Earlier this week, the Star did a 3 part series entitled "Murder Factory". The focus of the article is on zip code 64130 - the zip code that leads the state as being the address for the most murderers of any zip code in the state.
Many around the bloggoshere have criticized the Star's writing this piece, calling it everything from "Um, Duh" to writing something specifically for newspaper writer awards and not for their readers.
Those who know much about Kansas City know that the East Side is having major difficulties. While this article focused on 64130 (which is, essentially, on the map, the area south of 39th street), it could have just as easily focused on 64128, which is the area immediately North of 39th Street on the map. (By the way, this is the crime map through the first 3 quarters of 2008. Red areas designate Aggrivated Assault Hot Spots, Blue dots are murders).
People who don't, or may live in distant suburbs, may look it as yet another reason to avoid this area.
And that's why I meet this with such mixed emotion. On the one hand, creating awareness of the problem is good (it's amazing how blind people can be to the problems when they're out of their site)....however, if it comes with the idea that people should "stay away", then this article couldn't do more to hurt an area that needs more help.
So, if you're unfamiliar with the area, did you read the articles with the idea of running far away? Or with the idea of pitching in to help make it better?
I work with a Christian-based after school program for kids that live over in the area -- and most of these kids live in some of the worst areas described in the article. Working with these boys over the past 3 years has been a huge eye-opener of the struggles they face.
Of the 13 boys I have the opportunity to work with, none of them lives with both a mother and a father in the home. Several barely even know their father. They are great kids -- all of them -- but even that doesn't assure them of success. They're still kids. They make mistakes. But there is a big difference for them...
When I was a kid, I made mistakes. I occassionaly hung out with a few of the wrong people. I was ornery. It was nothing major, I was just being an adolescent boy.
The problem is, for these kids, with so much crime and bad influences around them, one mistake in judgment could mean they end up in jail. Or dead. Or with a rap-sheet that will make them unemployable at even the most basic of jobs (which is virtually all that will be available to them in the short term). Their mistakes have the possibility to be life altering (or even ending). It's crazy.
In so many ways, our society has failed these kids. We've allowed home after home in their neighborhood to become abandoned and run down. Their chances of getting a good education are virtually non-existent. Crime is a way of life on their streets. Every one of these kids, none of them older than 15 years old, knows someone who has been shot. There are few jobs in their neighborhood...and our public transit system is inadequate for getting them to a large number of jobs in the city that exist outside of their neighborhood. 25% of the people in the 64130 area code live below the poverty line. 29% of those in the 64128 area code live below the poverty line. Only 68% even have a high school diploma.
For decades, as a city, and as a society, we have turned our back on these East-side neighborhoods. We've decided there is nothing we can do, or determined it is someone else's problem to fix.
It's not. It's a problem for all of us. And it may take all of us to fix it.
We need to improve public transit to other parts of the city so these kids have decent-paying job alternatives vs selling drugs on the streets. The additional income the residents of this area earn will come back into their neighborhoods --building equity for future business development.
We need to improve our schools -- giving them a chance for a good education. But this isn't JUST the school district's responsility. After-school programs can really help these kids learn the material, improve their study habits, and increase their chances at making it into college. I'm pretty amazed at how much kids have to know now. I have junior high school kids doing above-basic algebra. If they don't understand it (and algebra is hard), too many times the parent at home, who was also failed by our school system, cannot help them. So the kid is doomed to fail. Having people to help them, and encourage them through the frustration is essential to the kids' success.
We also need to provide kids with positive role models in their lives. They need to see people in successful positions in life and see that as an option for them. Right now, the positive role models are not there -- or at least less prevelent in their lives than the negative role models.
They also need to see couples. Like I said, ZERO of my 13 boys live with both parents. This lack of exposure to seeing men and women interacting responsibly with each other gives them no sense of what a husband/wife relationship should be about. Too often, what they know of male/female relationships comes from rap videos, television and absentee fathers -- hardly our best sources for what life should really be like.
We also need our city's corporations to be gracious with time off and flex time for people who want to volunteer to help. I'm so fortunate that my company gives me 16 hours of "volunteer" time to help with any volunteer activity I want. I use is about an hour at a time so I can leave work early one day a week throughout the school year so I can be there for the kids after school. Companies should look at flex time and volunteer time as a way to give back to their community, as a way of encouraging employees to give back to their community, and an investment in their workforce in the coming generations.
And we need more people who will decide that it is not someone else's problem to solve, or wait for the city council, the mayor, the police force, the schools, or whomever to solve the problem. As a community and as a society we've helped create this problem....and it will only be as a community and as a society that we work together, each in our own little ways, helping maybe just one or two kids, or one family or whatever you end up doing, helping create solutions for a small piece of the problem. If we solve enough small pieces...you may just create a solve for the whole pie.
There are dozens of organizations out there trying to help. Not a single one of them has enough time, money, or volunteers to touch all the people they would like to touch. Find one. Volunteer for one. Quit waiting for someone to take care of it...or thinking the problem is too large to tackle.
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." —Margaret Mead
Here's part 1 of the Star's "Murder Factory" series
And here is a link to the Be 1 of 100,000 Campaign. The Be 1 Campaign is a program designed with the idea that every one of the 20,000 school kids in the KCMO school district deserves at least 5 caring relationships - -and through those relationships and support will rise up above their neighborhoods.
And here is a link to the Hopecenter, where I volunteer.
Are you pitching in to be a part of the solution? Or are you running scared which helped create this problem in the first place?