Monday, August 18, 2014

Violence Not Limited to Chicago - Solutions Need to Connect Cities

I was at the St. Louis airport Sunday morning after spending Saturday in Nashville to celebrate the 50th birthday of Leo Hall, who I first met when he was a 4th grader living in the Cabrini Green area of Chicago. I've been Leo's mentor, and he's been my mentor, for 41 years.

While I sat at the airport I browsed the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the stories about the violence in Ferguson, MO, a suburb of St. Louis. This editorial and the extensive media coverage reminded me that the issues of race, poverty, violence and economic inequality are not limited to Chicago.

Nor is this a new problem.

This image is from the editorial page of the April 22, 2014 Chicago Tribune. I have written follow up stories to negative news for nearly 20 years. I've used maps in many of these. Here's the article I wrote following the April 22 Tribune editorial.

Among the many stories in Sunday's St. Louis Post-Dispatch paper was one titled Why Did this Happen Here which included several maps to show how isolated this neighborhood is from surrounding areas.

As with the violence in Chicago, and other tragedies that take place throughout America, media all over the country are writing about this incident. One story from the Washington Post, which was printed in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch was written by Michael Gerson in the Washington Post. In his column Gerson wrote "As America has grown more diverse and prosperous over the last several decades, the economic and social isolation of some communities has only decreased." He goes on to say "As a practical matter, it becomes increasingly difficult to enforce order in the absence of opportunity."

This map of the US, hosted by a site titled Poverty and Race in America, Then and Now, shows that poverty and racial segregation are concentrated in urban areas. You can zoom into this map and create your own map stories of St. Louis, Chicago, Atlanta, New York or any other major city in the US.

These are not new problems. However, the Internet enables us to connect and understand these problems in ways that never were possible in the past. What we've not yet learned is how to go from talking about the problem to drawing needed talent, technology, dollars, jobs, etc. into each of these poverty areas, and keeping the flow going for a decade or longer. The presentation below illustrates a role young people and volunteers from every part of the country might take to help make this happen.

Building Network to Solve Community Problems: Youth As Leaders by Daniel F. Bassill

As I said, I was in Nashville to help celebrate the 50th birthday of Leo Hall, who I first met in 1973 when I joined the Tutoring Program at the Montgomery Ward headquarters in Chicago. In my remarks to Leo's friends and family I emphasized that Leo and I met because others had made the commitment to organize a volunteer-based tutor/mentor program at Wards in 1965 and keep it going for 9 years before I joined it. If they had not done that Leo and I would never have connected. Furthermore, we would not have stayed connected if I and others had not kept the tutoring program at Wards going through 1990, then kept newer versions going through 2011. Tutoring Chicago and Cabrini Connections both still operate today, even though I'm not directly involved with either. Thousands of youth and volunteers have been connected, not just Leo and I. I'm still connected to many via Facebook and other social media.

I use maps to emphasize the need for long-term mentoring and tutoring programs in all high poverty areas of Chicago so more volunteers and youth can connect in long-term relationships. My goal is to draw consistent resources to all of the tutor/mentor programs in the Chicago region, not just to the two I've been part of. I reminded the people I spoke with on Saturday that everyone has a responsibility to provide time, talent and dollars to help these programs grow, and that many of us have unique communications talent to draw attention to these programs and neighborhoods where such programs are needed on a daily basis.

That's the message I've put in this blog since I started writing it in 2005. It's the message in printed newsletters since 1993.

This problem is not limited to Chicago, or St. Louis. Yet it is one that people in big cities may understand better than people living in smaller communities and/or rural areas. Thus, I feel that people in big cities need to connect and innovate tools and collaboration strategies that draw needed resources consistently to all of the youth serving organizations and intermediaries who work in each city, while also innovating in an on-going communications effort intended to draw needed resources to youth serving organizations in high poverty neighborhoods of each city.

At the end of every day, look in the mirror and say to yourself what you've done on that day to make this happen.

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