Friday, October 24, 2014

Countering Pull of Extremists. Street Gangs, Too?

This article, titled "Countering the pull of extremists" was in my Chicago Tribune today. It focuses on the Somali-American community in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. Featured is a "local Somali activist" who has been working since 2007 to provide community programs that would offer youth opportunities that help them resists the lure of terrorist recruiters. (Note: I can't find the link to this story on the Tribune web site. If you find it, post in the comment section below.)

Yet, to quote the article "His task isn't easy: The region's 50,000 member Somali community faces high unemployment, with few after-school programs."

Since 2007 this activist has "gone door to door seeking donations for his programs, often without success. He tells his kids "help will come" but they say "people don't care about us. We're just a bunch of poor Somali kids."

He says "few outsiders have paid attention to the growing exodus of young Somalis, leaving the community to tend to its own emotional wounds. "People have been in denial about our crisis"."

I've read articles about youth joining ISIS for a "sense of belonging" that they don't feel where they live.
I've read similar articles about youth joining inner city gangs for that same "sense of belonging" and lack of opportunities in their own neighborhoods. In this section of the Tutor/Mentor Web library you can read more about street gangs.

The same lack of consistent investment in high poverty neighborhoods where gangs are the terrorists seems apparent in the Somali-American neighborhoods where foreign terrorists are the threat.

I did some searching to see what sort of information was available in the Twin Cities and found the following:

This is a map from the Minneapolis Foundation's web site showing areas of high poverty, which are the darker shades on this map.

This map is from Minnesota Compass web site, showing the Cedar-Riverside area which is where high concentrations of Somali-Americans live.

Since I focus on helping non-school tutor/mentor programs grow in high poverty neighborhoods of Chicago, I looked for a resource doing similar work in the Twin Cities. This graphic is from the Minnesota Mentoring Partnership web site, shown the map-based program locator they have created. If you compare the poverty map to the mentoring program locator map, you can see that there are a number of youth mentoring programs in high poverty areas. However, if you zoom into the map it does not look like any of these programs are in the Cedar-Riverside area.

I had to use three different web platforms to get this information. The Mentoring Partnership site map does not include demographic overlays showing poverty, or other indicators showing poor schools, violence, etc. which would be indicators that more youth programs are needed in these areas. You need to get that from the other web platforms.

If you look at the Tutor/Mentor Program Locator's interactive map, you'll see this is what I've been trying to build since 1994 to support tutor/mentor programs in Chicago. And if you look at map stories, here, here and here, you'll see how I've been using the maps to draw attention, and resources to all of the high poverty neighborhoods of Chicago.

I can't find many other web sites or blogs with similar stories, written consistently for so many years, with the same goal of helping youth move through school and into jobs and careers with the support of volunteers in well-organized non-school tutoring, mentoring and learning programs.

I'm terrified of how ISIS and other extremists are recruiting disengaged American youth and how that potentially will grow a new wave of terrorist operating in THIS country.

However, I've also been terrified for the past 30 years of how gang involvement is already breeding a generation of highly armed inner city terrorists and how that could some day change from Black and Hispanic youth shooting each other, and terrifying the people living in their neighborhoods (which is a huge tragedy), to becoming urban terrorists who use the same types of terrorism seen in the Middle East to attack all of those who live beyond poverty and have ignored the conditions many urban youth grow up with.

Unless we have a huge, urgent, consistent and on-going effort to fill poverty maps with a wide range of organizations that provide hope and opportunity and a sense of belonging, I fear what we will face in another 10 or 20 years.

I've hosted this information on my web sites since 1998 and was interviewed in numerous media stories during the 1990s. At this site you can find printed newsletters with this message, which I was publishing from 1993-2001, before I ran out of money to do these.

Since 1993 I've piloted an integrated four-part strategy that includes a map-based directory and web library, as well as a public education strategy that intends to increase the number of people involved in using this information to help youth tutoring, mentoring and learning programs grow in more places.

This is a strategy that requires many leaders, representing every sector. It's one that can be duplicated in many places, using the name Tutor/Mentor Connection, or using any name you want to call it.

I'm available to help you figure this out.

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