Keeping the promise of “residents lead the change”

Keeping the promise of “residents lead the change”

Lowell Perry Jr., director, Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood 

When the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland agreed to be the lead convener of the Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood nearly eight years ago, a central theme of “residents lead the change” resonated among all of our partners. The motto “residents lead the change” is a crucial component of long term transformation in the community because we need to embark on our work with residents not just for them. The most visible evidence of this intention is the individuals who have stepped forward to become Promise Ambassadors. Promise Ambassadors are resident leaders who have gone through formal leadership training to become engaged advocates for the Promise Neighborhood mission in order to ensure that more young people are positioned to move successfully through the cradle to career pipeline.

Now that more than 60 people have undergone Promise Ambassador training the question becomes – what’s next? Additionally, is the current state of resident engagement adequate? When we asked this question of our Promise Ambassadors, the input we received is that residents want to do more than canvass homes, hang flyers on doors, and speak out at advisory council meetings. They want to be involved in the work of Promise Neighborhood and it’s partners from concept to execution.

Using this feedback, Promise Neighborhood is undergoing a process to ensure our work internally, and our  collective work with partner organizations, is more intentional in having residents involved from throughout the entire process of our business. We have made strides in engaging residents in the process through the Promise Ambassador program, but the next phase must involve an evolution in the way all stakeholders (residents, organizations, and conveners like the Promise team) think about what “residents lead the change” means.

We believe the evidence-based approach of Polarity Thinking provides a sound vehicle to help achieve that mind shift.  This idea is characterized by a “both/and” instead of an “either/or” approach when partners in a project may have what on the surface appears to be opposing ways to get to the same result. In reality, both are valid and contribute in their own way in a synergistic fashion.

The Promise design team which included resident participants, have been working with the Enlightenment team over the past couple of months to develop the initial introductory polarity assessment tool to baseline where we are currently in the journey to the goal of a true resident centered culture. It will be a tool that can be used going forward to gauge whether residents are indeed leading the change, and consequently change the way we do business as an initiative.

The integration piece is the next level of the Promise Ambassador journey. Integration includes working with organizational stakeholders to involve Promise Ambassadors on committees, boards, taskforces, etc. The overarching goal is that by participating in the work of our partner organizations, Promise Ambassadors will organically become subject matter experts in areas that interest them. This effort will hopefully lead to internships, long-term employment and greater access and ability for Promise Ambassadors to build their professional networks.

We are excited for this next path on our journey to ensure “residents lead the change” and hope that you will join us.

Presidents’ Council’s conference brings together African-American business owners

Presidents’ Council’s conference brings together African-American business owners

Lowell Perry Jr. 

I had the recent pleasure of participating in Northeast Ohio’s first African-American entrepreneurship conference, presented by the President’s Council, President’s Council Business Chamber and President’s Council Foundation, in collaboration with Downtown Cleveland Alliance and the Greater Cleveland Partnership Commission on Economic Inclusion. The event was also part of the yearlong community-wide commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Central’s own Carl Stokes’ election as mayor of Cleveland.

The Northeast Ohio African American Entrepreneurship Conference was comprised of two days of activities which sought to better integrate sustainability efforts into daily actions and remove barriers to inclusion by unlocking the collaborative power of business, government, nonprofit, and civil society. The event brought together all those who share the President Council’s mission of closing gaps that negatively impact minority communities, have a shared passion for and understanding of the issues and needs of African-American business owners; and actively seek progress in removing barriers linked to those challenges.

A clear message was sent that thriving black-owned businesses are fundamentally essential to the economic empowerment and sustainability of our community.  In addition to the economic missive, there was extensive discussion around the importance of mentoring both aspiring entrepreneurs and the next generation of young people.

Morning keynote speaker David E. Gilbert, President and CEO of Destination Cleveland, Greater Cleveland Sports Commission, the Cleveland 2016 Host Committee for the Republican National Convention spoke to the importance of collaboration. All of the endeavors he manages require a special kind of bringing people and resources together to achieve success. In many ways, his approach captures the essence of the Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood where coming together as a collective body around a common purpose is the order of the day.

The afternoon keynote was delivered by Susan L. Taylor, Founder & CEO of the National CARES Mentoring Movement, and Editor Emerita of Essence Magazine. Susan is an iconic figure in the African-American community. She is a true soldier for kids, and someone I have had the pleasure of collaborating with for a long-time. Her personal and professional testimony is fascinating, inspiring, and a clarion call to action for people who care about those less fortunate. She stressed the critical need for mentoring young people, and why it is so important that we as adults take time to ourselves to regenerate and make sure we are at our optimum best if we are to make a difference in the lives of others. If you ever have the opportunity to hear her speak – do it!

Our young people need to see more business people, men and women who look like them who are finding success in the world of business. That is a big part of the transformational change we are looking to make in the Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood. Entrepreneurship can be a real way forward for the next generation. They need to experience this kind of an event to better understand that entrepreneurship is in our DNA as African-Americans.

Read more about the event on Cleveland.com.

Word from Lowell: Proficiency testing fails to teach life skills

Word from Lowell: Proficiency testing fails to teach life skills

Lowell Perry Jr., director 

During this month’s Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood (CCPN)  advisory council meeting, discussion focused on activities available to CCPN kids during out-of-school-time hours. The group shared ideas for activities that are education but also contribute to helping children develop life skills. Things that help to improve academic performance and also stimulate the senses and curiosities of our young people. The robust group discussion yielded some very interesting information that confirmed a long held suspicion of mine – kids need more educational and fun things to do.

In our desperation to ensure kids are passing proficiency tests, have we unwittingly been making them less prepared for life, by taking away the things that can stimulate creativity and improve socialization and life skills?

A child can only absorb so much before the law of diminishing returns sets in and their brain shuts down. The things that stimulate creativity and may have been an incentive for some kids to want to be in school, things like music, art, and sports, are the very first things the “fun-suckers” cut when budgets are tight. I always thought the primary purpose of school, especially in K-12, is to stimulate critical thinking which is an important life skill when entering the workforce. Gaining solid social skills runs a very close second. School is more about learning how to learn than the actual stuff you get crammed into your head to get a grade. I have yet to use the pythagorean theorem throughout my life for instance. But the disciplines I learned from doing homework, working as part of a group, and how to get along with others who are different from me, have been invaluable.

I admit a bias when it comes to the subject of sports, being a life-long jock, but minimizing, and even eliminating sports in some cases, might well be one of the most misinformed actions far too many school systems have taken in the name of education. Is it any wonder that too many kids are overweight, emotionally distressed, and have a hard time getting along with others? Sports is not only a healthy outlet for kids, but is also one of the best ways to teach social skills around cooperating with others. Not to mention that the activity of sports contributes to better attendance in the form of mitigating some preventable health issues like asthma, as well as an incentive to not skip school. I know in my case, I rarely missed a school day when I knew gym class was on the docket for the day!

And let us not forget the fact that competitive sports in particular, contribute to the family doing something together as a unit in support of one another.  Music and art have similar merits in that regard. Let’s be honest, it is far more fun to go out and shoot hoops with your son than to labor over math problems!

So what am I saying here? We absolutely have to ensure our kids are learning what they need to in order to be proficient in their core academic subjects or they won’t graduate and have a chance to go onto college and/or career. But academic proficiency based on passing a test is far from an accurate indicator of success in college or life. Young people have to be allowed to be kids and have fun too, or I guarantee you, they will struggle at college and at life. To be fair, parents who focus too much on athletic prowess too early with their kids in the hopes of raising the next LeBron James, run the risk of ironically burning them out on the sport.  There must be balance.

So let’s cool the jets on making kids go to school on Saturdays, adding more hours in the school day to teach math, or enrolling them in homework boot camps. Get them involved in sports. Take them to the museum to learn about art and history. Go to the zoo or the aquarium to learn about wildlife and our environment. Encourage them to take up an instrument. Or get them bullish on STEM through coding or entering a robotics competition. All of the above is also a way for a family to share in knowledge together. The point is that learning doesn’t have to only be through boring repetition, but can also be fun!

Word from Lowell: The privilege of being a dad

Word from Lowell: The privilege of being a dad

I have always held to the philosophy that there is nothing more important than your faith, your family, and your health. Including a job. If you sacrifice any of those things for work, you not only do yourself and your family a disservice, you are also short-changing the people your organization serves, as they are only getting a part of who you are as a human being. We cannot do or be our best, when we are not the whole person God intended us to be. Our families make us complete. We dads play such a pivotal role in making a family strong. Contrary to much of what you may have heard, black fathers are not all missing in action when it comes to be involved with their families. This dad in particular is present still, and believes in being there for my children, even as they have grown into wonderful young adults following their own paths.

We recently celebrated Father’s Day. After spending wonderful quality time with my wife for lunch, a movie, grilling out for dinner, and speaking on the phone with all three kids and my mom, I spent some time in reflection of what being a dad really means. A mother’s love is certainly very important to a child’s healthy development. However, the time that we fathers give to our families may be every bit as critical in the grand scheme of things. To you young fellas out there, remember that being a father is not about making babies. As the character Furious Styles in the movie “Boyz N the Hood” said: “Any fool with a [expletive] can make a baby, but only a real man can raise his children.”  Forgive my language, but this presents quite plainly, a lesson more of our young men need to learn. Too many of us blame young girls for getting pregnant, but the boys share equal responsibility in the matter.

LowellreadingThink about the responsibility that comes along with fatherhood. Our sons look to us for inspiration and guidance of what it takes to be a man, and our daughters learn how they should be treated by a man based on how we interact with our spouse. Do we open doors for ladies? Are we careful about the language we use in their presence? How about giving up a seat on a crowded bus to a woman? And do we show proper reverence to our elders? While each individual is, of course, unique, a father’s imprint on our children can be indelible. The question is whether that impression is a positive or negative? When we approach fatherhood as a privilege, I submit to you that a positive outcome is more likely.

Both my wife and I love spending time with our kids, and now grand-kids as well. She likes to say that life is all about making great memories together. I agree. After all is said and done, those memories with loved ones will be all we have left.   The impression we leave on our families will be our real legacy that we leave behind. Not a building with your name on it, or stories about how you were some kind of misguided workaholic. How do you want to be remembered? I don’t know about you, but I want my kids to be able to smile when they are asked – tell us a little about your dad.

My kids enjoy making fun of many of my foibles, and I am sure they will have big laughs years from now when they think about me after I have transitioned on to be with the Heavenly Father.  It may sound morbid to some, but will you want your loved ones to be able laugh and shed tears of joy at your memorial service, or cry because they never really got to know you? I often think of my own dad who passed away more than 16 years ago. I can still see his smile, hear his laugh, and recall how just a reassuring look coming from him from the stands of one of my basketball games, gave me strength. I miss his friendship and encouragement so very much, especially every Father’s Day. But I can still draw strength from those memories of the man he was.

My wife and I have made a point of attending most of the events our three kids have been involved in. Whether it was football, rugby, or CYO basketball with Trey, plays and singer/songwriter nights for Tucker, or basketball games with Trenton, we made it a priority. It is a privilege to be a parent, and with privilege comes the responsibility to be there for our kids. Sure, sometimes work gets in the way. But those were exceptions, not the rule. We have to build our work schedules around the time demanded by our kids, not the other way around.

Even to this day, we are available to our kids as much as humanly possible.  As we age, it is those precious moments that give us solace, and dominate our thoughts and conversations. From a selfish standpoint, when our kids are all grown up and have families of their own, the reality is, we will have more memories than time with our kids at that point. Are you storing memories up to tide you over in the autumn of your life?  In some ways, that is even more important than your 401k. Our children grow up so very quickly that we will miss many exciting moments in their lives if we are not careful. We will also lose out on our MSA or “memories savings account.” Those memories are the residue of love we invest throughout the years with our families.  Stuff you can recover, but memories are a fleeting thing that you had better hold onto with everything you have.

Somebody might say “well I don’t have any children.” Then spend time with your nieces and nephews or volunteer to be a mentor to a boy in your neighborhood who needs to “see a man to be a man.” I happen to believe that the African-American male in this country is being systematically removed from the landscape, much to the detriment of the next generation of young men and black families. But that is a subject for a future article. Suffice it to say, many of us have to do double duty as role models for those in our communities who may not have a dad in their everyday lives.

In a Father’s Day speech in 2012, President Barack Obama offered the following regarding a father’s role: “For many of us, our fathers show us by the example they set the kind of people they want us to become. Whether biological, foster, or adoptive, they teach us through the encouragement they give, the questions they answer, the limits they set, and the strength they show in the face of difficulty and hardship.” What an awesome responsibility God the Father gave to us earthly fathers from the very beginning of time.  It is an ordained privilege to be a dad.  There are many men out there who believe that with all of our hearts. More of us just need to stand up and be recognized.

Lowell Perry Jr., director, Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood 

 

Word from Lowell: Don’t just give residents a seat, give them the mic

Word from Lowell: Don’t just give residents a seat, give them the mic

Lowell Perry Jr., Executive Director 

We often overuse the term “community engagement” when those of us in the nonprofit sector talk about bringing people to the table to become involved in the work we do. This desire to “engage” folks in our missions includes volunteers, donors, board members, and yes, the people we serve. A big priority for Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood this year looking beyond just giving the people we serve a seat at the table. Instead, we are trying to be very intentional about ensuring that the people we serve are empowered with appropriate decision making authority in matters which directly affect them. It’s about recognizing the difference between engagement and integration.

Community engagement is more transactional in nature. Engagement alone rarely leads to a lasting outcome. To use a basketball analogy, it is similar to inviting someone new to your team, but never allowing them to get off the bench and into the game. In this scenario, they have no real chance to impact the outcome of the game, even when it is on their home court! They might as well be spectators.

Integration on the other hand, is a longer-term, transformational event. Not only is this new team member a part of the whole, they are also afforded an opportunity to get into the game and make plays.  Most importantly, their contribution is critical to winning the game.

Lowell Perry Jr., executive director, Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood
Lowell Perry Jr., executive director, Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood

One of the five overarching goals of the Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood is that residents must lead the change in their community to achieve lasting impact. For this to happen in real terms, it means residents must be full-fledged team members in trying to win the game. That is why with every Promise Neighborhood activity or committee, we make a real effort to ensure that a resident leader is at the table and that their voice is being heard. Even with this well-intentioned approach of listening to the voice of our “customer”, we know that we still must do much more, or we risk falling into the age old trap of doing things to and for people, rather than with them.

In this new world, the voice of the community must be heard more than just from surveys, it must be heard at the decision making level, not after the so-called experts have made the decisions. The resident community must be afforded some authority to direct their own paths, or else transformational outcomes cannot happen.  It’s can no longer acceptable for our key public to be placed in the position of merely reacting to a set of “solutions” that they had no real role in helping to craft.

To create this cultural shift, Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood is working with Enlightenment Consulting to develop an intentional strategy to include residents in board rooms and committees of every single stakeholder of the Promise Neighborhood.

That means giving up a little power to those individuals us “experts” must admit we subconsciously believe aren’t as insightful as we are. This is the essence of patronization. To paraphrase an old saying “if we can teach someone how to fish, they can now fish for themselves” forever.  Stop handing out fish!  The inconvenient truth is that if we stop handing out fish, we won’t be able to take credit, right?  So we must ask ourselves – what is most important: taking credit, or positive outcomes for those we claim we are in the business to serve? If it is the latter, we must adopt a mindset of integration over that of just engagement.

I don’t know about you, but I want a real say on an ongoing basis on issues that directly affect me. That cannot be possible if I am not integrated into the decision making process from the onset of seeking solutions to challenges facing me personally. That is why Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood is placing a finer focus on what we achieve rather than what we do.  And residents are involved from start to finish in the process.

I conclude with another overworked term – empowerment.  How many times do you hear well-meaning organizations talk about empowering people? Webster describes the act of empowering to mean to give power to; authorize; to enable. If we are not handing over some decision making responsibility to the people being affected in the process, and therefore allowing for true self-determination, then we are only talking at them and not speaking with them. This change will obviously not happen overnight but we committed to passing the ball to our residents and giving them the power to make some plays.

Word from Lowell: The core of education reform? Access and input

Word from Lowell: The core of education reform? Access and input

Lowell Perry Jr., Executive Director

Cleveland’s super group The O’Jays song “Give the People What They Want” sums things up pretty well when one reflects on the message of that tune. As I reflect on the words of that song, I hear an underlying theme that was not as apparent to me as a college student years ago, as it is now. Eddie Levert soulfully sang that the people want better education, better food to eat, better housing, as well as needing money, equality, understanding, and freedom. Giving the people what they want however, means that the people need input on how to get access to those basic requirements that should be in reach of every American citizen.

Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood initiative is hugely driven by bringing greater equity in education to the children and families of Central, so let us talk a little about that issue.  Residents of Central, and other communities across Cuyahoga County, need access to quality education across the entire cradle-to-career pipeline. In addition, they should also have input into what quality education means to them to ensure they actually receive they help they need. Perhaps one reason we continue to struggle as a society is that the “haves” have shown an annoying audacity to prescribe to the “have-nots” what the former thinks the latter needs, without involving them in the conversation.

The essence of Promise Neighborhood is truly about helping to make sure that children and families in this neighborhood have real access and input over their lives.

Our goal is that Promise Neighborhood is a resident led initiative at its core. If residents are not leading the change, then the chances for positive transformation  is greatly reduced. Or as a wise man once said “the chances are slim and none, and slim just left town.” After all, who better to say what will actually help than the end user themselves?

Based on what I am hearing regularly from residents regarding the issue of quality education, following are some questions that Cleveland needs to address to ensure that the people are indeed getting what they want:

  • Why do we continue to teach to a test in our schools? Is that really preparing kids to succeed in life?
  • Why do budget cuts routinely eliminate sports, music, and art, areas that play to the creativity of young people, and in many cases are areas that make kids want to go to school?
  • Why aren’t our kids learning about how their system of government works, or more importantly, how they can best engage to make a difference?
  • Shouldn’t young people get meaningful instruction in the area of financial literacy, like balancing a checkbook, and understanding the concept of compounding interest as a means to building wealth?

The reason we have questions like the above, is that residents were never really given a serious voice at the table when plans were being formalized and rolled out. And I am not talking about a series of town halls where anonymous folks get to speak their mind, rather than actually being involved in the actual crafting of strategies and execution. This is true for not only adults, but the kids as well. We have got to start mitigating some of this propensity for being prescriptive. In other words, doing things to and for people, rather than with them, because we think we are smarter than they are.

Before we go about “solving” all of the issues facing many of our most vulnerable citizens, such as education, doesn’t it make sense that we ask what “solving” actually means to them?

Doesn’t it make sense that they might also be able to provide important insights on how to achieve success? Let me give you an analogy. Starbucks is arguably one of the foremost experts on the subject of coffee, right? How would you like it then if you walked into your local Starbucks, or any other coffee shop for that matter, and the barista just made you what they thought you wanted based on your outward appearance without actually asking you what drink would satisfy the craving that brought you into the joint in the first place? Probably wouldn’t be happy about it I would guess. Isn’t the goal of any retailer to have a happy customer? Why wouldn’t we want happy children and families?

One simple question might help capture the meaning of all citizens having access and input in regard to the policies our various systems, including education make – is this good for our children?  We really don’t know unless we ask them first, right? So take a page out of the Promise Neighborhood playbook and begin to better involve the voice of parents and kids – before final decisions are made about their futures. I would wager that our world will become a much smoother running place with better outcomes for the next generation.

Word from Lowell: Promise 2.0 How shared data and resident voice will lead the way

Word from Lowell: Promise 2.0 How shared data and resident voice will lead the way

Lowell Perry Jr., Executive Director

Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood (CCPN) community partners, residents, and Promise team members gathered together in March as part of a collaborative think tank to discuss the evolution of the Promise mission. The strategy session focused on two key characteristics that are essential for collective impact initiatives such as Promise:

  1. A shared data system that helps to better inform decision making
  2. Significant resident integration into all aspects of the initiative

Exploring a shared system and identifying opportunities for Promise Ambassadors to have decision making power in CCPN will be a significant focus for our team this year.

Shared measurement creates bigger impact

We live in a very data driven society. Most philanthropic investors, whether government, individual, or institutional, want to see performance metrics that illustrate how their investments are making a difference. Yes, we social profit organizations still have to provide the anecdotal information that pulls at the heartstrings. However, in today’s philanthropic market, people tend to invest in outcomes, rather than programs. A collective impact endeavor, such as Promise, needs to be able to measure how the aligned organizations are moving forward together, as opposed to each entity reporting outcomes individually in their respective silos. As the backbone organization in the CCPN “cradle to career pipeline” initiative, we see it as our responsibility to drive measurement alignment among our partner organizations.

A model of a possible Promise Data Office as presented by CWRU.
A model of a possible Promise Data Office as presented by CWRU.

During the recent Promise partner think tank, our partners from Case Western Reserve University Center for Urban Poverty and Community Development outlined a model for a Promise Data Office (PDO). The vision is that this PDO will not only collect, but also analyze, relevant information in a confidential manner with the sole purpose of enhancing the cradle-to-career journey of children in CCPN. This shared information will set the foundation for a so-called early warning system which can predict the need for appropriate intervention as required to ensure no child slips through society’s cracks.

When we are successful in identifying and implementing a data platform that is beneficial to all CCPN entities, we will have a more three dimensional picture of the children and families we serve. One day perhaps, this model will form the genesis for an expanded Promise footprint. The ultimate result will be more CCPN children and families being introduced onto the world stage as college students and/or professionals, ready to make their mark!

To begin to make the PDO reality and determine the best platform, Promise is collaborating with DigitalC to begin meeting with partners to conduct a data capacity assessment. We will then reconvene in May to begin mapping out a model for the PDO.

Residents lead the change when voices have power

Perhaps the most important aspect of any successful community endeavor is that the residents are leading the change. If the people most affected by the actions of the organizations delivering services are not involved in every aspect from planning to execution, then long-term success is slim and none, and slim just left town. Over the past six years, CCPN has put resident leadership development and engagement efforts at the center of our work. Our professionally trained Promise Ambassadors serve on every standing committee, including the Advisory Council, work closely with community partners, and Ambassador input is included in every Promise solutions strategy put forth.

We recently graduated a class of nine new ambassadors this past August. Our partners, Neighborhood Leadership Institute (NLI) and Enlightenment Consulting, lead the training effort.  The next phase of training involves moving from engagement to integration. Ambassadors are gaining additional expertise in areas they are most passionate about.  I encourage all community partners to be intentional about integrating Promise Ambassadors into their work, including being in a position to influence services design and delivery. CCPN has arguably the best resident leader effort in the Promise Neighborhood Initiative National Network. This is a true testament to the intentionality of the Promise team and partners, and the resident leaders themselves to be engaged in the process.

Perspective: Mentoring creates winning attitude toward life

Perspective: Mentoring creates winning attitude toward life

Lowell Perry Jr., director, Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood

The impact a positive adult role model can have on a young person is well documented. Sometimes all a kid needs to inspire them to excel in school and life is to know they matter in this world.  But we adults benefit from having mentors in our lives as well.  For instance, an early mentor of mine, former National Football League head coach Chuck Knox taught me a lot about leadership and had a profound impact on my management style during my tenure with the Seattle Seahawks. Responsibility with accountability is how I describe it.

Charles Robert Knox, NFL coach and mentor to Lowell Perry Jr.
Charles Robert Knox, NFL coach and mentor to Lowell Perry Jr.

Chuck was always about doing what it took to win. He didn’t micro-manage his assistants, but gave them the latitude to prepare their players as they saw fit within the context of the overall game-plan, and held them accountable for each respective group showing up on game day mentally ready to play to win.

He stressed the importance of minimizing mistakes, and that the team’s chances of winning were enhanced if every position did their part. It was a thing of beauty when everything came together – offense, defense, and special teams. Chuck of course was the guy who made the call of whether or not to “go for it” on fourth and one!

Chuck’s leadership style and way with people, engendered loyalty, a will to win, and typically yielded high performance by everyone involved, including those of us in the front office. One of my duties back then was handling team travel, so I got to know Coach very well, as I helped coordinate moving the team from Seattle to whatever city we were playing in. This included working with the airlines, hotels, buses, and our public relations advance team.  We knew that if the trip went smoothly, both players and coaches would be better prepared mentally to do their jobs on the field. We all had a job to do to help the team win on Sunday. It is fair to say that this is an illustration of developing a culture. Winning typically doesn’t happen by accident.  I recall often repeating a quote attributed to the late Branch Rickey, “luck is the residue of design.”

The cool thing is that we were all aware that win or lose – we did it together. That attitude serves me well now as I lead the mission of the Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood. All of us are inextricably tied together in this journey and must move through the cradle to career pipeline as a carefully coordinated team to ensure that the kids in this neighborhood are better positioned to pursue the American dream. We are developing a winning culture to drive an initiative with arguably a lot more at stake than winning a football game. Promise is in the life-changing business, and I credit Coach Knox with helping me to understand the importance of building a winning culture that will help our kids win in a transformational way.

Word from Lowell: Locked in, locked up, and locked out

Word from Lowell: Locked in, locked up, and locked out

Lowell Perry Jr., Executive Director

Ever since I embarked on my own personal journey over a dozen years ago to do my part to make a significant difference in the world in which I live, I have been both intrigued and incensed by a phenomenon primarily affecting children and families facing significant adversity in our cities. Too many of our young people in communities like the Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood were born into, and are growing up in, a generational cycle of poverty that is much akin to an ever spinning hamster wheel which becomes increasingly more difficult to get off of with each successive generation.

Cleveland has the dubious distinction of erecting the first public housing project in Central, when some city “genius” had the bright idea of trying to jam as many poor families into a roughly 1.3 square mile radius. There are approximately 10,000 residents in this area, 43 percent of whom are children under the age of 18. Of the families in the neighborhood with children, 89% are female-headed households, 82 percent of children in Central live in poverty, and only 32 percent of residents are high school graduates. Decades of intentional and structural racism have served to keep many members of Central locked in to their current circumstances. Eventually, any of us would become weary of the daily battles, and without some form of hope at the end of the tunnel, start to accept those circumstances.

This induced complacency can lead to other difficulties that make the hamster wheel nearly impossible to escape. In these communities, too many young African-American men in particular are inserted into the juvenile justice system and ultimately the criminal justice system. This is not by accident.  In her book “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness”, Michelle Alexander recounts  how Ronald Reagan’s escalation of the so-called “war on drugs”was a primary catalyst behind why there is such a disproportionate number of men of color locked up in this country, primarily for non-violent drug related offenses.

We have an apparent affinity for incarcerating people in this country. A Washington Post article done in July of 2015 confirmed that we lock up more of our fellow citizens than any other country in the world. This national disgrace is bad enough on its surface, however, the way we permanently disenfranchise these individuals after they have “paid their debt to society” is equally despicable. Having a felony on your record, means you are unlikely to ever be able to get a decent paying job, to buy a house or car, or to even exercise your right to vote. For those who enter juvenile and criminal justice systems which have historically not been equitable for all people, this becomes a life sentence.

The new Scarlet Letter is now “F” for felon, signaling that you have been locked out of society. The pursuit of the American Dream,which is supposed to be a right of citizenship in this country, is dead.  This amounts to a form of cultural genocide for communities of color in particular. When we also overlay unequal access to a quality education, it is probably fair to say that the likelihood of being permanently locked out is significantly increased.

The good news is that there is something we can do to change this sad situation.  It begins with the kids.  Children and families in danger of suffering the fate of being forever locked in a cycle of poverty, and part of a cradle to prison pipeline, must be instead introduced into a collaborative cradle to college and career pipeline like the one being fostered by the Promise Neighborhood initiative. If every child is involved in early learning and has access to quality K-12 education, it increases their chances for success.  If residents lead the change in these communities and parents are supported to engage in the academic journey of their kids, and the neighborhoods are healthy and safe, we all ultimately win.

If we have the moral and political will to actually do something about it, we might then perhaps enact more common sense policies,and eliminate the Prison Industrial Complex which has fostered a form of profit that preys on the misfortunes of those locked up in the criminal justice system. The answer is definitely not to embrace more punitive measures.  This philosophy has shown to be grossly ineffective and costly to us as taxpayers.  Now don’t get me wrong, there are certainly some who need to be behind bars.  But those who have been locked up and locked out of society for a non-violent mistake should not be permanently branded with an “F” and therefore denied their “certain inalienable rights” to a fair shot at pursuing life, liberty, and happiness.

The bottom line is that we might virtually eliminate a world in which too many of our fellow citizens are locked in, locked up, and locked out as adults by asking ourselves a very important question when making decisions and policies in this country – will it benefit our children?  We have to set aside greed run amok where shareholder dividends have become more important than whether each of our neighbors, no matter their current circumstances, is able to access the path leading to their reaching their full God given potential.We must be of great courage and not waffle on what needs to be done if we are to live up to the ideals of what this country claims to have been founded upon.

This is not about red or blue, conservative or liberal, or Republican or Democrat.  It is a responsibility of our basic humanity to work together for the good of all of our citizens to ensure that everyone has his or her fair chance to succeed in this world.

Are you up to the task of doing your part?