Thursday, June 07, 2007

Turn Bad News into Good News - Rest of the Story

In Thursday, June 7th's Chicago SunTimes, a few stories caught my attention. One was about a 29 year old man accused of killing a bank teller in a recent bank robbery. In describing the man's background the story said "he had a lot of time without parental oversight".

Another story was headlined with "College Bound Sisters". This one was a good news story about how two sisters overcame obstacles and are headed for college. One of the reasons was they were supported by the Mike Trout and the Young Men's Educational Network.

I've been clipping stories from the SunTimes and Chicago Tribune for several years to use as research and evidence showing why and where comprehensive, long-term, mentor-rich, tutor/mentor programs are needed in Chicago. I occasionally map these stories creating concept diagrams like the one on this page. These show a linkage between media stories. However, this linkage is not supported by any obvious media strategy.

Almost every day, one, or more, media stories highlight a serious social problem caused by poverty in Chicago (Rev. Jesse Jackson lables the recent string of shootings a "State of Emergency in Chicago"). Some of these reach a point of public outrage that they are followed by editorials, and/or a series of articles by featured columnist.

While reports of bad news are given more space and featured more often, occasionally, the newspapers will tell stories of students overcoming the challenges of poverty, such as the story about two sisters graduating from high school. Out of a full page only the last few paragraphs showed the help these girls received for at least six consecutive years from the YMEN program.

This is the type of program I have in mind when I say "long-term tutor/mentor program".

However, there doesn't seem to be any consistent strategy from the media (or from public leaders) to connect the bad news stories, the good news stories and editorial commentary, in a daily effort to reduce poverty by mobilizing community resources.

While media might highlight a single act of kindness, like YMEN, they don't use their maps and charts and web sites to point to all of the places in Chiago where there is poverty and poorly performing schools, and where programs like YMEN are needed to help kids avoid gangs and negative behaviors.

Why is this important? Non profits who provide these services, don't have the advertising dollars needed to advertise their products and services every day like fast food or credit card companies do. Thus, they struggle to find donors who provide the flexible operating dollars needed every year to keep these programs available to kids in high poverty neighborhoods.

Only business, media and faith institutions have the ability to communicate this message daily. We need some leaders to step forward to take this role consistently, like lawyers are doing at the Abraham Lincoln Marovitz Lend A Hand Program.

If you use the Tutor/Mentor Program Locator to search the zip codes of neighborhoods where there is high poverty, or where the bad news took place, you'll see if there are any tutor/mentor programs like YMEN in those areas. If you scan the program links section of the T/MC web site you can begin to discern the differences between programs like YMEN, Midtown, East Village Youth Program, Chicago Youth Programs, Inc, and Cabrini Connections and programs that exist in these areas.

When you look at this information, we want you to say "ENOUGH." We hope you'll take the advise of another story I saw in a recent SunTimes. It said "You don't have to be Oprah to help kids."

Tonight, June 8th, Cabrini Connections will celebrate its 15th anniversary year end dinner. In other parts of Chicago similar programs will be celebrating another year of tutoring/mentoring. Unfortunately too many neighborhoods don't have programs.

I encourage our media, business leaders and candidates for public office to integrate this "REST Of The Story" message into their own strategies. Every time you talk about bad news, or the need for better schools, end your message by pointing to web sites with resources like the Program Locator and Chicago Program Links, so that your actions are helping people who want to end violence and poverty find places to shop and choose where, and how, they will use their time, talent and treasure to help tutor/mentor programs stay part of the lives of inner city kids in Chicago and other cities.

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