I Got A Story To Tell

It is a commonly accepted truth in real estate that location is everything.  However, for many students living in the urban core that widely accepted truth can serve as a barrier to them maximizing their full potential.  Far too often issues associated with abject poverty thwart student achievement and ultimately morph into crime and violence.  This is not to say that poverty is a catch all excuse for low student achievement and the wide spread violence that has engulfed many of our urban communities.
The New Town Success Zone is slowly and deliberately developing into a testimony to what can be done when a comprehensive focus to student achievement is taken with their built environment as the center point.  Far too often student achievement is relegated to what happens inside of the school without much consideration to what is happening outside of the school thus leaving teachers as social interpreters in a maze they are not equipped to navigate much less understand.  Therefore, the narrative of who and what a community is often defined by letter grades without consideration for the social factors a community muchless the children that live in those communities are dealing with.

In the case of the New Town Success Zone all of those things are considered and the results are a 94% promotion rate of children who are actively involved in the afterschool programs and an overall grade point average of 3.10 for 3rd graders, but more importantly the Success Zone has seen a decrease in numbers of violent incidents.   The aforementioned points are not to suggest New Town as a community is a panacea (New Town is still a food and financial desert and has a high rate of poverty), but it is to suggest full consideration is given to the built environment and how those factors impact student achievement.

We cannot continue to idly sit back and hope that student achievement will somehow get better in light of the social conditions many students find themselves in.  Fore it is many of those social conditions that often trump the learning that is supposed to occur within the classroom.   It is not a debatable fact that learning does not occur when students are hungry, homeless, sick or just been involved or witnessed an act of violence.

The work of the New Town Success Zone represents a comprehensive, all hands on deck, radical approach to student success through the lens of built environmental change and although we are not where we want to be as a body of work we are not where we were.  However, the success of our neighborhood students says that we might just be onto something.

That’s My Truth and I AM Sticking to it.

I AM…

Dr. Irvin PeDro Cohen

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I AM Not a CAUSE

Lately I have found myself feeling some kind of way regarding this national movement that sees Black men and boys in some sort of perpetual victimhood state that requires saving.  I firmly believe that my ability to be employed, not incarcerated and educated at a relatively high level has NOTHING to do with my perspective or my condition.  Rather in my mind it has everything to do with my belief that I AM the captain of my fate and the master of my soul.  This is also not to say that I have not experienced the opposite of any of the above.  Furthermore, I am not constantly reminded about the social implication my race and gender can have regardless of my accomplishments.

This notion that I am destined to a state of indefinite victimhood based upon my race and gender I am having a difficult time accepting.  The consistent preaching and teaching Black boys and men to see themselves as victims further emasculates the same population in which so many are interested in empowering.  Are their unique challenges that Black men and boys face relative to structural and institutional racism ABSOLUTELY YES.  But this engrained idea that I am somehow powerless in the process to affect change and subsequently impact my own outcome makes me an active participant in my own oppression.  To suggest that Black men and boys somehow must contort themselves in order to avail themselves to success and avoid adversity ignores truly who one is destined to be and places ultimate power in the hands of someone else.

The above statement does not ignore the accommodations one must make in order to get from point A to point B, but I contend those are just not germane to race and or gender.  People like what they like and are comfortable with what they are familiar with.  Someone’s lack of discovery is their own limited thinking not some reflection of who and what I am.  The economics though of me owning that deficit changes the paradigm and thus has created a movement with saving my peers and I at its core.

I nor any of the African-American men I know (from ALL economic and social realms) have a desire to be paraded through folk’s mental and social consciousness by the very same entities that have failed us (education, criminal justice and religious).  All of the aforementioned hands are dirty in terms of creating the conditions that have lead to the state of Black men and boys.  However, to have all coalesced and leading a campaign of redemption suggests a sense of innocence that absolves them of their role in the conditions they have created.   Each has to make amends for their role in the deconstruction of Black men and boys before they can be authenticated as true change agents.

Finally, the campaigns that suggest Black men and boys need to be saved, helped, etc never actualizes the who and what from which Black men and boys need to be saved from and what we need help doing.  This glaring oversight in my opinion further institutionalizes Black men and boys to a system of care that has always proven itself to be elusive at worst and insufficient at best.  Indefinite help creates dependency and elusive help is a lie and I am not interested in either.

That’s my Truth and I AM sticking to it.

I AM

Dr. Irvin PeDro Cohen

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“Change” and not the Kind in Your Pocket

In preparation for an upcoming talk I reflected upon some of the greatest challenges impacting communities like the one I work with.  While the challenges are many ranging from systemic poverty, to structural racism, access to affordable healthcare to violence the most underrated yet highly impactful is resistance to change.  Although you might not agree I would offer that change alone may not be highly impactful it’s the subsequent action or lack thereof that falls upon the perpetrator that has the ability to both serve as liberator and oppressor.

Action relative to change within communities that are impacted by negative social factors has the ability to move the social dial by simply making the participant do something different.  While I would again say there are many social factors that add to one’s situation it’s the repetitive behavior of doing what one has always done that leads to the same outcomes.  By the very definition of change at least another possible outcome is available.  Therefore, converting victim to liberated simply by a change in action.

Within my daily work it’s amazing how something as simple as water versus juice or the attainment of a GED can have a ripple effect that not only impacts internal family bonds, but communal bonds as well.  Either of the aforementioned forces a different conversation whether its health or educationally related.  The close ties found in most urban centers makes the change previously mentioned impactful no matter if it’s in the house or on the sidewalk outside the house.  The change and impact is still real nonetheless.

However, for most people living in urban centers the historical reference by which change is often thwarted finds a way to bind the people who can least afford to be stagnant socially, spiritually or morally to outcomes that don’t serve them or their families any good.  It is my opinion it is this same inaction that makes them an active participant in their own oppression by simply doing what they have always done.  I would go further to suggest that remedies to what ails struggling communities often times are bogged down in piles of mistrust based upon new solutions not looking and feeling like what members of the impacted communities are used to.  Therefore, recycled ideas being offered by recycled people with the same outcomes come and go and come again with nothing new being offered.

It’s amazing how “back in the day “ or grandma’s lived experience can serve as a strategic reference point and a strategic stopping point all at the same time. This is not to say either are bad, but it is to say both have their place.

Finally, this is not an attempt to blame those in struggling communities that are lost in nostalgia nor is it to say all change is good.  What it is meant to suggest is that through a different lens or reference point, change happens and when change happens the gift of discovery is unwrapped and when that happens true learning occurs.    At that point informed decisions can be made based upon fact and not antidotal information passed down and around.

That’s My Truth and I AM Sticking To It.

I AM

Dr. Irvin PeDro Cohen

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Cash Rules Everything Around Me

Let me be the first to say pardon me if I don’t get all hot and bothered if the NBA bans an 80 year old white man from sitting in the VIP (courtside seats) and forcing him to make upwards of 500 million dollars (estimated profit if he is forced to sell the team) in the process.  This is not to say that I don’t find Donald Sterling’s comments any less vile than the next person, I do however understand that Viagra, mixed with old man insecurities, young girlfriends and a LA legend name Magic Johnson can bring out the worse in any man, especially one that’s 80.  I would even venture to say that had Magic Johnson been Justin Beiber the rant would have simply moved from racism to ageism because of all of the aforementioned.  Any man staring those types of odds in the face, youth, wealth and comparable resources is bound to lose his composure and say things that can get him in trouble and I assure you the same would be true if the surname was Ms. Sterling or Ms. Jackson as well.

However, that is not the reason for this post.  What I find more appalling and more deserving for discussion in particular from African Americans is the fact that Donald Sterling was set to receive not his first, but second lifetime achievement award from the NAACP.  Not only was this not his first rant about African Americans, but he had a court settlement and other allegations to suggest that he felt less than positive about African American, yet he had received an award for his contribution to the Los Angles African American community and the NAACP.  My question is what does this say about us?  What does this say about the organizations we hold so near and dear?  And finally what does this say about their (Los Angles NAACP) ability to fight on behalf of African Americans when you are prepared to honor a man who thinks so little of the folks you claim to serve and represent?

What it says to me is cash is king and you can ultimately buy/contribute your way to good graces within our community.  While Los Angles may be the scene for this drama, across the country those who write checks or bring political appeal have silenced those organizations that were founded with the mission of serving/fighting particularly for African American causes. Entire communities and families have been eradicated right under their noses by public policies that have all but ensured a permanent underclass and those that were steering those policies or financing the same people are lauded for their  “contribution” to African American issues.

While the blame does not solely lie at the feet of people like Donald Sterling it lies within us as a community and our lack of investment in causes or organizations that serve our own good.  We rather invest in rims and tires or homes that we can’t afford or Bishop/Pastor/Apostle new whatever church/car, etc.  Thus leaving those same organizations begging from people or companies that don’t have our best interest at heart.   Therefore, it should not surprise anyone when the hand or hands that feed you slap you.

Donald Sterling is just the latest, but he is not the only one who writes a check yet feels some kind of way about those who cash it.  However, until we as a community are prepared to invest in causes and organizations that reflect our own best interest and have earthly outcomes attached to it we will continue to eat and celebrate the hand that both feeds and bites us.

This is my truth and I AM sticking to it…

Dr. Irvin PeDro Cohen

Financial Member of the NAACP

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Progressive Black Men Speech

  • As it has been stated I am Dr. Irvin PeDro Cohen a product of Jacksonville’s Northside and I say that because I take pride in letting people know what we often times take for granted and that is that in the heart of many of our troubled communities good things do come from them.  Not that I am something special or some anomaly, but it’s important to know and even more important to publicly state that roses do grow out of the concrete and I do consider myself one of those rose.

Whenever I give a speech I make it my business to lay out the aforementioned because so often the reality of what and who Black men are gets co opted by folks who have a vested interest in miss telling our story and leading us to embrace a paradigm that’s neither good for us or sometimes so far away from the reality of who and what we are that it borders on criminal and sometimes that fake reality can be flat out dangerous.

Case and point how many times have you heard misinformation regarding the following:

  • There are more Black men in prison than in college.
  • Better yet how about the idea that 1 out every 2 Black boys will drop out of high school and ultimately find themselves in prison.
  • Black men are more likely to abandon their children than any other race.

Very rarely do I flex my academic credentials, but this is one of those moments that being Dr. Irvin PeDro Cohen allows me some level of authority and I am here to tell you that all of the above are utterly false.  However, if you were to buy into these falsehoods you could easily buy into the notion that something is wrong with Black men.

However, the fact that I am here speaking at the Progressive Black Men Conference says to me that some if not all of you understand that a lot of the widely held beliefs about Black men are part of a larger manufactured crises as it relates to Black men and boys and the very same ones who are sounding the alarm are the very same ones who created the crises in the first place.  This is not to say that Black men don’t have their issues, but so do white men, Asian men and Hispanic men and every other subset of men living.

By a show of hands how many of you know Black men who are taking care of their children, how many of you know Black men who are holding down jobs, how many of you know Black men who are either in college or on their way to college, how many of you know Black men who are not under the jurisdiction of the criminal justice system.

From the looks of it by the number of people who raised their hands in this room I would say we have destroyed the myth about who and what we are as Black men. Now give yourselves a round of applause.

However, while we celebrate what we know to be true its imperative that we collectively understand we as Black men have work to do.

The first thing we have to do is realize that only the educated are FREE and as fathers, brothers, uncles and neighbors we have to return back to supporting, encouraging and nurturing the spiritual vision of our children, far to often in our quest to create some financial “security” for ourselves and our families we allow the spiritual vision of both ourselves and our love ones to be kidnapped by secular realities that have specific limitations attached to them meaning our reality for many of our Black boys begins and ends with being rappers or athletes.  This is not to say there is no socially redeemable value to either, but it is to say there is just as much value being a teacher or a community service worker.  However, when we put C.R.E.A.M above everything else it leads us collective down a narrow hall that makes ALL of us look like characters rather than MEN, can anybody say TWO CHAINZ.  Again its not that I don’t like the brother but I find greater value in the fact that he is college educated rather than he wears two chains and True Religion jeans.

The second thing I want to leave you with is GREATNESS doesn’t come with a platform it allows you to create your own.  Therefore, you are not shackled by any of the parameters associated with who you were born to, nor what circumstances you were born under.  Those are all manufactured boundaries that we internalize and sometimes glorify based upon someone else’s idea of what constitutes a good or bad lot in life.  If we are honest with ourselves we all know someone or we may even be that someone who were born in the least favorable circumstances yet they still managed to overcome the odds and while I don’t profess to be a theologian I can direct you to Jesus who was the son of a carpenter and born in a manger yet still had the capacity to be one of the greatest men ever to grace the face of this earth.

If you need further proof that limitations are not based upon genealogy nor geography I simply point to the fact that there is no achievement gap at birth and deficit thinking regarding any of your limitations can and will dissipate the moment you confess with your mouth and make moves with your actions I AM destined to be GREAT.  The moment Muhammad Ali declared he was the Greatest, guess what he was.

The third thing I want to leave you with is that it is just as important to be adjectives as it is nouns.  What I mean by this is so often we as men limit ourselves to sustaining careers and life roles that simply end at a noun father, coach, athlete, husband, lawyer, doctor, engineer, etc.  However, I challenge you to see yourselves as an EXCEPTIONAL father, EXCEPTIONAL doctors, CARING coaches, BRILLIANT engineers, LOVING husbands and the list goes.  Anyone with a level of academic aptitude and stamina can be doctor, any sperm donor can be a father and anyone who likes a sport enough can be a coach.  However, it takes some next level stuff to have a descriptive adjective attached to who and what you are.  Furthermore, we have to also challenge the narrative that allows us to be just lumped together as Black men.  While I accept my melon content with a level of pride to stop my story right there is not recognizing my Serengeti origins nor the brilliance that I inherited from my ancestors who charted the moon and the stars to the ones who laid out the nations capital.  Limiting me to just being a Black man is stating the obvious, now what?

The fourth thing I want to leave you with is as Black men we must be conscious of the fact that TRUE freedom requires each of us to be a legislator for humanity, which means we must be fearless and be willing to risk it all including life and liberty for what’s right.  Far to many of us have become attached to the little bit of stuff we call our own, therefore we are not willing to risk it for anything.  Yet what we don’t realize is that life and death share the same plain only the ego makes us think that one is more important than the other.  The other portion of us are dying for streets, hoods, blocks and material possessions that mean nothing at the end of the day.  If you were to add all of the aforementioned together many us die leave nothing cause we don’t have anything therefore, in retrospect our lives end up being a zero sum gain.

However, as I said earlier so many of us have allowed outside forces to shape not only our personal vision, but the larger vision of who and what we are as Black men.  They say the mirror never lies, but I challenge that sentiment and say yes it does when you don’t even know who you are in the first place.  As Black men we have to get back to a point where we own our reality and the vision of who and what we are is defined by us.

As I said in point 4 we have to be legislators for humanity, but what that requires which is my 5th and final point is for us as Black men we have to return to a point where service is real.  What I need you to understand is REAL men see themselves in light of two entities and that is their families and their service to others.  Real men understand that when you are dead and gone your stuff becomes other people stuff and no one is going to bury you with it.  See real men understand that there is nothing more fulfilling that having been the change agent for their families and their communities.  If you look at the lives of some of the greatest servants to ever live Jesus, Martin Luther King Jr. Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela etc. no one ever talks about their material possessions.  Matter of fact Martin Luther King died with very few assets and scripture talks about Jesus coming to town riding a donkey.  If anyone could have balled out it would have been Jesus, I mean after all he was the Son of God.

But when you think or talk about the legacy of these brothers lives and the service these brothers had to humanity that’s the stuff you remember, not how much money Martin Luther King had, or how many ladies Malcolm X had or what kind of watch Nelson Mandela wore or even what kind of robe Jesus rocked.  None of that matters when you are a real man and a man of substance.  Matter of fact they become distractions from what your true mission is and life is all about.

See real men stand up while males simply shake in their boots.  Real men speak truth to power while boys’ integrity can be compromised by a little bit of cash.  Often times in many of our communities’ boys are often the loudest, but when the rubber meets the road their integrity has been compromised for a fish sandwich and a bottle of Hennessey or Ciroc.

The beauty of being a real man is that real men realize that there are no safe positions in life no one gets out of here alive and the same fate awaits us all no matter if you were born to a President or a pauper, a pimp or a preacher, a teacher or a vagrant, if their names were Barack or Crip we all become the nocturnal delight of a parasitic animal.  Men see themselves in light of their legacy and institutions they leave behind not in the meaningless things.  Think about scripture giants like Solomon and David, those were men.

Therefore as I prepare to take my seat I leave you with the one of my favorite quotes by Maltbie Babcock not because I think any of you are weak men, but because as Langston Hughes suggested in “Mother to Son” there are going to be places where the carpet is going to be bear and you are going to need some words of encouragement.

Therefore, as Progressive Black Men I say to you…

Be strong!

We are not here to play, to dream, to drift;

We have hard work to do and loads to lift;

Shun not the struggle; ’tis God’s gift.”

Namascar and thank you for having me…

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I AM a Man

Every now and again something can stick in my spiritual craw so much so that I find it hard to let go.  Lately the conversations around “Black Males” represent one such case.  I think its not simply because I AM at last check a Black Male, but because the conversations that I AM both privy to and those that I often read about in articles and hear on TV and the radio somehow seem to view me and my brethren as a potential and soon to be obsolete tools.

Because of my career path and chosen line of work professionally I am mindful of the following facts:

  • According to Pew Research in 2010 Black Men were 6 times more likely than their white counter parts to be incarcerated.  In Wisconsin alone the incarceration rate for African Americans is 13%, which by the way leads the nation.
  • Nationally according to The Council of State Governments most recent reports Black male graduation rates were 47% compared to the 73% graduation rate of their white counter parts. Follow that up with 2011 report from Dr. Michael Holzman that only 10% of 8th grade Black Boys could read proficiently. Compounded with the often quoted “urban myth” prison construction rate based upon 3rd grade reading scores.
  • Finally, according to a UC Berkley report in the 3rd Quarter of 2013 Black Male unemployment stood at a whopping 13.8% (teenage Black Males unemployment for the same time was 53%).

Given all of the aforementioned FACTS I would venture to say me and many of my colleagues have contemplated the mental weight each of these play on us because regardless of your academic or professional accomplishments you are still subject to be impacted by any number of the issues that lead to such disproportionate outcomes.  Even as I type these thoughts I am mindful of their impact.

That being said in a recent conversation with a friend I suggested that Black Men in particular have to have a level of mental dexterity that rivals the most accomplished gymnast because we must be keenly aware of everything ranging from our appearance to the volume of our music to our surrounding and to forget can be the difference between life and death or relegation to a second class social status.

By no means is this mental musing an acceptance of some permanent state of victimhood or even an instance of helplessness, but it is to acknowledge the complexity associated with Black Manhood and the fact that it does not get any better when my reality and the vision of who and what I am to be is not being shaped by me.  But rather those who profit off my demise and often times they don’t present themselves as the usual suspects.  Sometimes they present themselves as well meaning folks who’s reality of who and what I am is shaped by their limited access to those that look like me or the image they enjoy while being entertained by those who look like me.

Finally, this is not to say a conversation is not warranted regarding the state of Black Men in this country, but a conversation that does not include substantive policy adjustments (i.e. mass incarceration) and historical disenfranchisement is just as bad as no conversation at all.

That’s My Truth and I Am Sticking To It…

I AM

Dr. Irvin PeDro Cohen

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Rebellion Music

In preparation for an upcoming lecture and reflecting upon the recent Grammy Awards the person who invited me ask me what happen to the consciousness of hip hop music.  Although, that one particular question was part of a larger dialog it beckoned me to think what did happen to the consciousness of my beloved music (although we are still divorced) I came away with this.

First and foremost all of which I shared with my colleague is that there is a very thin line between rebellion and deviance.  I explained it to her in this manner, while N.W.A’s 1988 ground breaking song F- – K Tha Police off the Straight Out of Compton album represented a sentiment about how youth at that time and probably today felt about police and their occupying force tactics it also represented a watershed moment when rebellion and deviance collided only to see deviance prevail.  What I mean by this is prior to that moment very few if any in my generation had the gumption or even the audacity to play a song with curse words in front of an adult let alone utter a profane word.

The credence of F – -K Tha Police set in motion a level of desensitivity around language and the usage of language to communicate a point that ultimately led to defining images (i.e. only certain types of people allow people to talk to them in less than endearing terms).  The usage of less than endearing words gave way to less than endearing images because surely men and women of standards would not allow themselves to be called or defined as bitches and hoes.  Yet the language and imagery from that moment is still defining what it means to be African-American.  With an eye toward the intellectual argument of it all it’s not the song nor its title that represented the problem it’s the lack of subsequent action on the part of my generation in particular that represents the issue.

The song in and of itself suggested and warranted an action around an issue that had been plaguing African-American youth from Compton to Sherwood.  Even today given the recent indictment of the police officer in Charlotte there may be some merit to the song.  I don’t know, but somewhere a young person has been empowered by a song that had its origins based upon an empty action.

What’s even larger for me is the idea that rebellion music without any follow up action gives way to behavior that often times falls right into deviancy based upon lack of inaction on the part of those oppressed.  The previous generation for example had an action step attached to rebellion music:

We Shall Overcome written by Pete Seeger was the action song of the Civil Rights Movement

Mercy Mercy Me written by Marvin Gaye was the action song to protest the Vietnam War

However, there was no action attached to F – -K Tha Police just a bunch of angry words written by frustrated and disenfranchised youth.  I would even presuppose that all of this built up anger around a social wrong and no way to generate a remedy led to a f- – k it mentality that persist in most urban centers today.  To go a step further I would even offer that this one moment in 1988 gave way to what defines the larger hip hop culture today.

That’s My Truth and I AM Sticking To It

Dr. Irvin PeDro Cohen…

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Boots for Boot Straps

Recently the New Town Success Zone celebrated its inaugural high school completion class and while that may not sound like such a big deal to some in the grand scheme of things it’s a HUGE accomplishment for a number of reason.  First and foremost the 6 people graduating represent 20 or more children.  That in and of itself allows twenty children to now say my mother or father DID graduate from high school.  Secondly, the graduating class represents what I have said since day one the New Town Success Zone is all about the development of a true continuum of care, where we not only focus on the needs of the children, but their caregivers as well.

See what I have come to understand through my last 6 or so years of doing this work is you cannot truly gain ground with children if they don’t see hope manifested within their immediate surroundings.  Under normal circumstances the wherewithal to swim against the current is difficult.  However, if you add issues of poverty and the subsequent issues associated with poverty the challenge becomes almost insurmountable.  The attainment of a high school diploma by a parent or caregiver after the fact says to the children we work with education is important and it mitigates some of the academic envy we inadvertently create when we gear our efforts solely to kids and not their family.

While the consequences of academic envy are often times unintended the effects are still very real.  Externally, what it says to parents or caregivers who are often times struggling economically is that you have had your chance and it is up to us (i.e. some well intended “program”) to step in and somehow make your kid whole or in some cases save them entirely from a similar fate.  Internally, what is communicated to the children is your future is better off in the hands of someone or something else (i.e. some well intended “program”) because I am not equipped to help you based upon my pass failures or transgressions.

Finally, this is not to suggest neither we nor I have found the secret sauce for moving anyone out of poverty that is way to complex for this space.  However, it is to suggest that what we have found is that when we make the needs of the parents or caregivers just as important to our work the children are the ultimate benefactors.  What I do know is that despite whatever hardships Charlie or Frances or Bruce or Kuturrah may be experiencing and no matter where they are on the moral or economic dial of life they ultimately want what’s best for their children.

Therefore, as I celebrate and congratulate our GED graduates I say to each of them let your high school completion serve as your boots courtesy of the New Town Success Zone and may this allow you to pull you and your family up by the proverbial boot straps.

This is MY TRUTH and I AM Sticking to it…

Dr. Irvin PeDro Cohen

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Serve, Service and Serving And the Action in Between

In a recent presentation I went in pretty hard on the audience regarding the stamina it takes to do the work of community change.  Far too often we expect struggling communities to pull themselves up by their bootstraps when there are no boots let alone bootstraps.  What I have come to understand is that many of those we seek to help have simply forgone both boots and bootstraps and made do with what is and has been available. Therefore, creating a parallel existence to what you and I believe is right or even real.

This is not to excuse the immoral and sometimes downright illegal behavior that occurs in many  of these communities that just so happen to be in the urban core.  However, it is to acknowledge that these communities exist and they often exist without waving a white flag to indicate they need help from those of us who feel we are being benevolent simply by providing a few handouts.  And while I don’t have much experience with rural communities I would suppose the same exist there as well.  The thing I have come to understand as a result of both my childhood rearing and my life’s work is that the Matrix does exist and there are people who live in it quite fluidly.

All of the aforementioned has led me to this conclusion.  If we truly want to make substantive change in these same communities we must be prepared to go the distance and that often starts with meeting people right where they are.  The calcified mindset of many community residents and subsequently the children of these communities come as a result of simply existing in a world where rules are a matter of convenience relative to everyday survival.  The reality is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is applicable no matter if the gate is designed to keep crime out or keep crime in (see Goodie Mob’s Cell Therapy).

In “serving” these very same communities what would help is a view from the bottom up rather than the top down.  What starting from the bottom does for you as the “service” provider, no matter if its as a volunteer or your job is it allows you to see the journey through the eyes of the person you are purportedly “serving.” Thus, avoiding the paternal aspect of  “service.”

Secondly, we must also not forget the condition of many of these communities did not get this way overnight.  They got there because collectively we have simply chosen to ignore or forget they exist.  Yet they consistently produce the product of many of our angst (i.e. crime, violence and health disparities, etc.).   During my presentation I suggested that Rome was not built in a day, neither was the condition many people in urban centers find themselves in.

Thirdly, we have to be honest with ourselves that there is a cost associated with this work.  Everyone including those being “served” has to pay.  That payment may come in the form of tax dollars for some, volunteer hours/time for others or it simply may be trying something new for others, but the bottom line is there must be a payment.  The unwillingness to deal with the fact there is a cost allows the stamina associated with this work to become a factor, thus allowing the people needing to be “served” to become dismissible.

Finally, if we do at least a portion of the things listed above we allow ourselves to see the humanity in those that we look to “serve” and then we can make a suggestion from a place of love and accountability that involves boots and bootstraps.

That’s my Truth and I AM sticking to it.

I AM…

Dr. Irvin PeDro Cohen

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Parents, Students and Manufactured Apathy

As a candidate for political office one of my greatest challenges was the level of political apathy shown by many voters, particularly those in urban areas.  The commonly held idea that “those” folks gonna do what they gonna do, so it doesn’t matter if I vote or not stuck in my craw like no other sentiment shared along my political walk.  However, in the space of public education that mantra seems to hold true like no other.

Case in point and I am sure this is played out across the country in many other urban communities and school systems my alma mater is now in the mist of receiving its 3rd principal in 3 years.  That means since the 9th grade the upcoming class of 11th graders have had a new instructional leader ever year since they started high school. All often times under guise of “school improvement.”  Couple this with the carousel of teachers that come and go in urban schools and you have a revolving door that’s reflective of the many teenage girls hairstyles.

Without a doubt I am for whatever it takes to help students achieve and reach their full potential.  I do however; question the logic when schools reflect the unstable social environment many of these students come from.  It is my personal belief that part of what makes ALL environments whether its schools or work successful is consistent leadership at the top.  That consistent leadership at the top offers students in particular those from volatile environments an opportunity to know that at least for a while you know where you can go and someone knows your story.  It is further my belief that knowing a student, his family or his/her environmental story allows for accountability to develop based upon the fact “I SEE YOU.”  Inconsistent leadership oftentimes based upon over reliance of test data that has a huge level of skepticism in urban communities sends a message to those same communities and those same students that “WE” gone do what “WE” gone do and “YOU” can’t do anything about it.

Finally, what this inconsistency at the top leads to is a level of apathy that impacts parental and political involvement based upon lack of influence in any decision making process.  Not only does apathy impact parents, but I would offer it impacts student achievement as well.  Students by in large want to do well for people they know care about them and their story and that takes time.   Schools and student development are no different than any other human relationship (think 90 Day Rule).  However, when it comes to urban schools that relational development and its impact on student achievement seems to have more contingencies than true “economic recovery.” Thus leaving schools like every other institution within urban communities filled with nameless faces and irrelevant stories that do not impact the bottom line.

That’s My Truth and I AM Sticking to It…

As I hit the customer service bell

Dr. Irvin PeDro Cohen

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