Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Hopeworks 'N Camden: Bringing Hope to Camden, NJ

The summer season brings all sorts of changes to the city including neighbors spending more time outside, water ice, swimming, and school is out.  Unfortunately, the summer season has become associated with youth causing more trouble in the neighborhood.  A recent phenomenon in Philadelphia has been youth forming flash mobs via internet organizing or spontaneity.  On the news last night, the first report was about three flash mobs that had formed over the weekend throughout the city.  One of those mobs was at a Sears on 69th Street in Upper Darby, just a few blocks from where I used to live.  Increases in youth violence during the summer are a common complaint among neighborhoods, and I have even been a part of the complaining at times.  One of the reporter’s comments that really hit home with me was, “Where is the adult supervision?”  With decreases in government funding to youth programs, is has become more difficult for parents to insure supervision of their children through the summer months, but there are programs that offer hope for even these parents.

In New Jersey, Hopeworks N’ Camden has been providing youth programming and positive supervision for over 10 years.  By offering after school, summer and even residential programming, Hopeworks seeks to “empower youth to identify and develop their DREAMS (Dynamic, Realizable Efforts to Attain and Maintain Success) and own their future.” Often youth spend the summer months letting their minds be numbed by Television and the internet or endangering their futures by acting out, but Hopeworks provides an excellent opportunity for youth to engage their minds and give themselves a great head start on their futures.  Hopeworks’ mission is to: Expand learning opportunities available to youth and work together with youth to create their future. The heart of the program is technology training, which is provided in a safe, respectful and celebratory atmosphere. Technology training includes website design, geographic information services, computer networking and repair, and video. Hopeworks programs include Day Training, Hope through School, and CRIBS, an intentional community of young adults. 

Hopeworks was featured on local TV show, Perspective in New Jersey, and founder Father Jeff Putthoff along with two students influenced by Hopeworks shared about the organization and its impact on youth. Check out the video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jJaR6UY86tc&feature=youtu.be.  Father Jeff was greatly motivated to begin Hopeworks by his desire to help young people see their potential and gain access to positive learning opportunities.  Many young people are taught that they have no future, so it more likely for these youth to not concern themselves with the consequences of their actions.  Father Jeff and the other Hopeworks staff like Alania Cronkright (MA in Urban Studies graduate) provide young people with both the support and opportunity to buy into their future.  Young people need more caring adults in their lives like Father Jeff and Alania who willingly partner with parents to provide safe alternatives for youth during the summer and after school hours!  Is this your passion?  Let Eastern University's MA in Urban Studies with a concentration in Youth Leadership help you develop the knowledge and skills to impact youth in your community. 

Friday, June 24, 2011

Zero Tolerance: Models of Taking and Criminalization

No one could have anticipated that 1999 would be such a tumultuous year.  As a teenager, I remember watching news coverage of the Columbine massacre.   Not more than a few weeks after Columbine, my own school received a bomb threat and parents held their children at home for fear of the possible result.  This one event, although not isolated, has changed the climate of schools forever.  Being from a rural school, changes began happening in 1999 that were unheard of for our district: drug dog searches, police removing “dangerous” students, and random locker searches.  When I came to Philadelphia and started working in schools around the city, I realized that what was abnormal for me was normal for urban youth.   

The Advancement Project’s report, Zero Tolerance in Philadelphia: Denying Education Opportunities and creating a pathway to Prison, indicates that increased security precautions in schools has not been helpful.  The impact of Columbine was not only felt in my small town. “Schools around the nation began adopting harsh, unforgiving policies that emphasized the long-term exclusion of students violating school rules, and according to data collected, punishment for same behaviors are far more harsh currently than even a few years ago” (Zero Tolerance in Philadelphia, The Advancement Project).  Fear of massive school violence has caused educators and administrators to take action through the implementation of these harsh punishments, but these decisions have negatively impacted things other than school violence.  Expulsions have skyrocketed and so has dropout rates and arrest rates.  

I feel that the most disheartening change in the school system has been increased reliance on police and law enforcement for disciplinary issues.  “Within just a four year span, it became about two-and-a-half times more likely that police would be called for the same category of behavior” (Zero Tolerance in Philadelphia, the Advancement Project).  In the past school counselors, school administration and even classroom teachers were called to address discipline.  Given the relationship of these school personnel to students, they were in a position to more productively address behavior, getting at the root causes.  Students should be given resources to face their own issues causing disruption and overcome.  They should not be expected to independently reach these results through punishment.  Overall, schools have begun to implement models of taking instead of models of giving.  I consider models of taking to be: no second chances, imparting labels on students that follow them through the education ranks, implementing punishments that have negative long-term implications, and disabling students from making positive changes to their lives.  On the other hand, I consider models of giving to be: student empowerment, giving student the tools and coping skills to succeed, addressing negative patterns proactively to prevent failure later in life, and encouraging students through the means of meaningful relationships with caring adults.  

Point Blank: Philadelphia’s youth are being criminalized.  Politicians, community members, religious leaders, and parents are crying, “Why are young people not the way they 'used' to be!”  Have we considered that many youth have had negative encounters with a law enforcement office far earlier than those of the past?  Have we considered that youth are now labeled as “trouble-makers” when, in the past, they would have been labeled as “kids being kids?”  Part of the reason youth are viewed so negatively is school security teams are treating youth like street criminals instead of youth.   

People within the criminal justice systems are far less likely to be trained in youth development and asset-based approaches than those in youth helping professionals.  "Scared straight” tactics used for hardened criminals are being applied to youth.  Interestingly enough, “Funds spent on school security are substantially more than what is spent on school nurses/health practitioners, nearly double the expenditures for parent and community support, and over three times as much as the amount spent on school psychologists” (Zero Tolerance in Philadelphia, The Advancement Project).  I feel like the research has helped bring some of the missing puzzle pieces to the table.  All in all, allocated funds indicate that we would rather develop students into incarcerated adults rather than productive citizens.  

Some recommendations by the Advancement Project are keenly relevant to the question for Philadelphia and urban districts of: “What now?”  Their recommendations include:

  • Creating coalitions of community stakeholders to rewrite school discipline policies
  • Reallocated funding from security measures towards school helping professions
  • Implement evidence-based practices such as asset-based development
  • Implementation of district-wide training programs for staff including security personnel on the negative consequences of zero tolerance   
  • Implement accountability structures
  • Clarify the roles and responsibilities of the Philadelphia Police Department
  • Create public Reporting systems for school discipline data

Do you have any recommendations?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Voice from Joplin, MO by Katie Hargrove

Written by Katie Hargrove, 2nd year student in the Youth Leadership concentration 
The initial shock of what has happened in Joplin has worn off now.  The terrible impact of an EF-5 tornado destroying 30 percent of our city and killing over 150 people has been staggering at times.  Even those not in the direct path of the storm have had to face the reality that in a few brief minutes our whole city was turned upside down and life will never be as it was.  Experts tell us that a deep depression will inevitably settle on the city, divorce rates will rise, and that citizens must begin to understand a “new normal.”   Darkness desires to creep in and wreak havoc on lives already thrown off balance.  It lurks like a predator on the perimeter of our city, testing the boundaries to break in.

A brilliant light has hovered over our city though as the church comes into its own.  As Esther was called to her place as queen for such a time as the hour of the Israelites despair, so too the church has been building through God’s spirit for such a time as this in Joplin.  Emergency shelters, triage centers, and distribution points literally sprung up overnight as churches city-wide opened their doors to bring in the tired and the weary.  FEMA officials say they have never seen a city respond in such a way to the needs of a crisis.  The out-flowing of generosity from churches all over the nation has boldly placed Christ’s name at the forefront of our restoration.  How appropriate it is that Christ, whose Word is the only true hope would be the rock that founds our restoration as a city.  

The darkness will come, but, as Lamentations 3:21-22 says, “this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.”  God has shown Himself faithful here even amidst despair in such radical ways that the hope we hold in Christ has been tangibly seen.  The perseverance and joy that Christians have held in their suffering, their response to this crisis, has been a testimony to the strength and truth of Christ.  Light can overcome even the greatest darkness.  We continue to pray that as the sun rises each morning the light of Christ washes over our city in the same way restoring lives fully to Him. 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Human Trafficking and Modern Day Slavery Chain

Several weeks ago, CNN released the Headline: Sheriff’s deputy, 2 others arrested in Arizona Human Trafficking Bust.  Deputy Alfedo Navarrette faces charges connected to human smuggling, money laundering and participating in a crime syndicate.  Human smuggling?  Human smuggling is connected to human trafficking.  Human trafficking, as defined by the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons is the “recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of person, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, the abuse of power, or a position of vulnerability for the purpose of exploitation.”  As a government official, Deputy Navarrette has exploited individuals upon the basis described above, primarily for the purpose of drug smuggling.  There are many more areas of modern day slavery and human trafficking than prostitution. 

As a child, I remember shopping with a friend for new sneakers at a local shoe store.  When my friend finally chose a pair she liked, her mother checked the inside marking, which said, “Made in China.”  In a moment of outrage, her mother put the shoe down and told her to pick another shoe, because she was “not going to purchase a shoe made by child labor.”  Being only 9 or 10 years old, the statement did not make much sense to me, but for some reason, this memory has stayed with me through many years.  It is interesting that this mother knew about modern day slavery in a time of little to no awareness.  I now understand the outrage she felt, especially at the way children, men and women are taken advantage of in their greatest moments of need. 

Most trafficking begins through the recruitment of those in poverty.  In a recent Law and Order episode, trafficking in the United States was highlighted through the story of a homeless man who sent two of his children to work at a nearby farm.  What this father did not know is his children were not used to work the fields (although this would violate labor laws as well), but the children were used as prostitutes.  Although the Law and Order disclaimer reads that the story is fictional, it is a story told over and over again by people from around the world who were recruited into human trafficking for the promise of a better life.   A report by the Protocol to Prevent Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons claims that “a conservative estimate of [human trafficking] puts the number of victims at any one time at 2.5 million. We also know that it affects every region of the world and generates tens of billions of dollars in profits for criminals each year.” 

Many will read this figure and become angry at the traffickers.  Unfortunately, many will read this figure and not even connect it to themselves.  In MTV’s EXIT special: Sold, the narrator states, “we are all links in the human trafficking chain.  Our demand for cheap products, labor and paid sex is the primary reason [people] are trafficked and exploited.”  When we hear the statics we should become angry at ourselves, because our own materialism and self-serving desires create the system that makes human trafficking profitable.  “The sectors most frequently documented are agriculture or horticulture, construction, garments and textiles under sweatshop conditions, catering and restaurants, domestic work, entertainment and the sex industry.”  Consider for a moment: clothes that you are wearing, the food you brought for lunch, and the person cleaning your workplaces’ restroom.  For the majority of us, one of more of these things have been produced or provided as a result of human trafficking.  

Now, I know the temptation is to fall in a pattern of defeat when you learn about this issue, as I have fell into this pattern myself.  Lucky for those who want to support justice, there are people and tools being designed to help us grow in awareness and make better choices.  One student in the Master of Arts in Urban Studies program is an abolitionist in Canada who writes a great blog highlighting issues surrounding human trafficking.  She recently wrote a blog on Organ Trafficking that broadened my understanding even more.  Also, to help you make educated purchases, Free 2 Work has created a smart phone app that  provides a bar codes scanning tool, which rates products on production practices.  If you are moved by this information, please continue to educated yourself, and pay attention to is going in all areas of human trafficking.  Remove your link from the human trafficking and modern day slavery chain!