Sunday, June 22, 2008

I think we'll do better

The thing I love about the Midwest and Detroit in particular is the fact that each year we get 12 weekends during the summer to shake off all of the malaise that months of dreary weather leave us entrapped by every year and have some fun. We usually take full advantage of those weekends and try to leverage each of those days to the fullest.

That's why I was so surprised to see a few dozen folks get together in the basement of church converted to office space by nonprofit Matrix Human Services on Detroit's east side on a sunny Saturday morning. The occasion was a community leaders advocacy workshop hosted by the Skillman Foundation and the University of Michigan. The goal was to equip adults and young people interested in their communities. Skillman and UM are trying to show Detroit residents how to make a difference where they live by advocating for issues that improve housing, safety, development and cleanliness in their neighrohoods.

I volunteered to participate in the series because it seemed like a good idea. It's a part of Skillman's Good Neighborhoods Initiative, targeting resources to six Detroit districts with the highest rates of children living in poverty. The idea is tomake the biggest difference in the areas that need the most help. If we can pump aid into neighborhoods where the future of our city is most in doubt, where the children who will eventually lead us are most likely facing peril, then we can infuse those areas with hope. It's certainly needed.

The session was productive, and I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that those in attendance were so engaged -- both the adults and the teens involved. Some even showed passion, like the woman who talked about her experience at a conference in New Orleans. She relayed a stat she heard about the failure of our children in their respective education systems and what that bodes for their future.

"Every child that can't read by third grade they build a jail cell for," Mrs. Eneh said, and she delivered the statement with an emotion that gripped the entire room.

And while I can't be sure of the source of her information I do know that every child who cannot read at grade level by third grade spends the rest of his or her life trying to catch up. Only 2 percent will ever earn a four-year college degree. The rest will drop out, turn to substance abuse or crime and end up in poor health, on public assistance, in jail or dead. That much is real.

But I am hopeful that there are people willing to step up to make sure that fewer of them suffer a dire fate. I realize we need greater numbers. A few dozen may only make a dent, although they can also create a substantial ripple. Worst case scenario is we'll do better.

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