Forum a great success -- now what?

If the size of the assembled company was any measure, then the Just Know forum last Saturday may be counted a success.

More than 330 islanders packed the high school commons to learn more about the impact of drugs, alcohol and depression on their children. The event, planned by the new Just Know coalition of schools, social service agencies, and grassroots parent groups, was supported by the city, school PTOs and 16 island businesses.

The breakout sessions on subjects ranging from the effects of trendy designer drugs to new alarms about the old standards – pot and alcohol – were informative. But the day’s true import only registered when one counted up the representatives of island life present – not only parents, but city officials, business leaders, fire and police personnel, island-based counselors, judges, attorneys and teachers. It was an assembly that, we hope, bespeaks the collective determination to tackle the problems that beset young people growing up on Bainbridge.

But self-congratulation for showing up was not on the day’s agenda. School Superintendent Ken Crawford gave a blunt bottom line in opening remarks: “We want people to leave today feeling uncomfortable.”

Indeed, enough disturbing data was presented to curtail more than one good night’s sleep. And there’s plenty of blame to go around since, as Crawford points out, there are kids who get loaded to start the school day or to attend school events; parents who host alcohol parties, who don’t allow kids to be held accountable, and those who equate kids’ achievement with emotional well-being; and educators who fold under parents’ pressure not to hold kids accountable, who ignore bullying or overlook quiet kids with problems.

In answer to Crawford’s closing joke – “Have I left anybody unscathed?” – we would answer no, and we’re glad he didn’t. Because joint ownership is the first tiny step down the road to ameliorating the problems our kids face. We especially applaud those courageous individuals who were willing to stand up and admit that their own kids have problems.

As informative and enlightening as the workshops were, and as laudable the group effort that turned out more islanders than any gathering in more than a quarter century of efforts to reduce risky behaviors among island youth, that new openness may prove the best measure of the day’s significance.

It may mark the beginning of a real shift in island sensibility away from the culture of competition that places looking good above the well-being of one’s children.

Openness may be the cure for the social embarrassment of ‘fessing up to a mental illness, depression, that afflicts so many island kids that 315 seriously considered suicide last year.

These social ills are night-blooming plants that flourish locked away;. It’s the willingness to risk saying, “It’s not some other family. It’s mine” that opens the door for others to come forward and seek help.

Silence supports our all-too-human desire to designate kids with substance abuse and depression problems as “other”; silence promotes the lack of connection many feel is part of the problem to begin with.

The problems are, admittedly, going to be tough to solve. But as long as they were somebody else’s problems, they remained intractable. The long-term impact of Just Know may only become clear far down the road. To really make a dent, enough individuals must change enough behavior over time to create a groundswell that alters the island’s culture.

After last Saturday’s event, it will be harder to plead ignorance. Now that we Just Know, we must Just Do.

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