Let’s work to create communities that will make our kids want to stay in Kansas

Curtis Quinn, now 19, in Master Overbey's Martial Arts class in Topeka when he was a child. (Susan Quinn)

The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Susan Quinn is an engineer in northeast Kansas.

So, do you ever stop and think deeply about what you’re doing? What you might not be doing? Where you’re going?

My kids are now leaving our home after being a daily part of our lives for the past 20ish years. I’ve had 20 years to get to know them, enjoy them, teach them and learn from them. Like any mother, I’ve tried to do the best I can. But I’m realizing lately that I’ve come up shorter than I wanted with them.

Our eldest son is 21 now and has started thinking about what he wants from his community and where he’d like to live when he finishes college in Lawrence. He tells me he wants to leave Kansas and definitely Topeka. That’s probably not out of the ordinary for young adults, but beyond the yearn to explore new places, he’s pretty sure we don’t have much to offer people in the way of community here. He has studied city planning, transportation, housing and zoning regulations. What he sees here doesn’t square with his idea of a thriving community.

It breaks my heart, but I am realizing now that it was my job — and everyone’s job, really — to express to our kids how wonderful our community is and how much we want them to be a part of it.

We need to have smarter conversations with our friends and neighbors. Our children are listening. It makes me uncomfortable when I hear my neighbors say that people who’ve lost their jobs are getting so much money from unemployment that they are choosing not to work right now. Really? I doubt it. But do I call them on it and have that uncomfortable “crucial conversation”?

If I were presented with the option of a full-time job with benefits and a semi-confident feeling that it would last for at least several months, I’d take that in a heartbeat — especially over a few weeks of money that can’t begin to make ends meet. My neighbor is correct about some isolated cases, but that is likely more the exception than the rule. The community I know isn’t like that. Most people work hard and wake up every day believing they are doing good and are eager to contribute.

I love my community. I love Kansas. We have a lot of work to do, that is sure. But we do have bright spots.

I love that the kids in the Seaman school district cared enough to raise the issue of Fred Seaman’s involvement in the KKK. I don’t know where that might go, but I’m glad we’re having that conversation as a community.

I love the work done by nonprofits in our communities. I love that someone will cut and dye my hair for me so I can feel confident. I love that I can walk into a grocery store or the farmer’s market and have a pleasant conversation with someone while picking out incredible food for my family. I love that our police are caring for homeless people in our community. I love that my vet takes time to hear me as we try to help my elderly dog get along a little better. I love our libraries and our parks.

I am grateful to all those who helped me raise my boys: from Master Overbey who not only taught them martial arts but the value of respect and courtesy to Dr. Averett, who taught them the value of hard work, perseverance and self-expression through beautiful music, to all the teachers who helped shape their love of books and places and numbers.

I love that I can learn all about little nooks of good throughout our state from our local news reporters. From our local PBS station to Kansas Public Radio to the Kansas Reflector and all the hometown papers — what wonderful stories. We’re so blessed to be able to hear about one another especially during this recent time of forced isolation.

So while I know that we may not have all the green spaces, public transport and cohousing my son would like to see, we do have a great launching pad for improving what we’ve built.

And you know, Kansas, we’re all in this together. It’s our community to care for and nurture and hold dear. Let’s lock hands and eyes and really hear one another. Let’s go beyond a nod and polite conversation and talk about what really matters to us and why it matters. Move outside our bubbles and take time to talk with someone who doesn’t have our same circumstances and find out what matters to them and why.

Our kids are watching. Let’s welcome them home.

Through its opinion section, the Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.