“None of this was beyond my potential. It was just beyond my reach” ~ 13 year old apprentice in a Citizen Schools after-school program
Today I had the great good fortune to hear John Payton, President of the Legal Defense Fund, speak. Long considered one of the finest practicing attorneys, particularly in the field of Civil Rights, Mr. Payton exhibited passion and grace when articulating the complicated issue of racism in America, and its tragic legacy. He helped me to see that we the people, all of us, have to get involved in this issue, regardless of our race, because it is plaguing our society to such a degree that it is tough to see a way through.
The statistics that Mr. Payton discussed are the same we see everyday on the front of every newspaper across the country. And they’re horrifying:
- 86% of black 4th graders read below grade level
- Black men make up 41% of prison inmates while only 4% of all higher education students are black men. 1:3 black men will spend a portion of their life in prison
- 30% of children in poor elementary schools, mostly blacks and Latinos, have a vision problem that could easily be corrected with glasses if they had access to an eye doctor. They have insurance through Medicaid, but no access to care. Because of poor vision, they are labeled as “slow learners”
- 50% of black students in New York City drop-put before graduation. In Columbus, Ohio, 60% drop-out and in Baltimore 65% drop-out
And the list of sickening statistics goes on and on to the point that we almost grow numb to the numbers. They are too big, too awful to fathom. So we move to the suburbs. The problem becomes so unnerving that we can’t look it in the eyes anymore. It seems like there’s nothing we can do.
Except that there is something you and I can do. It would be easy, at least in the short-term, to just go back to our little desks in our little cubicles and work away trying to keep our jobs so that we can feed and clothe and house ourselves and our loved ones. Sometimes it seems that this is all we have the energy for, and yet if we don’t do more than we think we can do, these statistics as bad as they are will only get worse. And we can’t afford worse.
So here’s what gave me hope today in the wake of Mr. Payton’s talk: Citizen Schools. Last night I went to the Google offices here in New York. 250 concerned committed adults gathered to talk to four groups of middle school students who learned how to write code to create video games, cell phone applications, and artificial intelligence. 6th, 7th, and 8th graders, with the help of many dedicated Googlers extended their reach far beyond what they thought was possible.
Lennon, a very poised 7th grade student, took the podium to open up the evening. He talked about how Citizen Schools helped him gain confidence and improved his grades. He learned how to make friends and collaborate with others on a project. For the first time, he realized how his studies apply to life and he’s started to think about a career. Dedicated individuals, just like you and me, shared what they know to help these kids like Lennon get another chance to better their own lives.
Turning around these statistics won’t be easy and it will take a long time. It will require great faith in ourselves, our talents, and our ability to make a difference. We can do this, together. 10 kids at a time, one program at a time. A drop in the bucket? Certainly. But consider this – by participating with Citizen Schools, we have the opportunity to save, literally save, 10 lives from becoming part of those scary statistics that John Payton discussed today. How much would you give to save 10 lives? You can start by giving 2 hours a week for 10 weeks through Citizen Schools. To get involved, please visit http://www.citizenschools.org/