Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Waking The Monster

The vacililation of opinions regarding the U.S. military involvement in Libya inspired this poem. President Obama was prudent and cautious. The requests came in from the rebels first, then the EU, then the UN authorized a mission to "protect civilians" among other things, and even the Arab League was calling out for assistance . . . they woke the unpredictable nature of an international miltary engagement . . .


Waking the Monster


"Help," they cried

You watch us die

Like reality TV

But less personal

Even the babies


"Help!" they screamed

You witness slaughter

Claim you care

But you are nowhere

We need food . . . and force!


"Help," they pled

Before all are dead

Freedom just a word

Effective popaganda

Like 'Strategic Interest'


"Help," they begged

Our cause near lost

Towns shattered

Lives battered

Thought we mattered


HELP!" they cried

"Yes," I sighed

And help I tried

But, many died

On both sides


"ENOUGH!" they cried

Too much destruction

Too many deaths

I know, but I can't

Not now, not yet


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

68% - A Solid "D"!

If someone told you that the graduation rate for the Chicago Public Schools, within 5 Years, was 68% would be shocked? Or perhaps you'd think it not so bad.

Well, what if that was the highest rated demographic, which it is according to an anagraph of CPS graduation rateslysis of Illinois State Board of Education data? That demographic would be White female. The lowest graduation rate of any demographic was Black males at . . . 41%.

According to Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, "Lack of a diploma and solid work is the best predictor of ending up in jail." Not an earth shattering conclusion, but it should still be a call to action.

The complete data for the study shows just how ill prepared our youth are for the rigors of a competitive job market, and how our young men or all races are falling behind their female counterparts.

While the education debate often centers on the "gaps", our schools are becoming holding patterns for kids that will eventually feed the Prison Industrial Complex. Given this latest data, the raw materials for that industry are plentiful!

I read an article some time back titled "The Adoration of the Question." Essentially the author was lamenting about how we get stuck in our research, reporting, convening, discussion of issues (specifically the issue of our failure to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in the juvenile justice system), instead of taking action. Our failure as a community, as citizens and as individuals, to upgrade education as a priority is inexcusable.

As I've said before (but it's been a while since I blogged), our failure to educated our children is a moral, ethical, and even national security issue. Genius is unpredictable. Our next Einstein, Percy Julian, or Imhotep could be suffering from poorly motivated teachers and instead of providing the next miracle drug, delivering drugs in his neighborhood.

If not you, who . . . is going to make a difference?

Friday, January 8, 2010

I 'Had" A Dream . . .

Last night I had a dream that I was engaged in a serious debate about what type of support society should provide to those incarcerated for various crimes. And frankly I was losing badly.

My opponents (now in my awakened state faceless folks of mostly emotion and solid arguements), made a number of rational points, all difficult to refute or deny: "Nobody made them engage in criminal activity", "Others grow up in the same conditions and don't resort to criminal behavior", "Our resources should be used to support the law abiding . . . why should their health care be any better than ours?", and so on.

In this dream, as a result of this barrage, my head was swimming trying to figure out a way to make a sensible and convincing argument in favor of support. I considered the cost of incarceration to society, families, communities and individuals, especially over non-violent crimes like drug possession. I thought about the incredible challenges ex-offenders already face with finding a job with a living wage. I thought about the education/skill gap that could be addressed while incarcerated . . . if only the programs were there. And that last point was where I placed the stake . . .

One of the principle causes of the growing burden of prisoners and prisons on our society is really a fundamental outcome of the failure of our educational system.

In other words, we are spending an enormous amount of money incarcerating our population - the largest prison population of any country in the world - because we lack the foresite and commitment to adequately educate our people. Put another way, we are wasting our human capital at both ends of the spectrum. Instead of investing in the very resource that would help our country remain a leader in all areas of human endeavor, we are throwing our treasure away on prisons. And these prisons, year after year, turn out thousands of governmental/societal "dependents", the majoirty of whom will require the support of one program after another, few of which will provide the level of independence human beings need to thrive and contribute.

Instead of using third grade failure rates as a guage to determine how many prisons to be built, perhaps we should be using that same data as an indicator requiring an infusion of educational resources!


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Culture of Not Snitching

So Police Chief Weis is lamenting the "code of silence" in the community, and that there is not a "sense of community and civic urgency" to share information with police, as an important reason behind the lack of quick resolution to crimes, particularly Fenger High beatings. Of course people in the community ask the critical question, "what have the police done to earn our trust?".

Shuffling officers into and out of impoverished neighborhoods, where their only focus is on maintaining the peace, often by any means necessary, does practically nothing to develop the kind of relationship that engenders trust and confidence from the people in those communities. And then you add to that the infamous "Blue line" of silence . . . you could almost say the police invented the code of silence. Certainly they enforce that code more tightly than any other structured organization.

As Chief Weis has settled into his position I've noticed him becoming the "Apologist in Chief" as much as anything. Only the most egregious police offense has caused him to sway from that position . . . oh, egregious and caught on tape. I've known enough police in my life to know that many are dedicated to their jobs, and the idea of service to the community. I also know that the vast majority of good police get tainted by the odor of corruption and brutality of the few, when they excuse it and fail to report it. The fact that the Chicago Police Department refuses to release reports of officers abuse accusations, is a testament to the effectiveness of the blue wall of silence.

Until a noticeable and obvious shift in community policing standards and tactics is implemented, one where community relationships are viewed as important and measurable components on an officer's career track record, I'm afraid people will continue to view them with understandable suspicion and often outright disdain. I wish this were not the case, but wishing won't make it go away . . . and neither will words without action.

What do you think?

Friday, December 4, 2009

Back to Basics

Have you ever thought of taking yourself, and even your family "off the grid"? Essentially planting yourself in a rural location far removed from cell towers, electrical towers . . . even water towers. And teaching yourself to live from the land to the extent possible. Well Brother Fred Carter and his family are doing just that in a rural township just outside of Chicago - Hopkins Park, and I had the pleasure of visiting them last week in my work with the Positive Anti-Crime Thrust (PACT).

The Black Oak Center for Renewable Sustainable Living is a living example of of how to make efficient use of our limited resources, and more importantly a place of community values and educational opportunity. The vision that guides their work:
Our vision is to create safe, healing spaces founded on the principles of environmental stewardship and social equality. A place where community can learn skills required to master sustainability to lead a successful transition to a post carbon world. From this, our communities, families, and children will be resilient. Hence, they will be fully capable of being lifeboats thriving during an energy descent.
They have been conducting retreats and hands-on educational experiences for children from Chicago, and have a curriculum that includes Sustainable Agriculture, Renewable Energy and Sustainable Building. In addition they have been instrumental in developing the African American Farmers Co-op, which supports farmers markets throughout Chicago.

One of the projects PACT is working on involves developing a fulfillment capacity for farmers markets that would provide sales and distribution jobs for ex-offenders. The fact is that the African American community suffers from a syndrome commonly referred to as "Food Deserts". This results when there are no opportunities to purchase fresh produce within a given geography (all Micky D's and Liquor stores). One partial solution to that problem is the development and support of farmers markets (my church, Trinity UCC began this year putting on a market every Saturday).

Please consider helping out Black Oaks with a donation this holiday season. It's a great opportunity to support an effort that is unique and forward thinking.

I'd love to hear what you think.


Friday, November 13, 2009

Off With their Heads

A couple of death sentence cases have been in the news lately, one regarding the execution of John Allen Muhammad — the D.C. Sniper, and the other talking about the death sentence given Brian Dugan by a DuPage County jury for the 1983 rape and murder of 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico. A Facebook friend, and a preacher and teacher I both appreciate and respect, expressed her gladness that Mr. Muhammed was dead. That was quite surprising and made me think, but I didn't respond . . . until now.

I attended the annual awards dinner of the Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty last night and was struck by the contrast between this groups actions and my FB friends statement. Their position is No Death Penalty . . . period. No matter what you did, how you did it or even how much you enjoyed it, or if you feel sorry about it or not. Now I'm sure my Rev. friend was speaking from a purely emotional sense, but it still made me consider my true feelings on the subject, and challenge myself to understand why I agree with the CEDP.

My opposition is based on the following:
  1. The state simply should not be in the death business. Executioner is not a job description we should be posting as an open position.
  2. While we have the ability to take a life, we do not have the ability to give it back.
  3. The death penalty is given more often to people of color and the poor, not based on the severity of the crime . . ..
  4. Our criminal justice system has so many flaws, from forced confessions, to police torture, from sloppy forensics to DA's that are only out to make a name for themselves, and
  5. Perhaps the only idea that matters to most folks, it is too expensive. In Texas they estimate it costs $2.2M to execute a prisoner after all is said and done (trials, appeals, etc.) enough to keep the inmate in jail for over 100 years!!!!
In the end, the death penalty serves no one except those seeking revenge. It isn't cheap for the government, it isn't a deterent and isn't reversible.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

" . . . together, the ants ate the elephant."

I came across this quote as I visited the web site of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, to make plans to attend their 2010 Clergy and Lay Leadership conference a couple of weeks ago, ". . . together, the ants ate the elephant." It struck me, and has stuck with me since.

Immediately I performed a Google search trying to locate the source, which the best I could find was simply an African proverb. In some places the quote was led with "working", as in "working together, . . .". I've since featured it on my Facebook status, and now include it in my email signature. Why? Well, I'm glad I asked. :)

For those of us that have decided to focus time and energy on bringing the basic concepts of fairness, justice, equality, and other high-minded moral constructs such as these to the underprivileged and oppressed, the work often seems completely overwhelming. The battlefield is immense, and it is easy to think, as many do, that one person cannot make a difference, or even more damaging, "I can't make a difference". Everyone can identify examples of one person making a difference, Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, etc., but of course few of us have egos large enough to see ourselves in that esteemed company.

While, yes, there is a place for the force of powerful personalities in moving societies to great change this quote reminds us that the key to making change happen is in our working together toward a common goal. Having a great leader of a movement is important, but only if there is a critical mass of people working together to get the work done. Do we need leaders and spokespersons? Yes. But just as importantly we need people like you and me!

One story I read associated with this quote talked about the ants being particularly peeved that the elephant kept walking all over them, taking lives and destroying homes. One ant eventually began discussing retaliation. Not an easy argument, but eventually the ants agreed to a plan. They would dig a series of tunnels in one spot along the path that the elephant took to the watering hole each day, so that his weight would cause the tunnels to collapse, and trap the elephant. Each ant had a part to play in the plan, and once completed the entire village stood wait for the elephant to arrive. Well, the end is no mystery, the elephant collapsed the tunnels and was trapped, and "together, the ants ate the elephant".

There are many elephants out there. And they are stomping all over the rights of people, humanitarian and otherwise. Luckily there are also many, many ants that if only they/we work together, can bring them down.