Tuesday, September 11, 2012

During CPS strike stay focused on long-term goals

The Chicago Public School school strike started yesterday. During a Sunday evening press conference I heard the head of Chicago Board of Education say how proud he was that faith groups, non profits and others in Chicago are rallying to provide safe places for kids to go during the school day.

As a crisis response, this if great.
However, it does not address the long-term issues of helping young people overcome high poverty and move through school into 21st century jobs. So I’m not writing about the strike. I want to cut through the clutter and keep attention focused on the bigger picture.

Today on page 2 of the Chicago Tribune was a story about the execution death of 11 year old ‘Yummy” Sandifer in 1994. The writer reports “Since Yummy’s death, other child victims have fallen within walking distance of where he was killed.” He goes on to say “Neither I nor anyone else has an easy solution to the city’s gunfire.”

I have a suggestion if anyone cares to listen.

Since starting this blog in 2005 I’ve posted a growing number of stories showing acts of violence, acts of violent nature and acts of overwhelming greed and self-interest. Prior to that I posted such information in a printed newsletter that I was sending to as many as 12,000 people between 1997 and 2001. Then I ran out of money to keep doing that.

This is the front page from the Chicago SunTimes of October 15, 1992 following the shooting of 7 year old Dantrel Davis in Cabrini Green. This was two years prior to the killing of ‘Yummy”.

As I read about senseless shootings I find it hard to shout out “Be a tutor/mentor!”
It can stop this violence!” I find it difficult to say “this is the solution”.

I feel my response is inadequate to the magnitude of the problem. Someone who has grown so cold-hearted that he/she can point a gun at another person and pump dozens of bullets into a body has far too many problems for a volunteer mentor to overcome by taking him/her to a movie or a library a few times.

Yet, had Chicago’s civic, political, philanthropic and political leaders provided the leadership and funding I’ve asked for every year since 1995 when I sent this Chicago Tutor/Mentor Program Directory to many of them, perhaps the Program Locator map that is now on my web site would show more “world class” programs in high poverty neighborhoods where kids could be connected with people, ideas and facilities that were inspiring them to learn and make the most of their lives.

If Mayor Daley and Mrs. Daley had provided their support to growing the Tutor/Mentor Connection with a fraction of the effort given to supporting Afterschool Matters perhaps we’d have a city full of high quality, mentor-rich non-school programs rather and many neighborhoods with high poverty and too few programs. Maybe we'd have better tools to collect and share this information, draw people together, and draw needed funding to ALL of the youth tutoring, mentoring, arts, learing and technology programs in the city.

Or perhaps if the Montgomery Ward Corporation had not gone into bankruptcy during the 1990s and out of business in 1999, we’d would have maintained the support of executives like Bernie Brennan, and had the civic reach needed to build philanthropic capital needed to support the vision shared in this blog and on the Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC web site. This picture is from a 1990 visit by Mayor Daley to the Montgomery Ward Chicago Headquarters where I was leading a volunteer-based tutor/mentor program that was started by Ward’s employees in 1965.

Last night at the Chicago Public Library I heard Paul Tough and Alex Kotlowitz talk about their own experiences researching stories of young people living in high poverty neighborhoods. Tough’s new book, titled "How Children Succeed", suggest that teaching “character, grit and resilience” is a way to help young people be better prepared to overcome challenges in life. In the book he profiles the Youth Advocate Mentoring Program launched by CPS CEO Ron Huberman a few years ago. He also profiles a new effort called One Goal, that is supporting youth as the move from their Junior year in high school through the first year in college.

The question asked was “How do we pay for these programs?”

In Sunday’s blog I included this video of a presentation by Pastor Wayne Gordon of Lawndale Community Church, titled “Who is my Neighbor”. Pastor Gordon clearly points to racism as one reason resources are not consistently available to support poverty reduction efforts. He challenges members of faith communities to “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

I’ve tried reaching out to media, sports stars, faith leaders, and many others over the past 20 years because I see part of our problem to be one of marketing and communications. Too few people will read the books by Kotlowitz and Tough. Too few people will view the video by Pastor Gordon. Too few people will read my blog articles or look at the maps and other information shared on my web sites.

Too few people will become personally involved in building mentor-rich support systems in high poverty neighborhoods and then growing those into more extensive community development efforts such as Pastor Gordon has done in Lawndale and Bill Strickland has done in Pittsburgh.

One of the reasons I started the Tutor/Mentor Connection in 1993 was that no one had a master database of Chicago tutor/mentor programs and no one was trying to understand how they differ from each other. When media were giving attention to tragedies, such as after the 1992 killing of Dantrel Davis in Cabrini Green, they were only pointing to a few of the well known youth programs in Chicago. From my work in retail advertising with the Montgomery Ward company I knew that our weekly advertising was intended to draw customers to all 400 of our stores, not just to one or two high profile locations.

I created the Directory and the Tutor/Mentor Connection Library so that when people write books and news columnist write stories they could point people to the Directory and a common base of information and say “use this to determine where your neighbor lives and where you want to give your time, talent, dollars and/or technology to help kids move through school and into jobs”.

While I'm sure One Goal is a great program, so are HighSight, Chicago Tutoring, Youth Guidance, UCan and dozens of other youth organizations working in different Chicago neighborhoods. They all need constant attention and support in order to retain talent, learn from each other, and constantly improve.

I have a clip file of dozens of editorials and newspaper columns written since 1990. I link to hundreds of blogs, research papers and other reports where people who are far more talented than I are sharing their ideas.

My goal is that some of these writers look at my blogs and pdf essays and rewrite them using their own talents, but with a shared purpose of increasing the number of people who become involved and stay involved in this effort to help kids who need extra help for a long time.

Once you’ve had your passion stirred, look at some of the leadership ideas I’ve posted in this section of the Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC. Look at the essay’s I’ve posted on Scrib.com. Form a learning circle within your faith group, alumni network, business, etc. and begin to use the maps and other resources in the Tutor/Mentor Library to determine who your neighbor is and what you can do to help them.

Look at these graphics. What do they mean to you? Can you do an new version that communicates this idea better? Try it!

To me this says if leaders keep pointing to tutor/mentor program directories and databases when they talk about education and poverty they can help build public attention and increase the flow of private sector volunteers and dollars to programs in all parts of the city, not just the high profile programs or neighborhoods.

If leaders from many sectors adopt these ideas and apply consistent support to the growth of non-school and internet based learning centers throughout the high poverty areas of the Chicago region, or any other urban area of the country, there can be a growth of resources, a better distribution of resources and talent, and a growth of high quality tutor/mentor programs in more place.

In 20 years the map of programs will show far better distribution of programs in places where they are needed and the websites of programs will show more stories of young people who have moved through school with the help of extra adults and non-school programs that were available in their neighborhood.

Do you want to discuss this further? Are you already doing this? Contact me. Connect on Facebook, Twitter, Linked in or the Tutor/Mentor Connection forum.

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