Saturday, May 30, 2009

Faith Leaders Are Green Mapping Harlem

“Faith leaders are responding because we have a mandate from our faith to protect the poor and to protect human life… Sojourner Truth had her watch. Martin Luther King, Jr. had his watch. This is our watch, and on our watch, this is the issue. On our watch people are dying. Whole communities are being held captive to environmental injustices and it’s our mandate to do something about that.” -- Lisa Sharon Harper, NY Faith and Justice

Prison, Drug Crimes and Racial Disparities

Here are some facts posted recently by Protestants for the Common Good.
  • The United States leads the world in the number - 2.3 million - and percentage of residents it holds in prison. One in every 38 individuals is involved with the criminal justice system through probation, parole, prison or jail.
  • About 78 percent of Illinois drug offenders are African-American, vastly higher than their 15 percent share of the overall population.
  • A Human Rights Watch study from 2000 found that Illinois ranked first in the country with respect to racial disparities in prison sentences for drug crimes.
  • The number of African-Americans admitted to prison in Illinois for drug offenses grew from 1,421 in 1990 to 9,088 in 2000 - a six-fold increase. During this same period, there was virtually no change in the number of whites admitted to prison.
  • This difference exists despite the fact that rates of illicit drug use vary little by ethnicity.
Is incarceration the new slavery?

The Importance of Preschool

Because my grandson was not talking very well at age three he was eligible for free preschool in Will County. My daughter and I talk all the time about what an incredible blessing it was that preschool was made available to him. He will start kindergarten next fall with a much better chance of success.

Unfortunately, in my community on the west side of Chicago and other low income Chicago neighborhoods, most of the children do not have this advantage. Recent research conducted by Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI), found that 40 to 64% of preschool aged children in low-income communities are not in any early education program. The report, “Why Isn’t Johnny In Preschool?” is based on over 5,000 interviews in 19 low-income African-American and Latino neighborhoods across the city.

The Catalyst Notebook blog noted, "Factors that kept children out of preschool included lack of transportation, scheduling conflicts, immigrant families’ fear of deportation and a shortage of slots."

We were encouraged to learn that the students who participated in our Breakthrough Beginners program tested at 72% in the Bracken Kindergarten Readiness Assessment, compared to 17% for those in our after school program who did not attend Breakthrough Beginners. What a difference good early childhood education makes! We plan to open a licensed preschool in our new FamilyPlex facility scheduled to open in 2011.

School Attendance and Academic Success

Research conducted by the University of Chicago shows that a student's attendance is 8 times more predictive of failure than prior test scores.

This is especially significant for us at Breakthrough because we learned recently that at our local high school, John Marshall HS, the average number of days missed by students is 95 out of 180 days in the school year. Is it any wonder that in 2008, only 4% of the 11th graders at Marshall met or exceeded the state standards in the PSAE (Prairie State Achievement Exam)?

Here's a link to a Catalyst Notebook post about what not-for-profits should do to help students graduate. “There are a lot of really good programs out there,” said Elaine Allensworth, a co-director of the Consortium on Chicago School Research. “But if the people who work with kids don’t know how they are doing in class, they’re working blind.”

Garfield Park Preparatoy Academy

We are excited to welcome Garfield Park Preparatory Academy , a new contract school to our neighborhood. GPPA is the result of a two-year effort by the Applied Behavior Analysis Department to establish an elementary school that would improve elementary education in unique and powerful ways and also leverage the talents of Chicago School faculty and graduate students. It is slated to open in September and will share space with Faraday Elementary School, 3250 W. Monroe St.

Friday, May 22, 2009

What the warm weather brings

Two people were killed in our neighborhood last night. The shooting occurred near Horan Park at Kedzie and Van Buren, where our Breakthrough kids play t-ball, soccer and softball. While most of us are happy to see warm weather finally descending upon Chicago, the sad fact is, when the weather warms up, the violence escalates. Please pray for the safety of our neighbors, staff and program participants and that God would give us grace as we minister to people who are facing extremely difficult situations.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Truth, Soul and Social Justice

Thanks to Breakthrough Youth and Family staffer, Robin Rankin, for linking me to this great Commencement Speech from John Legend, University of Pennsylvania, College of Arts and Sciences May 17, 2009.

The High Cost of Poverty

There was a great article in Monday's Washington Post about how expensive it is to be poor. The poor pay more for a gallon of milk, pay more for inferior housing, for transportation and health care. Prices at the corner stores are higher. You spend time waiting for the bus and at the laundromat. You spend money at check cashing and pay day loan joints, etc. etc.

Here's another link to an article from a paper in Texas that makes the point that the poverty line is set too low.
Consider the current U.S. “poverty line” amount for a single-parent family with two children. According to the Census Bureau, the 2008 amount was $17,346. Would this annual income cover a family’s basic needs?

According to the Economic Policy Institute’s Web site, this three-person family in the Kerrville area (rural Texas) must earn $31,320 annually to pay for key necessities, without setting aside any money in savings or investments.
Is this our country's way to keep the number of people living in poverty down? Just don't change the "poverty line" level even though prices go up?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

North Lawndale Churches: More Harm Than Good?

There was a challenging article in the Sunday Chicago Tribune about the proliferation of churches in North Lawndale. I thought the article was kind of on target. As the community experienced disinvestment in the 60's, businesses moved out and storefront churches moved in, often side by side in the heart of the neighborhood's business district. If businesses are going to be brought back into the community, it makes sense to me that the churches should be given incentives to move off the business strip and into the residential communities. Tax revenue from thriving businesses would do a lot to turn the community around.

The article also mentioned concern from some community leaders and even some pastors that the churches aren't doing enough to heal the community's ills.

What is disheartening to me is the raw anger expressed in some of the 95 comments that have been left on the site. Here's what one commenter had to say...
Wow. I live in this ward. From many years of Neglect, I must say that it's depressing. We have almost "200" Churches in our ward and at least 90% of them are Powerless beyond their own front Door. It's depressing that many of these churches are constantly getting Grants, Tax- exempt Status without giving back to their community. How can you have this many churches and still have a ward that has to be almost one of the worst to live in? It's Deprived, Depressed and our entire make-up are Second Class Grocery Stores that hike Prices because most of their make-up are due to Link Aide, Mounds of Liquor Stores who's bottles are picked up by residents DAILY (Yea even the liquor stores have no respect for the community that they do business in. Mostly "Dollar General Stores" ... Forget Coffee Shops, Dry Cleaners, places to sit and eat. Those don't exist here but hey How about ALL OF THOSE CHURCHES
Another wrote:
One would think that a community that has received the attention of so many "men of the cloth" would have no need of a police force.
I'm thankful for Lawndale Community Church. They are on the Ogden Avenue strip too, but they have Hope House for recovering addicts, a thriving Community Health Center with 241,000 annual visits, and a Christian Development Corporation which has generated over $14 million of investment in the Lawndale community. They are being the true Church in Lawndale.

What Doesn't Go Away

Here's a link to a very real and pithy article by our own Breakthrough Housing Specialist, Paul Luikart, published by Burnside Writers Collective. He writes...
It’s good work, very good work, but being involved in the lives of these men and women takes its emotional toll, believe me. Of course there is a lot of joy in the work, but the moments of pain tend to stick to my psyche a lot longer. Some days I come home and sit on the couch and stare and stare at nothing, having completely retreated from the day into the darkest depths of my brain...If I believe (I do believe this, you should know) that an essential element of this kind of work is identification with the poor, then what elements of the lives of these men and women will never leave me? It’s sort of like I fear transference of the emotion of their experiences.
Paul expresses eloquently the challenges of hearing the troubling stories of abuse over and over and carrying that burden as well as the tendency to feel proud.
It’s not like a real overt sense of superiority, but just a little something I carry around in the back of my mind so when I meet somebody new at church, let’s say, and I ask him what he does and he says something like, “I’m in finance,” I can dip into that little sack of pride in the back of my mind and think at him, “Finance, huh? Well, who gives a rat’s ass? I know a guy with a huge crack problem and it’s my job to help him. Finance? Please. Come on, ask me what I do, you sucker.”
I'm trying to whet your appetite with these quotes, but you really need to read the entire piece. Great writing, very honest, profound.