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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Joey the barber

The KC Star has a great article today about Joey the barber on Indiana Ave who cuts hair and runs a foundation to work to keep kids out of trouble. His own journey to where he is today is very compelling. The story spells out the hurdles, triumphs, and realities of eastside living. The comments made so far this morning on the Star site are all about how wonderful the story is - as if a fairy tale - because people on the westside, southside, northside, and suburbs rarely see a story like this.

What struck me is that life on the eastside is very different than all the other parts of KC. The eastside has more violence every day. People on the eastside have to negotiate that violence. There is poverty, homelessness, blight, an entirely different retail landscape, and sometimes desperation and hopelessness. But I also know that people live their lives every day on the eastside, just like the rest of Kansas City does. And I don't think the KC experience is any different than any other city in the US. I see the exact same scenario in Camden with the suburbs looking askance at the city.

People outside of the 'hood look at it like it is some kind of foreign space. This is because the media generally sensationalizes the problems as if it is the sum total of eastside daily life. Because the violence and poverty is so very different from all the other parts of the city, it is seen as exceptional - not good exceptional, but different exceptional. It is that exceptional quality that makes it a curiosity and thus, newsworthy. This conversation needs to change.

If people outside of the 'hood understood the good things that go on - the people like Joey the barber - that are dealing with reality and not exceptions, then perhaps the people outside the 'hood would begin to grasp the gravity of the situation and be able to deal with it, instead of just ogling it.

Right now the good people of KC peer into the eastside as voyeurs through the window of tv news and the newspaper. Their perception is based on an assumption that because it is so very different from their lives, they can't possibly deal with it. They dismiss it as animals, thugs, people who don't deserve our help, and worse.

If the good people of KC were allies of the eastside, they would not be voyeurs and would have a more realistic understanding of what goes on and how to help. That is what is needed.


Monday, September 20, 2010

Dividing Lines

BlogKC has an illuminating map depicting the racial divide in Kansas City. It's not new. It's been a visual for the city since the 1950s. It's just that we can now map it in stark relief. We did a series of these maps at UMKC for several different projects in 2004 and 2005. People see this, they say "wow," and then they move on - until the next time they see the map. Yet nothing changes.

Kevin Fox Gothem is the authority on how this came to be. Google his books and articles. They are quite well written and researched and very informative. We are divided overtly by public policy. It didn't "just happen." It is intentional.

There have been a few recent reflections on the racial divide in KC with some folks suggesting that US 71 is the new Troost. It's all the same geography - east meets west and west runs away.

Look at our political districts. Precincts don't cross Troost. Ergo, political districts are divided by Troost, mainly because we are an East-West city and all our districts run North and South. Imagine if we divided the city in wide East-West districts that were stacked on top of each other from North to South. Some people's heads would explode. But changing the political boundaries would be the most expedient way to integrate the city. Imagine Brookside and Blue Hills having the same city council rep - who would have to satisfy constituents on both sides of Troost. Why....the residents might have to get to know one another and get along!

We have an amazing opportunity in KC at the moment - redistricting. Not just once, but twice! There are ways to cut the population so as not to dilute minority voting strength and to keep geographical proximity (both required by the US Supreme Court), AND ignore Troost or any other East West boundary. Sadly, every map that has been drawn as a possible redistricting does not even try to ignore Troost. It's as if it is cast in some kind of stone. And, sadly it is - by public policy.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

City Streets Invade Schools

I just learned that the Scholars at SWHS have formed a Scholar's Committee. check it out on Facebook:!/group.php?gid=157712014243496. Now this is handling business!!

The big changes in the Kansas City Missouri School District have resulted in some difficulties during the first week of school. Kudos to Superintendent Covington for personally dealing with the problems erupting at Southwest High School. This is a college prep HS located in the white and affluent part of town, that became an attendance-based school this year. The district closed another high school and 1000 new kids now join the existing 500 SW kids. That's a radical change for the neighborhood, the school, the kids. Change does not come easy. During the first week there have been fights at the school, significant student disruptions, and other incidents that look more like Central HS - in the urban core of KC. The Super has re-created an alternative school to ship out the disruptive students. I know a student at SW who started there last year. He's from the urban core and was very distressed that his streetlife was following him to this school. His first reaction was that he should flee to another school district. I told him to give it a week and luckily the Superintendent has not disappointed me.

But the issue here is not unruly kids or bad parents, which is what the news story comments state emphatically along with blog post comments. The unruly kids and bad parents are the RESULT of the complete neglect of the elephant in the room. White people have been just fine with treating black and brown people poorly, being racist, and neglecting poor neighborhoods. That damaging relationship shows up in unruly kids and bad parents. And guess what, those problems come right into the school hallways. And you wonder why DeShawn fights at school, but little Billy does not? Look at the streets people. The urban core has been neglected and abused for so long that residents now reflect that abuse.

Yes, government funds have been spent on the urban core. But there still are no jobs, no retail, and neighborhoods are used as dumping grounds.

Yes, the KCMSD spent millions on schools as part of the deseg case. But kids still can't read.

Yes, "programs" are run by well-meaning nonprofits, welfare flows, and do-gooders do good in the urban core. But those efforts have no impact on the core of the problem that is causing the need for those do-gooders and welfare. Racism, Bigotry, Classism, Fear, and the benefit of keeping a choke-hold on Disparity.

I've addressed all of this before. SWHS this week is a classic example of how this plays out. The public response is so predictable. The Superintendent has few options because his time horizon is right now, not 10 years from now. He has to make sure that learning goes on come Monday. So the thugs and trouble-makers have to go. They'll go back to the urban core and be tucked away so as not to threaten anyone else. In the short term, this seems like the only option. But it is not.

This city has the opportunity to begin healing if it will only take a bold step to do so. There are people in this city who could do amazing things with these kids, their parents, and all the communities involved. But white ego won't allow that to happen, because we are so, so, so invested in being right - THEY are the problem, THEY don't parent well, THEY are thugs, THEY don't want to learn. There is a problem, parents are not perfect, kids become thugs, learning seems meaningless when daily survival is paramount. We can't seem to see past the 3pm bell and then we get up in the morning and do it all over again the next day.

We need a circuit breaker. We need Ossco Bolton, airick leonard west, Jamekia Kendrix, Colleen Innis, and an assortment of other strong skilled people who get it, who understand young people and the urban core, who can spreak truth to power, and start healing this city. It's not a pipe dream, it's survival.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Responsibility is Yours for the Taking

Labor Day marks the official start of the fall campaign season. So expect to see a full-court press of advertising, dirty tricks, sleight of hand, and nothing resembling reasonable discourse for the next two months.

What we will likely see is a lot of immigrant bashing, blaming minorities for their own plight and bringing whites down with them, and other assorted intolerance of "others," which in today's politics is a pretty wide swath of the population.

The economic collapse brings out the need for scapegoats - who can be blamed? Repubs and conservatives blame the Dems and liberals, and vice versa. Whites blame people of color and vice-versa. Paranoids, otherwise known as liberatarians, blame Obama and Obama blames elitists (like Geitner perhaps?). Of course the joke is that the circular finger-pointing will leave no one standing after election day. The political aftermath may be worse than our economic condition.

At all levels of politics, leadership is in short supply. Everyone has an explanation for who is to blame and it is not the blamer! Example: in criticizing urban schools - teachers blame parents, parents blame teachers, students blame teachers, teachers blame administrators, and citizens blame all of the above. No one wants to look at their own contribution to the mess. Even in higher ed, I have become an end-around fighter. I like to call it, "proceed until apprehended." Keeps me looking good and shifts blame to all the administrators that stand in the way of my interests. Problem is, they get upset with me and feel they have to clean up my mess when they apprehend me. I'm generating progress while thwarting my own staying power. I saw the same thing in a NYT article today on public school teachers/administrators. Essentially their argument is that if administrators are blocking progress, let the teachers be administrators. But who will step up when those rallying teachers burn out doing double duty? "Let me do it" is not a solution as much as a shortcut that requires no dialogue or responsibility.

In the end, all this jockeying for position leaves the powerless even less powerful. That's probably the opposite of what many of the jockeys want or expect. Perhaps it's time to start thinking about including the supposed beneficiaries of our efforts to find out what they need to succeed.

Responsibility => Power:

1. have an open discussion with students and young people on a wide scale basis, not just the chosen representatives; likewise with union members, residents. A discussion continues until concluded - not for a set period of time while it is easy and the cameras are on.

2. dialogue up and down the chain of command and across stakeholders - keep it real and check the egos at the door. Call out presumptive and responsibility avoiding actions of yourself.

3. include parents, employees, voters, residents in a discussion of responsibility about education, crime, business, service provision, and the success of what we see as essential elements of our daily life. Again, a discussion continues until resolution and satisfaction are reached, not just until the hour is up. Don't have a meeting, have a dialogue.

It starts with you. What are you doing to take responsibility for the ills you see around you? And I am not referring to volunteering here - another form of "Let me do it."