Steubenville, OH is reeling from two vaunted high school football players being convicted of raping a girl from a nearby West Virginia community. This old Appalachian coal community has been sharply divided over the case. Now, how does the community heal after such a horrific and divisive incident? Where does it go? The case involved high school football players who drank too much and raped a high school girl who was passed-out and defenseless. High school football - known as "Big Red" - is legendary in this old mill town. While the community suffers from high unemployment, a down-and-out economy, and general hard times, high school football serves to bring the community together. It was not uncommon for this town of under 20,000 people to draw 10,000 fans for a Friday night ballgame.
Now, the "togetherness" of the community is splintering. Some people in the community believe the police were too slow to act after learning about this case and that community members rallied around the high school football players (the two convicted and others involved) and sought to protect them. And they worry that if a group called Anonymous hadn't posted a cell phone video of what happened that dreadful night, all this might have been swept under the rug and perhaps forgotten.
Community leaders and others have rallied around the community, saying that the rape is not indicative of the strength and goodness of the community.
The question now is, "What's next for Steubenville?"
The community faces an important choice: Allow the fall-out from this case to fester, and possibly continue to create dividing lines within the community, or bring the community together to figure out how to move forward.
I urge community leaders to bring people together.
As I said, Steubenville is an old Ohio River community hit hard by mill closings and job loss. The people there can take this incident and use it to determine where Steubenville as a community wants to go, and to reaffirm basic values that people want to guide the community moving forward.
These conversations must not get locked into divided camps replaying and re-litigating the rape case and verdict. Instead, the conversations must focus first and foremost on uncovering people's shared aspirations for the community, and then what it will take to move toward those aspirations.
At some point or another, every community faces critical inflection points - and what they do at these crucial junctures dictates how a community shapes its future and how people who live in the community think about themselves and their community. In fact, I am talking with leaders in Newtown, CT about this very same issue.
Steubenville now has an opportunity to propel itself forward. I hope the community seizes this moment.