Round VII — Second Night of Interviews

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.