Building Models

May 26th, 2011

Most of the solutions we’re being offered for our various and sundry urban problems seem to have several things in common:

The loudest come from white people over 50 and usually start with, "And I’ll tell you another damn thing ..."

They are simplistic so as not to strain simple minds.

They are not merely dogmatic, but red-in-the-face, a-little-spit-at-the corner-of-your-mouth dogmatic.

They are based on some time in the past, generally a hybrid of King Arthur’s Camelot, Robert Young’s “Father Knows Best,” and your choice of John Wayne movies.

They are most often voiced with the greatest volume by those with the least knowledge of the subject at hand and the least experience in dealing with or managing it.

So let’s get started with this week’s column, and I’ll tell you another damn thing ...

As published in The Daily News, May 27, 2011, and in The Memphis News, May 28-June 3, 2011


BTW Address


We’ve seen the letters to the editor, heard the guy two stools down, the geniuses spitting into talk show microphones, “It’s not the teachers, it’s the parents.”

If I’m 17 in south Memphis right now, we don’t have time to teach or reach my parents to teach or reach me. I have little brothers and sisters I’m responsible for, they’re hungry, I’m mad. And I just put a gun in my pocket and walked out the door.

When there’s one exhausted parent or no parent at home, where would you have me go? When home is no place I can safely come home to, when the corner is my mentor, the street my support, what would you do with me? When there are thousands of me one meltdown away from you, can you actually pretend that we have nothing to do with each other?

I’m next door. What happens to me tonight when I walk out that door happens to you as a city tomorrow.

The flat earth Tennessee legislature – declaring war on teachers and marching education backwards in lockstep ­– doesn’t get it. People who talk just in terms of what used to be or in terms of 20 years from now – or just talk – don’t get it either. We need to stop these teen pregnancies, graduate these kids, save this generation so it can save the next.

We need to stop that kid at that door and open another one right now.

There are people who get it. Alisha Kiner, principal at Booker T. Washington High School, gets it, and the tough love she gives out keeps kids from giving in. Digger Phelps, legendary coach and motivator, gets it, recently telling an audience of prominent Memphis business people to get off their assets and get into a mentoring program. President Obama gets it, coming here for the BTW commencement in recognition of what that amazing inner city class did, raising their grades, raising their graduation rate more than 20%, raising the hope of a city, and symbolically through his appearance, the hope of a nation for inner city schools.

There are programs that get it. The Boys & Girls Club, building model citizens from the very raw product of urban reality, gets it.

Half of BTW’s graduating class went to the Porter Boys & Girls Club across the street instead of staying on the street. For mentoring and guidance. For role models, reinforcement, and a sense of self-worth. For what can happen when parents can’t be there but others are willing and able to step in and stand up.

The graduation rate for Memphis City Schools is in the low sixties. Last year, the Boys & Girls Clubs had a graduation rate of 97.6% among the seniors in their six clubs. This year, with three times as many seniors, the graduation rate was 99.6%.

Our kids can do anything, but not if we do nothing.

I’m a Memphian, and our kids can inspire Presidents.


Bill Butler: That hits the iceberg dead on, Dan. That and many other steps to bring Memphis into this century, but maybe we must secede from Tennessee first if our elected legislators continue under the firm and ignorant hand of our Lt. Governor. What are federation of dunces. Generally speaking. So many things to address in our city, and while I'm at it let's put bike lanes on the back burner and fix our infrastructure or at least begin the task.

Mike Williams: Dan, We miss you in the hood. Just wanted to compliment you on this piece. How can I best help? Mike Williams

Alex Turner: If only we could send all of our kids to a Boys & Girls Clubs or install the clubs in all of our city and county schools. What a difference it would make in Memphis!!!

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