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Tuesday, August 22, 2006
T/MC Editorial: Benton Harbor Riots follow-up. Open Letter to Leaders
By nsbyrer @ 4:45 PM :: 3726 Views :: Article Rating :: Tutor/Mentor Connection Editorials
During the week of June 16, 2003 newsmedia around the country have been using major headlines to draw attention to the Benton Harbor riots. Mary Mitchell, a writer for the Chicago Sun Times, wrote a commentary titled "Benton Harbor warnings are the kind ignored elsewhere." I'm sure if I searched the papers from other cities I'd find similar warnings.

I have the front page from the Chicago Sun Times of October 15, 1992 hanging just outside of my office. The headline says "7-year-old's Death at Cabrini Requires Action". I've another full page ad from the Chicago Tribune, dated March 31, 1994. The headline reads "City kids at Risk". Every time a volunteer tutor/mentor comes to Cabrini Connections these remind them of why we need their involvement. Over the years, I've printed these in newsletters that I send to several thousand people. In the Map Gallery of this web site's DIRECTORY section, you can see similar headlines created after other stories such as the Benton Harbor riot.

I've created a library with headlines, editorials and commentaries that have been printed in the Chicago Sun Times and Chicago Tribune for the past 11 years. They all provide a "warning" that unless our leaders act differently, we'll have a Benton Harbor in our own back yard. Unfortunately, there is no consistency to these, nor a plan to pass on the "urgency and anger" created by the news to places where people can be involved in "changing the news".

I had the opportunity to attend the Donors Forum Lunch in Chicago yesterday. It seemed like more than 1000 people were there. Most are people who lead foundations. Many were people looking for money to solve problems.

I showed up late because I did workshops from 10am to noon at the Latino Prevention Network's conference at Northeastern Illinois University.

When I saw all the donors at the Hilton Hotel I commented to my host that it's too bad that the lunch and the prevention conference were not in the same room.

That's the issue I'm writing you about. The people with money; the people who make decisions; the people who vote; the people who create public awareness and report the news; and the people who live in poverty or have problems in their lives, are generally meeting in different places. Few are involved in an on-going cycle of learning, reflection and action intended to put good ideas to work and support them long enough to help them succeed.

Prior to the introduction of the Internet this was excusable. Time and distance make it difficult for thousands of people to be in the same meeting on an on-going basis.

However, with the Internet this is different.

I was happy that I was able to hear Mr. Irving Harris talk about how leaders ?need to show why they believe in a cause as they invite others to join them? and how Amina Dickerson, of Kraft Foods, called for the development of ?open forums where ideas can be discussed on an on-going basis?. I was excited to hear these comments because I?ve been creating an open-forum for the past 10 years and have been trying to find leaders of Mr. Harris' stature to take on this role with the T/MC.

I believe that if we can get key leaders to spend just a few minutes in our and web sites, they will see that we have launched a low-cost forum for on-going discussion of issues related to poverty, diversity, education and workforce development and that we are trying to go far beyond creating a forum for discussion. We are organizing information on the Internet that is intended to spur the duplication of best practices and the innovation of better practices in thousands of locations. We agree with Harris and Ms. Dickerson that government, business and non-profits should not be duplicating the wheel all the time.

Furthermore, a few visits to our web sites will show that the T/MC is one of the few intermediaries in the country that is trying to use computer generated knowledge bases to create visual maps that show where poverty is concentrated, where poorly performing schools are located and where innovation needs to be supported consistently with volunteers, dollars, technology and public leadership. We?re one of the few intermediaries organizing events and creating partnerships, such as the Lend A Hand Program at the Chicago Bar Association, that are designed to help hundreds of individual organizations get critically needed resources on a more consistent basis.

Using the Internet as our library and a meeting place, we enable anyone in the world to visit and use this information at any time, and for their own innovation and purposes. I've been trying to get TV, Radio and Newspapers to put links to web sites like ours on their sites so that as they report the news they can point to web links that let readers learn more and get involved with providing solutions. Mary Mitchell and other media reporters could do this on a regular basis when they write or report stories about poverty, youth violence, racism or warnings like the one coming from Benton Harbor. Business leaders could put similar links to such web sites to help their employees find places to get involved, or to help foundations whom they fund find ideas to help put the money to more effective uses.

Using these same tools we have the potential to show where resources are distributed, where leaders are involved and where good work is being done in an on-going process of leadership and public recognition. This form of ?comparative recognition? has the potential to encourage those doing good work to continue their efforts while encouraging those who are not yet involved to get involved.

I cannot explain all of this in a proposal, letter or one conversation. I can only hope to enlist leaders who will share the vision and carry this message to other leaders, following the example of Mr. Harris.

If you have read this far, you might be one of those leaders.

I hope you?ll become one of these leaders and help the T/MC build this community of knowledge seekers and leaders. I can be reached at or 312-492-9614.

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