Tag Archives: Austin

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

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.

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.

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.

P3_Logo_FINAL-B&W1

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.