Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Media Needs To Report More Than Hopelessness... The Rest of The Story...

There were two more media stories from this past week that brought attention to teens killing teens on the South Side.

The first, on February 21, focused on 16 year old Racheal Beauchamp, who was shot in the head while driving in a car with alleged gang members at 11:15 p.m. on a Thursday evening in Brighton Park. This map shows the location of the shooting and her home, in relation to poverty, "failing" schools, community resources, and existing tutoring/mentoring programs. (Click on the maps to enlarge):

The second story was a triple homicide in the South Chicago neighborhood. Johnny Edwards, 13, Raheem "Chiko" Washington, 15, and Kendrick Pitts, 17 were each shot near 87th and Exchange. One local resident, quoted in the Tribune article, dubbed the high-poverty, high-crime South Chicago neighborhood "Death Row" because "someone's always getting shot." Another mother added that, "Area gang members just don't care ... They shoot everybody and anybody."

Note, when looking at the map that there is only one known mixed tutoring/mentoring program in "Death Row"...

Last week, I wrote a "Rest of the Story" blog that looked at the murder of Johnel Ford, a story the media reported as "the first CPS student killed in 2009." In that blog, I asked a few questions that I feel apply to this week's stories as well. When looking at the maps above, I hope community and program leaders continue to ask , "What are we doing to support existing tutoring and mentoring services? And how can we get our message to concerned parents who want safe places for their children to hone scholastic and vocational skills?"

I hope community leaders continue to use my maps to visualize problems and to locate available resources, combining strategies from the Tutor/Mentor Institute to address these questions.

I hope politicians that represent Rachael and her family (from Illinois State Legislative District 2, Illinois State Senate District 1, and the Illinois 3rd U.S. Congressional District), and those who represent the parents of the South Chicago neighborhood (Illinois State Legislative District 25, Illinois State Senate District 13, and the Illinois 2nd U.S. Congressional District) look at maps and stories from the following districts as starting points, before contacting me for a custom map:

Illinois State Legislative District 34
Illinois State Senate District 15
Illinois 7th U.S. Congressional District

Look - I know what you're thinking. "The problem is bigger than tutoring and mentoring. This violence is out of control. This situation is hopeless!"


Ok - first of all I should say, that we at the Tutor/Mentor Connection do not claim that a few new programs are going to be an overnight fix to 16 year old girls riding with gangbangers on a Thursday night in Brighton Park.

Or to the street violence in South Chicago.

But ONE program in the entire South Chicago neighborhood? Come on! We can do more to help the kids who aren't gangbanging and who are looking for help to lead productive lives.

What we want is for everyday people (like you and me) to do whatever they can to support existing and new program alternatives for these kids.

Start small... Volunteer if you can. But at the very least, talk about the programs (and these maps) with colleagues and bosses. Build awareness that these programs save lives, help kids get to college, and improve communities. (See the student spotlights at Chris's PIPblog for proof.)

We ultimately need community, business, spiritual, and political leadership to start thinking more consistently about how they can invest in the talented students who are trapped in seas of poverty, violence, and fear.

But first, leaders have to become aware of the programs and their successes.

And looking at these news stories this past week, and knowing that there are only so many people we can talk to on individual levels... I have a new question:

Who better to raise widespread awareness than far-reaching media outlets like the Chicago Tribune?

It would be so helpful if the media could consistently champion the successes of tutoring and mentoring as potential solutions to the problems of urban violence and fear.

All too often, these crime stories rise to editorial levels, only to disappear just as quickly when the press becomes distracted by, oh I don't know... a red right-turn light that was confusing shoppers at Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg. That's the headline right now as I type this. (I'd map it for you, but it might only confuse shoppers more.)

Ok, I'm kidding, and I certainly don't mean to be disrespectful to the papers, the journalists, or the shoppers... I just want to be constructively critical for a minute here.

The point is that over and over, the media seems to simply cut and paste new "gangbanger" names into dutifully-rehashed article templates, adding 1 to the "CPS Students Killed" ticker, and then losing focus... leaving us with an impression of hopelessness... little new awareness... little or no discussion of things we can do to relieve the situation moving forward.

No solutions.

In 2008, Dan Bassill voiced frustration with this phenomenon when he responded to an article written by Dawn Turner Trice in the October 23, 2008 Chicago Tribune, called "Market woes should pale next to local carnage." He challenged the media (reflecting on our work and goals here at Tutor/Mentor Connection):

"I can create all of this, but if no one looks at it, I'm a crowd of one. It's up to you in the media to connect your stories to information that people can use to learn more about the problem and to get involved in the solutions. If you do this once a week for the next ten years, maybe others will follow your example and they will help us put more programs in these areas to help parents, and compete with gangs, for the attention of kids."

So again, can the programs solve the city's teen violence problems overnight? Probably not.

The programs can however offer a message of hope now.

Hope for beleaguered parents and students in high-crime areas, when they learn that peers and neighbors have succeeded in bypassing the violence, and have gone on to achieve scholastic and vocational success.

Hope for concerned citizens and community leaders who have become aware of these successes through word of mouth and media-generated discussion, and realize they are in position to contribute volunteer/financial support to a system that WORKS...

on small individual levels now...

with the potential for big successes for society later.

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