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Tune In for Good News

25 Jun

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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.

Why Baseball?

6 Mar

As a part of our mission, P3 advocates for baseball as a means of empowering youth but we are sometimes confronted with the question “why baseball”. In a recent email article Phillip Jackson, Executive Director of the Black Star Project, discussed how African-Americans have fallen behind the globalization movement (“new-world economy and new-world standards of existence”). http://tinyurl.com/azvk4qe  This is not a dilemma we face blindly. As youth advocates and workers, we often witness the aimless/mindless behavior and attitudes of our teens. 

Many sports have become breeding grounds for young athletes who hope to escape the hood as half-backs or through hoops, rarely facing the reality that few will ever make it beyond high school. While dream-chasing, they miss out on the other social and emotional benefits of participating in organized sports. These tangibles help shape and support our youth in making the physical and mental connections to the world, aiding them in realizing their full potential (in or beyond the world of sports).

The pace and complexity of baseball shapes the game to be more than a “useless sport”; whether playing, coaching, umpiring, training, analyzing, scouting or announcing, it requires the following Essential Skills:

The ability to read with understanding;

Convey ideas in writing;

Speak so that others can understand;

Observe critically;

Listen actively;

Solve problems and make decisions appropriately;

Plan and put those plans into action effectively;

Use math to solve problems and to communicate;

Cooperate with others;

Guide others;

Advocate and influence;

Resolve conflict and negotiate;

Take responsibility for life-long learning;

Learn through research;

Reflect and evaluate;

Use information and communication technology. 

I learned to play softball in my early 30’s and, when I think about the skills that I use the most in my professional life, I often cite my participation in softball as one of the most enduring. I had exceptional academic skills but had never honed (because I never played any sport at all before this) the so called “softer” skills mentioned above. In softball I learned how to lose – not just the game but inning by inning – and still keep playing. I learned to listen well enough to do something different; to observe well enough to do something different;  and to persist, persevere, and stay at the table (in the game) even when things were not going my way. I learned that people depended on me and that I depended on them. I learned that we are sometimes called upon to do things we are not inclined to do because our participation matters.

Only in softball did I see folks who – without softball – would be in jail or so hopelessly disconnected that they were aimless, rudderless and lost. No matter what, the people who committed themselves to softball and the team kept showing up! And in a global world, these are the skills necessary to survive in the 21st century.

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Move Me Soul Raises the Bar

5 Nov

Departing CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard quoted these dire statistics in his op-ed piece for the Chicago Tribune, “In 2011, fewer than 24 percent of Chicago Public Schools graduates were prepared to attend a four-year college, and only 1 in 7 African-American students tested college-ready.” But don’t despair, because there are people working hard, against those odds, to see that CPS students do succeed. One such hidden jewel is Ayesha Jaco, dance instructor with the Move Me Soul dance troupe, which operates an After School Matters (ASM) program in Austin High School.

As a 14 year old teen, Jaco became involved with Gallery 37, now a part of After School Matters, where she learned to dance. Her passion led her to receive a bachelor degree as well as a master’s of arts management in youth and community development from Columbia College Chicago and later, to found Move Me Soul. Eldrick Hereford recently had an opportunity to interview her during a brief break from her very busy schedule. 

She first became involved with ASM and P3 while working in the Austin High School teaching dance as one of the options for gym class. Her class caught the attention of the school principal and Sharif Walker when they observed her students’ success, not only the program, but in college readiness as well as personal growth. She remembered the positive role models in her own life and worked to be one of those same individuals for her students.

In another role, she serves as the Director of The Lupe Fiasco Foundation, an organization that helps to provide inner city youth with positive youth development programming. She is honing in on best practices, as well as piloting programs and determining how to grow and sustain these efforts. The organization just completed its annual Community Feeding Initiative in partnership with several churches. During the event, the foundation offered vegan and vegetarian meals as well as discount coupons for fresh fruit and vegetables in a number of neighborhoods including Englewood and Austin. They are starting their Annual Coat Drive which will provide coats to families in several shelters.

When asked what she would say if she had Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s ear for 3 minutes, Jaco said she would tell him that Austin has the largest population of young people between the ages of 10 and 24 in the City. Rather than cutting funds for programs such as Cease Fire, there should be an assessment of the area with key stakeholders coming together at the table to talk about what needs to happen in the community to celebrate its talented young people while building and supporting resources for them.

Eldrick asked Ayesha what she does to stay balanced and focused with her many roles as mother, educator, and community organizer. Jaco admitted that while dance and music play a significant part in helping her clear her head and regroup, working with young people rejuvenates and energizes her.

She believes that the arts play a significant role in not only stemming violence by providing youth with opportunities to channel their emotions and express themselves through everything from journal writing to theater and dance, but also that the arts provide youth with a sense of hope. She was once in the same position as many of her students and she remembers how much being a part of a dance program inspired her to go to college and grad school as well as start Move Me Soul. She is taking that organization to the next level as well by working with her students on technical aspects including the necessary vocabulary and performance skills to allow them to perform on professional stages throughout the world.

Jaco serves as a model for what one person can do if they put something out there and pay it forward. As such, she is one of the jewels of the Austin community.

Do You Still Have Your “Hoodies” On?

25 Sep

The City of Chicago has a serious problem with gun violence and the murder rate is soaring. The eyes of the nation are upon Mayor Rahm Emmanuel; however, the solution cannot be the sole responsibility of one man. We also cannot leave the expectation of raising our children to the Chicago Police Department. The time is long overdue for urban families to reflect on the infamous culture we have developed around gangsta rap, crack sales, marijuana smoke, saggy pants and fatherless children. The same culture that is directly responsible for creating this inner city war zone is killing our youth.

After the Trayvon Martin shooting, the African American Community rallied to have alleged killer George Zimmerman arrested and brought to justice. Community leaders, including Rev. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, were quick to organize the masses demanding justice be brought upon this fair-skinned, racial profiler (ironically found to be of Hispanic descent). A man hired to protect and serve a community of above-average income families. Every media avenue was abuzz with outraged citizens overwhelmed with anger over another black youth being gunned down without cause. Facebook profile pictures prolifically popped up proudly displaying photos of protesting public servants in their “hoodies”, a symbol that became synonymous with Trayvon’s case.   

But, months later, the African American community that upped its ethical antenna in response to another slain young black boy is quiet again. Quiet despite the numerous accounts of other young Trayvons having their light distinguished by the devastation of gang related gunfire filling the streets of Chicago every night; quiet when young children are confined to their porches because wandering further into their own community could easily leave their mothers to make coffins their final beds; quiet when we should still have our proverbial “hoodies” on for teenage rapper Joseph Coleman (aka Lil’ Jojo) and 14 year old Evanston Township freshman football phenom Dajae “Dae-Dae” Coleman. These two youth were recently gunned down in the Chicago area and their killers remain on the loose. Though no one has been identified, in the back of our minds we have already allowed the all-too-common story to play out. It is hard to believe it has been nearly 30 years since Simeon basketball star Ben Wilson was tragically murdered and yet we don’t seem to have learned an effective enough lesson. Reacting in outrage when a black or brown child is killed by a “fair-skinned” person is senseless if we continue on with our daily routine when the person taking lives in our community lives within our community or one just like it.

We have to do a better job of policing our own communities and stop placing the blame on others. We have to take the reins out of the hands of the Mayor and the police and take ownership of our failing culture. We have to create a new culture that promotes the talents of our people in the arts, sciences and sports, not the deficits of the community around them that allows for easy access to drugs, gangs and guns. It’s not too late to change our culture in order to save the lives of Chicago’s youth.

Many of our rising stars will remain hidden jewels who never have a chance to shine. They won’t ever get there because they are victims of a culture that is failing them. We need to keep our “hoodies” on and occupy WGCI and Power 92.3, demanding that they change their format and reject songs with messages that play to the destruction of our young people’s minds, directly affecting what we see and hear in our communities. We need to demand better from the talented artists with the ability to create as much of a positive message through their skill set as they do the negative, nonsensical, mind-numbing noise that has affected our youth. We need to keep our “hoodies” on until real change happens.

We need to keep our “hoodies” on until there are no more senseless killings of young black people in the city of Chicago and other cities of this great nation. We need to keep our “hoodies” on just as a protest to fair-skinned crimes against our people, but as symbols of a society ready for change and as activists ready to make those changes!

ELDRICK HEREFORD