Kids Off The Block Should Be On Our Agenda

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 I have been pushing the idea of neighborhood equity as a gateway to so many of the race- and poverty-based civil rights issues we still struggle with.  Based on the recent important social science of Robert Sampson in Great American City: Chicago and the Enduring Neighborhood Effect, and Patrick Sharkey in Stuck in Place: Urban Poverty and the End of Progress Toward Racial Equality, I have proposed that Chicago's civic leadership rally around the idea of 1000 Innovation Houses as anchor tenants in neighborhoods that have struggled with disinvestment, population loss, and violence.  Young people should move into Innovation Houses and serve as community builders, mentoring children, rebuilding housing, and greening streets, parks, and vacant spaces.

Community leaders like Diane Latiker prove to us that the spirit and hope needed to #Transform our neighborhoods are already there, if given the right kind of support from the rest of us.  A resident of the Roseland community on Chicago's South Side, Diane began to open her home to young people some two decades ago because she was concerned about the safety and challenges her own child was facing.  Her organization, Kids Off The Block, was started.  The response from the young people in the neighborhood was overwhelming, and sometimes she would find 75 of them occupying every open space in her home.  Diane is salt of the earth, warm, understanding, smart and solid.  Teens in the neighborhoodhave leaned on her ever since, to get them through anything they might face and out into the world for college and work.  Diane's House is the prototypical "Innovation House."

Diane has been featured on CNN Heroes, Secret Millionaire, and several local news shows.  There is no doubt that she is the real deal, and the attention has helped her expand program space into a vacant storefront a few doors down Michigan Avenue from her home.  But public attention is a fickle and shortsighted thing, and that includes many foundations and government funders of community programming.  Less than two years after CNN's visit, the City of Chicago decided it would "move in a different direction" in terms of assigning summer jobs, and KOTB found itself scrambling, both to plug its young people into other opportunities and to sustain the modest budget that fuels its space and programming.  Philip Jackson of the Black Star Project rightly decried the idiocy of a city's civic fabric wringing its hands over the weekend's dead-and-wounded toll headlining the news every Monday morning while at the same time letting Diane and Kids Off The Block go wanting.

The civic infrastructure of Chicago must nurture and promote the homegrown talent that is right there fighting the good fight that everyone hopes someone will.  You can go see it for yourself at 118th and Michigan, 15 miles due South of our Magnificent Mile.  When I was there recently, I asked Diane how she was doing, and she replied, "I'm not happy that we're last on the totem pole and first on the front line.  You have to take care of the front line."  As lawyers, business leaders, educators and educated, it is crucial that we embrace the change that Chicago needs.  And that means embracing Diane and the Kids Off The Block.

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