Sunday, February 06, 2011

Ghetto Life: 101

Every once in a while I am approached by someone who wants to understand more about the inner city from the perspective of someone who lives here. They ask me if I can provide them with a family who would be willing to allow a reporter into their home to talk about food insecurity. They want to know if a child would be willing to provide a day-in-the-life report in hopes of getting a better picture of their life with gangs. Or they may want a mom to talk about her frustrations of trying to get a job with no childcare.

I want people to understand the environment, families, educational system, and why things work or don't work for people in poverty. Yet, every time I am approached, my defenses immediately go up.

My experience with the press hasn't always been good. I learned the hard way that the whole context of what you say isn't always put in the writing. Reporters have an agenda, an angle. They work to fit the story into their angle. As a result, the story becomes one-sided and often, for people in my neighborhood, reflects negatively on the people in the neighborhood. Therefore, a lot of my friends and neighbors turn away from those "opportunities" and often look at me with skepticism when I even approach them about it.

I get it. I mean, really, who wants their dirty laundry aired? I don't see a lot of press reports on upper class white families whose children become addicts because their work-a-holic parents hire nannies and they never have any real connection with their own children. Instead, when a drug epidemic breaks out in the suburbs, I see generous concern for students who have turned to drugs. There becomes an outpouring of support, counselors brought in, and attempts to weed out the drugs. Situations in either community are extremely sad, but similar situations are approached very differently depending on the neighborhood.

I do think people need to know about and understand the reality our kids in poverty face. I want to tell people if they really wanted to know, they should spend some time in our neighborhood. They need to be a part of our day-to-day for a while. I think they would find that some things aren't near as scary as they've been presented and other things are just as heart-breaking. Unfortunately, I've learned that convincing someone to hang out in our neighborhood for a while is pretty futile.

I wish people could see and understand the joy along with the sorrows. I wish they could meet Ron, who grew up on my street and comes back every once in a while to check on my elderly neighbor, who has also been here for most of her life. I wish they could know my friend who mows my lawn periodically when he knows I'm too busy. I wish they could feel the pain of the losses we've experienced to shootings, mental illness, diabetes, cancer, and other preventable actions and diseases. I wish people outside of our neighborhood could see how pain is embedded in the system.

There are some people who have become a part of our programs...and they have come to know the joys and the sorrows. We love, together. We hurt, together.

When I listened to this NPR segment, it reminded me of how real and powerful reports from people experiencing the system can be. But even as they explain, it took a lot of courage on their part to hold the tape recorder and get the information from their community.

After listening to the NPR segment (below), you may want to listen to one of their original pieces. If you want to know what "ghetto life" is like, listen to these two young men. They may have done the piece in 1993. Unfortunately, not much has changed in our urban areas since then. You may have to sign up for a subscription for the second audio piece (PRX » Piece » #50 - Ghetto Life 101), but it's free and I guarantee you it's worth it. Take a listen...

PRX » Piece » #50 - Ghetto Life 101
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