How to Stop the Violence

13 Jul

The 2014 Fourth of July holiday weekend saw an explosion of violence in the Chicagoland area. Last year, more than 70 people were shot, 13 of whom were killed. This year, 82 people were shot with the death toll rising to 16. This included two young men ages 14 and 16 who reportedly refused to drop their weapons and were gunned down by police. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel declared the level of violence “unacceptable” in a news conference when just three months ago he and police superintendent Garry McCarthy trotted out statistics which declared that the city had experienced the “fewest murders for the first three months in more than half a century” Often asked the difference in fighting crime in New York and Chicago, McCarthy a former deputy commissioner responds “the proliferation of firearms”. Mayor Emanuel agreed, suggesting that it was the weaker gun laws in neighboring states that led to the proliferation of guns on Chicago city streets. I suggest that the answer to the violence question is not as simple as removing guns from our communities, although it should help. What is needed is reinvestment in our communities in the form of economic opportunity and educational support to address the underlying causes of the angst and frustration that people feel.

While stricter gun laws will keep guns out of the hands of certain individuals, determined criminals always seem to find the tools of their trade. Therefore, that would be, at best, a stopgap measure to address this problem. I would suggest that there are multiple solutions to addressing the violence in our communities and they do not begin with more police or military intervention. These communities need investment in the economic, educational, and human capital that has the potential to lift the standard of living of all the people in every community of this city.

We have to accept there is a systematic dynamic at play that is feeding the violence in our communities. One aspect of the recent spate of violence that no one seems to consider is that much of the violence took place in areas of the city that are hardest hit by unemployment with the accompanying disparities in wealth, health, educational opportunity and recreational resources.

If one considers these are also the same areas that were hardest hit in the riots that followed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in 1968, it is clear that individuals who make the financial decisions for the city have no interest in allocating resources for sustainable redevelopment those areas. There has been selective reinvestment, but who have been the true beneficiaries? Certainly, not the people that live in those communities. Why should someone invest in an area when the people that live there will simply tear it up? What benefit is there for those that invest in these areas? I suggest that there are real tangible benefits to be realized in all communities when we provide opportunities for the least of us. Those benefits include safer communities, better schools and increased economic opportunities.

Michelle Alexander points out in The New Jim Crow: the Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, men of color are taken into the criminal justice system, labeled as felons, have their rights stripped from them; and then are released into society unable to find gainful employment to provide for their families. The Center for Health and Justice reports that in 2009 Black men were 7 times more likely than Whites and 2.5 times more likely than Latinos to be incarcerated, mostly for drug crimes when studies have shown that Whites are more likely to actually possess drugs. Currently, “the U.S., with only 5% of the world’s population, has 25% of the world’s prison population.” This reality systematically emasculates men of color, demoralizes their spirit and breaks up the African American family unit. This statement does not discount the efforts of strong black and brown women who lead their households against incredible odds; it underscores how the removal of the man from the household has the potential to remove paternal discipline, financial support or the positive example that a working black or brown man brings to a family. Arresting the disproportionate incarceration rate of men of color would tremendously help families combined with reinvestment in education in targeted communities.

Many see education as the great equalizer. The adage goes “when one knows better, one will do better.” If the U.S. was providing the quality education that its citizens deserve then one might feel a bit more comfortable with the nation’s incarceration numbers. However, nothing could be further from the truth. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) recently released its international rankings of countries, which took the Programme for International Assessment in 2012 found that of the 34 participating countries, the U. S. ranked 26th in math, 21st in science and 17th in reading, yet the “U.S. ranks fifth in spending per student. Only Austria, Luxembourg, Norway, and Switzerland send more per student. To put this in context: the Slovak Republic, which scores similarly to the U.S., spends $53,000 per student. The U.S. spends $115,000.” The U.S. spends money but do the teachers in classrooms in the south side of Chicago see any of that money is trickling into their communities where schools have been closed and consolidated because of funding shortages?

The time has come to reinvest in our greatest resource: our children. Only through education and the strengthening of families can we hope to change the conditions, which perpetuate the type of violence that we have seen in our communities to date. Our children need nurturing, both in and outside of the home, schools that are clean and offer recreational opportunities that include the arts to show young people a rich and vibrant world. The benefit to those who invest in education will be safer communities with more productive citizens that are free from violence; that is a reality worth fighting for.

This excerpt is by author James Wallace Jr., a student in the second cohort of the Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis Urban Education Doctoral Program.

P3_Logo_FINAL

Advertisements

Move Me Soul Forward

14 Mar

P3_Logo_FINAL
I had the opportunity to attend hip hop artist Raphael Xavier’s work, The Unofficial Guide to Audience Watching, at Columbia College last month. I knew nothing about his work, so the depth of his narrative, physical skill and amazing technique stunned me.

The rap and conversational portion of the performance was about cultural transmission. Wanting to know more about the concept, I researched the term; my take away was that cultural transmission is the method employed by a group of people within a culture use to learn, create, remember and pass on ideas and information within their culture and to others outside of their immediate societal group.

In the question and answer period after the performance, Raphael suggested that audience participation is a desirable and necessary part of cultural transmission. It is not enough to observe mutely and dispassionately; the audience needs to applaud or, in the case of his piece, actually come on stage during the piece and become part of the production. In this way we learn about another’s culture, accumulating information, freeing ourselves from our fears and prejudices, and developing skills that no single individual would be able to perfect on their own.

Razib Khan, in his article, We Stand on the Shoulders of Cultural Giants, suggests that there are no “free riders”; imitators who don’t get their hands dirty are often the weakest link in cultural transmission. When interacting with people sharing cultural ideas, the obstacles to understanding and learning include an economic link. If we want the teen performers in the Move Me Soul spring concert – In Tribute: A Celebration of Life! to successfully transmit the cultural importance of their dance concert, we need to provide the financial support.

In order to build upon our collective knowledge, we need to put some money towards the talent, enthusiasm and joy of these performers. Step up and give to the fund raising campaign now at https://fundrazr.com/campaigns/5hnK2?utm_campaign=share-campaign&utm_medium=email&utm_source=03-2014. Help P3 continue to innovate and craft opportunities for theses teens to participate in cultural transmission, learning and passing on new information to others in the community.

If you have any issues donating please drop me a line at laurieask@gmail.com and I will try to assist you. Otherwise, I expect to see you at the showcase performance on April 11, 2014.

Tidings of Good Cheer

23 Dec

In the midst of planning holiday parties, family dinners and tidings of good cheer, the news in Chicago is still filled with death and violence.

Chicago Police are trying to stem the tide through the public relations release that the city recorded its lowest number of homicides in 2013, and programs such as teaching officers “police legitimacy”, a training based on research that suggests that when police treat citizens with respect, police receive more trust and compliance from citizens. No, I didn’t make that one up; I heard it on WBEZ this morning http://tinyurl.com/k2uuut7.

Whether you like him or not, Rev. Al Sharpton has come to town, moving into a temporary apartment in the Austin neighborhood in order to shine a spotlight on the problem. He says that this is part of his effort to call attention to the crisis of violence in cities. Rev. Sharpton has stated that he plans on offering some solutions to gun violence between now and January 20, 2014, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday http://tinyurl.com/le4rud7.

I believe that listening and talking to people is a good way to understand and create change to many situations but as Alderman Beale suggested, no one can come into Chicago for a couple of months and solve problems that we have been living with for years.
029dc141fc18931b9bf621bfd8846d5b_large
That being said, I am asking that you consider supporting a Kickstarter project http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1457784394/we-all-we-got. You don’t have to give more than a dollar but every dollar helps. Chicago photographer Carlos Javier Ortiz has been documenting youth violence in Chicago and other U.S. cities since 2006. The project was titled ‘Too Young To Die”. He has finally decided to publish this work in a book titled We All We Got, which collects his photographs, as well as essays and interviews with the victims, survivors, perpetrators, friends and families affected by youth violence. Ortiz, in an interview with CBS News, said he wanted to transform the perception that it isn’t about “those people” it’s just about people; people who aren’t a statistic, neighborhoods that aren’t just about victims but flesh and blood people; people who like all of us are celebrating the holidays, a time of love and peace and new beginnings.

At P3, we hope that friends and family surround you. We continue to work towards our goal of empowering young people, redeeming neighborhood jewels and creating opportunities for people to engage in real-world successes.

Resolving Differences

18 Nov

On November 7, 2013 Austin Talks published a rebuttal to several articles that had recently appeared in the Chicago Tribune (http://tinyurl.com/knwxl3y). The author, Dwayne Truss, offered strong counterpoints to the continual onslaught of negative press. His arguments were thoughtful and well presented. His experience as an advocate and board member has given him the ability to understand how to successfully negotiate adverse and somewhat cynical viewpoints.

Many of us understand that disagreements are a healthy part of the body politic but are we teaching our young people how to resolve conflicts? In an academic article titled Why We Have Been More Successful at Reducing Tobacco Use Than Violent Crime (http://tinyurl.com/myw2g9z), the authors suggest that efforts to combat violent crime are fragmented and that it has proven to be difficult to generate support for preventive programs and policies.

Teens often believe they have no choice in a disagreement but to fight. This can be blamed in part on the media’s need to highlight violence as well as the misguided societal view that avoiding a fight is a sign of weakness. Conflict resolution can be used to countermand these issues, as well as the lack of control that many teens experience. It offers methods to work through and resolve disputes that do not involve violence and can, if properly implemented, create a win-win situation for both of the parties involved.

The actual techniques are amazingly simple but it is necessary to understand how they work. The first is to teach both parties to listen to one another. Listening is not simply waiting your turn to speak; instead it is hearing what the other person has to say without passing judgment or interrupting them if you disagree with their version of the story. Both people need to agree upon what the issue really is; bringing baggage from previous conflicts or the opinions of others obscures the real problem. The final component is respect, something that even adults sometimes lose track of when in a heated disagreement. It is important to understand that showing courtesy and respect for a differing viewpoint does not diminish your own. Solving a problem or resolving a disagreement is not about declaring a winner; it is about finding a solution that can satisfy both parties.

Conflict doesn’t have to be negative as it provides everyone with an opportunity to examine their attitudes and beliefs in light of other dissonant viewpoints. Implement these strategies in your own life as well as modeling them for the teens that you come into contact with. There are more even more techniques on-line in http://tinyurl.com/kwhh257. On this anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s death, this quote is especially appropriate “So, let us not be blind to our differences – but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved.”

P3_Logo_FINAL

Riding the Information Tidal Wave

17 Sep

P3_Logo_FINAL-B&W1Quite by accident I ended up having dinner with friends and a Connecticut sculptor/university professor and his wife. The conversation moved from art to students and then to history. Along the way we strayed into my favorite subject; information overload. For the professor, the availability of a wealth of information was mitigated by students with little or no ability to locate primary source material, determine the validity of the information or critique and analyze resources to support their theses.

In fact, information overload can make it more difficult to locate relevant information in a timely manner, let alone understand and digest it enough to use it to make informed decisions. Organizations, as well as human beings, face the same challenge. This is especially true of organizations in the non-profit sector where the need for services often exceeds the available resources.

P3 faces the same challenge, too much information and not enough time to process it, let alone draw meaningful correlations to our mission and goals. There are reams or terabytes of facts, figures, charts, graphs, research, grants and news that might prove to be instrumental in our journey towards empowering young people but we don’t have the time, energy and wherewithal to always do what we desire.

The P3 board is going on a retreat to determine our next steps. If you would like to join us drop me an email and I will give you details. If you have something valid to add to the community of people pushing this organization forward but cannot attend, let me know so that we can include you in the team of people necessary to make this organization a thriving vital part of the community.

Neighborhood or Community

24 Jul

Did you know that there is a bike tour of the Austin neighborhood? The online site also includes images of various historic buildings and residences in the neighborhood. If you scroll through to the 3rd section you may even see a familiar house labeled Catherine Schlechtk House, described as an 1887 Queen Anne designed by Schock http://www.chicagovelo.com/austin.html.

The popular site Street Advisor, used by many people when moving to a city or state, also has a number of reports on the Austin neighborhood http://www.streetadvisor.com/austin-chicago-cook-county-illinois. For those unfamiliar with the site, it allows people living in or near the location to rank the area for everything from its architecture to who lives there. Surprisingly, in addition to great architecture, it also ranked high for Neighborly Spirit and was suggested by more than one writer as a good place for both professionals and families with kids.

While you may think I am bringing up these items up simply because I am weary of writing about crime rates and cajoling people to action, it is actually a response to something I saw in the Chicago Tribune Crime in Chicago article. The anonymous writer asked the question “What’s the difference between a neighborhood and a community…?” While the answer referred to a 1920 Social Science Research Committee report from the University of Chicago, I considered how I would answer that question myself.

Various dictionary definitions of community proved to be ambiguous though all had similar beginnings; that of a social group with common interests. The definition of neighborhood seemed to be more concerned with location, mostly connected to a place where people live. Psychologist Seymour Sarason first defined the phrase sense of community; he suggested that community is defined by the following factors:
1) Membership: Members have a sense of belonging; they identify with the group and they are willing to make an investment.
2) Influence: Members feel their participation makes a difference and that they have a say in what happens in the group.
3) Fulfillment of Needs: Members’ needs are met by the group; they are rewarded individually and by the success of the group. An important factor is that members are able and willing to help one another and to receive help in return.
The final and most important factor, in my estimation, is this
4) Shared Emotional Connection: Members have a belief that community has a common history, and common places as well as shared events and positive experiences. Members also experience the risks and rewards that come from their individual and group investments, be they time, money or intimacy.

Pyramid Players Productions is trying to create a community within the Austin neighborhood. In order for P3 to foster, build, and grow a successful and thriving community, it needs members. But P3 needs members who are willing to step up and take ownership and responsibility. You do not have to live in the Austin neighborhood but you need to be willing to want to be a part of the community that is striving to empower young people to discover hope and build self-worth through performance based arts and athlete development initiatives in order to be prepared for real-world success. To read the entire mission statement see http://pyramidplayersproductions.org/#/.

Your reward for participation in the P3 community will be that you are helping to make a difference, that you are a part of the answer to the challenges that teens face in Chicago. Someone in your past made an effort to engage you, to help you to get to where you are now so it is time for you to join this community and offer a hand to the next person.

Tune In for Good News

25 Jun

P3_Logo_FINAL-B&W1

Gaynor Hall wrote an astonishing piece for WGN TV website (http://wgntv.com/2013/06/24/media-and-violence-in-chicago/) on a topic we have all talked about, that of the media and its coverage of violence in Chicago. For quite a while now I have had a Google alert for the Austin neighborhood and almost every feed I get has the words shot, dead, or wounded somewhere in the headline. I rarely open them, not because I do not care about the individuals whose lives have been taken for petty and often irrational reasons, but rather because it makes me feel helpless. I also admit that I chose to let my writing reflect Thumper Rabbit’s philosophy “If you can’t say something nice… don’t say nothing at all.” And yes, I do realize I just quoted a cartoon rabbit from a 70 year old Disney movie; the value expressed is an integral part of my life.

In her piece, Hall spoke to Robert Douglas, a college student whose life went off track after the senseless death of his brother as well as Suzanne McBride, journalism professor at Columbia College, and several local publishers. While all of them offered valid points, I was most astonished by Suzanne McBride, until I read her bio on the Columbia College site and realized she is also the founder of AustinTalks.org (http://austintalks.org/). She pointed out that if all the media covers in Austin is crime, it does a disservice to its readers and to the community as violence “doesn’t really tell…the rich history and life for… (the) communities.” The on-line publication Dnainfo.com/Chicago (http://www.dnainfo.com/chicago/2012-chicago-murders) made the decision to tell the personal story of every homicide victim, granting them dignity in death but more importantly, recognition of their life.

The take away from this is that we need to combat the so-called scoreboard coverage, as N’Digo Magazine publisher Hermene Hartman so aptly named it. Headlines such as “Six Shot in Austin Over the Weekend” do little to move us to take action and so very often make people tune out. Instead, as a community, we need to tell family narratives, tracing the people who have achieved success, in spite of the odds, or talking about the resiliency of individuals in our families and communities. We need to acknowledge the positive and show that the people who do not make the ten o’clock news matter more as they are the ones who define our individual sense of self.