Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Opportunity for All? Involvement of More.

Last week I posted some maps created from an interactive dashboard built by the Economic Innovation Group (EIG) that enable you to zoom into different places in America to see, at the census tract level, where poverty persists.  

Today they released another dashboard, showing where economic prosperity is more prevalent, and where distressed communities are located.   The poverty rate is part of this index, but other factors are also included. Read about the DCI on this page

Below is one view of that dashboard.

Here is a second view, this time centering on the Chicago region, where I've worked for the past 30 years to help volunteer-based tutor, mentor and learning programs grow.

This map shows that there are many places in the Chicago region and Northwest Indiana that have distressed communities. So do other cities surrounding Lake Michigan, such as Milwaukee and Kenosha, Wisconsin, Waukegan, Illinois, Benton Harbor and cities further East.

To help you understand the data shown on this map, read some of the stories shared on the platform.  This one, titled "Economic inequality often divides neighboring communities", is especially relevant. It shows how communities, like the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, have a huge variation in economic well-being.  If you zoom into the Chicago region, or other big cities, you'll see the same pattern.

Since I began serving as a volunteer tutor/mentor in 1973 I've been building a library of articles to help me understand why tutor/mentor programs were needed and where. Over the past 25 years I've accelerated that information collection, building a wide range of articles about race, poverty, inequality and social justice.  

I use this concept map to point to the various sections of my library where I share these links.

When we formed the Tutor/Mentor Connection (T/MC) in 1993 our mission was   

"to gather and organize all that is known about successful non-school tutoring/mentoring programs and apply that knowledge to expand the availability and enhance the effectiveness of these services to children throughout the Chicago region."

 On the mission page of my website I show that


On the strategy page I show this concept map, outlining four concurrent strategies. 

I created this graphic many years ago to show the intermediary role the Tutor/Mentor Connection has taken since 1993 and that I've tried to continue via the Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC since 2011.

The information I share can be used by anyone in any part of the country to help people living in distressed communities move toward economic prosperity. It can be used to understand our long history of racism and inequality and current threats to democracy and freedom.  It can be used to draw people from all sectors into conversations and learning that leads to problem solving and solutions.

Using the EIG map anyone can create a different version of my graphic, replacing the Chicago region with their own part of the country.  Anyone can build a library showing local issues and link to my library showing a broader range of information (and in my library I point to many websites which themselves are extensive libraries).

So why aren't more people involved solving these problems?  Maybe one reason is that too many people don't want them to be solved, for their own self interests or political/religious beliefs.

I'm sure a major reason is that there are so many other competing issues, and most people struggle with their own personal well-being and that of their own families.

Maybe another is that most people don't live in distressed areas. These are not their problems, or their daily lived experience.  The map views below illustrate this point.

This is a view of the EIG dashboard showing persistent poverty by census tract.

If you look at the map from this view, you can hardly see the persistent poverty areas around Lake Michigan or in Ohio.  You need to zoom in to see high poverty areas around Lake Michigan.

However, these are small islands in an ocean of opportunity.  Unless you live near, or in, one of the shaded areas on the map, this is not your lived experience. You only understand the problem from what you read in the news, or on social media, which is often a very biased point-of-view.

3-7-2024 update - Here's an article using the EIG dashboard to show patterns of neighborhood distress in US metros

The reason I support volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs is that they not only can offer life-changing opportunities for kids lucky enough to participate in an organized program, but they draw people from beyond poverty into a shared experience with kids and families who do live in these areas.

I created this concept map to show how volunteers who are well-supported, and stay involved for multiple years, begin to learn more about the challenges facing youth and families, and in some cases, become willing to do more to try to help remove those challenges. 

I did not have the library of information that I now host 49 years ago when I began leading a tutor/mentor program.  In fact, I did not begin to intentionally collect race-poverty information until the mid 1990s.  Initially, I focused on the benefits of being part of a tutor/mentor program as "diversity training".  

Here's an article from page 2 of my January-February 1997 T/MC Report newsletter report that shows how "One-on-one tutor/mentor programs offer the best diversity training program any company might invest in." (It's always embarrassing to find typos in past articles that I wrote. Ugh.)

As we built the Tutor/Mentor library in the 1990s and 2000s we began sharing the information with our students and volunteers, encouraging them to use the learning resources to help students succeed in school and to help volunteers understand the history of slavery and racism and the continued challenges faced by people who live in areas of concentrated poverty, which are the areas highlighted on the EIG dashboards.

I've been singing this song for a long time as the 1997 T/MC Report newsletter shows.  Here's a more recent article, posted in 2015.  It includes the graphic shown below.

I highlighted the part that reads "We can give ourselves a cozy feeling of cheaply acquired nobility by apologizing for past injustices. Or we can stop patting ourselves on the back and cross the tracks to the other side of town to take small, concrete, unglamorous steps to end present-day suffering."

This was written in 1997 following the President's Summit for America's Future, hosted by President Clinton and every other living President, to focus on improving the lives of the 14 million youth living in poverty in America.

One last graphic.  Take the YOU role and share this information.  Do what I've been doing.

I've written this blog since 2005.  I've shared this information on websites since around 1998.  I shared via print newsletters from 1993 to 2003 and email newsletters from the early 2000s till today. I've posted regularly on social media.  

All to motivate more people to "cross the tracks" and "take small, concrete steps" that would help kids living in areas of concentrated, persistent poverty have mentor-rich pathways from birth-to-work.

If thousands of people in Chicago and other cities had shared this information as often over the past 25 years, and with their own creativity, perhaps there would be fewer areas of distressed communities and/or persistent poverty.  Maybe we would be closer to solving some of the other problems buried in our history as a nation.

Thanks for reading. Thanks for sharing.  Please spend time reading other articles on this blog.  Help me find leaders who will carry this work forward in future years. 

Find me on Twitter (X), LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Mastodon and other platforms (see links here).

I don't have a salary for doing this work (since 2011). So if you want to help, visit this page and make a small contribution.

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