Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Last of Four Siblings Killed on Street. What’s Your Reaction?

As I browsed my Sunday Chicago Tribune this article stared me in the face.

Every one of these kids had been part of the tutoring program that operated at at the Montgomery Ward Corporate HQ in Chicago since 1975, or the Cabrini-Green Tutoring Programs that took the place of the Wards program in 1990. Or Cabrini Connections, which I formed with the help of seven other volunteers in 1993. These programs were non-school, volunteer-based. That means kids went home from school then had to come to the tutoring center on Chicago Ave after 5pm. Once they showed a commitment to participate they had to attend at least 3 or every 4 weeks to stay involved. We had the same requirements of volunteers who came from a variety of different companies in Chicago. Ronnie and his siblings participated when they were in elementary school and we tried to get them to participate in Cabrini Connections when it started in 1993. Carlos was beginning to participate when he was killed in 1995. Ronnie was not interested at all.

Just motivating older youth to participate regularly for 3 to 6 consecutive years is a huge challenge. It does not happen without a considerable effort on the part of program leaders. By 1992 the original tutoring program and the Cabrini-Green Tutoring Program had over 440 k-8 youth involved along with 550 volunteers. When I and six other volunteers formed Cabrini Connections in the fall of 1992 we had five 7th, 8th and 9th graders. By 1998 nearly 100 teens were participating regularly. From 2000 to 2012 the enrollment capped at 80 teens due to lack of space.

By the time Carlos was killed in 1995 I already knew from the Tutor/Mentor Connection (T/MC) maps that there are too few programs in most parts of Chicago. I knew from my own fund raising efforts how frustrating it is to try to get consistent, flexible operating dollars for these programs. I created the T/MC in 1993 to try to bring people together and create advertising-type visibility that would draw support to all programs in the city. I've never been able to get significant support for this ideas. I created the Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC in 2011 to try to keep this going.

After Carlos was killed, I wrote this letter which was printed in the Chicago Tribune. In this letter I appealed to people who were reading about these tragedies to provide the consistent support I and others leading tutor/mentor programs in Chicago needed to have more power to attract kids like Ronnie and Carlos and to keep them involved long enough for the program to make a difference.

In the National Mentoring Summit held last week (see my recap) the theme was “Mentoring WORKS”. One leader said “We absolutely know that mentoring works.”

What others were saying at the conference and in other forums that I have participated in for many years, “it works for some kids” and “it works if resources are consistently applied for many years”.

We need to define the many different young people and adults who are targets for mentoring, then define what “success means” for each group.
I contend that success for kids coming from high poverty neighborhoods with the type of violence Chicago has, mentoring works when kids are in college and jobs, and have a much broader adult support system to help them with their adult lives, as a result of the programs they participate in from elementary school on.

I see an awful lot of people aiming for public dollars when states like Illinois are almost bankrupt. Thus, I look for people who will “Think Retail” as the Chairman of MENTOR’s board of directors said in his opening remarks, and who will try to build a virtual corporate office that supports high quality mentoring, tutoring, arts, technology and jobs programs operating in thousands of high poverty neighborhoods.

As we do this I feel there is a tremendous potential to reach out to alumni of various mentoring and tutoring programs who are now working in their own careers and raising their own kids, as well as volunteers who have had their own lives transformed by their participation in these programs.

There is an Army out there that is not being mobilized.

The Chambers family does not have any more kids to give to street violence and inner city poverty, yet many other families will continue to bleed their youth out on the streets and in under motivating classrooms unless more people step back and look for massive systems changes in terms of how we fund programs, where we get talent to lead them, how we keep talent in place for decades, how we learn from each other so we constantly improve, and how we use the Internet to engage, share ideas, and create a massive, on-going advertising campaign that motivates people to support youth programs all over the country with the same generosity that comes after major natural disasters.

I’ll keep reaching out on social media to young people and adults who I’ve met since 1975 in my role of leader of a tutor/mentor program, and to people who lead other programs in Chicago and other cities, as well as to those in business, philanthropy, government and religion who have the same anguish as I do when I open the paper and see bad news.


Unknown said...

Very sad news for the Chambers family.

Tutor Mentor Connections said...

Thanks Sara. I just heard from Cabrini Connections that "One of their current students was friends with Ronnie and was actually in the van when Ronnie was killed."

Unknown said...

Ronnie came to the Cabrini Connections Wednesday sessions that were held at lunchtime at Wells High School. I had a great deal of interaction with him there. He always struck me as a young man who had lost his way but wanted to do the right thing. I am so sorry for the loss to the Chambers - Gates families as well as the other relatives and friends that have been devastated by this loss.

Tutor Mentor Connections said...

Thanks Claudia. I attended the funeral for Bradore's 2-yr old daughter a few years ago. The minister said "we can't under stand this" but "maybe it has brought us together so we can try."