By Mary O’KEEFE
Unity and understanding others were the themes that resonated throughout Tuesday’s Crescenta Valley 4th Annual Prayer Breakfast. The event was organized by the Crescenta Valley Town Council along with the CV Prayer Breakfast Committee and supported by other local organizations and businesses.
Organizers reached out to religious leaders from various churches and faiths to bring a unifying voice that reflects Crescenta Valley. Although the ministers and leaders approach their faith in different ways, the prayers were about understanding one another, being tolerant of others and supporting the community – both the community where they live and the global community.
The Crescenta Valley High School a cappella group, the Charismatics, opened the event with the singing of the national anthem. The program followed with a mix of prayers from spiritual leaders and performances by the Charismatics and the CVHS choir.
The keynote speaker was newly elected Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell, who took the podium and immediately relaxed the audience with a joke on how quickly the years pass by.
He spoke of going home and going through the mail to find letters from AARP (American Association of Retirement People) and the Neptune Society.
“And on the table [here] is [bottled] water from Forest Lawn,” he said (one of the sponsors of the prayer breakfast was Forest Lawn). “Again, [it is] a feeling like we are all something small but part of something really big. It’s kind of humbling and you realize to make the most of every day.”
He also shared his background. He was born a year after his parents immigrated to America from Ireland. He lived in Boston’s public housing near Fenway Park. McDonnell never thought he would end up living on the west coast and never thought he would be in the position he holds now.
“It’s funny how when one door closes and you’re disappointed and then another door opens, “he said. “That happened in my life over and over again.”
He advised young kids in the audience that, if they get knocked down, to get back up and stay in the fight to work harder than they ever did before and “good things will happen.”
“And I look at all of us in policing and this has been a very tough year. Probably … we would say that Ferguson, Missouri kicked it off, but then we see New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and on and on … It seems like you can’t get two good days in a row but we all know so much good is happening and our people are out there every day putting their life on the line doing everything they can to make our communities across America a safer place,” he said.
McDonnell added that if the police mess up they need to “own it, we need to say, ‘Okay we got it, we are going to fix it and move forward.’” He added that the best thing to do is to reach out to the community and have deputies/officers know those in the community and for the people to know law enforcement.
“This is Police Memorial Month,” he said. “It is a month when we reflect on the reminder that anyone of us can be called home today or tomorrow, and to do the best we can each and every day.”
McDonnell spoke of the parents’ responsibility to keep their children on course. With prom and graduation coming up, there is a lot of pressure on students going from elementary to middle school and from middle school to high school. And with summer break coming up, the role as parent becomes more challenging.
“I think we all agree growing up in today’s generation is so much more complicated,” he said.
As opposed to generations before, kids today are expected to do more yet have more distractions with a variety of social media and technology.
“Those diversions are in direct competition with what our primary function is as parents,” McDonnell said.
There are some children that barely get by he said. They live day-by-day and many in the community may not realize what these children are going through.
He shared a story that he said stayed with him through his time at the Los Angeles Police Dept.
“There was a robbery in progress. Three guys had gone into this mom and pop grocery store,” he said.
During the robbery an elderly man was shot and killed. There was video surveillance and within a couple of days the three were arrested. One was a 17-year-old. After the arrest, the mother of the juvenile suspect came to the station and asked the detective if she could speak to her son. The detective, a father himself, couldn’t imagine what this mother must be going through so he arranged for her to visit her son.
The detective put mother and son into an interview room; he stood outside within hearing distance.
“The mother asked, ‘How could you be so stupid?” McDonnell recalled.
The detective thought the mother would go into a speech about how disappointed she was in her son. She did … just not for the reasons the detective thought.
“She said, ‘You went in there the day before and cased the place. You should have known there would be surveillance video,’” he said. “We take so much for granted, but we really can’t take [anything] for granted…We need to realize there are others out there who don’t have a chance from the very beginning. They have the deck stacked against them. And we assume that kids have the basics to be able to get that start. We can’t make that assumption.”
McDonnell left his audience inspired to reach out to the community, not to push kids too hard and not to assume that troubling things happen somewhere else to other children.