Senator Scott Brown had it real rough growing up. Last Saturday, he met at a Dorchester church with mothers whose kids have been murdered. It was an hour where stories hung very heavy as the senator addressed the meeting of Mothers of Justice and Equality.
He told of living in 17 different homes in his first 18 years, of being beaten by his stepfather when he tried to protect his mother from a beating, of rushing home from college whenever his sister called with a cry for help because their mother was being beaten again. And the newspapers have reported that Senator Brown was a victim of sexual abuse as well at a summer camp.
He then told about how he was going down the wrong path as a teen-ager when he was arrested for stealing. But Judge Samuel Zoll had a talk with him about what it meant to be a role model and had him write an essay on how he would be letting his sister down if he kept this up. Zoll gave the young Brown a second chance and he took it and went on to college, law school, the State Senate, and the US Senate.
Even those who don’t agree with Scott Brown’s political views would have been moved by his story and perhaps cautious about asking him tough questions on the issues of the day.
Then something remarkable happened with these mothers who are grieving for lost sons, who believe that unless there are more jobs and less going to prison, the violence will continue and they’ll have too many other mothers joining their group.
They told Senator Brown, “You talk about the second chance you had, but our children don’t get a second chance.” They were asking him to do something about jobs for youth and for adults, about re-entry programs for ex-offenders, about keeping more guns off the street like ones that killed their sons.
Merva Chambers lost her son, Ivol Brown, to an unsolved stabbing one block from his home. Ivol had been a youth leader and organizer in the Youth Jobs Coalition. Merva, who has worked for youth jobs funding, too, to keep up the work her son did, said, “Justice is not when my son’s murderers are found, but it’s when every child gets to graduate, to get married. Every child who is alive I see as justice.”
Brown said he voted against youth jobs funding because there was not a cut in spending elsewhere to pay for it, and he didn’t want to add to the deficit. That’s a defining position that each voter will have to decide on: Is it deficit reduction or needed programs that we want from our elected officials?
Kim Odom lost her son Steven in 2007 to three young people who didn’t even know him on a Dorchester street within blocks of his home. She said, “I’m on a quest to understand the root cause of this,” saying to Brown, “you shared with us what I call your reference point. You were provided an opportunity to connect to it.” She spoke about the federal bill called the Second Chance Act and how disproportionately blacks and Hispanics don’t get the second chance that Brown did.
Brown had a reference point with his life experience with domestic violence so he was passionate about working for reauthorization of the Violence Against Woman Act. The mothers respected that but they were pleading with him to connect to “their reference point,” which was violence against teens and their needing to do something about its causes.
Brown said he’d look into the Second Chance legislation and didn’t answer on supporting re-entry programs or lessening gun trafficking. He said they can meet again some time. As he left, he was treated like the celebrity he is and some posed for pictures with him before he left.
Picture it. A powerful US senator who had such a tough life growing up. Then a group of woman with not much income or individual power powerfully saying together that they need him to attack the causes of violence. They are asking him to stand up for them the way he had been willing as a kid to attack the man who was beating his mother. They want second chances for youth in Boston just like he had his second chance to get his life in order. It was a respectful but tough question.
Senator Brown’s past evokes our sympathy, but can he rise to the challenge of the mothers and their “reference points”?
Lewis Finfer is a Dorchester resident.