On Wednesday, January 23, 2008 Carol Crawford, 46, her daughter Jennifer R. Crawford, 23, and Jennifer’s four children, Raneija, 8, Jeannine, 5, Aleisha, 3, and Brandon, 2 were killed in a deadly house fire on the Eastside of Youngstown, Ohio. Fire Chief John J. O’Neill Jr. said the victims were found throughout the house. Fire officials said the Ohio State Fire Marshal would send in a dog to help search for accelerants. Police Sgt. Patrick Kelly said it appears an accelerant of some kind had been ignited on the front porch.
Allegedly four young men fire bombed the home in the early morning hours while eleven people slept. Five were able to make it out but the other six were not so fortunate. The Eastside community was crippled. There was shouting in the streets and chaos in the neighborhood. 24-hour police surveillance was placed on the young boys’ home because threats of violence were made to their family and the family eventually had to move out of the neighborhood. Unfortunately, the issue of race was raised because the young men who were arrested were Caucasian youth that allegedly committed this violence against an African American family in an African American community.
This was certainly a tragedy to our community. It is easy to ask, why? Why did this tragedy happen, what is happening in our post-industrial, rust belt neighborhoods, what is happening to our youth, what can we do as young leaders to turn things around, why was the issue of race raised in this horrible tragedy instead of mourning those lost in the fire? And most importantly, what are we going to do from here?
Auspiciously, the community has pulled together and people have settled down and begun to mourn those that we have lost. There are talks of block clubs being formed and people are starting to step off of their porches to see who it is that lives in their neighborhood, on their street and on their blocks. Churches in the neighborhood are packed with people praying for change in their community. Angels made of bows lined the telephone poles for blocks leading to the house. A community vigil was held on Sunday afternoon where people sang, held hands, hugged, prayed and organized meetings to get to know each other and figured out ways to watch out for each other and each others children.
Hopefully, this tragedy will awaken people to the crisis that is happening in urban neighborhoods across the country. Poverty, homelessness, lack of basic needs, education, proper nutrition, and a lack of a sense of community, are tearing many urban neighborhoods apart. People and families that have been in many neighborhoods are afraid to step off of their porches and even speak to others and certainly not to discipline another person’s child or pry into anyone’s business. These walls need to be torn down and our urban neighborhoods need to re-adopt the “it takes a village to raise a child” methodology. We can not afford many more tragedies before we wake up and realize that we have to take a stand and take back our children and our communities. We have to take pride in our lives, communities, and neighborhoods, in order to turn our neighborhoods around.
For those of us that have “made it out” of the ghetto or urban neighborhoods, who have received education and good jobs, need to be willing to help take back our neighborhoods. We cannot afford to turn our backs on this problem and hope that it goes away. It is our responsibility to reach back and take back the streets that raised us.