Monday, January 28, 2008

Art Show! College Counseling! Native Son! Oh my!

There are a couple of exciting things happening here at Cabrini Connections. Probably the most exciting for me, is the art show, which as I mentioned in the previous post, will be Friday February 8th at the Pallette and Chisel. To see meet the students and see some artwork, go here. I think the sample artwork is a testimony to how talented the students are.

Also, I encourage everyone to continue reading Will Okun's blog in the New York Times. His most recent post "Guidance," higlights the issue of inner city students, especially racial minorities, going to four year colleges. There are many talented and intelligent inner city black and latino students who are more than capable of being the first in their family going to college. Unfortunately, so many of them are held back from doing so for a number of reasons: their family needs them to work, they are afraid of leaving their neighborhood and feel like their betraying their family and friends, they are the only ones who will have the experience of going to college, the list goes on. Not withstanding the issue of money. That is why organizations such as Umoja, and of course Cabrini Connections, focus on college counseling so that students who have the grades, talent and desire can go to college.

Often, a lot of these students do not even know about where to look for colleges because as Mr. Okun writes in his blog, most college counselors are focused on grades, standardized testing, and just getting their students to graduate from high school, rather than on getting them into college. That is why volunteers such as Jen Nolan, who has been volunteering her time in helping our students apply to college, are so important. Ms. Nolan not only helps our students find colleges, but also helps them find scholarships and grants, and has even started a fund for our students to pay for college applications, (which I remember quite well from the days when I applied to 13 schools, eeep!), which can go for $50 a pop. To help students afford to apply to college, you can visit the Cabrini Connections College Application Donation site.

Mr. Okun, in a previous post, wrote about the need to get students to read good books. I, in my post-college self, have thoroughly enjoyed spending the 1 hour train ride to and from work to read all the books that I have been meaning to since high school. I especially have been enjoying reading African American literature, Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, and The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison being my favorites. However, I am currently reading Native Son by Richard Wright, which is set on the south side of Chicago in the 1930s. I encourage everybody who has the time to read it because I think you'll find it very striking that many things have not changed since the 1940 in regards to race relations and the situation in the American inner city.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day!

Well, this post is one day late, but it's never to late to celebrate the life and work of a great man. I wish I could come up with something eloquent to say here, but I really can't come up with anything. However, I must say that supervising the art club last night, despite it technically being a day off, was a great way to celebrate the life of a man who worked so hard for every child to have every opportunity possible.

In the mission of Martin Luther King Jr., and also in the mission of Cabrini Connections, one of the ways we are creating opportunities for children is by having an art show, showcasing the works the kids in the art club (and the video club) have created in the past year. An Art Gallery, the Palette and Chisel, has donated their space for our kids' artwork from February 2nd to 11th. On February 8th, there will be a reception and a silent auction for the works from 5:30-9pm. The Pallette and Chisel is located at 1012 N. Dearborn, Chicago, IL 60610. I highly encourage everyone to come!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Sudhir Venkatesh and Will Okun

As someone who has been an 0ff-and-0n blogger for about two and a half years, I sometimes check myself for the reasons why I blog and why others blog too. The two reasons I blogged, I felt were very valid. The first blog I had was my online diary about my year studying abroad in Paris. Now this blog details my adventure of being a NUPIP Fellow at Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection. I'll admit I wasn't an avid reader of travel/study abroad blogs (let's be honest, the only people who were reading my blog in Paris were my friends and family), but I have become a voracious reader of blogs detailing issues in tutoring, mentoring, inner cities, public housing and especially education.
Two of my favorites both appear in the New York Times, although both have close ties to Chicago. The first blog, is that of Will Okun, writing in Nicholas Kristof's column as a guest blogger, describing his life and the lives of his students at a high school on the Westside of Chicago. I encourage everyone to read his blog because he describes the same struggles and joys that I face working with mostly African American, inner-city adolescents.
The other recent blog that I have discovered is Sudhir Venkatesh, who contributes to the Freakonomics blog in the New York Times. Venkatesh is a former University of Chicago graduate student, now a sociology professor at Columbia University, who began his research in the Robert Taylor homes, the notorious public housing projects on the south side of Chicago. Venkatesh has written several books about his experiences, including American Project: The Rise and Fall of the Modern Ghetto. His most recent work is Gang Leader for a Day about his relationship with a prominent gang leader in the Robert Taylor homes. Looks like an interesting read . . .

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Long Time No Post!

It's official, I'm the worst blogger ever. Actually, I have a very good excuse for not posting any blog posts as of the past 6 weeks. At the end of November, our program coordinator left Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection for a different position and for the meanwhile, I've been working on finding her replacement. This has been no easy feat, as we had over 100 applicants for the position and from that 100, I conducted around 30 phone interviews. The good thing is that we have many candidates with wonderful qualifications and who were extremely personable on the phone. I look forward to meeting them in person starting next week. Even though only one person will get the job, our goal is for all of the people who applied to maintain contact in some way with Cabrini Connections.

One of the ways that we're introducing is to be a part of our May Tutor/Mentor Conference, which will be held Thursday May 29th and Friday May 30th at Northwestern Law School in Downtown Chicago. For the first time at this conference, we will be having a Jobs Table where people can find out about jobs in tutoring and mentoring non-profits and will be able to submit resumes. This is yet another step in linking tutoring and mentoring organizations in Chicago together and to raise awareness about tutoring ane mentoring as a whole.

As for the Fellowship side, we had our first seminar since Winter Break. It was very interesting, Walter Boyd from the organization Protestants for the Common Good spoke to us about the difficulties of being an ex-offender and the oppoprtunities that they will have. Stemming off of the meeting we had this fall with people from the North Lawndale Employment Network, which helps ex-offenders find jobs, we were finally able to meet ex-offenders and here there stories about the tragedies and triumphs of being ex-offenders.

I'm glad we had this seminar because recently I had been thinking about how difficult it is to turn certain people's lives around. This came from two things: one was an article in the Chicago Tribune updating readers on the lives of the three ex-offenders featured in a previous article who were trying to turn their lives around by working at a beeswax company called Sweet Beginnings, run by the North Lawndale Employment Network. The more recent article featured how the three ex-offenders have all fallen back into the prison system and are no longer with Sweet Beginnings. As someone who is working in the realm of social justice it is disheartening to hear how these men who had so many possibilities to turn their lives around, but didn't because it was too easy to go back to the streets.

The other recent incident that made me take pause was in a conversation with two of our students about whether selling drugs is a viable form of employment if all else fails. I gave many of the standard arguments: the amount of jail time for selling drugs, the severity of drug-related offenses in our legal system, the difficulty of getting back to a normal life once you have been behind bars - something that I'm sure the two ex-offenders would echo. I became frustrated when they told me that "I just don't understand" (for obvious reasons.) When I posed this dilemma to Mr. Boyd during our seminar, he told me that all of the things I told them were perfect and that for a lot of young people, the only thing you can do is to counteract the negatives of easy money from the streets, with the positives of a good education, maintaining family and friends, and the possibility of an even more lucrative and good-for-society type of job. Which reminded me why I work for Cabrini Connections in the first place.