By Robyn Bradley Litchfield, Montgomery Advertiser

 

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It pains Consuello J. Harper to see the rising number of homicides and other crimes in Montgomery and the surrounding area.

Knowing something must be done, Harper fully supported the city’s recent crime-free weekend and other programs designed to curb crime. But it’s going to take more than that — much more — to make a difference, she said.

“The crime factor can be nipped in the bud with quality education. But we’ve got to have early intervention. We have got to reach these young people before they even start school,” said Harper, president and CEO of the Central Alabama Opportunities Industrialization Center. The center is a community-based, private, non-profit organization that she founded in 1968 in Montgomery. And its Early Childhood Development Center provides programs daily for kids ages 21/2 to 5.

“I’m passionate about early childhood development because it works,” Harper said. In addition to ABCs, colors and other things that are typically found in preschool curricula, it is important to include character education and spiritual guidance. Another key is to teach youngsters to respect themselves and to value human life.

Sadly, she said, the state spends more money on building prisons than it does on building preschools. If more money went into quality preschools, Harper believes the need for prisons would not be as great.

A supportive family and education has made all the difference in Harper’s own life. When her father died, Harper’s mother raised their 10 children on her own and sent all of them to college.

“My mother would say: ‘Education is a key that can unlock any door,’ ” she said.

Harper also stressed training children to become good citizens, good human beings. They may stray at some point, but they’ll come back, she said.

Back in the late 1960s, Harper was invited to speak in Philadelphia. She focused on a self-survival kit and the fact that it should always include value of self and education.

“And if you think education is expensive — try ignorance,” she said. “You never finish paying for that.”