A COUPLE of weeks ago, I found myself at 30th Street Station, eating a pretzel and drinking some much needed coffee.
Because it was 9 a.m., and I had just gotten off of the 5:30 a.m. Megabus from Washington, D.C., I was bleary-eyed, kind of incoherent, and not really paying attention to the people around me.
Mom was on her cell phone and her hands were filled with packages, so she didn’t see that her daughter was behind her instead of beside or in front of her. I saw it, though, and I watched that little girl until her mom realized that she couldn’t see her.
That is, until a little girl and her mother came into the train station. Mom was on her cell phone and her hands were filled with packages, so she didn’t see that her daughter was behind her instead of beside or in front of her.
I saw it, though, and I watched that little girl until her mom realized that she couldn’t see her. I also watched everyone who came into that little girl’s orbit, putting down my coffee and my pretzel and moving my suitcase out of the way just in case someone got a little too close.
When Mom grabbed the girl’s hand, I stood down, which was good, because while I would have gladly come between a kid and someone intent on hurting them, I needed the last bit of energy I had that morning to get home.
Besides, that’s not really my job. While a child is best raised in a village, the Mayor of that village needs to be a parent.
It’s a responsibility I’m getting kind of weary of seeing people abdicate.
Why you must watch your kids
I understand that being a parent is tough, time-consuming job and you can’t be everywhere your child is. But if you’re not paying attention to your child, and you’re nowhere near a journalist with seven nieces and nephews that will totally denounce her pacifist beliefs and beat the living crap out of someone over a child, bad things can happen.
About 800,000 children go missing every year, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). Family members were responsible for most of the kidnappings (200,000 children), but 58,000 children were taken by people outside of the family.
When it comes to finding a missing child, the first three hours are the most important, according to NCMEC. Abducted children are rarely murdered, but if it occurs, it happens within the first three hours.
Chances are that the people looking for Relisha Rudd know all of those statistics.
The heartbreaking case of Relisha Rudd
While I was in D.C., I saw pictures of the 8-year-old splashed on bus sheds all over the city. Relisha disappeared from the homeless shelter she lived in with her mother and three brothers over a month ago.
Shamika Young used to allow the shelter’s custodian to take Relisha to his house for sleepovers and toys. One night, Tatum didn’t bring her back. His wife was later found dead in a Maryland hotel room. Tatum killed himself, but there was no trace of Relisha.
Her mom, Shamika Young, used to allow the shelter’s custodian Khalil Tatum to take Relisha to his house for sleepovers and toys. One night, Tatum didn’t bring her back. His wife was later found dead in a Maryland hotel room. Tatum killed himself, but there was no trace of Relisha.
Young is being investigated for obstruction of justice for giving police conflicting information about her daughter’s disappearance. The organization Black and Missing told a D.C. television station that they think Relisha may have been sold to human traffickers after pictures surfaced portraying the girl’s mother and the mother’s boyfriend flashing wads of cash and new, expensive sneakers.
Because Relisha’s body hasn’t been found, people in Northeast D.C., including members of her family, are spending weekends and nights looking for her. It’s probably a heartbreaking task.
However, it’s something that can happen when you leave the responsibility of your child’s safety in the hands of someone who isn’t you, the parent, the person who has the most to lose because while you can replace a car, or a wallet, you can’t replace a child.
So the next time that you find yourself and your child in a public place, watch your kid. Take their hand. Make sure you know where he or she is. You don’t have to put a leash on them, something I sometimes see people do. But make sure you can feel your child’s hand, even if it’s got chocolate on it and it’s been placed on your nice new pair of pants.
The oft-repeated (or in some cases, oft-maligned or oft-misunderstood) African Proverb says “It Takes A Village To Raise A Child.”
That’s true. You do need a village.
As a parent, you should be the Mayor.
Denise Clay is a veteran journalist and adjunct professor. She is active in the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists and the National Association of Black Journalists.