Tag Archives: neighborhood

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.

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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.

P3_Logo_FINAL-B&W1

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.

P3_Logo_FINAL-B&W1

Be the Change You Wish to See

16 Oct

I love a good press release dressed as news item. According to the Associated Press, on October 14th Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook Co. President Toni Preckwinkle claimed that the program, called the Community Anti-Violence and Restoration Effort, or CARE which involves business and community members in reducing crime, has had success over the past year. According to another news report, community leaders at a news conference at Douglas Park stated that CARE utilizes the three-prong strategy of education, community involvement and fast police response to crime to combat violence.

Naturally skeptical, I dug further only to find a press release, dated October 13th, announcing the C.A.R.E. initiatives to reduce violence and strengthen communities. The initiative includes the creation of three new re-engagement centers to assist high school dropouts in returning to school and a review of all youth murders to determine programs and policies that could have prevented the death. The centers are starting in three communities that have experienced high drop-out rates – Garfield Park, Englewood and Little Village. I wonder if this includes the two teenagers killed just this weekend, as well as the 24 others who were wounded. According to the police, 15 of 24 shooting victims were gang affiliated.

At least the City and County have finally decided to execute a plan. But wait, there’s more. The City and County will jointly dedicate resources to manage the effort, seek public and private funding to test the approach, and eventually allocate funds to expand the most effective and successful strategies. Many businesses including include Allstate, Bain & Company, Burrell Communications, Ernst & Young, IBM, McDonald’s and the University of Chicago Crime Lab have provided financial support and or allowed employees to contribute their professional expertise. As a writer and an editor, I pay close attention to the verb tenses in sentences. It appears to me that the verbs within the phrases, including will dedicate, promises to seek, and will eventually allocate funds, do not indicate that there is actually money being spent.

It also appears as though the initiatives will involve testing to determine the most effective strategies because there simply isn’t enough research to determine what will stem the death toll. The report from the University of Chicago Crime Lab, which references academic papers and studies conducted and written as far back as 1993, concludes that we need to conduct and rigorously evaluate—first in Chicago and eventually nationwide—promising pilot programs.   (http://crimelab.uchicago.edu/sites/crimelab.uchicago.edu/files/uploads/Gun_Violence_Report.pdf)

A wonderful friend suggested to me that we need to stop studying the issues and instead execute some solutions. I agree; we have watched the bodies pile up long enough. Launching another new program, while laudable, is not enough. One more study will not change the fact that we are losing another generation; even those that live, but are touched by violence, suffer from a sense of hopelessness and futility.

So what can one person do against the overwhelming odds? Do something! Mentor one student at a local school. Call the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago at 312.932.1200 or toll free at 800.514.1224 and complain about the closing of the Austin YMCA.  Or call Minneapolis based U.S. Bank over its closing of its full service Austin branch at 800-888-4700. Attend a bi-monthly CAPs meeting. Do not stand by waiting for someone else to step up. Robert Quinn said “One of the most important insights about the need to bring about deep change in others has to do with where deep change actually starts.” And it starts with each of us, now!

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

Reggie Jones & Murielle Dickens; Rising Stars of Chicago’s Austin Community

27 Aug

Move Me Soul is more than just a dance troupe; it is a movement dedicated to saving lives through hard work, dedication, education and dance. Move Me Soul is an After School Matters program dance troupe based in the Austin community on Chicago’s West Side. Reggie Jones and Murielle Dickens are two of the standout dancers in the Move Me Soul dance troupe. They share a love for all things dance and that’s not the only thing they have in common.  

Move Me Soul, in conjunction with P3, sponsored Reggie on his first college trip to Cornish College in Seattle, Washington. He is currently a senior Austin High School. Murielle Dickens is entering her senior year at George Washington Prepatory High School. Thanks to Move Me Soul Director Ayesha, Murielle visited and studied dance and culture in Ghana.

I recently had an opportunity to see Reggie and Murielle perform and interview them as well. It was Reggie’s first time on a plane when he visited Cornish College. He described his first visit to Seattle as “Beautiful, the weather was perfect!” even though he ran into some difficulties checking into to his hotel room. P3 had pre-paid for Reggie’s room, but when he arrived he was unable to check-in; P3 eventually arranged housing for Reggie at another hotel about 30 minutes away.

While visiting Cornish College, Reggie participated in the Modern, Ballet, and Pilates dance classes. Reggie thoroughly enjoyed his visit with Cornish College, saying “Their hospitality was great!” In our interview he expressed his passion for all forms of dance; when asked to describe his style of dance he said, “It’s smooth, and I can make it however the choreographer wants to see; I will take in their techniques and add my own to it.” Preparing to go on stage his energy was upbeat and confident. When asked what makes him different he stated “I bring dance to life with my own style.”

 Murielle Dickens describe her style of dance as “Versatile and like a sponge. Any type of style of dance I can learn I will. I want to master every type of style of dance.”  Murielle said that “dancing allows me to get away from the world. Dancing keeps me out of trouble. There are so many places you can go with dance!” After being nominated by Move Me Soul Director Ayesha for the Sankofa Youth Enrichment program, Murielle won a trip to Ghana to study dance for two weeks. She seemed very humbled from her experience and said “We take so much for granted here in the US.” She intends to go back and initiate a Christmas toy/clothing drive for the youth in Ghana. Her advice to anyone interested in dance is to “Stay true to yourself.”

Reggie Jones and Murielle Dickens are the Rising Stars of the Austin community. They both claim Michael Jackson as their favorite dancer but they also share their ambition and drive as well. Their plight is to escape from the violence of Chicago’s Austin community through dance. These are the names that you should know as these Rising Stars will become the Game Changers of tomorrow.

 

Eldrick Hereford

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.