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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Me or the Message?

I have had an interesting series of conversations over the last few years with my best friend. We have some definite views on the world and want to act on those views. We know that one person cannot do it all alone, but a hundred people or a thousand, or a 100,000 can do a lot more. Scale is sometimes an important dimension of planning and acting.

I teach maybe 40-100 college students a year, depending on what I teach and how many students I am in contact with. I've been teaching for enough years to have had an impact on maybe 2000 students or less. A lifetime, and I have reached a couple thousand. Of those, maybe 20-30% are actually motivated to take up what I have challenged them to do. So if 200 people are motivated and they motivate another 200, then in 20 years we might motivate 40,000. It's almost a whack-a-mole game. You knock one down and 3 more pop up. You motivate a few, but the time horizon to have a significant impact is so long that your efforts get eroded to the point of obscurity.

I am frustrated because I see how little has changed during my life in the issues that I care so deeply about. For all the millions of dollars spent on urban redevelopment and poverty, for the countless man hours by legions of people spent on community development, and the tens of thousands of houses and neighborhoods built for affordable and decent shelter - there is little to show in terms of change. We barely make a dent. It's a whack-a-mole.

I've been in and out of too many neighborhoods in too many cities hearing the same thing - good things are happening and change is coming. I said it myself in my last post. I can see a better day coming. I always tell myself it is optimism. Today, I'm thinking it is just a form of denial. Houses get boarded up, kids don't learn in school, drugs and turf wars drop lives in their prime, families fall apart, businesses fail, people get sick and die for lack of care, and hope is discarded like yesterday's news. Churches and schools say we have to save one life and teach one person at a time. Keep going and keep your eyes on the prize. It's a whack-a-mole.

The game needs to change. The message is valid, but it is not being heard. The deck is stacked against the message and won't be heard or acted upon at a sufficient level to make a difference. We have to stop playing whack-a-mole.

Question for me at this moment is, what is the new game?


justme said...

I wanted to let you know about my blogs since our meeting? I don't know how to follow your blogs. I posted a blog about the financial struggle that the Historical Black Colleges are in partly because of the male dropout rate. I also posted a blog about the at-risk youth and needed mentors in Camden. I haven't recieved any comments yet. Check them out!

Do you see me? said...

I just read your blog and left a comment on your post about mentors. I have now included your blog on my Camden blog list!