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home for the holidays.
there are songs about it. hallmark makes a fortune selling cards either affirming the practice or lamenting ones ability to get there. its something i look forward to with great anticipation. however, this year, while i was sitting in my dad’s recliner that he never actually sits in when i’m home, eating a dinner lovingly and deliciously prepared by my mother, while enjoying silly conversation with my 6.5 year old niece and nephew, i thought back to the youth we have had the chance to talk about over the last semester.
what does it feel like to experience the holidays without a home? something i always take for granted. something that seems to me to be as special a time in the year as any, that i have, for the first time stopped to think, that many do not enjoy. learning too early that santa only brings presents to some people (perhaps not in the foster home or group home, certainly not in prison or juvenile detention centers). or perhaps of being in a foster home, away from siblings, extended family and parents. wishing you had such a luxury to go “home to the holidays”. perhaps not even able to comprehend what that might look like.
and i enjoyed my time even more. but with a hint of guilt, or sadness. at the experiences, holidays being just one, that i have always known and take for granted which i am now keenly aware is not the case. and i wonder what it is like to not be home for the holidays. not have a home to go to, or even if you do, not be able to get there.
soon after the joy of christmas we welcome the new year. hallmark sells more cards filling us with the rhetoric that it is a time of new chances, new opportunities, where anything we dream can be true. yet, once again, that rhetoric is only true for a select few. those who perhaps didn’t have many struggles in the previous year, or even if they did, were surrounded by the warmth of home, support and family needed to overcome. but to add salt to a fresh wound, we celebrate new opportunities and new chances with people who have little to no control over their outcome. who rely on other adults to make their future better and brighter. and while the world celebrates opportunities and fresh starts, they are left with the same slate, the same past, the same obstacles as they had at 11:59.
happy new year.
full of promise and opportunities and new beginnings.
The series, which profiles young Dasani and her family as they experience various dimensions of homelessness and institutional forms of support and challenge, has received a significant amount attention in the mainstream press as well as across local contexts including our twitter stream, classroom discussions, hallway conversations, and, in one instance, a bus ride debate.
I am still very much mulling over the intricate layers of information and analysis of child homelessness that Elliott’s narrative offers, so in the meantime I thought I would share a collection of resources that I have gathered to help my own ongoing analysis and sense-making:
- The original article: Invisible Child — Girl in the Shadows: Dasani’s Homeless Life
- A conversation with Andrea Elliott on NPR’s The Brian Lehrer Show
- NYTimes’ The Learning Network spotlights “Invisible Child” for their Reading Club — featuring lessons and insights from youth involved with Youth Communication (which publishes Represent magazine) and the Possibility Project (a youth theater group)
- Sliding into Homelessness: An essay by Zakkiaya Bowen — another collaboration between NYTimes The Learning Network and Youth Communication‘s Represent magazine, including discussion and teaching resources. (Read another piece by Bowen here: Choosing Who I Let In
- Making Ends Meet: Children’s Books That Explore Social Class, Homelessness, and Poverty – a post from earlier this year by Mary Ann Reilly on her blog Between the By-Road and the Main Road
Additional Resources (taken from the Reading Club and other sources)
- Lens Blog | In Brooklyn, Photographing an Invisible Child
- Learning Network Guest Post | 10 Ways to Talk to Students About Sensitive Issues in the News
- Times Topics | Homelessness
- DoSomething.org | Homelessness and Poverty
- Youth Communication | Pieces on Homelessness
- Youth Communication | Pieces on the Foster Care System
- The Dasani Effect: How You Can Help the More Than 1.6 Million Homeless Children in America
“[T]he young have a greater potential for rehabilitation.”
This line jumped out at me as I read this recent New York Times article (link below). I have heard, and used, many variations on this argument over the years when trying to convince people that putting children in prison is not a particularly great idea. Basically, the idea is that kids and adults are fundamentally different. Therefore, while it is perfectly acceptable to put adults into adult prisons, children who have been convicted of crimes should experience something different, administered by a more forgiving, nurturing, juvenile justice system.
But where I have been getting stuck lately is the implication that it is perfectly acceptable to put adults into adult prisons. It started as a bit of an age problem—do I really believe that eighteen year olds have all the wisdom and maturity of my 94 year old grandfather? Would I feel more comfortable if the age to be tried as an adult were raised to 21? 25? At what point do I actually feel that putting people into adult prisons is helpful for both the person being incarcerated and society as a whole?
So lately I have been wondering if age should be such a major defining feature of our justice system. As far as I can tell, our justice system is based on the idea of individual responsibility and punishment. At some point, someone becomes solely responsible for his or her actions. At that point, that individual Deserves To Be Punished for any crimes or transgressions.
The United States incarcerates the highest percentage of our population of any country in the world. As of 2011, the Bureau of Justice Statistics estimated over 2 million adults in state or federal prisons. People have begin poking at the edges of this problem—too expensive, too many nonviolent offenders, too many mandatory minimum sentences, too many drug related cases. But we always seem to leave a center, a group that is, at the end of the day supposed to be in prison. The really violent, incorrigible adult criminals that we seem to assume are out there and need to be behind bars. But who are these people, really, and what evidence do we have that we are all better off when they are removed from their families and communities and put into the sort of conditions that we no longer think would be acceptable if they had only been a few years younger at the time they committed their crimes?
- A Bid to Keep Youths Out of Adult Prisons (nytimes.com)
If you’ve read a bit about us, you know that we are engaged in a project with a lot of moving parts, one of which involves a collaborative mentoring approach that we have been developing over the past year. There will be lots more on this to come… but for now, I wanted to tell you about another great mentoring effort happening in Harlem — a joint effort between Harlem CARES Mentoring Movement and Total Equity Now (TEN) (read what we wrote last week about the great work that TEN is involved in).
Next Tuesday, August 13th, 6:30-8:30pm — Harlem CARES and TEN are sponsoring a mentoring fair at the Minisink Townhouse (at Lenox Avenue and 142nd Street). From an article published in DNAInfo New York:
“More than 3 million children are being mentored in the United States today but another 15 million are waiting to be mentored. Many grassroots organizations simply don’t have the resources to recruit enough adults.”
“The fair hopes to eliminate the disconnect between adults who might be interested in mentoring young people and the many organizations that facilitate such relationships by putting them together in the same room.”
In our work with court-involved youth over the past two decades, we’re learned that not every young person will want a mentor, some won’t want to participate if the experience is called mentoring, and some may not realize that a mentor is exactly what they need in their corner. But one thing is certain: young people need caring adults in their lives. Young people flourish in unexpected ways when they know they have someone (and hopefully a few someones) in their corner. And it is here where we see the richness of mentoring to exist and it is in the liminal spaces of a caring ethos that unimagined possibilities may begin to thrive.
These aren’t mere platitudes. They are words written by someone who has been fortunate to have had mentors throughout her life; for their wisdom, gentle guidance, occasional admonishments, and constant strength, I will be forever grateful.
So, if you’re a “committed adult” who can imagine “building another positive, strong relationship with someone who can mirror to young people what is possible in their lives,” then head on over to the Mentoring Fair on August 13th.
After a sweltering July, I took pleasure in the breezy feel of an unlikely August Sunday afternoon. I switched on the tv as background noise, but quickly became drawn into the stories being shared by two women as they sat and talked with the always astute Bill Moyers. The topic being discussed, among other things, was the film “A Place at the Table,” and Kristi Jacobson, one of the film’s directors and producers, and Mariana Chilton, director of the Center for Hunger-Free Communities, were Moyers’ guests. Their argument was relatively simple: hunger hurts everyone.
I found myself nodding along, but was unprepared for the footage they shared from the film, which also documents the efforts of Chilton and her Center against the backdrop of the federal funding cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). One loving mother eats a bologna sandwich in the kitchen after serving her two small children a portion of pasta each. She does not “look hungry” as the argument sometimes goes, says Chilton, who notes in a comment to Moyers after this scene is shown that the mother even hides her nutritional sacrifice from her children.
We have seen this narrative many times: parents who care deeply for their children, but who are still unable to provide the necessary basics. Where are they meant to turn? What supports exist for adults who are working full time, often more than one job, and whose wages keep them perpetually “food insecure” — the term used throughout the film to signal an all too common phenomenon: not knowing where one’s next meal is coming from.
Moyers’ guests talk policy, change, action, and urgency, and yet the parting words have to do with the struggle to get noticed by legislators for long enough of a period to actually effect change. Too mired in uninformed definitions of dependency and misguided notions of socialism are the political arguments that seem to surface any time issues of great urgency — and this includes hunger as well as shelter, safety, and wellbeing of children — are brought into the realm of legislation.
It’s enough to make one ask what else can be done at the local, community, neighborhood level. This is one of the reasons I appreciate the multi-tiered efforts of Chilton’s Center at Drexel University that seems to bring together families — who they are calling “Witnesses to Hunger” — with a shared focus on community-based projects, actions, research, and policy.
Here’s another link to PBS Newshour footage about the film, featuring clips and additional interviews:
And in case you were wondering… yes, this is where YMEJ is headed. And we are thrilled to have learned about the Center for Hunger-Free Communities as inspiration. Universities, too, can be part of the work and not only in the business of posing problems and solutions.
Link to Moyers’ broadcast – or watch the complete program here:
Click for more resources connected with hunger, nutrition, and poverty.
The Global Action Project (G.A.P.) has a rich history of pursuing and advocating for effective social change through innovative uses of media. In preparing for Year 2 of our YMEJ Seminar, we found a collection of videos that G.A.P. has listed under the category of Educational Justice. Perfect, right? The videos (short flims, PSAs) address educational issues related to:
- undocumented students
- youths’ legal rights
- homophobia and violence
- the school to prison pipeline
This one in particular caught our eye:
This video questions why people leave school or fail to graduate. Rather than focusing on the more commonly held idea of “drop outs,” the video examines the trends of push-outs, and the many ways that young people feel discouraged by the educational system. Interviewing educational researchers, students, and each other, we try to present the stories behind the statistics. – See more at: http://global-action.org/video/set#sthash.9eM2qbfj.dpuf
Here are a couple of other online video repositories that include short films in a variety of formats that take up issues of social change and education in a wide embrace:
- The Media that Matters Film Festival — click here for the collection related to youth; explore the rest of the site for films on other topics including economic justice, gender, politics, and more.
- 3MinuteMedia – click for 3 years’ worth of short films under 3 minutes in length on topics such as the women’s revolution in Egypt, recycling, the arts in schools, and marriage equality. (There’s a call for entries out now for submissions for the 2013 festival.)
–by Mathangi Subramanian (TC alum, Fulbright Scholar), writing for The Hindu
“Too often, we blame poverty on the poor. It is easier than admitting our complicity in the systems that reproduce our privilege and reinforce the hardships of others. After all, if we were to truly commit to eliminating poverty, we would have to sacrifice. We would have to pay higher taxes, make space in our neighborhoods for affordable housing, send our children to publicly funded government schools, and hold our politicians accountable for our most vulnerable citizens. Instead, we shake our heads and sigh when the media tells us what we want to hear: that the death of children is not in our hands.”
This summer, as we prepare for Year 2 of our project, we are scouring the web and bugging our friends and everyone we meet to share interesting resources with us that represent the lives of foster youth in different ways.
The new ABC Family tv show The Fosters debuted this summer and attempts to raise important questions about institutional, social, and cultural context of the lives of youth who are tethered to the foster care system.
And we’ve just learned about a fascinating sounding novel called The Panopticon, a novel by Jenni Fagan that focuses on the life of Anais, a young woman who has grown up in foster care and finds herself being sent to “the Panopticon, a home for chronic young offenders.” More on this after we’ve read it through.
Here are a few others that we’ve read and loved and discussed during Year 1 of the project — not all are exactly about the foster care system, but all do take up questions and themes of home, belonging, family, kinship, and love:
Do you have a resource to share that depicts the lives of youth in foster care? We’ve been collecting titles all summer and will soon post a list of both fiction and documentary resources — but we’re always looking for more, so please share your titles with us!