The Great Shame of Syracuse

By Mark David Blum, Esq.

"It should be your care, therefore, and mine, to elevate the minds of our children and exalt their courage; to accelerate and animate their industry and activity; to excite in them an habitual contempt of meanness, abhorrence of injustice and inhumanity, and an ambition to excel in every capacity, faculty, and virtue. If we suffer their minds to grovel and creep in infancy, they will grovel all their lives."(John Adams, 'Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law, 1756').

Part of my personal heritage is Judaism and within that context, there are several occasions throughout the religion’s calendar that ‘fasting’ is an element of a holiday or remembrance. Fasting as part of a religious ritual in Judaism is unlike most other religions. We do not fast to cleanse the soul nor do we fast for self emulation. Rather, to a Jew, fasting is a way of feeling the pain of others not so lucky. We set ourselves to hunger so we may indeed experience that feeling. In a sense, it develops within us empathy for our fellow worldly travelers. We don’t need no stinkin` patches like hungry Muslims. Jews love to suffer.

To quote President Theodore Roosevelt, "We can best prove our thankfulness to the Almighty by the way in which on this earth and at this time each of us does his duty to his fellow-men." So why is there a problem in Syracuse where, “homeless, or temporarily housed, students are an often overlooked segment of the student population.”

Blessings from God or from Mother Earth or just the results of your own sweat and toil should always be treasured. Never forget that everything around you; your family, your job, your wealth, and your happiness … all of it, can be gone in an instant. Like many of you, I once felt invincible. I once felt as though nothing could harm me and I could weather any storm. Homelessness and standing in food lines humbled that arrogance. If there is anything for which there is to give Thanks, give your thanks to the million and one people whose paths crossed your own and through one gesture or another, made your life just that much better and gave you that much more comfort and peace.

My experiences these past handful of years have convinced me beyond any doubt that the concept of “pay it forward” is very real. Some of you believe in miracles and others call it Karma. I would like to believe that some of the good I put out there is finding its way back to me. So many people have reached out to my family and I this past year. Friends and strangers alike offered so many little things and some grand gestures which have come together to help us heal and rebuild our lives. We have met some wonderful people, had some great successes in business, and have had the chance to give some of that back. It is the fuel that drives us to do better this year. As for me, I will be very thankful if I am given a chance to guarantee my daughters and grandsons have food, shelter, and safety.

In my own world, one rule has dominated. My employees always ate before my family and my family always ate before me. This is the duty owed by one to those dependant upon him or her for support. We as a nation likewise share this responsibility one to another. Not a single child should ever go homeless or hungry so long as teachers and administrators are making the fat salaries they do. Even one hungry homeless child is a shame upon us all.

Onondaga County has hundreds if not thousands of homeless and hungry people yet our Republican Legislature voted themselves a pay raise. The first order of business after the recent elections was for the Democrats in the New York State Senate to start talking about a pay raise for themselves. Yet, tens of thousands of their underage constituents go without food and shelter.

I am by no means a wealthy person but recently downtown I was asked for some spare change by a homeless person and quickly dismissed their request as I always do. Then I suddenly remembered how someone reached out to me once when I was hungry and penniless. I recalled the misery and horror and absolute humiliation involved in having to beg for food or money. The only option was to empty my pockets and give that woman all the cash I had; nearly a $100.00. As much as we needed that money, I knew that woman needed it more. Just as quickly as I had turned around and gave her the money, I did not even make eye contact and walked away before she realized what had just happened. In some sense, I was trying to help her save some of her pride. If there was only more I could have done but alas, Atlas I am not and there is only so much weight I can carry upon my shoulders.

I also came across a friend; one of the few who stood up to help me and my family during our times of crisis. When his wife died, he dove into a bottle until he destroyed his entire life. Now clean and sober a year and a half, I returned a favor once bestowed upon me by my favorite restaurateur. Reaching into funds I really did not have to spare, I gave the friend a check to give him a slight boost to get the few perks he needs to get re-established.

It is a command of mine that before one dollar of an American taxpayer’s money is spent on trips, bridges to nowhere, wars, offices, staff, or pay raises; the first pennies must be spent to assure no human being goes without food, shelter, education, and healthcare. Anything else is a misuse of public funds and a violation of the most basic public trust.

Having homeless and hungry children in Syracuse is a black eye and a spreading cancer. If a solution is not made priority one, we may as well shuffle these children off to prison now. At a minimum, soon it will be time to whip out that taxpayer--welfare checkbook. Without a home, food, stability, and an education, can we honestly expect productive honorable trustworthy citizens?

I have a great deal of faith in my fellow man. Unfortunately, I lack the same confidence in my own community. Perhaps I will be proven wrong; a welcome wrong it would be. I remain firmly convinced however, that not a iota of effort beyond the superficial will be made and done so at the same time SCSD leaders sleep in warm comfortable beds following warm healthy meals.

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