassberg, got his team members to buy a turkey dinner for one of the most incorrigible J-RIPer and his family. It was a eureka moment for Jaffe.
She talked to her superior and asked for a budget to buy each of the 106 J-RIPer and family a turkey dinner, too. Then they went door-to-door to give the turkey with a flyer they made: “From our family to your family, happy Thanksgiving.”
There was hugging and crying among the families they went to. The message came through: the police cared for them.
After the success, the J-RIPer team continued to have activities with the youth and their families. They played basketball together, took the kids out for simple dinners, got them summer jobs, and even brought them to their doctor’s appointments. Every Christmas, they had a dinner with the J-RIPers and their families.
Since then, the crime rate in Brownsville dropped consistently, from close to 130 muggings in a year to less than 30 by 2011. Before the program started, the total arrests of the J-RIPers was around 370. Three years after the program, it was down to around 20.
The key to this “miracle” was family; and from the family, the entire community was influenced to be a caring community. This success story is proof of how a person, especially a young one, can be made or broken by his/her family environment.
Today is truly a great day to celebrate family. With the Holy Family as our model, we see one of the main “tasks” of a family: to nurture its young members and to help them discover their meaning and mission in life.
Mary and Joseph most certainly played this role in the life of Christ. Today, though, we focus on the father, Joseph.
One of our theology professors told us that the greatest tribute to Joseph was when Christ described his relationship with God, he used the name, “Abba, Father.” Christ must have had such a wonderful experience of Joseph’s fatherhood that he used “Father” to refer to God.
In today’s Gospel, we see Joseph being used by God as his primary instrument in making sure that the child is protected. But it was more than simple protection. It was to fulfill the prophecies about the plan of God for this child. Joseph was instrumental in the fulfillment of Christ’s mission.
The Maria Lourdes Arellano Carandang Institute (MLAC) has a program for the fathers of the families of overseas Filipino workers (OFW), whose mothers are working abroad. This program was started several months ago in two barangays in Mabalacat, Pampanga. The main goal of the program was to empower the fathers to care for the children of the family.
Six years earlier, in 2007, Dr. Honey Carandang came out with a book based on her groundbreaking study of 10 OFW families whose mothers left to work abroad. Aptly titled “Nawala ang Ilaw ng Tahanan” (The Loss of the Light of the Family), it shows the social costs to families whose mothers are forced to leave home for their survival.
Dr. Carandang and Jaffe’s works illustrate that children, or people in general, respond not only to care, but also to a caring environment—which is necessary to bring out the best in a person. As our work with public school teachers uphold, the teacher’s main task is to love his/her students into excellence.
Furthermore, the building of caring communities lies at the heart of loving people into excellence. The family is the most basic of all communities. Thus, all efforts must be exerted to protect and nurture the family for it to be a caring environment—a caring community that will allow and inspire love that will lead its members into excellence, into caring persons who will love others into excellence.
Today, we pray that our families be blessed. And may the grace of Christ transform and nurture them to be environments, communities of greater care and love.