Last evening was the second night of interviews for the seventh round of Neighborhood Connections grant-making. We had six interviews on the schedule, but one cancelled due to illness. The other interviewees presented on beautification programs, safety programs, and educational programs.
One thing that I’ve started to notice, from attending the Tremont Strategic Investment meeting last week, sitting through these grant interviews, and just talking to people around the city is a distinct fear of youth. Time after time I hear people complain that children and youth are playing in the streets and that people don’t feel safe going outdoors because of this. Their answer is always “get the kids off the street and into supervised activities and educate them about whatever we think they ought to know.” The sense I get is that they don’t think children should play in the streets. This makes no sense to me. Children everywhere have always played in the streets. This is not the problem.
The problem is that adults are afraid of children they do not know. Especially in an urban setting, it appears that, to them, unsupervised children playing in a neighborhood equals crime. These folks all want to do something about it, or actually, they want to tell other people what they should do about it. “We need a rec-center;” “The police should keep them from riding their bikes all over;” “Our seniors are afraid to go outdoors.” Bless them for their good intentions, but do they ever think to ask the youth what they want? No. They’re too afraid to go outdoors and talk to them. They want structured environments with specifically targeted youth and a curriculum that usually doesn’t address the real needs of the youth.
The eight of us who went from Cleveland to Nashville earlier this year all came away with this same realization. Youth are ministered to impersonally, institutionalized instruction always seems to be the answer offered instead of actual relationship building, community building, neighborhood building organic interaction. The more I learn about the community organizations and grassroots efforts in Cleveland, the more I become convinced that there needs to be a networking group that connects different groups working on the same projects, offers advice, technical assistance and program information that might be unknown to those groups and acts as a whetstone for their mission and ideas. A sort of networking clearinghouse of institutionalized knowledge that seeks out the groups that need the assistance.
That is sort of what I’m involved in with the 2007 Cleveland Leadership Summit [including focusing on youth involvement], but that is only a one off thing and not the targeted sustainable organization I have in mind.