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Acceptance and Equality Must Be Part of Every Child’s Life Lessons

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by

By Father Steven Boes, President and National Executive Director, Boys Town

Acceptance and Equality Must Be Part of Every Child’s Life Lessons

Father Edward J. Flanagan was far ahead of his time, sometimes dangerously so.

When he founded his home for boys (later to become known as Boys Town) 100 years ago in Omaha, Nebraska, he welcomed youngsters of all races, religions and cultural backgrounds, and he provided care for all of them under one roof.

This approach was unheard of in the early 1900s, and even though many local citizens supported Father Flanagan’s work, there were those who disapproved and even made threats toward the priest and the boys he was trying to help.

In the early fall of 1919, less than two years after Father Flanagan started his home, an angry, armed mob of Omahans stormed the county courthouse, seized a black man who was held in the jail there and hanged him from a light pole on a downtown street. Members of the mob then shot the man, burned his body and dragged it through the streets. When the city’s mayor tried to protect the victim before he was taken by the crowd, the mayor was nearly lynched himself.

Despite this environment of racial hatred, Father Flanagan never wavered in his belief that every child deserves to be valued, loved and protected. He was not afraid to fight against the unfair practices and prejudices of his day, especially when they endangered children and prevented them from receiving proper care and equal treatment.

“I see no disaster threatening us because of any particular race, creed or color,” he said. But he did see “danger for all in an ideology which discriminates against anyone politically or economically” because he was born into a different race or worshiped at a different altar.

In the face of bigotry, narrow-mindedness and outright threats, Father Flanagan held fast to his principles of acceptance, equality and respect for all. Those principles have only grown stronger throughout Boys Town’s 100-year history, and will continue to guide our mission as we move into our second century of service to America’s children and families.

Unfortunately, recent current events have reminded us that, as a nation, those principles still are not universally applied across our society.

Does that mean we should just be grateful for the gains our nation has made and be satisfied that there at least has been progress? Father Flanagan, and today’s Boys Town, would say no. What it means is that we have to work harder to plant the seeds of acceptance, tolerance and unity in our children’s lives so they, as adults, can make these qualities the norm and pass them on to their own sons and daughters.

At Boys Town, the boys and girls who make up the families in our residential care program reflect the diversity that makes America a great nation. Our children learn as much about acceptance from each other as they do from the dedicated caregivers who meet their daily needs and provide guidance for a brighter future. Our kids see their similarities — the struggles and pain they’ve faced, as well as the hope and healing they’re experiencing — rather than their differences. They embrace each other as brothers and sisters. It is the responsibility and duty of every adult who cares for a child to teach and promote this acceptance of others. It is the only way we can defeat hatred and bigotry.

There are no easy solutions to the issues of race our country faces. But we can never stop looking for the answers and praying for God’s divine intervention for understanding among all people and all nations.