Sunday, November 08, 2020

Helping Youth in Low Status Communities

Since March 2020 I've been watching a series of #PovertySolutions events, hosted by a group at the University of Michigan.  Last Friday's was titled "Talent Retention in Low Status America" and featured Majora Carter (

In her introduction (during first 10 minutes of the presentation) Majora said:

“I use the term 'Low Status Communities' vs low income, communities where there are more environmental burdens, higher rates of poverty, low educational attainment, higher rates of health problems, higher rates of people involved in the justice system, but most importantly there is a lack of hope, an assumption that inequality is just assumed, by both people inside and outside of the community. 

In our communities (low status) we're taught to measure success by how far we get away from them. No matter what type of low status community you were raised in, you're taught to measure success by how far you get away from them. 

These are the kind of things that repel people from a low status community. If they can find a way to leave, they do. 

There is no shortage of talent coming from low status communities. The challenge is to retain it and reinvest it in making those communities places where people would want to live."

Watch the full video at

I've not heard the term “low status communities” used this way, describing communities like the ones on the West and South side of Chicago, and pockets like the Cabrini Green housing projects on the Near North side of Chicago, where I led youth tutor, mentor and learning programs from 1975 to 2011.

I've used maps for 25 years to point to low-status communities in Chicago with the goal of helping well-organized, long-term, tutor/mentor programs, like the ones I led, grow in these areas.  View this concept map to see a collection of platforms that map indicators of low status communities. 

I understand what she was talking about. As I listened to Majora, I thought about how the programs I led were focused on helping our inner-city students get the education and adult support they need to move through high school, college then they could live where ever they wanted, free from poverty. That means outside of the neighborhoods where they were living. 

As I listened to Majora I posted a few Tweets at #PovertySolutions to share my thinking.
The concept map I shared in that Tweet shows many of the challenges facing youth and families in low status communities. Until low status communities offer more reasons for their youth to live there, by reducing many of these challenges, those kids, like any other people, will choose to find other places to live where they are more comfortable, safer, with better schools.

I've written often of the challenges of operating a non-profit tutor/mentor program that depends on volunteer talent and inconsistent donor support. During my first 15 years leading a program that grew from 100 pairs of elementary school kids to 300 pairs, I also held a full time advertising job, with management responsibilities. Just keeping the program running and growing was a huge job.

The parents kept telling me they needed programs helping kids beyond elementary school, so in 1992 I created Cabrini Connections to do that. Over the next 18 years we helped many kids finish high school and move on to jobs. I'm now connected to many on Facebook and seeing them post stories showing the success of their own kids.

As with in my earlier years, just keeping the program in business during the ups and downs of the economy was a huge challenge.

However, we compounded that by launching the Tutor/Mentor Connection in 1993 to help all programs in Chicago get greater visibility and a more consistent flow of operating dollars. Helping everyone else, also was helping our own program.

Through the Tutor/Mentor Connection I began building a library that showed the conditions Majora described in her talk. I created concept maps showing that youth and families needed many other types of support, beyond tutoring/mentoring. 

However, I also attempted to show how recruiting adults from the workplace and beyond the geography of low status communities, created social capital ties that encouraged more people to take an interest in the conditions of these communities.  Doing so was intended to influence the growth of investors and innovators who would help re-build these communities to make them places the kids we were helping want to invest their own talent and lives.

Without  help from others, we're not able to offer long-term tutor/mentor programs. Without help from others, I think it will be pretty difficult for people like Majora to rebuild low status communities, wich are spread throughout the country.

The work of re-building communities takes decades. The work of helping a youth from first grade through high school also takes many years. But various tutor/mentor program strategies can reach kids in middle school and/or high school, to help influence that journey, in a shorter period of involvement.

In watching the Poverty Solutions session with Majora Carter I was reminded that those of us working directly with youth need to show our volunteers and supporters a larger strategy that might someday reduce the need for so many volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs.  

We need thousands of people filling the blue box in the middle of the graphic above, writing blog articles like mine, creating videos, Tweets and movies, to motivate more and more people to get informed, then get involved.  

I can be found in many social media places. See a list of links here.

If you value what I'm writing, visit this page and send me a small contribution to help fund the Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC. 



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