Academic journal article The American University Journal of Gender, Social Policy & the Law

Rethinking the Neighborhood Watch: How Lessons from the Nigerian Village Can Creatively Empower the Community to Assist Poor, Single Mothers in America1

Academic journal article The American University Journal of Gender, Social Policy & the Law

Rethinking the Neighborhood Watch: How Lessons from the Nigerian Village Can Creatively Empower the Community to Assist Poor, Single Mothers in America1

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

On April 12, 2011, LaShanda Armstrong,2 a twenty-five-year-old black, single mother, strapped her four children into her minivan and took a fatal plunge into the Hudson River.3 Her ten-year-old son was the sole survivor.4 Two issues become clear in the post-tragedy analysis: first, LaShanda was poor, and second, she was overwhelmed by the depression that arose from the pressures of raising her four children without adequate communal support.5

LaShanda Armstrong's narrative is not unique. There are numerous stories of how poor, single mothers, many of whom are women of color, are turning to violence towards themselves and their children to escape the desolation and despondency they feel from raising their children alone in America.6 A running theme in the media reports about LaShanda's case was that no one knew what was going on in her life. The questions are these: How is it that American society bears no social responsibility to support its most vulnerable members in raising their children? How is it possible that a young, single mother with four children does not have a community to be aware of her needs, reach out to her during her most vulnerable period, and assist her in ways that encourage her to replace violence with compassion, fear with love, and despair with hope? In many ways, the answers can be found in America's fundamental and pervasive "go it alone" attitude that causes single mothers to tackle the challenges of single parenting alone. We have heard the African proverb, "it takes a village to raise a child."7 In practice, however, America can do much more to provide the poor, single mother with the support she needs to overcome the challenges of single parenting.

What does it really mean to be part of a "village community?" Partially raised in Nigeria, I experienced firsthand that it truly does take a village to raise a child. I witnessed how everyone in the Nigerian community felt a sense of shared ownership and social obligation toward each community member's success and well-being. Raising my children in America, I am acutely aware of the stark differences between America's cultural isolationist attitude and the emphasis on shared social responsibility inherent in the Nigerian village philosophy. As a single mother who struggled financially, I could have become another LaShanda Armstrong had I lived without the communal support of the Nigerian Diaspora in America. Though no physical village existed, a spiritual and political one formed around me because the members of my community felt obligated by our shared community membership to help my children and myself.

The goal of this Article is to suggest a solution to alleviate the many struggles that isolated and impoverished single mothers face-a solution that could potentially decrease the incidences of abuse and violence towards the children of these mothers, while at the same time fostering communal support for low-income, single mothers to break the cycle of poverty. The proposed solution rethinks the Neighborhood Watch model8 by merging its structure with the traditional Nigerian village philosophy to provide structured, communal support for single mothers. In other words, the solution encourages Americans in low-income communities across the country to actively engage in Collective Watching.9 At least in this one area, America needs to incorporate these Nigerian communal values and become more of a supportive village and less of a collection of discrete social competitors. Part I of this Article will explore America's societal isolationist attitude towards single mothers and critique how that attitude leaves these mothers to struggle alone, with horrific consequences.10 Part II will examine the communal structure of Nigerian villages, specifically centered on the Igbo community and the lessons to be drawn from the "communal mentality," that is, what it really means to be part of a village community.11 It will also discuss Nigerian Igbo's unique social responsibility towards all members of the community, especially single mothers. …

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