A couple of weeks into working at my job and I have to say its like entering a war zone every time I drive to work. There is a distinctive line that I cross when I exit the 13 south and hit the 580 where wealth and privilege end and poverty and oppression start.
Maybe its the sudden uneven terrain – my RAV – 4 now actually gets the workout that it was built for as an SUV with the pot holes and uneven pavement. So does my fuel bill with the job site being literally 45 minutes to an hour from my house each way.
Maybe its the bars on everyone’s windows or the fact that a lot of establishments are built to have as few windows as possible. If there are a lot of windows some home owners or store owners board them over – so there is less of a potential threat.
Maybe its the sudden appearance of corner stores which you rarely see in wealthy areas unless it’s a part of an apartment building.
Maybe its the fact a security guard stands outside the entrance to the local Catholic school before, during and after school in an effort to protect the children who attend the school.
Or it could be that one of the largest police precincts is located in half of what use to be a thriving mall. Or the fact the response time of the cops is over 9 minutes for a priority one call. Or the fact that within the first three weeks of being hired and two weeks of being on the job – has been one shooting in front of my building and more than I am comfortable with in the two weeks before that.
It seems unreal to me that I work in a location where the likelihood of getting shot is greater than a person’s chance from graduating from college.
Welcome to my new home away from home located near 98th Ave & Golf Links Rd. I signed up for a second year of Ameri Corps hoping that I would be put somewhere were I could see, interact and be useful to a population that needs me after working away in an office last year – not that the work isn’t important but it wasn’t direct services as the social workers might say.
So here I am five weeks in.
It only takes four weeks for people to know who I am and my name. Ah the anonymity that is starting to be missed. Because when people don’t know your name or have your email address in the global address book in Outlook.. it’s really hard to assign work or get roped into meetings that are a waste of time. I have come to new opinion involving meetings which is – save me the time and send me an email.
I also had to establish with a quickness that I wasn’t hired to be anyone else secretary or personal assistant. I can file with the best of them but really a college degree and life experience gives me more skills than just putting things in alphabetical order. I swear.
I am also getting to see that there are long-term effects to lifetime exposure to poverty and violence that can’t be changed overnight. Certainly my helping with a resume or a cover letter isn’t going to do so. I see how fatigued the people are that I work with who have been doing this for even a couple of years. I hear the comments behind the closed doors that show just how jaded people who work with this demographic of high risk youth are.
It makes me sad to see sometimes the lack of hope my co workers have in the youth that they serve. These youth need people who are able and willing to bet and lose on the underdog again and again until one day the under dog actually wins. It’s not just that people bet on the underdog alone – but that they work with the underdogs to get them the skills that will move them forward and upward in all aspects of life.
My youth are the underdogs. These kids have been told again and again they are not going to succeed. I want them to succeed although I know those that do are usually few and far between that is just the fact. My youth know more about the penal code, food stamps and hustling than how to fill out a job application, apply for financial aid for college or a vocational program or how to dress for an interview.
I want to change what Talib Kweli talks about in his song Ghetto Show,
“Black magic in the hood, its tragic but understood
Crack addicts, crack windows, crack wood
Even whats bad becomes good, status becomes stood
Upon the pedestal welcome to the ghetto show
Federal buildings, pissy hallways filled with children pushing children,”
“Buildings too big so you don’t really see the stars a lot
But rapping, drinking, and going to prison you see them bars a lot,”
“We have to express the part of ourselves that make us want to martyr ourselves.”
These are just some of the things I encounter on a daily basis on some level with the youth I serve.
I would prefer I heard the lyrics about the Ghetto Show, be “young women who wait, knowing that the GED is the key to the gate; of a brighter future, citing the love of knowledge the young men shun guns in favor of college, ghetto show it maybe but out of poverty they are rising faster than global warming makes the seas.”
Indeed being an Ameri Corps member doesn’t protect me from also experiencing the same things my youth do. How surprised my youth are when they find out I who work for a government program am living below the poverty line and on food stamps too. Oh the looks on their faces. The next question they asked was, “Why?” Good question.. ask those in power. Working with youth in war zones as I like to call them instead of ghettos – why because the areas have the exact same issues as war zones around the globe.. they just happen to be on American soil – so we call them a ghetto – my position of privilege doesn’t keep or make me safer than anyone else. Everyone is a target for the police, the violence, the gangs, robbery etc. One of the case workers got jumped by girls from the local high school because she stopped them from jumping another girl at the school. This was on school grounds mind you.
Makes me feel like I am back in high school in Chicago.
So I know what I am getting into. I am putting my faith on the fact that I am doing good needed work and I am street smart in addition to book smart.
InshaAllah this year Allah guides me to serve the youth the best way I know how.