Monday, December 29, 2008

SunTimes “Stop the Killing’ Special Report misses opportunity

Over the past weekend the Chicago SunTimes ran a series of stories profiling the personalities involved in three shootings that took place in a 59 hour period of April 2008. Today, a full page editorial titled “Gang-related’ Killings much more than that” focused on the causes of inner city violence, saying “When we fail to face up to the real causes of violence in Chicago, when we chalk up hundreds of murders with a dismissive “gang-related” as if all that is needed is a bigger crackdown by the cops---we let ourselves off the hook.”

"Poke beneath the surface of any shooting on that weekend of April 18 and you will likely uncover a tangle of social woes that only an entire city, as a whole, can do much about. The police can clean up mess after mess, but more messes will be coming along."

You can read the full editorial at…,CST-EDT-edit29.article

If you click the links to the left on violence, or media, you’ll find that this is not a new story. In fact, as the front page of the October 15, 1992 Chicago SunTimes shows, the media have been calling for public involved in solving this problem for a long time.

So why is so little happening? What’s the opportunity that was missed in today’s editorial?

It’s right on the front page of today’s Chicago SunTimes, which featured the headline “SAVING TROY” . Page 2 and 3 were devoted to this heart-warming story, about a homeless man who was helped off the street by a Chicago businessman who connected with him by chance on a cold morning last April. As much as this story was about Troy, it was also about how one volunteer got personally involved, and because of that involvement Troy’s life is changes. However, the life of the volunteer has also been changed. Pete Kadens has gone from personal involvement, to joining the board and becoming a leader of STREETWISE the newspaper that helps the homeless in Chicago. He is quoted as saying, “I’d do it again in a heartbeat. It’s been one of the neatest, proudest, happiest times of my life.”

I did not read anything in the “Stop the Killing” report that suggested strategies for getting people who don’t live in poverty personally engaged so that they use their time, talent and resources to make life different for those who do live in poverty.

Yet, that’s what can happen when volunteers join structured, volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs like Cabrini Connections, or many others that you can find in the Program Links section of the T/MC web site. I encourage you to read some of the volunteer profiles from Cabrini Connections. As you skim the web sites of some of the other tutor/mentor programs from Chicago, you’ll see similar stories.

If we can increase the number of business volunteers connecting with kids in tutor/mentor programs, we can increase the chances of fewer kids growing up as gang-bangers, and more kids growing up and becoming contributing members of society, perhaps even a future President.

I want to thank the Chicago SunTimes for writing these stories. I’d also like to thank them for making a $2 million award to the SunTimes Judge Marovitz Lawyers Lend A Hand Program in the fall of 2006. Money from that award was distributed as $240,000 in operating grants to 31 different tutor/mentor programs in 2007 and another $217,000 in grants in 2008 (even though the stock market dive has seriously eroded the original $2 million award).

As we enter 2009 there will be more killings and more opportunities for the media to write stories calling on the public to build long-term strategies to bring hope to the hopeless, and an end to the violence. I hope that each time the paper writes a story about violence and poor schools, it will point to the Tutor/Mentor Connection web site, and our database of Chicago area programs, where people like Pete Kadens can get involved, and stay involved for a long time, in helping change the future for kids born into concentrated, segregated, inner-city poverty.

I hope they also point to the articles on our web site that readers can use to build their own understanding of these issues, and to be more involved in helping comprehensive, mentor-rich volunteer-based programs grow in inner-city neighborhoods. Finally, I also hope they will use the maps in the Tutor/Mentor Map Gallery, to encourage business, hospitals, colleges and faith groups to become strategically involved in all of the areas where they do business or have facilities, not just a few high profile places, or a few pilot programs.

If there is one media story and reference to volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs in a major newspaper of Chicago each week for the next five years, there will be an army of volunteers like Pete Kadens, and a growing support system to prevent some young people from growing up to become involved in “gang-related” killings on Chicago streets. If our business, faith, and political leaders point to programs in neighborhoods where they do business, on a weekly basis, they can help this network of programs and army of mentors grow, and stay connected to kids for many years.

Can this happen? That's my wish for 2009. Help me make it come true.

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