Sunday, November 25, 2007

A Thousand Splendid Suns

My Thanksgiving holiday reading was A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. By the end of my reading this evening I had to find a mirror to put my left contact back in place on my eye because of my tears. Hosseini has such a gut wrenching way of weaving hope and tragedy. I couldn't put it down. It's a very engaging way to learn about life in Afghanistan during the rule of the Taliban. It also made me very grateful for my freedom to learn and explore the world, especially as a woman. I read The Kite Runner a few years ago. It was also a great book.

This Is No Joke

"This is no joke. People are dying," a Breakthrough staff member told me. Every once in a while God reminds me why the work of Breakthrough is so important. Today is one of those days. I learned that a friend of ours died a few months ago. The word is that he died of a heart attack, but those of us who knew him know that he was using drugs again. Now he's gone.

Our parks have become a testing ground for new mixes of drug chemicals. Neighborhood addicts know they can hang out in the parks and get drugs for free. The pushers are competing to claim that their dope gives the latest, best high. To test new products they hand them out in the park. It's like Russian Roulette for the addicts. They might get the best high ever, or no high at all, or they might die. They are dying. They die quietly of heart attacks and strokes. They don't make the papers or the nightly news. One would think that no one really cares. Is there any hope? Does anyone really care? Breakthrough is a lifeline. Our work must grow.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Porcelain Doll

Anita Lustrea played this 98 second audio clip on her Midday Connection show yesterday. You can listen to her entire show with Elizabeth Styffe, director of Saddleback Church's HIV/AIDS initiative, at this link.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Drama in the Night

Saturday night I went to bed at about 10:30. I awoke at 1:30 AM to lots of voices shouting and screaming using the most explicit words imaginable. Charlie (my dog) and I sleep in a bedroom in the back of the apartment. We hear lots of yelling, sirens, cars screeching and trains going by. Both Charlie and I have grown accustomed to it so that even with this extreme shouting that sounded almost like a riot, neither of us got up. Charlie didn't even bark. But when I heard about five gun shots, I decided to go to the living room window at the front of the apartment and see if I needed to do anything. There were about fifty young people embroiled in a huge fight in front of my apartment. Several of the young men were wielding baseball bats and two by fours and they were beating each other up. Evidently someone had shot a gun into the air and some of them were beginning to scatter.

I wandered what it must be like to be the mother or grandmother of one of those kids, knowing they are out there and not knowing how to stop them from being there. Anything could happen.

A 21-year old boy from the neighborhood recently was released from prison and has been hanging out at our offices. Today Bill and I were trying to find out what dreams he has for his life. He couldn't think of anything. I finally asked him when in the last week he had felt the most positive about himself and hopeful for the future. He said it is when he is with us at the Breakthrough Joshua Center. You can almost sense the fear in him that if he goes back out there it is only a matter of time, statistics indicate less than 90 days, and he will be back in prison. I told him that he should keep coming by and helping out around the center. It's a safe place for him, a place where he is beginning to feel hopeful.

Please pray for him and for the young people who were out there Saturday night. I really believe many, if not most, of them would not be hanging out on the street if there were alternatives for them. They just need safe places where they can begin to dream for their future and experience positive life change.

Monday, November 19, 2007

A Whale's Gratitude

I'm not sure if this story is true, but it is beautiful none the less...
A female humpback whale had become entangled in a spider web of crab traps and lines. She was weighted down by hundreds of pounds of traps that caused her to struggle to stay afloat. She also had hundreds of yards of line rope wrapped around her body, her tail, her torso, a line tugging in her mouth.

A fisherman spotted her just east of the Faralon Islands (outside the Golden Gate) and radioed for help. Within a few hours, the rescue team arrived and determined that she was so bad off, the only way to save her was to dive in and untangle her... a very dangerous proposition. One slap of the tail could kill a rescuer.

They worked for hours with curved knives and eventually freed her. When she was free, the divers say she swam in what seemed like joyous circles. She then came back to each and every diver, one at a time, nudged them, and pushed gently, thanking them. Some said it was the most incredibly beautiful experience of their lives. The guy who cut the rope out of her mouth says her eye was following him the whole time, and he will never be the same.

May you, and all those you love, be so fortunate... to be surrounded by people who will help you get untangled from the things that are binding you. And, may you always know the joy of giving and receiving gratitude.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Stop The Killing

EX 20:13 is a movement to stop the killing in our neighborhoods based on Exodus 20:13 which says, "Thou shalt not kill". This Saturday Garfield Park is the focus. Marches start assembling at 10:30 and step off at 11:00 AM at four locations:
  • 325 S. California
  • 3555 W. Huron
  • 4301 W. Washington
  • 718 S. Independence
All four marches converge at Hamlin and Jackson at noon for a tent rally.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Want to help make Thanksgiving more meaningful?

Here's a link to learn how you can help Breakthrough provide Thanksgiving baskets for struggling west side residents.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Cromer says Affirmative Action is too little too late

Dr. James Cromer, Maurice Falk Professor of Child Psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine’s Child Study Center and the founder of the Comer School Development Program, is a respected writer about education and child development. In an interview with Carolyn Nguyen he was asked if affirmative action has failed its stated purpose. He replied...
"Affirmative action is too little, too late. It has been carried out in a way that missed its very purpose. What we are trying to create is equal opportunity that takes into account many factors, not just numbers. We were not searching for a way to have certain percentages of marginalized individuals in certain careers or schools. Yet affirmative action did not create that focus. What we should have done was create programs that enable marginalized families and schools to help prepare children to participate in mainstream society. There needs to be a systematic effort to connect marginalized students into the mainstream, an effort that today is almost nonexistent. The natural connections that mainstream students have do not exist for their less fortunate counterparts, who often struggle to make ends meet. Through the manner affirmative action was implemented, there have been incredibly negative responses on both sides."
"A systematic effort to connect marginalized students into the mainstream", oooo, that sounds like Breakthrough's network model of ministry. We are trying to surround the students and the homeless guests who come into our centers with a network of support that connects them with people who care.

Monkey adopted by a village dog

A flood in northern Mozambique in 2002 left many orphaned animals. Here is a heartwarming video of how an orphaned monkey found maternal love.

Why Jonathan Kozol hasn't given up on education

Johnathon Briggs captured an interview with Jonathan Kozol about education in the Perspective section of the Tribune today. I read Kozol's book, Shame of the Nation, last year and have recommended an online article by Kozol from Harpers Magazine entitled Still Separate, Still Unequal, which serves as a good condensed version of the book, to my Wheaton students and fellow BUILD participants.

This interview of Kozol was especially interesting to me because I really agree with him that we need to advocate for systemic change in our education system. Kozol says in the interview that No Child Left Behind has driven away "superbly educated, high-spirited teachers" who leave, not because of the kids, but because of the "absolute decapitation of potential in children that is the unintended consequence of an agenda that strips down the curriculum in order to teach only isolated skills that will appear on an exam."

About charter schools he says, "Despite their claims that their schools are not selective in the students they enroll, the kids whose parents even hear about these schools and whose parents know how to navigate the application process are inherently self-selective."

I know of parents in Chicago who start when their kids are two and three to research the system and to position their children to be accepted into the best schools. The children of uneducated parents or those who have recently immigrated to this country are left behind in increasingly disfuntional schools.

Kozol's suggestions...
  • Give standardized exams less often and rely instead on diagnostic tests.
  • Require that states certify that class size in an urban district is at the same level as the size in an affluent suburban district and that every child receive the same years of preschool education before a standardized exam is used.
  • Amend the transfer provision to require that states facilitate the right to transfer across district lines to enable the parents of inner-city children who are in chronically failing schools to place ther children in high-performing and better-funded public schools.
  • Get rid of the property tax almost entirely as the basis of school funding or pool the property taxes into a common pool and distribute those funds equitably to every single child in the state.
Kozol doesn't lose heart about education because "there are far more marvelous teachers in these urban schools than you would ever guess if you listen to the politicians who condemn them... The high morale of our teachers is our most precious asset. If they lose their delight in being with the children, they won't stay, and we'll lose everything."

Friday, November 09, 2007

Committed to the Cause

Here's an audio of my speech at the Breakthrough Benefit.

Jump Rope Song

A group of young girls were jumping rope in the street in front of my apartment when I got home yesterday afternoon. They were great at it so I watched them for awhile. I was surprised to hear their jump rope song. It went something like this...
Where's the baby?
Here's the baby.
Who's the momma?
I'm the momma.
Who's the daddy?
Don't know.
How sad, that not knowing one's "baby daddy" has become so routine that it is being sung by little girls as they jump rope. I had a chat with them about making sure that they keep themselves for a guy who will stick around. The statistics don't look good for them however. More than two-thirds of African American new mothers are unmarried.

"Eight to 12 years after birth, a child born to an unmarried, teenage, high school dropout is 10 times as likely to be living in poverty as a child born to a mother with none of these three characteristics."

From the "Kids Count" report, an analysis of data nationwide from the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Saturday, November 03, 2007

The "Shug" Crossover

Here's a video about how Raymond Young used his network at Breakthrough to transition from the basketball court to a paid corporate internship.

The Making of a Shadow Show

This year the Breakthrough Benefit included a unique form of art called a shadow show. Scott Parker wrote the script and gave it to Frank Maugeri of Red Moon Theater and he pulled together a group of artists and musicians who drew sketches and painted on transparencies and developed an original score with vocalists and sound effects to illustrate the story with overhead projectors. The video below by Scott Parker gives a behind the scenes view of the creative process.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Opportunity Gap

Here's an article from Catalyst Chicago that states that Chicago's top schools are becoming less diverse.
African Americans account for half of CPS students, but only 29 percent of those in selective high schools, down from 37 percent in 1995. And the biggest drops are in the highest performing schools—Young, Jones, Lane, Payton and Northside—where the black student population has declined by 10 percent since 2000.