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.