Walking and chewing gum in social policy


Announcing the formation of Aspire — the new Lucas County business coalition created to deal with poverty, school readiness, and graduation rates — its chairman said an interesting thing.

Al Stroucken, also the chairman of O-I, told an audience at the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library: “We are responsible for some of this.” By we, he meant the corporate community. He was talking about the complex of social problems mentioned above. He explained that he felt the responsibility to be borne by corporations has to do with women in the workplace. He said companies needed female workers, and now cannot do without them, and that this has hurt the family structure. Now, he said, government and the corporation must come to the aid of the family, especially the poor and single-parent family.

That's an interesting viewpoint from a corporate leader, especially in light of the Martin Luther King holiday.

A friend was sitting in the audience listening to the Aspire press conference. Regarding corporate responsibility he was scathing: “Why not deal with the core problem, which is economic? If they really want to help poor kids in the city, build a factory, or locate a headquarters here. Live here. For 30 years they have been pulling resources out of the city and now they are alarmed at the damage?”

Kid’s got a point.

But the big question, the one several speakers asked at the King celebration at UT, is this: “What do we do now?”

I witnessed an interesting dialogue after the press conference — between Keith Burwell of the Toledo Community Foundation and retired Judge Andy Devine. The judge was, as always, kindly and warm, but he was also being feisty. He thinks no government or corporate largess can make up for parenting. And no teacher or school can. Mr. Burwell said: “We'll start with data.” The judge was impatient. “You don't start with data,“ he said “You are whistling Dixie, if you do. You start with parents.”

Mr. Devine wants a moral awakening. A revival of moral responsibility. He wants black and Hispanic leaders, and religious leaders, to bolster the family dynamic in their own communities. He says that has to come first.

He's not wrong either.

But can we work on two levels? Can we walk and chew gum at the same time in social policy?

Personal responsibility matters. The responsibility of churches do too. And government and corporate responsibility are manifest. All the wheels should turn at once.

We do need a revival of parenting. But the major threat to the Hispanic family today is federal immigration law. We need to fix that too.

The city of Toledo should do a better job with blight and housing policy. But, yes, we also need business to invest in the city and county.

My hope is that Aspire leads quickly to concrete actions. Perhaps, for example, a new vocational public school in the city. Perhaps a public young men's military academy, like the very successful one in Oakland, Calif.

And I hope Aspire leads, eventually, to deep and serious investment — personal, moral, and financial investment by those in a position to invest.

I agree that it takes a parent to raise a child, not a village. But it takes a village to provide work and opportunity for parents.

Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.

Contact him at: or 419-724-6266.