Presentation to the Third Annual Summit on Preventing Youth Violence for the U.S. Department of Justice
September 27, 2013
We discuss partnerships, but the question is not just partnerships, but how we arrive at porous relationships where each and all parties are ready and willing to change how they do business.
Otherwise it’s a marriage on auto pilot – or stiff, unyielding Lego blocks, which abut but do not change.
So the key question, not usually discussed is what does it take, what are the essential elements that would alter us as intractable, arms-folded, turf-guarding folks to, “It’s just not working. We’ve got to change how we do business?” We all have our silos and precious grain. Who’s the grain for? How are we distributing it? Who’s going unfed?
I offer 10 ways we might break our comfortable silos.
First: Leadership. A mayor, a chief who says, ‘We will not continue in the same way. Things must change. You will change.” I’ve see it; you’ve seen it. And we’ve seen the opposite, either no change – intact silos – or city civil servants trying to make change, but totally uncertain whether the mayor or city manager will support their efforts.
Second: Moral force. Death of an 8-year old child in San Bernardino, shot down at her Thanksgiving Day table in San Bernardino. My good friend and colleague, Julio Marcial of the California Wellness Foundation said, “The reason we got into violence prevention 20 years ago was because too many kids were dying. We could not engage ourselves in ‘normal’ health work given the number of deaths of young people – especially by guns.” Shawn Dove, project officer at the Open Society Foundation said, The African American community has trauma, has Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome, but guess what: they can’t get out of Vietnam. It doesn’t end.””
Third: The recognition that a program will not save us. When families collapse, schools fail to educate and the economy does not produce jobs, we turn to law enforcement to save us. Nothing could be more wrong: it gives law enforcement an impossible burden, and worse, it takes all of us off the hook. Thus the task is not to launch a program, but a strategy that engages the energies, passion and commitment of all. And that, friends, lies at the heart of the Forum’s work: what each of us will do: the police , the schools, public health, the business and faith communities, zoning, child welfare, the research and philanthropic communities, and yes, parents and neighborhood watch volunteers. I quote from one of my favorite theologians, Abraham Heschel, who, in his book “Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity,” said, “In a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.”
Fourth: Some of us have stopped learning. Why? Tired? No time? Not able? No, I think because if we knew more, challenged ourselves, we would have to change. Constant learning based on the real. I know how talking and being with those whom we serve and being with you, pushes me, teaches me. And I am getting up there in years, needing that existential push, that refreshing. Matter of fact I’m so old they’ve discontinued my blood type. I’ve also done a little marching recently, once in response to the horror of Newtown, and just recently at the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. Marching may not be the verb. Perhaps shuffling. And I’ve got tips for those of my vintage who would march or picket: always know where the Port-A-Potties are; wear ankle and knee braces; don’t expect to walk the next day. And always make sure you know where you are. Apart from the jokes: how are we learning? Put more pointedly, do we risk learning? Why did that neighborhood bounce back? Why did those three gang kids make it.
Fifth: Data. Yes, boring numbers. Not necessarily the quantitative aspect of data, but the MORAL aspect of data, the demand for data that would paint the whole picture. The data most readily available, that data most often shared is criminal justice data. So a kid becomes a hologram of that data, a kid now delinquent or a felon, not a kid. If data were shared we might find out that a truant youth is too embarrassed to attend school because he or she is too poor to buy the right clothes, or a youth is now violent because of early violence done to him by a sexually abusing uncle. Data does not excuse, but it gives us a full picture, thus better guiding our response…and if we know more it will force us to look at the whole picture, forcing us as agents of change to change.
Sixth: Accountability. Yes, I am accountable to my institution, but I must have both the vision and the will to see through my mandate to why I have that mandate in the first place. Based on that, I will do this. To this I pledge. Every two months in San Jose, in Boston, in Salinas and in most of your cities, a status check of your plan, of what is pledged, of who said they would do what, of progress, of problems, of goals met and unmet. And in many of your cities, the meetings are open to the public. Accountability.
Seventh: The pragmatic. many private foundations have become partners with you, have invested in violence prevention work because they have seen their investments in other areas compromised because of crime and violence. Paul Grogan, President of the Boston Foundation said: “We’ve been a long time funder, beginning with the 10-Point Coalition; the core reason had to do with pervasive fear in the community, fear that meant we couldn’t fully realize our investments in other areas.” The same is true with businesses: FedEx, headquartered in Memphis, is helping Director Michelle Fowlkes and the city, because Fed Ex executives want to attract employees, want a safe place to do business. And the same with Allstate in Chicago, which is spearheading a $50 million fundraising campaign for youth violence prevention work.
Eighth: Policy and sea changes. Changes coming to us from the outside: decarceration in California and many other states; Attorney General Eric Holder urging more judicial discretion, advocating for the treatment of low-level offenders in the community; disproportionate minority confinement, and more. These externals will change how we do business and with whom we partner. There will be more requests of the philanthropic community to fund community-based diversion and restitution programs. There will be more weight on probation for more and better community programs, and more weight on the faith community to help those returning from prison. Yet there is one huge and horrible external that presses on us, ripping apart in an instant our brilliantly-crafted comprehensive plans – the obscene availability of assault weapons, and the ease with which almost anyone can get them.
Ninth: Social justice. It is the right thing to do. It should be a civil right to be able to walk to school safely. When I was on a site visit to Philadelphia, a woman in a group I was asked to run told me that her sole goal in life is to get her kids to school and back safely. She described walking on pavements some with crusted blood and trees and parking meters with makeshift memorials attached to them. This in our nation, not Syria, not Iraq, in 2013. People cannot change, kids cannot grow, kids cannot learn in a combat zone. Kathy Weiss, Director of the Stoneleigh Foundation frames this issue in terms of rights violated: “The Stoneleigh Foundation couldn’t ignore that our number one civil right, safety, is an elusive right for too many of our youth…we cannot ignore the injustice of living in a persistently violent neighborhood.” I maintain that we must all see ourselves as servants of something larger, for it is bigger, more compelling and more important than our individual mandates, the agency that I run, the department for which I work.
Tenth: Risk. Exposing yourselves to the real. Going into the heart of darkness. Proximity to the problem: CASP cops in Salinas who work out of a youth center, who knock on doors getting to know the residents, listening to their worries, forging trust. Thus the work now stems not from abstract policy but the worry and needs of real people. Pope Francis, once the arch-conservative Father Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Argentina, changed. When archbishop he focused on the necessity of church attendance, of taking communion regularly, of the sin of divorce, and contraception, of gay marriage. That is until he started working with the poor, leaving his fancy residence, taking the bus. “He must have talked to half the people in the slum. He would just turn up, wander the alleyways, chat with the locals and drink mate, herbal tea, with them,” said Fr. Guillermo Marco, his assistant. And this stunning quote reported in the New York Times just last Friday: Pope Francis sent “shock waves through the church with the publication of his remarks that the church had grown obsessed with abortion, gay marriage and contraception…for putting dogma before love, and prioritizing moral doctrines over serving the poor and marginalized.” (NYT, 9/20/13, p. 1)
Perhaps you recall the movie “Gandhi.” India in the 1940s fought and gained independence from England. But the Indian sub-continent split violently into Hindu and Muslim factions. The separate states of India and Pakistan were forming, but fighting and looting and murder were rampant in every village.
A summit meeting was held in the ornate Governor’s Palace in new Delhi. The British, Hindu and Muslim leaders attended. The negotiations were intense. Suddenly Gandhi with his tiny bag of possessions got up and started to walk out. “Where are you going? You cannot leave us. Stay,” begged the leaders. Said Gandhi: “I’m going to Calcutta: that’s where the fire is.”
You have the courage to go where the fire is: not to it, not around it, not over it, but into it. And because of that you can, and are, risking change, changing how you do business, inspiring us. And that’s why you’re special. I thank you for your work. I thank you for you.