Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Tragedy of Englewood

On page 1 of the March 13, 2006 Chicago Sun Times the feature headline is WHEN ARE THEY GOING TO STOP KILLING OUR KIDS? The headline in the Chicago Tribune is Another Stray bullet shatters Englewood.

On October 15, 1992 the front page of the Chicago Sun Times feature headline was “THE KILING GROUND: 7-Year-Old’s Death at Cabrini Requires Action.

In the 14 years between these two headlines there have been dozens of smaller stories about violence, and hundreds of unreported stories. In addition there have been feature stories about poverty, gangs, poorly performing schools, ex-offenders being released into poverty neighborhoods, etc. You can find copies of many of these stories in the files of the Tutor/Mentor Connection’s offices at 800 W. Huron in Chicago.

What I cannot find, are web sites that link these stories and show how they are interrelated. What I cannot find are stories that talk about comprehensive efforts to build community support systems in neighborhoods like Englewood that provide youth with a variety of learning and enrichment opportunities and surround them with a network of adults who are committed to helping kids move through school safely and into jobs and careers.

Stopping the killing in Englewood is not just about getting guns off the street. Ending the war in our inner cities is no easier than ending the war on terrorism. This is a complex social problem that will take the involvement of many people over many years. The solutions must enlist business as self-interested partners, along with universities, faith networks, media, hospitals and the entire orchestra of civic and social organizations.

When Dantrell Davis was killed in 1992, most of us did not even know that the Internet existed. Things have changed. People from around the world are connecting with each other via the Internet. Complex ideas are being discussed by many people in many different places.

Here’s a sample. At http://www.socialedge.org/Events/Workshops/63 is a forum titled Balancing act: the alchemy of the social entrepreneur . This discussion talks about dealing with change and solving complex problems. In one posts, Charles Cameron writes about “keys to real social change” and refers to an article by Donella Meadows about Places to Intervene in a System: http://www.donellameadows.org/archives/leverage-points-places-to-intervene-in-a-system/

I read the article. I encourage you to read it to. It shows the importance of knowledge and information, which is the primary currency of the Tutor/Mentor Connection. Other than maintaining a Program Locator database of Chicago area tutor/mentor programs, we don’t create new knowledge. What we do is collect, aggregate and organize it on our various web sites.

This Social Edge discussion, and many like it that I’ve participated in for the past 10 years, challenge me to think in more complex and long-term ways about what must be done to solve the problems of Englewood. I express many of my ideas in Power Point essays posted at the Tutor/Mentor Institute section of http://www.tutormentorexchange.net/library

The reason I support volunteer based tutor/mentor programs like www.cabriniconnections.org is not because they solve all of the problems facing inner city youth, but because they engage more people personally in the lives of these kids and create a bridge linking poor neighborhoods with more affluent communities, with business, with universities and with others who must be more passionately and strategically involved, for many years, if there is to be a paradigm shift in what is happening in high poverty neighborhoods around Chicago and in the rest of the world.

When a person gets Cancer, he becomes a big supporter of Cancer Research. When a father loses a child to a school yard shooting, he becomes a gun control advocate. What do we need to do to create this type of personal involvement and commitment before a tragedy occurs?

Getting people involved in volunteer-based organizations that create a weekly, monthly and long-term connection with poverty is a place to start.

Unfortunately, too few of these organizations exist. Search the Program Locator at http://www.tutormentorprogramlocator.net/Prgloc.aspx for the 60636, 60621 and 60620 zip codes (the Englewood Neighborhood). You’ll find very few comprehensive tutor/mentor programs. Ask the leaders of any tutor/mentor program in Chicago, and you’ll also find that there is too little funding to help tutor/mentor programs grow and sustain volunteer involvement.

Ask the Tutor/Mentor Connection and we’ll tell you how difficult it is to find dollars to support the Program Locator and other services of the T/MC.

I don’t expect the news media to change the way they sensationalize bad news. It sells papers and they are in business to make a profit. What I do hope to do is engage the media and the business communities in innovative thinking of how they can use their resources, their leadership and their visibility to draw daily attention to the issues, like advertisers draw daily attention to their products and services.

We don’t need a front page headline every 14 years. We need this emphasis from someone in business, media, politics, religion, etc. every day.

We need them to point to web sites like http://www.tutormentorexchange.net so that people can find where to get involved, why to get involved, and how to be smarter when they do get involved.

The tragedy of Englewood is that too few people will read this and respond, which means the tragedy will repeat over and over again.

No comments: