I have adopted two New Year's resolutions that I offer for your consideration. Let us resolve that 1985 will be the year that we begin to achieve lasting victories in the war against drugs and in the struggle for decent housing for everybody. These are commitments that deserve attention not only from public officials but also from anybody who cares about the health and well-being of children.
Four critical elements determine whether our children have the opportunity to prosper as adults: they must have adequate food, a sound education and proper shelter, and they must be saved from addiction to drugs. The efforts of many have brought progress in providing nutritious diets and in improving our public schools. But that progress will go for naught if we do nosoon free our children from the torments of drug addiction and poor housing.
The house in which I grew up in Echols County, Ga., was not unlike some of those I visit in the most impoverished neighborhoods of Washington today. Through the cracks in the wall and the roof, I could look up and count the stars and feel the autumn breeze. But in winter, the bitter winds blew through the rooms with a force that chilled all thoughts of homework. The only way to stay warm was to bundle under the covers fully clothed.
Thirty years later, there are children in Washington who are required to endure daily rituals that make my experience seem heavenly. Is it any wonder that they do poorly in school?
In many neighborhoods, I see children sleeping four to a bed and growing up without ever knowing a space of their own or a time of quiet and peace. From their earliest days, they are smothered by the din of blaring televisions, drunken arguments and midnight partying. All of the things that adults do, whether honorable or criminal, are performed in full view of the children. Parents and other adults make love in the same room with the children because there is no other place. Adults shoot heroin and snort cocaine as their children watch -- and too soon and too often these adults become the role models their children imitate.
To expect children to read their history lessons under such conditions is to expect the impossible. To allow children to grow up under such conditions is to invite them to escape in the only way they know -- through drugs, through crime, through the adoption of adult ways at the age of 10 or 12.
In visiting the city's worst housing, I frequently see toddlers with the same bright-eyed curiosity and enthusiasm as my own 2-year-old son. But by the time many of those children reach school age, their eyes have become wary and their enthusiasm has disappeared. There is no joy in these children.
The grim early years have stolen from them not only the joy that is every child's birthright, but also their fledgling sense of self-worth. When a child grows up believing that he is as worthless as the garbage on the street, he is easy prey for the dealer who promises good times and good feelings in a nickel beg.
In Washington as in other large cities, the children who are the real victims of our housing shortages are almost always black children. The problems of poor housing and drug addiction go hand in hand. Drug abuse, while it has invaded families of all races and all income levels, is quickly becoming a form of genocide in the black community. A whole generation of black youth is at risk.
This should be the year in which we make up our minds to start conquering the twin evils of poor housing and drug addiction. There are many ways to meet it. Not long ago, The Washington Post told us about Kent and Carmen Amos, who have opened their home as a study hall for 20 Coolidge High School students. Many other people, though not nearly enough, commit time to counseling or tutoring the young. Others, though not nearly enough, contribute money to support drug-treatment programs and other services for the poor. And some investors, though not nearly enough, develop housing with an eye not only on profit but also on the city's needs.
Amid the holiday celebrations, let us reach out from our warm, comfortable homes to join forces against the plague of addiction and poor housing. Let 1985 be the year when we seek for all children an environment secure from the invasion of drugs and winter winds.