Kojo talks with author Colson Whitehead about his new novel "The Underground Railroad" and its resonance at this particular moment in history.
Ask residents of Ward 8 what their corner of Southeast Washington needs, and you’ll hear one word: jobs. At nearly 30 percent, the unemployment rate in this part of the city is one of the highest in the nation. We’ll explore the reasons for this employment gap and how residents can bridge the “digital divide” separating them from job opportunities.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom THEARC on Mississippi Avenue, east of the river, Southeast Washington, welcome to "Kojo in Your Community."
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAsk residents in Southeast D.C. what does your community need most? And you almost get the same one word answer: jobs. Our community needs jobs, the challenge to getting and keeping a good-paying job, one with growth potential. It's clear, without computer skills, almost any good job these days is out of reach. As a nation, we've been hearing about the digital divide for more than 20 years. You know that those with access to computers are pulling farther and farther ahead financially and socially than people without such access.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIIn the 21st century, it's clear, digital literacy is one of the most important life skills a person can have. Employers advertise new jobs online and expect applicants to submit resumes electronically. The best consumer deals are online, whether you're trying to save money on food, movie tickets or cars. And the government, they're pushing us into cyberspace too. Whether you need to renew your driver's license or change your address with the post office, it's usually easier and cheaper to do it online. It's a good bet for most listeners to this radio show.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThe idea of not having access to a computer anywhere except at the public library for a half hour at a time would be unthinkable. But here in the District east of the river, that's how many people access cyberspace, if they access it at all. Computer training and online access at home can be costly and maybe out of reach for many in this neighborhood and in this room. Fortunately, the quest to bring digital literacy to Southeast Washington has become a passion for many.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAnd joining us here this evening to share that passion with us and to talk about this issue is Tom Brown, executive director of Training Grounds, that's a nonprofit providing young adults with job training and entrepreneurial skills. T. Janine Farrell is a public media core fellow who is competing a study -- completing a survey of computer use east of the river. Also with us is Albert "Butch" Hopkins. He is president and CEO of the Anacostia Economic Development Corporation. Charles Wilson is founder of River East Emergency Leaders -- Emerging Leaders, also know as R.E.E.L. D.C. and is a newly elected ANC. Kalfani Ture teaches anthropology at Coppin State University. He's working on an oral history project on Barry Farms. Can we get a round of applause for all of our guests?
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAnd now, I've got a question for you. Do you like living east of the river? Do you like living in Southeast Washington? If you do, raise your hand and I'll come over to you and you can tell me exactly why. First you, ma'am. What is your name?
BRENDA JONESMy name is Brenda Jones, and I love living east of the river. You have...
JONESWell, the air is clean now here. We have beautiful vistas and greenery. And we're close to Metro and we have some wonderful people out here in Ward 8. And also, we have THEARC.
NNAMDIHow long have you been living out here?
JONESOff and on that I can say for almost 50 years.
NNAMDIAlmost -- you say almost 50 years? Before you were born?
JONESI tell you. (laugh) Yes. No.
NNAMDIShe's been living here since she was in the womb, apparently. And she mentioned THEARC. Let's tell people a little bit about -- exactly what THEARC is. Who are you, sir?
EDMUND FLEETMy name is Edmund Fleet and I'm the executive the executive director of Building Bridges Across the River. And we're the managing partner here at THEARC. We're collaboration of 10 different nonprofits in a building that's on 16 and a half acres, cost $27 million. And we just provide a wide variety of services for the community here in Ward 8 and east of the river.
NNAMDISo it doesn't have anything to do with raining 40 days and 40 nights?
FLEETNo. It's an acronym for the Town Hall Education, Arts and Recreation Campus. We provide educational services here, artistic, recreational, social services and health all under one roof. All these different services, you come in with your family. Your son wants to play basketball, he can do that. Daughter can take dance classes. You can enroll in -- an associates to reprogram at Trinity University. And they can all go to the clinic to receive medical services, all under one roof.
NNAMDIAll taking place out here at THEARC. For others who have said they enjoy living east of the river, you can tell me why you enjoy living here. You can also say what it is you think that east of the river needs more than anything else. You, sir, are Zachay.
ZACHAYCorrect. One, east of the river needs more exposure, so I'm glad that you're here doing this. I live in this area because it still maintains the chocolate city vibe and the heart and the essence of African people in D.C., which is missing in a lot of other parts of the city which are quickly gentrifying. What the area needs, more viable businesses and better education for the youth. I work in the school system, and it's horrible what's going on with the young people because they can't even deal with literacy on the computer because they don't even have the basic literacy skill. So we definitely need more educational opportunities and better, more viable businesses.
NNAMDIWhen you say more educational opportunities, do you mean better public schools, more charter schools? What do you mean?
ZACHAYI think because the deficits are generational, we need wraparound education, so not only in the school system, but after school programs for adults, as well as for students. The public school system definitely needs to be improved. A lot of the teachers who are here now are not very skilled with working with our population and are actually intimidated by the students. So they're not really getting the best possible experience they can have, and they're not really being prepared for the careers that are coming to D.C.
NNAMDIHow long have you been living out here?
ZACHAYI've been living east of the river for about a year now, and I'm a D.C. native.
NNAMDIOkay. Anybody else who'd like to talk about why they enjoy living in this part of the city? Go ahead, Sir.
MR. BARRINGTON WILLIAMSYes. My name is Barrington Williams, and I've been living here all my life, born and raised in D.C. I grew up in Garfield. I live right down the street of Wheeler Road. I agree with the gentleman there. We need more education over here. For the youth, I myself live with living wages, and there's a program on Fourth Street that allows you to get an external high school diploma, you know, through Ballou Senior High School, and I'm also a student at Trinity College here, right here at THEARC. I'm about to finish my associate's degree, but I agree that, you know, the youth over here, they are -- to offer them a computer program you first have to teach them how to use that computer, and, you know, you have to explain to them how important that education is for them to obtain. There's not a lot of places for them to obtain a high school diploma over here, other than high school, which you can see a lot of them are not interested in staying. You know, so I think that they need more programs to, at least, help them get their high school diploma and get them started on their way to college.
NNAMDIThank you very much, Sir. Let me ask this gentleman over here. Sir, what do you like about THEARC, and why are you here?
SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODDWell, I'm a father, and I've got my two daughters taking ballet. And they're going to be involved with the Washington Ballet, so we come over here, I think, three or four nights a week. I feel like I'm a captive of the ballet as a father. I think I've spent half my life at the ballet here at THEARC. So we come over about four nights a week, and it's a wonderful facility. It's a great program, and we're delighted to be a part of it.
NNAMDIAnd, Sir, would you please tell us your name.
DODDWell, I'm a retiring United States senator. I've been in the Senate for 30 years from the state of Connecticut. I have a home on Capitol Hill, and I've come over to this side of the river many occasions. I sit on the board of regents to the Smithsonian. I love the Smithsonian Museum here in Anacostia. I've been to it many times and didn't discover THEARC until the ballet program, but I'm glad that I did. So a pleasure to be over here.
NNAMDILadies and gentlemen, Senator Christopher Dodd, retiring from the Senate after so many years.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your service and for joining us. Now, Janine Farrell, you have been completing a survey of computer use east of the river. What have you found so far?
MS. JANINE FARRELLWell, our findings have been very interesting. We actually were in the community for about six weeks in Wards 1, 7 and 8. And some of our findings, briefly, were that most people didn't have a computer at home. They didn't own a computer. That the reason they didn't have a computer or access to the Internet at home is because of cost. Also some people felt that it wasn’t relevant. They didn't need it. So what we've found is that there was an issue with value for Internet access and computer usage. We also found that I think studies that we heard over time which is that a lot of people in the African-American community are accessing the Internet via their mobile phones, and so that is a viable option for those of you who are considering content and how to deliver content to those in our communities.
NNAMDITom Brown, tell us what you have been doing about training young people. We've heard several people here this evening say before you could talk about computer literacy, you got to talk about literacy, period.
MR. TOM BROWNWell, I have to tell you I'm probably not the most qualified person in this room -- we have legends like Brenda Jones and Alexis Roberson and others in this room, but I'll tell you what I've experienced here. I'm been born and raise here, east of the river. I've been working with young people here at THEARC and other locations around. Basically, they need to be reconnected with their personal position in the free enterprise system of America. The average urban young African-American has not heard enough dialogue and been encouraged enough and nurtured enough to feel like they're a part of this process. So the voting is down. High school dropout is down because they don't feel like these things are relevant, so why start a Training Grounds is because after my teaching experience at Anacostia Senior High School and KIPP charter school, I realized that the young people that did not say at 15 or 16 that absolutely want to go to college for four years at least and get a degree, the young people that didn't have that statement weren't getting the support in the public education system. Maybe, they have other desires, and those young people are getting left out, and they're making other statistical registers in other areas, mostly crime-related areas in our city. And I just felt like somebody need to stand up, grab those young people and show them they do have value in the free enterprise system that we call America.
NNAMDIA lot of those young people are intimately familiar with the most difficult videogames on the planet to play.
NNAMDIIs that a way of introducing them to computer literacy?
BROWNWell, I think absolutely it's one of the ways. I mean, basically, you know, you don't have to reinvent the will when you're talking about instruction and exposure. But the other way is come straight from the hip, help them to understand the value, as the sister have mentioned, help them to understand where this equates into the outcome that they're so desperately seeking. They will do the rest. With proper guidance and instruction, they'll take care of the rest.
NNAMDIYou mentioned Alexis Roberson. Alexis, where are you? I'm looking for you. Please, raise your hand. Here she is. Alexis Roberson, people remember you from Ward 4 very many years ago. What are you doing out here now? We're all well. I'm well.
MS. ALEXIS ROBERSONI'm doing well. I run a job training program, called OIC, and...
ROBERSONReverend Leon Sullivan. And the -- should I stand?
ROBERSONOkay. And the program has been around for some 40 years, but it's been out here in Ward 8 for 10. And OIC closed some years ago, and I reopened it. And instead of reopening it on 16th Street, where it was located before, we decided to come to Ward 8 because 85 percent of our students came from Ward 7 and 8. So when we reopened, we came here. And we see -- train about 700 people a year that comes through our doors. And computer literacy is absolutely necessary. We have two training sites with state-of-the-art computer equipment. Every person who comes in has their own individual computer, and we teach everybody computer literacy no matter what skill they're gonna go into because in order to apply for a job, you got to know how to use the computer. So just to get around for your daily life, you need to have a computer.
ROBERSONAnd now we have found that our younger generation, it's very easy to teach them the computer because they have had some access to a computer in school. And it's the -- like Brenda and I was talking, it's the availability. They don't have -- they can't -- they don't own a computer. So we provide computer time for people to come in and get trained. And OIC trains in a plus certification, which is a very difficult computer course. We train in Microsoft Office certification, construction trades, and also, we just started home health care aids, and we do pretty well with that. In all of our programs, we include computer literacy and we include literacy and GED and all of the wraparound services and employability training and job readiness.
NNAMDIThis is Kojo in Your Community and we are coming to you from The ARC on Mississippi Avenue, East of the River, Southeast Washington.
NNAMDIAnyone else who wants to talk about what they feel that is needed in this area most in terms of education and access to jobs? And you, sir, are Clyde Edwards?
MR. CLYDE EDWARDSYes. My name is Clyde Edwards. I'm the national director from a organization called One Economy here in D.C., and our job is to approach that digital divide by bringing in access, content, as well as -- which equals adoption. And I'm happy that Mr. Brown talked about young people in the issues of digital literacy. In many cases, also understand from our young people that it's -- the computer is one thing, but as it was also mentioned, our young kids have cell phones. They have smart phones. We have to think about content, not only on a computer, but also content on a smart phone. So what we try to do in One Economy, we're taking up a -- we call it a social innovation lab where we're thinking about mobile applications and how to bring those applications to smart phones to help our young people latch on to technology quickly. And I also want to talk to and plug Mr. Moon from Far Southeast Collaborative. He is implementing a program that we have called Digital Connectors where we bring young people in from the ages of 14 and 21…
NNAMDIWhy don't I ask Mr. Moon then?
EDWARDSYes, please. Do that.
MR. BARRY MOONYes. We are actually involved with partnering with One Economy on the Digital Connectors Program and that involves 20 young people between the ages of 14 and 22, and as Clyde said, they're working on technology, on applications. And for us, it's an issue of both access and how it's -- how to apply that knowledge. And so we're providing access through the Digital Connectors. We're also providing an access through another partnership in providing wireless broadband access to families, access to computers because we know that, as I think some of the other speakers have said, young people have access through libraries in school sometimes but not at home. So we're providing -- help providing that access to many residents at home.
NNAMDIThank you very much. Butch Hopkins, I know you've been involved in development. I think you're trained as an architect. Is that correct?
MR. BUTCH HOPKINSNo. A lawyer.
NNAMDIA lawyer. Well, why did I think you are an architect? Because you're involved in development so much. But how important do you feel this issue is -- the issue of computer literacy?
HOPKINSIt's very important. Obviously, as you've stated earlier, in order to get a job, you have to have access to a computer. If you're working a job, you have to have access to a computer. You have to have computer skills. So I'm so proud of what the gentlemen are doing and the ladies are doing that -- or working in that field because that's what we need to get people out of that unemployment -- that high number of unemployment East of the River. And we're happy to help the people have necessary, you know, entrance skills so that they can acquire the jobs and move forward. So it's definitely -- it's the number one necessity right now.
NNAMDIThis one I'll get right. You are trained as a tennis player, aren't you?
NNAMDIThere you go.
TAQUIAHi, my name is Taquia (sp?) and I'm a Ward 7 resident. And I wanted to just mention that I do think that access is enough but as was mentioned, a lot of people do access and use technology through their cell phones, and I do think that it's very -- we should rely more heavily on concept because I think being able to use that technology -- our people can do that. Our young people can do that. Our elders can do that. But I do think it's how they're using it, so I do think it's important to take a step back and also look at the critical thinking -- analytical skills that go along with just basic education around, specifically, the math and science, which is what my background comes from. And I think that is what is going to allow them to use the technology in a very sophisticated and dynamic way. I mean, if you look at, for example, Twitter, for example, I don't know what the numbers look like East of the River. But 25 percent of Twitter users are African-American. So we use a good percent -- a good portion of social media. How we're using it? What conversations are going on? That's a whole different story. But using it is not an issue. I think, it's how we're using it, what skills are we bringing to that use? Because my niece, who's five years old, can use my laptop very easily, much more than my grand mother can.
TAQUIASo, you know, I think, it's -- we have to really empower them with tools and information. And as well as when it -- and my background is in the sciences, but I also do a lot of work East of the River on health and wellness. So I just wanted to plug that. I think, something that we need, East of the River, is more access to health resources and health empowerment information. We have, you know, some health facilities and physicians and things like that here. But I do think we need to look on the prevention side, in terms of health. So I do wanna just touch base on those two things that we do have access, I think, in a small way. But when we have access, what are we doing with that access?
NNAMDIThank you very much. Well, Janine Farrell, is it possible that I am overstating the case about the lack of access to the online world in this part of the city that, in fact, most young people in this city do have access to the online world and know how to use it, as our last speaker was saying. It's just what we use it for?
FARRELLI don't think your overstating it. It's -- there's definitely an issue there. But what our young people don't understand is that they have skills that are transferable into job skills. My background is in education. And so, when you look at a site like Facebook or MySpace, and you're looking at -- they have to be able to upload a photo or upload music, that transfer is an education in online classes to uploading your assignments. And so, the skills are there, and the young people do have them. They just don't know how to connect the dots. And so, we have to position ourselves as a community where we're actually connecting the dots for them.
NNAMDIWhere do young people get access, at home or at libraries or where as far as you know they do get access? Allow me to put that question to Kalfani Ture, who teaches anthropology at Coppin State University, but is working on an oral history project on Barry Farm, which means you're coming into contact with a lot of young people.
MR. KALFANI TUREAbsolutely. I come in to contact with the residents of Barry Farm but also the greater Anacostia area. One of the things I wanted to say is that -- it's not just that -- the question of digital divide is important for me because I would like to see residents of Barry Farm in conversation with people around the world who are experiencing some of the same conditions that they experience. But let me just say this. You do have Far Southeast Family Strengthening Collaborative and you do have OIC and you do have other organizations that are providing access not just to youth, but also providing access to adults.
MR. KALFANI TUREBut let me just say in East of the River, where -- particularly in Ward 8, when the unemployment rate is 30 to 35 percent, we need to sort of interrogate what it means to have access and how to pursue career opportunities. I mean, there are people that I speak to every day who are applying for jobs online, but they're not getting hired, right? And then there's another thing that we also need to understand about sort of inner city communities. One of the residents once said to me, when I first came to Barry Farm, she said, digital divide, that's more like human divide. And I said, what do you mean by that? She said we build relationships based on face-to-face contact. The digital divide means that I'm gonna send my resume electronically through some hidden bureaucracy and, chances are I'll never hear from anybody. Why can't the employers come here? They are here, in fact. There's a lot of development occurring East of the River, but we're not getting hired. Again, 30 to 35 percent unemployment.
NNAMDICharles Russell, wanna talk about that?
MR. CHARLES RUSSELLWell, the digital divide definitely does exist even in my own neighborhood, Historic Anacostia. I run another organization other than real, which is the Historic Anacostia Block Association. And we have a mix in the community of new people moving into the neighborhood, living right along side some more established residence. And a lot of the new folks say, hey, well, why don't you just send me an e-mail? I'll get it by e-mail, and that's fine. We do send e-mails, but what we recognize is that the majority of the residents in our neighborhood get information about meetings like this or community meetings like and that we host by simple flyer in their door to give them the date, the time and the location of the meeting. So we're -- we try to be very sensitive to those issues.
NNAMDIWe like you all to participate in this conversation. Who does not have a computer at home and why? Who in this room does not use a computer at work? Where, if not at work, did you learn how to use a computer? If you like to address any of those issues, please raise your hand and we'll find you. You, sir.
MR. RAHIM JENKINSI guess my focus in listening...
NNAMDIOh, Rahim. (laugh)
JENKINSMy focus more recently has been with the incarcerated population of young people. And I agree with everything that I've heard that they're all sophisticated, more so than we think when it comes to Internet access and what to do. But I like to use some conversation in and around work ethic. And I think that there is a cultural impact with our young people that, just as the brother just stated, that they can do those things via Internet, but when they -- they lack interview skills. They like just basic things of being at work on time and the necessity of work. And I don’t think we spend enough time with life skills in training them that it's okay to do the hands-on kind of work again and still access the Internet. So I'd like to see -- as talk about the environmental impact culturally, wherefore particular, I like to quote Rev. Isaac -- I was on a meeting once with Rev. Isaac and Rev. Isaac said...
NNAMDIThat would be Donald Isaac.
JENKINSDonald Isaac. He said that he finds it very interesting that on one corner of our communities, you have Hispanic brothers doing landscaping but on the other corner, you have brothers of African descent selling weed as opposed to cutting grass. They're selling it. And so, there's a work ethic. And recently, I was just responsible for all the juveniles charged as adults at D.C. jail. And there's absolutely no work ethic amongst them, no interview skills, no application abilities, no desire -- no real desire to work. And all people who have come from owning businesses and sharecroppers -- how did that divide take place?
NNAMDIWell, you may have heard when -- you gave your name, Rahim Jenkins. I said, oh, Rahim. That's because Rahim Jenkins has a lot of history in this part of the city. Tell us a little bit about the work that you've been doing here over the years, and what you've done.
JENKINSWell, we've partnerships with Brenda Jones Parkland. Actually, I'm a co-founder of The Alliance of Concerned Men. And we actually started our first work in the basement of some area that Brenda had, and we started off working with life skills, and we've gone on to do national things, gang truce negotiation, youth balance, that kind of stuffs. So we've been busy, kind of had our hands on the pulse in terms of young people and what they're thinking and what they're doing.
NNAMDIThank you very much. Now, how do you teach work ethic? Let me start with you, Charles Wilson or Tom Brown, for that matter. How do you teach work ethic, Tom?
BROWNFirst of all, you have to model the behavior that you intend to teach.
BROWNI don't know if we have room for that on your show.
BROWNWe have a very serious portion of training grounds that we teach. It's called learning how to flip it. I was born and raised in the projects in Southeast. I lived in Valley Green up on Atlantic Street and all over. But one of the things I had learned in navigating my way through the system is that there are at least two personalities that we all need to know how to master and manage. See the poise that I may display in a room or forum like this is not the same thing you'll gonna see when Donald McMahon just snatched out of the game two minutes early. I'm gonna conduct myself totally different. But one of the things I believe that young people need to do and what we try to do a lot of is show them -- themselves through the examples of others, through things like power lunches and -- we had a retreat recently.
BROWNAnd there's some young brothers here that we bonded on that retreat about three weekends ago, man-up retreat. And these just the brothers from the village of Park Lane's community right across the street, and we've soaked them away with Minister Van's page for 36 hours and we got them seven brothers, seven men, 35 and older that just -- that take care of their families, they have spiritual wholeness. And we spent 36 hours just pouring on our manly principle and standards in front of them. And before long, they were buying into what they wanted to do, because those images evaded them in some of their life circumstances.
NNAMDIThere are two quick -- two issues on the table that I'd like to address. One of them is the issue that Rahim raised about how you teach work ethic. The other is the issue that Charles Wilson raised earlier, and that is the cultural aspect of how you communicate with people. And that, you should know, is not unique to this community. There are a whole lot of people who can't figure out why you'd wanna make friends with somebody on Facebook, when you can pick up the phone and talk to them, don't understand why you would wanna Twitter, because 140 characters. There's so few. It doesn't -- there's no human contact. Others who say, look, the world is not turning back. It's not going back to the way we used to communicate before. That's not necessarily going to happen. I'd like to hear some people weigh in on that issue with first, you, young lady.
MS. CAROLYN BRIDGES-WARDYes. Good evening, everyone. My name is Commissioner Carolyn Bridges-Ward, 8A05. When I go out and I talk to the youth whose standing on a corner, they're telling me that they're more interested now in back -- getting back into old school. I know you say you can't go back, but I'm talking about trade school. For the disability, I am disability. I don't read or write, but I learned to read backwards. So, therefore, you know, some of the kids, they're too embarrassed to say I don't read. So what can we do with our hands? How can we teach these children, you know, to get some kind of skills. That's important too. Thank you.
NNAMDIIndeed, one of the things that incoming mayor Vincent Gray says he wants to do his focus a lot more on adult education. How important do you think that is in areas of the city where the literacy rate is as low as 70 percent, in some cases, even lower than that, 39 percent of adults in the city not being able to have functional literacy skills? Yes, ma'am?
MS. CORA CLARK-MILESGood afternoon. My name is Cora Clark-Miles (sp?) and I'm from CPDC. I grew up in Southeast in Lincoln Heights Projects. And I've been in the city for 57 years. A lot of the children that I'm working with now are suffering because they didn't have parents to help them. They didn't have somebody to start them off because our parents are the first teachers. And because these parents have failed these kids in not pursuing -- or going into the school systems, getting on these teachers to help their child, a lot of the kids are lost. But because of that, now, we have this literacy problem. The kids can't read, yet, I hear they're typing on Twitter and typing on Facebook. But they're not really typing. They're using words that don't even have whole of letters, so most of them can. And that's how they fill out their applications with this piece of words, so, therefore, that's why some of them are not getting jobs.
MS. CORA CLARK-MILESSo we got to get these kids back into these programs. We have a program in CPDC. We offer training -- for job training. We have the GED program. But they don't come. It's a free program. I don't know whether it's black pride. They don't want anybody to know they can't read. But I found out if they need some help, they need to come and get this help. Because if they don't get some kind of skills, education, literacy or whatever, they are gonna be lost. And we're gonna lose their generation.
MS. CORA CLARK-MILESSo we have start grabbing these kids, putting them in programs. We have to talk to them. We got to go out on the street. We're sitting here talking about it, well, we got to go out and get out of our box, and go out and start getting these kids and putting them back in these programs because we're -- adults are in charge. These kids don't need adult friends. They need adults to tell them what they're doing because these are actual children that need help. And we have to start helping these kids now or we'll just gonna lose another generation behind this foolishness.
NNAMDIWell, there's a controversial I did that has been...
NNAMDI...that has been making the rounds and that is paying students to stay in school. What do you think about that?
CLARK-MILESPaying somebody to go to school? Well, you know, sometimes we have to give them incentives, because a lot of them don't have money at home. Their parents are not feeding them. They don't -- you know, that might be the only chance they get. They've never paid me to do anything unless I work for it. I've never gotten them for free, but if it's gonna keep those kids in school, get them up, get them some food, and then they go in and be able to function in school, then okay, I'll help them, because that probably be the only little chance they get. But, you know, just to pay them and they're not go in there, I hope somebody is doing this, tracking this, so that it's not done haphazardly. Well, you know, I didn't get paid to do anything. If I don't work, I don't get paid. That means if I don't paid, I don't eat. So we got to start letting these kids know from babies, we can't wait 'till they're 13 or 14 years old to try to tell them some because now they form their own opinions. And that's why we got all of this crazy stuff going on with the parents and the children because everybody is waiting too late to try to help them.
CLARK-MILESYou know, if your child can't read, find them a tutor. Find them somebody to help them. Don't wait and sit back because you didn't get the help. Go out and advocate for your child to get your child some help. That's what you got to do. My mother never let us sit at home. My mother raised four girls. It was God bless the child that's got his own. She said, get your own, graduate, go to school, don't have no babies. We got to break this generation of curse in these projects. We got grandmothers, great grandmothers, their daughters and their daughters' daughters having a baby. Somebody got to break that curse and somebody got to go in there and start getting these kids out of this and let them know they've got something else in life other than that.
NNAMDIWhen I was in high school, my father told me -- I came into the bottom of the class once and my father told me that if I could myself into the top five in the class, he would give me a watch. The next report card, I was in the top five, he gave me the watch. The report card after that, I was down at the bottom again, took the watch back.
NNAMDIWe're coming to you from the THEARC on Mississippi Avenue, East of the River, Southeast Washington. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWe're back. You. Yes, sir.
ZACHAYIt was mentioned that we may lose another generation. I just wanted to, you know, go back into history a little bit. We're working on our third generation lost. You know, the crack era in the '80s, we still have not recovered from the trauma of that time and the intense poverty in this area. And I think a lot of the problems we're dealing with have to do with social and emotional imbalance and poverty. So you have kids in school that are not only hungry, they are traumatized by violence, traumatized by just being in impoverished situations. And until we deal that, no matter what type of computer training they have or literacy problems that are, you know, we work on, we've got to work on the whole person. It's very important because we're sending wounded people out here and they can't function well in society like that.
NNAMDIYou know there are people who will say, if you say until we deal with that and we don't have the kind of budget, we don't have the kind of economy that can address all of those problems, there are people who are saying now -- and, you know, we just had the major controversy over school reform in the District -- that it's the teacher, that teachers can teach these kids regardless of their circumstances, and you've got Mr. Canada up in New York and other people around the country that keep schools who say that they're doing it. What do you say to those people?
ZACHAYOh, definitely Mr. Canada is doing it. Look at his budget, look at his endowment, you know, and how he's applying it. So, the money is available. It's actually how we allocate those resources. And a lot of times, I feel like in this city, East of the River, a lot of times we're not as politically active as we get to be. I hope this will be a start of something new. We always vote for the mayor and things of that nature, but when it comes to going and actively advocating for the students, you go to a PTA meeting in a school like Ballou, which has over 1,500 students, you might find five people in the room.
ZACHAYI'm a tutor there with guerrilla arts. We offer free tutoring for all ninth graders and we have about 10 children that come, on average, to our tutoring program when everyone actually needs it. So, it actually takes personal responsibility, being engaged, and it's not always about the budget.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much. Yes, over there.
MS. WENDY SAUNDERSHi, good evening everyone. My name is Wendy Saunders. Piggybacking on the young lady speaking about the children learning from example, it starts in your home. And we need to go back and retrain these parents because I'm from the old school. We grew up learning to respect each other, our elders and everything else. These kinds growing up these days are being raised by children. We have 12-year-olds raising the younger children while mom is doing whatever, okay? Now, getting on -- in the school about the teachers teaching the children, you can't be an effective teacher when you spend half of the day raising someone else's child.
MS. WENDY SAUNDERS.You know, I was looking at Michelle Rhee on Oprah and they wanna make her out to be some fantastic person, but what was not said was that all those teachers that she terminated spent half the time raising someone's child. That -- I felt as though that needed to be said. And I hope Vincent Gray brings some of those teachers back, you know, so we can be effective in our schools and the parents will participate. And along with having programs for our children, we also need to have them for their parent -- for, you know, their parents to go back and let their parents get high school diplomas, teach the parents how to use a computer so they can teach the child because the respect that young folks have for us these days is none. And that comes from Congress dictating to us how to raise our children.
NNAMDIIs there anybody under 25 in the room who would like to speak on behalf of young people? But first, here's Edmund Fleet of THEARC.
MR. EDMUND FLEETAnd, Kojo, you gave me a perfect segue. There are four young men who are sitting over here, who have helped us with our newest initiative here at THEARC, our community garden. They started out volunteer. We didn't pay them anything. And when we do have money to pay them for things, they are always here to help. Very respectful young men contrary to the stereotypes you hear about African young men. And these four right here, you need to interview next.
NNAMDISee? You can't paint all of our young people with the same broad brush. We've got a microphone right over there. Any one of those young men who wants to say, can say it right now. You, sir. Go right ahead.
MR. LAWRENCE HASSANI'm Lawrence Hassan. (sp?) Basically, everything has already been talked about, you know what I'm saying? But for real for real, you have to focus on the drugs. You know what I'm saying? They need to be leaders. You know what I mean? Because of the fact that they follow their peers. They don't follow the adults. You feel me? So basically, I'm one of the leaders in my little clique because of the fact that, yes, that's what I do because that's how I was raised, that's how I was raised because of my father. You know what I'm saying? And a lot of parents don't -- a lot of children and kids don't have parents. You feel me? So you can't sit back and say, it's them, because of the fact that it's the parents, too, because they run out on their kids sometimes. You feel me? So that's all I had to say about all of those situations.
NNAMDICharles Wilson, I forgot to ask you a follow-up. How do you teach work ethic?
MR. CHARLES WILSONI think Tom said it right. I mean, work ethic comes from looking at a higher example. One of the things that we wanna do at the River East Emerging Leaders -- we noticed that, typically, the membership within our organization is composed of a lot of clinical young black professionals, people who are lawyers, doctors, accountants, teachers. And one of the things that we said that was extremely important, no matter what else that we do, is that we go into Anacostia High School and go into Blue High School and have career days and say, hey, look, I went to college. You know, I found a way to go. Yeah, I got student loans, but I made it. And then I went to law school. Hey, I went to college and now I'm a doctor, now I'm a teacher, now I'm a PhD. It is possible. If I can do it, there's no reason why you can't either. And we wanna be able to show these young people and get -- provide examples on how they can do it.
NNAMDIExamples. You, sir? Your name?
MR. KALIM MUMRANII'm Kalim Mumrani, (sp?) a historian now. I was once a dancer and an actor in a black theater. And in black theater, our motto in the '60s and '70 was to educate -- educate to liberate. These kids are not being told who they are. That's what everything boils down to. They don't have any motivation. You need to motivate and stop hiding the truth from these kids. That's all. They need to know world history, American history and especially need to know community history and family history. That's not being taught. And when you talk to them on the street and engage them about their past, that's what they wanna know, where we come from. Why aren't we making it? And let them know why the system is as it is. And they will listen to you. They will be motivated and they will move forward. It is scientifically proven that when people don't know where they come from, it's hard for them to have self-confidence. That's a science.
NNAMDIYou and I come from a generation that actually believes that. What happens to those people in this room who will say to you, we have tried to talk to young people about those things? But when they have the attraction of being able to make large sums of money in other ways without doing that, we find ourselves competing in a race that we're having a hard trouble -- hard time winning.
MUMRANII'm not interested in stopping them from making their money because that's their conditions in this -- that the system has pit them -- put them in that condition. But when they are told -- I'm on the street all the time. I talk to everybody. They listen.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much. Ma'am, you wanted to say something? Well, let me go over here, where they haven't had a chance to say anything quite as yet. First you, sir.
MR. WALLACE KIRBYWell, my name is Wallace Kirby. (sp?) I'm a resident of East of the River. And I'm also a returned citizen with issues of mental disability and part of a coalition of individuals who are addressing those issues through advocacy. And what I'd like to interject into this conversation is the needed supports for individuals who have come to the criminal justice system and mental health systems and are not getting the type of supports that they need in order for them to be able to obtain a job, you know, and so forth, beyond just the training because, one thing, it's more than just a crime and safety issue, per se. It also pertains to what we believe is a public health crisis that's going on.
MR. WALLACE KIRBYAnd according to DOC, Department of Correction data, you got something like 18,000 individuals who are cycling through the D.C. jail. And many of them are from Ward 8, and about 50 percent of those individuals actually have been diagnosed with some type of mental disorder. And they are coming back to our neighborhoods, transitioning from incarceration. And we need some type of commitment from the city, from the new mayor and so forth to address these issues such as discharge planning for them, you know, effective discharge planning, peers specialist treatment, you know, reinvestment from going -- investing in prisons and instead investing in community supports.
NNAMDIHow about adult education?
MR. WALLACE GERVEYAnd adult education for that population as well.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 1Well, I absolutely agree that there's a lot of focus on jobs which is really key, but people sometimes -- those with disabilities need a lot more supports to be able to maintain that job. And I really appreciated the remark that the other individual made back about trauma. Individuals in D.C. have survived traumas, and there is a key reason. While we're looking at our economic problems right now, this city could save money by placing better emphasis on the supports, the disciplinary supports and the mental health supports for individuals in the community that will prevent them from costly institutionalization.
NNAMDIThank you very much. Yes, ma'am.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 2Yes. Again, I'm hearing you all talk about the kids and the kids growing up and things like that. Well, what I'm saying is, as a parent, we have to be the parent. A lot of our kids right now are -- I'm working for lot of children, I work with teenagers every day, and they wanna somebody to listen to them. They want somebody to talk to them or just listen to them. They are hungry. They want some love. And a lot of people out in the street now are afraid of them because of who they are and where they are at that moment. But I'm just -- I have this feeling. If we can start going out and grasping some of these kids and bringing them in, you know, just showing them some love because they're not getting it from their parents.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 2I hear the young man saying he's a leader. He had somebody to help him. He were provided those tools to be that leader. If you provide your kid the tools and the education and the help support system, then you'll have good kids, you'll have good leaders. The people standing up on this stage, they had somebody supporting them. They have somebody that they could go to for help. A lot of the kids now that can't read, they have nobody. They have nobody.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 2So it's really important that we have to start doing this. And I just have this passion now working with these children and getting them some help. We're at 1212 Southern Avenue. And I just had a man come in the other day. He's trying to get a job. Everybody's looking for job. People at 50's and 60's are losing their jobs now, and it's scary. They don't know how to use the computers and things, but everybody is needing some help. But we have the tools and the abilities, but we sit in our offices and, you know, we have our jobs or whatever and we're not helping nobody by just talking. We got to get out and bring them in because a lot of them, like -- they pride for, they won't come in...
2...because they don't want nobody to know.
NNAMDIAllow me to get somebody else to talk because that's the only way I get to keep my job.
FARRELLI think adult education is definitely important. I think it's important because it sets a standard. I've had a lot of students. I have worked with Trinity University here. And I've had a lot of students that joined simply because they said I couldn't talk to my children about going to college when I hadn't gone. You know, and I think that -- I don't know, I was thinking with this election and we're busting at the seams here. And I thought we have these schools all over the city. We need to make sure there's classes in them in the night for the adults. I mean, it's really that simple. I'm here at night. The teachers are willing to be here at night.
FARRELLAnd the other thing I wanna talk about is motivation. I think sometimes we expect children to be motivated by the same things that motivated us. I can tell you right now. I went to college. I loved every moment of it. But I went to college for boys and to get out of the house.
FARRELLYou know, and...
NNAMDIAt least you're honest.
FARRELLI'm honest. And I stayed and I did well because that was the only way I was gonna stay there. But, you know, if somebody, oh, you should go to college so you can study, I would've been like, really? No, that's not interesting. And I think sometimes we have to get creative. I was talking to a woman yesterday. She said her son doesn't study and she wants him to go to college. And I said, well, what does he like to do? And she said football. Have you taken him to a college football game and said, hey, you know, you could go this every weekend if you go to college, you know? (laugh) So sometimes, we got to think outside the box when it comes to motivating the youth.
NNAMDIThank you very much. Is there anyone else who has a comment? Please make your comment as brief as you can possibly make it.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 1If I can just to revisit back again the incarcerated population and something to think about, and I think it's the lack of male presence in a lot of these both females' and males' lives. For example, on any given day, in the three and a half years I was at D.C. jail responsible for the juveniles there, I can count on one hand the number of times that they had a visit from a male, from a male figure. And so that male could go together and learn the computer and increase their skills. So at some point or another, black men in this city and around this country, we're gonna have to step up. The Million Man March has passed. I think it's, what, 16, 17 years from now. We need to see more black men being responsible for their children, being responsible in their relationships even if they're not having relationship with the mother of their children, and taking a stronger role. It reminds me of what that sister said. I didn't necessary go to college for females. I went to college because my father made me.
NNAMDIYeah, that's another good way. Thank you very much. It's "Kojo in Your Community" from THEARC on Mississippi Avenue, east of the river, Southeast Washington. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
Most Recent Shows
Kojo explores what's next for Chinatown residents fighting against a developer who wants to demolish their building.
Is a meal for a special occasion worth hundreds of dollars?
Fairfax County residents will vote on whether to adopt a four percent meal tax ballot measure on November's ballot. We explore why the ballot question has become such a hot-button issue in the county.