Make This World A Better Place

17 May

P3_Logo_FINAL-B&W1LaShondra Jones , the mother of a ten year boy, shot while playing in front of his house while waiting for a pizza to be delivered, summed up what all of us have felt, if not said, “I hope the world gets better.”

This summer, Collaboraction Theatre http://www.collaboraction.org/#!home/mainPage will be at Austin Town Hall to perform the play “Crime Scene: Let Hope Rise.” The play, an update to “Crime Scene: A Chicago Anthology”, explores the history of gun violence from 1780 to the present. According to an interview with writer and director Anthony Moseley in the Sun Times, the new version of the play is meant to both educate people who don’t know what is going on while demonstrating to people touched by gun violence that someone cares about their story. Moseley said “At its best, it’s really a catalyst for a conversation that we as a city need to have.”

Two photographers are also trying to bring visuals to the situations, offering images of the people affected by the on-going violence. Jon Lownestein has been chronicling Chicago’s South Side for the past ten years but he decided to focus on gun violence with a project called Chicago’s Bloody Year (http://noorimages.com/feature/chicagos-bloody-year/). The images range from memorials on street corners to cops on patrol to the people left behind to mourn family and friends killed in the ongoing violence. In an interview with Art Beat reporter Ray Suarez, Lowenstein talked about his desire to have his photographs reflect on both the greatness of the community as well as the heartbreak saying that he hoped we can make the world a little better.

 Carlos Ortiz, a Chicago native, has spent the last six years taking more than 20,000 photographs of the aftermath of gang violence with many of the images included in his project “Too Young to Die.” (http://tooyoungtodieproject.org/) Ortiz states that the purpose of his project is to move beyond the sensationalism and if it bleeds it leads headlines, in order to create understanding of the victims of violence, as well as the costs to all of us in Chicago.

So consider these three people as representative of so many others. It is not enough to check out their websites, listen to their interviews or read the few sentences online. The conversation needs to be bigger and we all need to take part; and the conversation needs to be about doing not just talking. So as warm weather approaches, consider what you can do to make your piece of the world a better place.

Tagging Austin

19 Apr

There have been several recent articles about a new start-up social media site called the Findery (https://findery.com/). The founder, Caterina Fake, who previously started Flickr, has a new web site where the service relies upon users to annotate the physical world to create augmented-reality content. This form of internet tagging is designed, in Fake’s words, “to tease out local knowledge, hidden secrets, stories and information about the world around you.” According to the Atlantic magazine article (http://tinyurl.com/asd5fzm), Fake wants to make technology real by bringing in human interactions.

While I am always interested in technology, my eye caught this question from the interviewer; “Could more knowledge lead people to shun dangerous or crime-ridden areas?” Fake’s answer intrigued me:

      There was a lot of crime information on Findery for Hunters Point, a poor neighborhood in San Francisco. As a team, we felt an urge to make the place come alive, to say, “This is the community, this is the history of the place, here’s the important stuff that’s going on now.” That can’t happen unless you give people a place to talk. If a newspaper reports on Hunters Point, the “if it bleeds it leads” attitude dominates. The news doesn’t tell you the story of a place as the locals know it.

Then I looked up Chicago on the site. There are only six locations listed which is not surprising, given that the site originators are California-P3_Logo_FINAL-B&W1based. But, consider what would happen if we decided to change the Austin neighborhood from a crime-ridden communitywith nothing but reports of continuing failure and violence to a neighborhood where the hidden gems show up on the map. So I invite you to either send me a location in Austin that you would like me to post or go to Findery yourself. Let’s begin to put Austin on the map for all the best reasons.

And don’t forget to attend the spring concert Dancicals on April 25th at 6 p.m. at Autin H733889_420309491393352_928553474_nigh School located on 231 N. Pine. Show up and applaud the efforts of some of the best teens in Chicago.

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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Pay It Forward

4 Mar

Years ago I read an article in the Atlantic Magazine that offered some insight into political capital. The author, William Schneider, said “The rule about political capital is, when you’ve got it, spend it, because you can’t hold on to it.” The popular definition of political capital usually refers to the power that popularity or media coverage confers upon a politician or someone in power.

There is also human, social and intellectual capital. Human capital refers to the value that people, often employees, bring to an organization through their skills and knowledge. Social capital is thought of as the social interactions and relationships that glue us together. Intellectual capital, a term most often employed in business environments, includes human capital, structural capital or process infrastructure that allows us to support what we do, and relational capital, that which links an organization to suppliers and customers. 

Before you drift off, thinking this is another business meeting in a stuffy conference room where a talking head is discussing short and long term business goals, think about P3. We have assets and, though these assets are not cash, they are spendable. Our assets are human capital, social capital and most recently, intellectual capital. We have formed a board, assessed our financial situation, and have undertaken the often thankless task of developing processes to move forward. By spending a little of our capital, we have had assistance in creating logos and letterhead.

Our assets can give us a distinct competitive advantage if we are willing to spend them. We need to distinguish ourselves in the landscape of non-profits with good intentions but little or no business or marketing acumen. We have the people and we have the mission so in the next few weeks we are going to spend a little capital and ask that you do the same.

P3 will be hosting several events, one after work and another after a performance. Our capital expenditure will be volunteer time, expertise and sweat equity while yours needs to be cash. We need money to move this plan forward and while we would love to find a couple of big donors, for the time being we are going to be coming to you, our friends, co-workers and family. Invest in a better tomorrow. Whatever part of our mission resonates with you, get out your checkbook and spend a little on the future of Austin.

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Show Up and Be Counted

10 Jan

Happy 2013! Let us hope that the New Year brings fundamental change to the neighborhoods in Chicago, especially those plagued by violence, gangs and gunfire. That change must begin with us as we cannot rely upon law enforcement, politicians, studies or reports to be the change we need.

 Recently, Crain’s posted a map “Rich Blocks, Poor Blocks” created by Chris Persaud (http://www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20130108/BLOGS08/130109821/how-rich-is-your-neighborhood#ixzz2HbWl8dWe). Persaud noticed a correlation between the poorer census tracts, many situated in Chicago, and the areas that suffer from high crime rates. The map is not particularly user friendly unless you know your census tract number but the article points out that the median income for the heart of South Austin (census tract 2519) is $18.8 K while the statewide median income is between $48-58K.

I doubt anyone is surprised when reading this. We all know that income, derived from gainful and engaging employment, combined with educational resources, will go a long way to solving the rise in crime rates. But the problem appears to offer the chicken and egg scenario; we can’t get jobs for undereducated people and we can’t get educational resources without having more money, derived from property taxes, allocated to failing schools.  

I propose you allocate what you do have, the will and intention to be the change you wish to see (with thanks to Gandhi), and support the projects the P3 is working on this year. You can support them with money or by volunteering but most of all, you can show-up! When the season starts, show up for an Urban Hardball game and cheer the team on. Attend a Move Me Soul dance recital and get caught up in the energy. Help us empower the young people in the neighborhood through sports, dance and theater while promoting the pride, power and unity of the neighborhood.

In the next few weeks we will be updating the Facebook page with our new logo as well as news about some of the activities we will be promoting this year. Don’t let this be another year of bad news for Austin; instead let’s raise a little hope and a lot of commotion for the jewels of the neighborhood.

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Pass On the Good News

11 Dec

In one of my many guises I write a blog for an organization that represents photographers and photo researchers. My most recent post included an incredible book called GO DO GOOD (http://www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/2276963). Some of my favorite commercial and fine art photographers took time out of their schedules to create small photographic essays highlighting the small but wonderful projects that individuals and groups have taken on to make a difference.

I mention this because I found the project and book while digging for some information regarding a photography show I wanted to see. There is no large publicity machine churning out press releases, tweets, Facebook updates and news reports about this and so many other examples of people trying to change their small section of the universe.

When I do a Google search for Austin neighborhood, the first two or three items that appear are always related to crime. A recent Chicago Tribune article (http://crime.chicagotribune.com/chicago/) reported that Austin has the dubious distinction of ranking number one on the list of the Top Five Most Crime-Ridden Chicago Communities. This sad statistical representation of a vibrant community shows up again and again, page after page, along with news reports of people who have come under fire in the neighborhood.

The only upbeat news item I could find was Mayor Emanuel’s November announcement with the headline Emanuel steers $1.25 million in TIF funds to high school. “Investing in our children and their futures is a key priority of my administration and this funding will allow thousands of Chicago’s children to get high-paying jobs in tomorrow’s workforce,” said Mayor Emanuel. “I’m proud to be able to reinvest these recovered TIF funds into a neighborhood program that will directly impact the lives of Chicago’s families and strengthen our city’s economy for the future.” While this is a wonderful investment into the Austin neighborhood, it made it into only four papers, while the crime ranking of Austin showed up a dozen times.

Move Me Soul is performing December 13 at 6 p.m. on the Austin High School campus at 231 N Pine. No, this isn’t the Joffrey Ballet and it isn’t at Symphony Center. It’s free and these students come together to prove there is a reason to celebrate life. They dance because they can and because they want to make a difference in their own lives as well as in the lives of those around them. This is a small and wonderful bit of good news about Austin. Pass it on; with each small step we can move away from the violence and statistics towards something better.