Tag Archives: crime

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

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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.

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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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.

Telling Our Own Story

8 Aug

Periodically we will be focusing the blog on one of the hidden jewels in the Austin neighborhood. There are a myriad of individuals, businesses, or even architectural gems, that contribute to the best of Austin but may be overlooked in the salacious headlines and crime statistics.

A brief history of the area might help to illuminate this unique community. According to the Chicago History online encyclopedia (http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/93.html), Austin was created by developer Henry Austin in 1865 as a temperance settlement within the Cicero Township. In 1899, it was voted out of the Cicero Township and into Chicago. Originally home to Germans and Scandinavians, Irish and Italian families soon followed until the 1960’s when the population began to shift to predominantly African Americans. Today the neighborhood, having suffered from increased violence during the economic downturn which devastated both the real estate market and businesses within the neighborhood, is once again posed for rebirth and revitalization. Community leaders and business owners, profiled in a recent Crain’s Chicago article, spoke about their hopes and fears for the neighborhood.

Richard Feynman, noted Quantum physicist, looked at problems as or more complex than those of Austin and said “Our responsibility is to do what we can, learn what we can, improve the solutions, and pass them on.”  If you have a story or know someone or something you would like us to feature, please contact us.