Monday, March 13, 2017

Books - Not Bullets

Throughout President Donald Trump’s campaign and in his first weeks in office he made it clear that he was going to crack down on crime.  After swearing in Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Trump signed three executive orders that he said were “designed to restore safety in America.”  One specifically directed Sessions to establish a new Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety. 

Trump talked tough about putting more cops on the streets, equipping them with the tools and resources needed to keep neighborhoods safe.  Even though FBI statistics have shown a sustained decline in violent crime and the overall crime rate remains at its lowest levels in decades, Trump has instead maintained that the crime rate is rising at record proportions while painting a dire picture of inner cities.

In his February press conference, he doubled down, saying, “You go to some of these inner city places and it’s so sad when you look at crime….they’re living in hell.”

Unfortunately, Trump is not only mistaken with his assessment but is going in the wrong direction.  The problem is not crime. Crime stems from a lack of education and opportunities.   If the Trump administration is truly concerned about finding solutions to crime, specifically in inner cities, the first step should be improving literacy rates.

The inability to read and write well may not be a direct cause of criminal behavior, but low literacy and crime are closely related. Literacy is learned. Illiteracy is passed along by parents who cannot read or write. 43% of adults with low literacy skills live in poverty.   3 out of 4 food stamp recipients perform at the lowest literacy levels. 90% of welfare recipients are dropouts.  People with low literacy skills generally have inadequate problem-solving skills and tend to be less active within their own communities. Isolated and vulnerable, many can feel like outcasts. 16 to 19 year olds at the poverty level and below, with below average skills, are 6 times more likely to have out-of-wedlock children than their counterparts with better skills.  Without reading and writing skills young men often grow up lacking in self-esteem, hiding behavioral problems and shortcomings behind macho posturing while bullying, committing petty crimes and joining gangs. They are generally unemployable, adrift in society before they can even vote - and their numbers are growing nationwide, not just in urban cities. 

The Department of Justice states, “The link between academic failure and delinquency, violence, and crime is welded to reading failure." 85% of all juveniles who have passed through the juvenile court system in America are functionally illiterate.  70% of prisoners fall into the lowest two levels of reading which means they are functionally illiterate.  It’s not hard to connect the dots between illiteracy and crime.

When states like Arizona and California plan future prison growth and project the number of cells each will need, they use an algorithm factoring in the number of kids who do not read well in grade school. Evidence shows that children with poor reading skills often fail to catch up and are more likely to drop out of school, take drugs, fall into poverty, or go to prison.  The reality is that, in some states at least, if you don’t know how to read by the end of fourth grade, the state is building you a prison cell.

Literacy training can provide a chance to build a better future, giving young people at risk of delinquency the skills needed to find and keep jobs and escape poverty. The ability to read and write well can help marginalized young people resist the temptations that might lead to a prison cell; not some imaginary score that can be earned on the streets.  At least 75 of every 100 adults in prison were persistent youthful offenders - improving the literacy of young people could have a significant impact preventing and reducing adult crime. 

This administration’s efforts at fighting crime do not end with locking up criminals either; they have a responsibility to reform criminals in ways that prevent them from committing crimes when released.  A Canadian study showed that prison literacy programs can reduce recidivism by up to 30%, depending on the level of literacy the prisoner achieves. In a U.S. study, earning a college degree in prison reduced recidivism by 100%. These programs give inmates the skills they need to get steady jobs when they are released, reducing chances of re-offending and returning them to their communities with a more positive self-image. Achievement, acquired skills, and self-esteem help them avoid one of the main causes of criminal activity – unemployment.

The issue of crime – especially in urban areas and inner cities that President Trump is so worried about – cannot be solved by better policing alone. Reactionary policies, misleading statements, and misquoting crime statistics doesn’t disguise the fact that the real problem in inner cities is a crisis of education. The Cabinet member who should be leading this fight is not Sessions, but Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

More cops on the beat with bigger guns won’t solve the problem.  Maybe the right tools and resources to keep neighborhoods safe starts with teaching the basics of reading and writing to our children.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Keeper

re not supposed to be so blind with patriotism that you can't face reality. Wrong is wrong, no matter who says it. Malcolm X
Read more at:
You're not supposed to be so blind with patriotism that you can't face reality. Wrong is wrong, no matter who says it. Malcolm X
Read more at:'re not supposed to be so blind with patriotism that you can't face reality. Wrong is wrong, no matter who says it.                                                                                                                      Malcolm X

You're not supposed to be so blind with patriotism that you can't face reality. Wrong is wrong, no matter who says it.                         Malcolm X

A few years ago in our StoryTellers program I worked with two twin brothers from Somalia.  Their lives had been hell, filled with wars, child soldiers, death, abuse, and domestic violence before they managed to flee with their mother and older brother.  They traveled thousands of miles across deserts, through strange landscapes and foreign countries, most times in the dark of night with nothing more than the few possessions they carried on their backs so they could immigrate to America.  Even here they lived in constant fear that their father – a government official in Somalia - would someday find them and return them to the horrors of the world they left behind. During months of writing sessions they shared stories filled with pain, fear, and distrust, but also stories deep in excitement about their new lives and happiness at the chances they had been given.  They worked hard to assimilate, learning a new language and culture.  They learned to smile and laugh again. They studied hard, got good grades, and seized every opportunity life in America provided.  They worked for it.  Earned it. Nobody gave them anything. 

And yes …they were Muslim.

I doubt many Americans – especially those worried about jihads and radical Islam and the Muslim boogeymen coming to get us – have ever had any real contact with Muslims (the guy behind the counter at the local convenience store doesn’t count unless you took the time to talk about something more substantial than the cost of that bag of Doritos and six-pack of Bud). Strip away religion. Take away misguided fears about a culture and misguided ideologies we don’t take time to understand. We are all just people. Looking for happiness and love and sometimes even acceptance in a country based on the premise that everyone – no matter where they come from or who they worship – is welcome here. And that we are all created equal
You can learn a little more about StoryTellers HERE

If you're curious about the title, check out this video from Chris Cornell called The Keeper

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Not Today.....

New Colossus

"Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

A Culture of Swine

“Buy the ticket. Take the ride.”
Hunter S. Thompson

It is the morning after the nastiest, most divisive presidential election ever. Not just in our lifetime. EVER. And while banshees scream about the death of democracy, the dogs of hell are already barking and howling a victory song marking the beginning of what may very well be a long, nasty period in American history.

The Trump years will be a horror. Now that the Republican Party has sunk its talons into the heart and soul of Washington, the repercussions will be painful and long-lasting. Generations will feel those effects.  Trump-ism will allow the Republicans to pass massive regressive tax cuts, yank access to medical care from the poor and sick, deregulate the financial industry, gut the EPA while looking away as polluters and fossil-fuel emitters rape the environment, and promote racism disguised as patriotism under the banner “Making America Great Again”.

What a load of shit.

As if America ever stopped being great.

And sadly, that is just the beginning.  Trump is a monster. He is an impulsive, egotistical bully, intolerant of any and all criticism and attracted to power like a shark to blood (or maybe in his case – a fly to shit).

HST’s comments about an equally evil individual once in power (Richard Nixon) are appropriate: Trump represents that “dark, venal and incurably violent side of the American character that almost every country in the world has learned to fear and despise. Our… president, with his Barbie-doll wife and his boxful of Barbie-doll children is also America's answer to the monstrous Mr. Hyde. He speaks for the Werewolf in us; the bully, the predatory shyster who turns into something unspeakable, full of claws and bleeding string-warts on nights when the moon comes too close…” 

The fifty-nine million Americans who elected Trump will not be helped by his agenda nor any of his programs – he avoided policy specifics in every debate, so it’s difficult to say for sure what those programs might be, except that they will all be “tremendous”.  To the people who bought into his bullshit, Trump-ism represents the opportunity to rebuild our nation and renew the American dream.  Tremendous potential. It’s going to be a beautiful thing. Every single American will have the opportunity to realize his or her fullest potential.” 

Except that they won’t.  Not if they are Black. Or Hispanic. Or women. Or Muslim. Or refugees. Or LGBT. The only people who might be satisfied by a Trump presidency are the ones who voted for him because of racial and cultural resentment.

The depths of a Trump presidency defy any sane, rational person’s imagination. Based on the seismic divisions within our country – race, cultural, religious, and gender  – that his candidacy preyed upon like a vulture eating road kill, it’s safe to assume his presidency will not be popular. At least not for long and not with everyone.  And Trump, his henchmen, and gnarly co-horts will most likely respond with vicious anti-democratic measures that threaten the basic tenets of our Constitution and the freedoms it guarantees. But fighting for democracy is part of America’s heritage – it’s what we do.  We fight to make things better and stand up to racism, bigotry, misogyny, discrimination, and oppression. It may take us a while to get it right, but we stand up for the rights of others.

No matter who is in the White House, we need to fight hard for all people of color, LGBT rights, religious freedoms, a woman's right to choose, medical care for people who cannot afford healthcare, etc. - maybe now more than ever. We are stronger together.  And we need to keep fighting.

It is the morning after the nastiest election ever. The sun still came out. Many of us still woke up next to the person we love, surrounded by family or friends who matter. Still hopeful for a better future than the one our parents gave us.  I love this country. I believe in it. I still believe in America.  I’m not leaving - I’m going to stay and defend truth and democracy. There are a lot of people just like me, who feel the same way I do.  We are not going anywhere. 

We are going to stay and fix this.