Sunday, November 29, 2015

Injustices in Urban America - How Do We Make this Important to More People?

Yesterday a message on my Twitter feed pointed me to an article titled "Anita's Army: Rank and File Racism in the Power to Prosecute". Reading this illustrates how deeply rooted racism and injustice is in Chicago.  

I might not be reading this, or caring, if I had not become a volunteer tutor in 1973 and stayed involved in tutoring/mentoring for the 42 years since then.  I did not grow up in Chicago, but in small towns of Illinois and Indiana. Like so many others, the problems of urban America were not problems affecting me and my least not that I realized.

Yet, as I've led a tutor/mentor program, and built a personal relationship with so many youth and families, this has become personal to me.  Over the years I've built a library of articles describing inequality in America, and describing reasons a tutor/mentor program are needed. Open this map, and click into the nodes on each box, and you can find numerous articles that will expand your own understanding of these issues. 

The links in my library point to nearly 2000 other web sites, and each of these have multiple publications, and links to other sites. It's a vast library of information, that could be a source of on-going learning for volunteers who get involved with any tutoring/mentoring program in America.  The only way we'll reduce injustice is to dramatically increase the number of people involved. When Bernie Sanders talks about a 'revolution' in America, he's talking about getting millions of people deeply involved in the political process. I think he's also talking about getting millions of people personally involved, in their communities, in building solutions that don't need government involvement, such as volunteer-based tutoring, mentoring and learning organizations.

As the weekly flow of bad news comes across our daily news feed, think of what this graphic is suggesting.  The "circle" to the left of the map of Chicago, represents a community, an organized program, where people make a commitment to help young people move through school and into jobs. The map shows that the community supports the growth of mentor-rich programs in all poverty neighborhoods of a city, not just a few good programs in a few places.

To the left of the grey circle is a box representing leaders and organizers, including youth. Every time there is a bad news story, or new report, such as the one I shared at the start of this article, these people reach out to volunteers in their programs (represented by the next box to the left). These people not only read the articles, and reflect on ways they might respond, but share the invitation to learn and be involved with others in their own networks.

As this repeats, week after week, more people get involved.  As volunteers build personal connections with young people they meet in organized programs, some begin to look at these kids as part of their own family, not strangers. Some become willing to do much more to help end the root causes of inequality and injustice. 

I've tried to communicate this idea of a tutor/mentor program as a form of "adult service-learning" via many visualizations.

This one was created by one of my interns in 2006, then updated in 2010. I encourage you to listen to it. Click here.

If you think that the problems we face are mountains far to high to be climbed, think of how you and others might become involved with the problem via the articles I share on this blog, and by your own involvement with youth via a volunteer-based tutoring/mentoring program in your community.

If you're part of an existing program, or a donor, encourage that program to form a "learning" strategy, where staff, donors, volunteers, youth and all stakeholders are reading articles like the one posted at the top on a weekly basis, then gathering in big and small groups to discuss the meaning, and look for ways to respond.

This is not a short term strategy. It can bring solutions as more people adopt it and the army of the "involved" become a revolution in America. 

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