I was talking the other day with someone who was reflecting on life when she was growing up.
Her words evoked a bygone era when people looked out for one another and children belonged to everyone in the community.
I often hear stories like that when I'm out reporting or just chatting with people about life.
I especially enjoy speaking with the elders among us, because they impart so much wisdom.
There's an old African proverb that says, "It takes a village to raise a child."
And there was a time, even in American society, when that was true.
Many children grew up in environments where they were nurtured, not just by their parents, but also by neighbors, relatives, teachers and church folks.
The role models in their lives weren't caricatures on TV, but living, breathing humans to whom they could actually relate.
Adults invested in the youth, and in return, the children wanted to make them proud.
I remember feeling that way growing up in Brooklyn, N.Y., in a Caribbean-American enclave.
The church that my family attended was the center of our universe.
My sisters and I went to school there and participated in all of the church youth activities.
We sang in choirs, performed in skits and tested out our leadership abilities.
When we stumbled, adults were there to support us as we developed our confidence.Little old ladies occasionally brought us treats like coconut tarts and ginger candy.
They also scolded us for talking too much during sermons.
We didn't always appreciate them back then, of course, but we were so blessed to have them in our lives.
My sisters and I also come from a large extended family full of great role models. So when we went off to school, we were expected to do our best. And college wasn't even an option.
Today, there are many children in our community who need that same support.
They're growing up in environments where there is no encouragement or glimpse of their potential; there's no one to say "It's okay, baby. Just get up and try again. You can do it!"
It's easy to dismiss it as a problem that has nothing to do with us and is just a result of poor parenting.
But that would be short-sighted and self-destructive, because the youth of today are going to be our leaders tomorrow.
If we don't invest in our youth right now, we will surely suffer the consequences.
It may sound trite, but it's true. Every child needs a village to thrive.
Alva James-Johnson, 706-571-8521. Reach her on Facebook at AlvaJamesJohnsonLedger.