Friday, May 27, 2005

Memorial Day: Just Don't Forget

This weekend is going to provide a visible opportunity for those who are elected leaders, and those who want to be elected leaders, to use the memory of those who died to preserve democracy to once again show what hippocrates they all are.

Why do I believe this? Because while public figures and media honor those who fought and died in traditional wars, few encourage this same degree of personal sacrifice in the war on poverty, racism, and inequality in America.

Why do I believe this? Because few will use their daily visibility to encourage citizens and corporations to be involved in community service. The volunteer button and donate button on the web sites of most politicians points to a place where you can learn how to help them get elected or stay elected, not to a place where your time, talent and dollars help a youth born in poverty have a pipeline of adult and business support that assures that he will be in a job/career by age 25.

On Monday evening, almost every TV station in America will have a few video clips of local parades and local celebrities who march in these parades. Yet few will point to a place on their own web site where citizens are encouraged to learn about the issues of poverty, or where they can become a volunteer, leader, donor or business partner with a community organization working to help a young person move to a career.

Yet, during the year there will be many occasions where newspapers, TV and/or radio, write stories with headlines like:

These are our children, By JOSEPH R. WALL

Locked Out at a Young Age, By BOB HERBERT, New York Times

Seldom do these stories include web site address where you can read research posted on the Internet by organizations like Chapin Hall Center for Children, Public/Private Ventures or Voices 4 Illinois Kids. Here are the titles of just a few recent publications that I have links to on T/MC web sites:

Leaving the Street: Young Fathers Move from Hustling to Legitimate Workby Lauren J. Kotloff

One Child Many Needs
A growing number of people understand that, if we want to improve children's education, we must reform the inadequacy and unfairness of our state's school-funding system. But that's only half the work necessary to do the job right, according to a new report by Voices for Illinois Children.


A Shared Agenda: A Leadership Challenge to Improve College Access and Success, on the Pathways to College Network web site.

These are just a few articles and research reports that can be found in the LINKS and Resources sections of http://www.tutormentorconnection.org and http://www.tutormentorexchange.net.

Why we should get involved, only leads to questions of where?, and to how?. Poverty is not something that ends with a sound byte. It takes 25 years for a youth born in poverty today to reach age 25. Statistics show that many inner city kids won't be alive then, many will be in jail, and too many will have dropped out of school and have little hope for a positive future...all because too few leaders today and in the past have been willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to create a system that reaches these kids and sustains consistent support until they are out of poverty and in careers. You can read some of these statistics on the web site of the Alternative Schools Network of Chicago (http://www.asnchicago.org).

Thus, we need to also point to web sites where complex ideas are being discussed and broken down to components, like job responsibilities are broken down among thousands of contractors who will be building the new Trump Tower in Chicago.

The engineers building the Trump Tower know that first you need a vision, second you need a plan, third you need financing (maybe this comes second), fourth you need a blueprint, and fifth, you start at the foundation, then build the project a floor at a time. In raising kids or ending poverty, the nation has no vision, no plan, no financing, no blueprint, and we're starting all over the place and wondering why we're not being successful.

Random acts of kindness don't build a building and don't raise a child.

Change will only occur when people learn to get involved and stay involved, often repeating the same actions over and over for many years. For instance, giving money to a tutor/mentor program is an action that needs to repeat from year to year. Foundations that provide seed money then expect someone else to sustain the project are wasting money when no donors come forward to build the next stages of the project. Corporations who want better educated workers, or a more diverse workforce, need to fund the pipeline, from preschool all the way to employment. Focusing workplace payroll deduction fund raising on tutor/mentor programs would be one way to provide a consistent flow of dollars into youth serving organizations.

What does this mean to the leaders walking in Monday's parades, or to the media covering them? It means we need to find ways to draw attention to this work every day of the year, not just one day of the year. And we need to use the Internet as a place to host information and connect those who want to help with places where they can be reinforcements. We need to teach reporters, editors, columnist to put web links at the end of each story, so that each story leads to a path of involvement.

In October 1992 when six other volunteers and I created Cabrini Connections and the Tutor/Mentor Connection, a little boy named Dantrell Davis had just been shot and killed while walking to school in Cabrini Green.

This led to public outrage and full-page stories in Chicago's major newspapers. On the front page of the October 15, 1992 Chicago Sun-Times, the headline was "THE KILLING GROUND". The sub head was "7-Year-Old's Death at Cabrini Requires Action" In this front page editorial, the Editor of the Sun-Times wrote, "This isn't something you can let the other guy be indignant over. It's past time for you to take responsibility for solving the problems of Chicago. Please don't let this be someone else's problem. It's yours. It's mine. Let's retake our city and begin working to solve the horribly destructive problems of poverty, hopelessness and racism."

I have this front page posted on the wall outside of my office so that myself and everyone in our organization is reminded of this responsibility every day. Once a year I send this to the Sun-Times to encourage them not to forget.

Yet, I'm disappointed that our media and so few of our leaders are using Memorial Day and other public occasions to keep this memory and this challenge alive. I'm disappointed that our leaders and celebrities not yet using the potential of the Internet to connect those who can help with information that shows why they are needed, where they are needed, how long they need to stay involved, and ways they can contribute time, talent, dollars, to win the war on poverty.

I want to think that at some parade in the future, some of the heroes that we remember on Memorial Day will be people who dedicated their lives to winning the war on poverty in America and in the world.

Maybe if we do that we won't have to have so many young men and women fighting and dying in wars that have their roots in poverty, racism and hopelessness.

What do you think?

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