Monday, January 26, 2009

Bumpin' da Gums AGAIN!

I spent the entire day today (normally Monday is preacher's holiday) in an audience of community leaders, child advocates, early childhood, health and mental health, child welfare and juvenile justice professionals, educators, lawyers and judges, members of law enforcement, elected officials, business leaders, foundation representatives, and members of the media. We were being presented with the release of the Community Assessment Report of Disproportionate Minority Contact in our County Juvenile Justice System.

The report indicates that African-American males and females are overrepresented in contact with the juvenile justice system including juvenile arrests, confinement, and cases transferred to Adult Court. No mystery here, it appears that this is just another statistic that continues to highlight the trend of overrepresentation of minorities in categories that are negative, harmful, or dysfunctional.

However, the report also indicated that the most common offense filed with Juvenile Court has been violations of the Safe School Ordinance, a broad area which varies from talking back to a teacher to acts of violence or bringing a weapon to school. Could it be, that in our area we have a pipeline from the schools to prison? If so, this is truly alarming! It does trouble me that the majority of offenders are being sent to juvenile detention from school. This area needs further research and exploration.

But today, I lost interest after hearing one cliche`-filled sermon after another by folk who may not have showed up except to advocate for their own particular program and others who were just talkin' cause they got a mouth. Black folk can talk they behind off! White folk and other ethnic minorities can rock the house too! A ton of statistics, sermons, and singing the blues, but no solutions or strategies were offered and no red flags or cautions recognized or commented upon. In fact, one former city executive commented that we have too many youth programs and are spending too much money on young people in our area as it is.

It may be that we have been paralyzed or benumbed by the avalanche of recent negative anti-social statistics and behavior or that too many of us are content to profit from the misery of others and therefore seek only to "manage" the problems rather than solve them.

I am convinced that if we are going to legitimately address the disproportionate minority contact in the juvenile justice system in my area that the following needs to be done at a minimum:

1. Bring the young people to the table and listen to them. We often miss the obvious because we talk about youth rather than with youth.

2. Utilize qualitative analysis along with quantitative data. Discussion, dialog, and allowing the subjects to speak for themselves (particularly with marginalized and oppressed groups), uncovers the depth and nuances of the problem and adds valuable insight to cold, impersonal quantitative methods and statistical data. It is almost impossible to figure out who youth are and where they are without listening to their stories, finding out what is going on in their lives and what they are dealing with.

3. What is the administrative dynamic and competence within the schools that are sending these kids to jail? There is a potential for conflict where the marginalized students are being taught by teachers whose experience is defined by the dominant culture. Children need teachers and mentors who are not only able to listen to them with empathy, but who also possess cultural awareness and knowledge of them gained from a similar socio-cultural experience. Often a cultural mismatch between the teacher's experience and the child's cultural history can be the source of a problem that leads to further marginalization, conflict, exclusion, or withdrawal.

The Cradle to Prison Pipeline is a national crisis and is very complex and includes many factors including race, low-performing schools, lack of access to health and mental health care, broken child welfare and juvenile justice systems, struggling families and depressed communities, a toxic youth culture, and lack of parenting skills. It behooves us to come up with strategies and solutions before it is too late. The first step may be simply to meet young people where they are, initiate dialog, and listen.

Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink of water." John 4:6,7


underOvr (aka The U) said...

I just started a post on brothers and sisters being recycled through the criminal justice system; not as eloquent as what I've read here, just my social commentary.

Thanks for sharing both insight and wisdom.


Prof. PC said...

I think the solutions you offer here are central to the problems associated with the educational system, including higher education. I think it's exceptionally smart to point out the need to include youth/students in dialogue, and it's critical to make a methodological move that also involves them in data collection and analysis. This is where Afrafeminism (careful analysis, acknowledgment of passionate attachments, participation/collaboration, etc.)as a methodology can particularly help us in research that extends beyond studying African American female participants.

Mista Jaycee said...

Once again, a great post!
In Long Beach and in South Los Angeles I noticed that the schools were fenced in and the kids in uniforms and they looked like prisons. Not so for the more affluent White schools. They look like Community Colleges. Big very noticable difference.

jjbrock said...

Rev. great article. If we smart people can look at children from a very young age and based on many number of factors(poverty, abuse and the lack of health/mental health coverage to poor schools, dangerous communities) predict with alarming accuracy which ones will likely end up incarcerated.

Then, why, can't we predict with the same accuracy which one can be help? I don't have the answer but I do like your suggestion bring the young people to the table.

MilesPerHour said...

Your three points are extremely valid and on-target.

So many problems are addressed by "putting out the fires" rather than being proactive and looking at ways to solve and prevent them them from occuring in the future.

I will also agree that it need to be addressed one step at a time and I think your suggestion on the first step is a good start.

Chi-Chi, The Original Wombman said...

Excellent Post Revvy Rev. I had typed a long, detailed response while holding my little one and he pressed something and *poof* it was gone. I just wanted to say that I truly respect those who can offer solutions instead of bumping their gums. And I think the solutions you've offered are spot on.

MacDaddy said...

Good post. And thanks for highlighting this issue. As a former youth counselor and advocate for families, I saw firsthand how the school system has become the jump-off to youth involvement in the criminal system. And it gets worse from there. Blessings.

Revvy Rev said...

@ The U, MacDaddy thanks for your input. I am going to be wrestling with this issue and I will be in contact with you for input.

@ PC, :) I just know that you will keep me on point with the methodology and research.

ChiChi, next time hit control Z which will undo the last move. Keep Protecting and looking out for the babies. Good job.

Annie, Miles, JC - your support and encouragement is so appreciated. I want to make sure that you know that.

Vérité Parlant said...

A much needed discussion to prompt action. What you said about talking about youth instead of with them is so true.

I've got a lot more I could say, but it's late getting late for me. :-)

Ben Green said...

I think that you might very well be right on in regards to the problem(s) facing our young people. You would think that with all of the available info and statistics that the rubber would eventually meet the road. I think that there are many well intentioned folk out there with lots of data but little to no passion the work that they do. It's like the many people who teach in the public school system. They teach because they went to school for it, graduated and somebody hired them.

I like the idea of sitting down and dialoguing with these young folk and discovering their thoughts and ambitions, not so much to discover the problem. We know the many problems, but we don't know the hearts of these young folk. What is it that moves their hearts? I think however, that what we will ultimately find is that these children who we label as "marginalized" do not have a good support system in many areas and where they do that suport tends to be a negative one. We will find that they need love and they need what positive alternatives are out there for them and based on their aspirations. I do think however that all of this is reactive which is how many of us respond to many things. We need some preventative methods in place along with these reactive measures. As indicated by your article, "from the cradle to prison" the earlier the better. What can we do beginning at the formative years? Yes, there is water coming into the boat and somebody has to bail the water out, but shouldn't we think about repairing the hole?

pjazzypar said...

Hi Rev,you know you don't get no day off :-) I work with adolescents, mostly of color, in which 85% are involved with the juvenile justice system. Sadly much of this involvement is drug related. They were either caught distributing drugs or what they refer to as "hitting a lick" (breaking in people's homes) in order to purchase drugs. Overall in this country African Americans are overrepresented in the criminal justice system. In California African Americans make up 6.6% of the population, yet they make up over 30% of those in jails and prisons.

In Dallas, the "Cheese" (a black tar heroin and Tylenol PM mixture) epidemic has devastated the Latino community in the Dallas area. The usage of this drug is comparable to the crack epidemic of the past, except it might be even more lethal. Overdosing on the drug is a regular occurrence. You are absolutely correct! We need to talk to the young people.

Kymberly said...

Great post Rev. You are so right about dialogue. It is impossible to achieve liberation from either side of the table, especially the side of the dominant culture unless people are willing to stop and LISTEN for more than a pause to jump in and pontificate either. Authentic dialogue requires listening and not just hearing, understanding and love.

If we stopped bumping our gums long enough we might hear some wisdom from our younger sisters and brothers.

Thanks again...

Sista GP said...

Great post! Some of the issues you mentioned is the reason why my niece is living with me. She has a lot of anger to deal with at such a young age.
Just yesterday, when we arrived at my mom's housem, for no apparent reason she was expressing signs of anger and resentment.
After calmly discussing with her what was the cause, she eventually relaxed and admitted nothing was the problem. She was just in the habit of being angry there.
Hubby and I are trying our best to get her to break habits like that to enable her to be more successful in life.
If she continued on the path she was on, we could foresee her being sent to a youth detention center.

SjP said...

Much obliged! You are oh so right! Seems much easier to do a whole lot of talking without any action. I think your plan to help eradicate this problem is right on time! Great post!

Believer 1964 said...

You work for God—there are no days off! ;)

Some folk in ministry want more of the spotlight rather than being in the alley where the work needs to be done.

Matthew 6

msladydeborah said...

I can only imagine what that gathering was like. Our state really has a major problem in terms of juvenile justice. I know this for a fact. My former husband was employed by DYS at one time. In Franklin County there was a major lawsuit filed on behalf of the children. They won the case. It was very disheartening to read about the conditions that exist.

As far as what to do. I believe you hit the nail on the head when you said, bring the youth to the table and listen to what they have to say.

The craddle to prison pipeline is not a mythical experience. It is very for real. We have to work on breaking the connection.

I hate going to meetings like the one you have described. Nothing really gets accomplished. Just the same things get recycled.

It is time that we seriously consider what is truly important and get about the business of saving our children.