Saturday, April 14, 2007

“If you want peace, work for justice” (Pope Paul VI)

I attended to forums this week. On Thursday I attended the ACI Center for Success in High-Need Schools Symposium, sponsored by The Associated Colleges of Illinois. Speakers included high profile leaders from business, philanthropy and higher education. They outlined alarming trends in education outcomes that will make America less competitive in the global market and emphasized the serious economic impact that will result from a decrease in better educated workforce and the growth of less prepared workers. One concluded, “This isn’t something the politicians are talking about.”

Their focus was on what colleges and universities can do to change this and their solutions ranged from better training of teachers, to lowering the costs and/or increasing scholarships so more low income students can assess higher education.

One even suggested that universities cooperate with each other as a way of lowering spiraling expenses of higher education! Another suggested that universities walk the talk of community involvement and community service, becoming institutionally engaged in solving the problems facing communities.

On Friday, I attended a breakfast hosted by the Community Renewal Society. The purpose was to launch the Children of the Incarcerated campaign, which is intended to develop public policy initiatives that address the needs of children with incarcerated parents. The speakers were politicians such as Illinois State Senate President Emil Jones and Congressman Danny Davis. They were ministers, and people who have first hand experience working with children who have parents in jail or prison, or on probation. The statistics this group quoted were different from the ACI forum. Illinois currently pays $70,000 per year to incarcerate a minor and $22,000 per year to incarcerate an adult. As of August 2006, there are close to 90,000 children in Illinois with parents in jail or prison or on probation or parole. There is no system to track these children to know who or where they are. There is a lack of information about services. There are a lack of programs where kids can get social and emotional help and there is a lack of coordination of services.

Yet everyone agreed that without social and emotional support, including mentoring, a high percentage of the children of incarcerated parents will end up being involved with the justice system themselves.

Two meetings in two days and the audiences are worlds apart. What frustrated me most is that while both hosting organizations recruited participants via the Internet, neither has developed an on-line attendee list such as what we’re using for the May 2007 conference, that would enable the people in either event to connect with others attending the event, or to connect with others who attended some other event that focuses on the same issues. I've written about this before.

Thus, we leave the meetings with new encouragement to do something, but without the connectivity that would enable more of us to connect, discuss the information, and put the ideas to work in our own organizations.

My final meeting was with a senior at Northwestern University who is interviewing for a fellowship. His essay started with the statement, “If you want peace, work for justice.” (Pope Paul VI).

He wrote that at first he did not understand the meaning of this. But after doing a 2006 internship he realized that “if you really want to improve the world you need to give all people the same opportunities.” He concluded, “Denying someone justice did not mean prohibiting access to the courts, it meant not allowing them to reach their full potential given to them by God.”

The meetings I attended this week showed why we need to be more innovative on ways to reach young people living in poverty. If you want justice for all, I encourage you to become involved in organizations that are working to help youth move from poverty to careers.

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