When vandalism and violence erupted inside our nation's Capitol, it was a shocking reminder of just how fragile democracy can be and how quickly mob rule can escalate.
As I watched the events unfold on that harrowing day, I could only wonder what the rioters were thinking as they rampaged down the halls of Congress… the very halls I've had the privilege and honor of walking when advocating on behalf of America's forgotten children and families.
I have certainly felt the sting of political disappointment when legislation to help vulnerable children was vetoed or critical funding for struggling families was denied. But those setbacks didn't send me or my colleagues into a fit of rage. Instead, we vowed to work harder, prepare better and try again… all while adhering to the rule of law and respecting the representatives who were duly elected by their constituents. That's what living in a democracy means.
When Father Flanagan founded Boys Town, he created a community where citizenship was valued and practiced every day. In his efforts to shape young boys into worthy citizens, he taught them about the law and government. Unfortunately, many of the lads already knew more than they should about the wrong side of the law.
Father Flanagan helped his boys learn about government using a hands-on approach – they held elections for mayor a tradition which we proudly continue, a municipal court of students and a council of commissioners, all of whom were actively involved in making and enforcing the rules of the Home. The elections were free and fair. Every boy could vote, regardless of his age or the color of his skin. They all had a voice and a stake in how the community they loved would function for the betterment of all.
Robert Kennedy once remarked, “Since the days of Greece and Rome, when the word 'citizen' was a title of honor, we have often seen more emphasis put on the rights of citizenship than on its responsibilities." In his day, Father Flanagan understood having and safeguarding a healthy democracy required effort, compromise, trust and truth. He made self-government a cornerstone of Boys Town because he knew children needed to learn the values and obligations of American citizenship.
Today, when our nation seems hopelessly polarized, divided and segregated along political, racial, religious and ideological lines, I remain hopeful because of Father Flanagan's example of “building good Americans." And you should, too.
Boys Town was founded in an era of ugly segregation and discrimination but chose to embrace the values of inclusion and equality. Our little village lived up to the promise of our nation's founding documents and that tradition lives on. Here, children of every background and belief live, learn, heal and lead together. How wonderful it would be if more adults could be so tolerant and resilient!
If you value the principles Father Flanagan championed generations ago – respect, responsibility, truth, honor and good citizenship – then please consider making a financial gift to Boys Town today.
Those very same principles are taught, practiced and celebrated every day in our Family Homes, schools and programs across the country. They are the values that define good citizenship and build good Americans.
I continue to pray that the deep divisions within families, communities and our nation will begin to heal. I also ask that you keep our children and our country in your prayers. Together, let us work toward a more perfect union with respect and equality for all.
God's blessings to you always,
Father Steven E. Boes
President and National Executive Director, Boys Town