Friday, August 15, 2014

In The Meantime, I Am Thinking of the Populations I've Worked with Most #Meanwhile #Humanitarianism #WhatNext

Earlier this year, after attending my first meeting with the Jesuit University Humanitarian Action Network, I asked (rather innocently), "Isn't the current war going on in urban school districts also in need of humanitarian efforts?" After all, what I was hearing from crisis interventionists, historians, and politicians about people in fear of threat at home is exactly what I hear students and teachers saying at the epicenter of 21st century reform. The lives of kids in an out of many of these schools are in constant crisis: panic, worry, a lack of leadership, even less structure, concern for meals and safety, and a sense of no control.

This week at the JUHAN meeting at Georgetown University, I began thinking about the same questions - especially in the capitol of the United States of America where the school systems are notoriously ineffective in meeting the needs of young people and their teachers (yes, this is the City that gave rise to Michelle Rhee, surprise, surprise). I've spent the last couple of days trying to see this nation through President Obama's eyes and I wonder how he is able to be content with the hypocrisy of everything that is his current home. On one hand, he sends airstrikes to Iraq, negotiators to Ukraine, and aid to Syria. Yet, under his nose, in his own nation, and upon his watch are the realities of a humanitarian crisis in his schools. Well, they're not his, but as a national leader, I would think he'd do better than Arne Duncan to help him solve the nation's outrageous achievement gaps and current disregard if public schools.

That is why yesterday I began to listen to international social justice workers describing how they work with college students (who will invest over $200,000 in a four year education) about responding to needs of the world. Personally, I don't think anything will be achieved until we find ways to close the economic gaps of this nation. As the speakers were talking at me during the conference I kept thinking about the "MEANWHILEs" I was hearing in the back of my head - a conglomeration of youth voices from 18+ years of teaching.

  • Meanwhile, urban schools have been a playground for 'socially just' initiatives and reforms,
  • Meanwhile, conversations of social justice in higher education are not representative of the diversity of American society,
  • Meanwhile, in Missouri, Michael Brown is dead,
  • Meanwhile, 4 out of every 5 arrests in DC are Black individuals,
  • Meanwhile, DC's minimum wage is $9.80 a hour. Before taxes, with no vacation, a person might make $19,670 a year. 
  • Meanwhile, DC is like Baltimore is like Syracuse is like Detroit is like Newark is like Rochester is like Chicago is like NYC is like Bridgeport.
  • Meanwhile, the cost to attend Georgetown University (tuition and expenses), reports CollegeData.Com, is roughly $62,469 a year,
  • Meanwhile, one individual's full time work for 365 days is 1/3 some kid's 180 day enrollment in higher education, 
  • Meanwhile, it costs at least $47,086 a year to keep an individual in prison.
There are many 'meanwhiles,' and I can't help think of the students I work with and their teachers whenever I experience on-campus meetings. Much money is spent so that people who look very unlike those I work with can discuss the ills of society. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. asked us, "What are you doing for others?" We also must look at what we are doing for ourselves - those of us in higher education must turn the magnifying lens on the inequities in our own practice. I imagine a majority of us are very uncomfortable with the social injustices we experience on a daily basis by virtue of where higher education is in the early 21st century.

Meanwhile, I get a call from a kid I've mentored for the last year. Meanwhile, he graduated and was college bound. Meanwhile, the reality that the financial aid he will receive will not be enough hits him. Meanwhile, his life of total poverty is crashing down upon him. Meanwhile, he calls me and tells me he is in crisis mode. Meanwhile, he wants to give up. Meanwhile, he's lost hope in this idea of America that he doesn't feel a part of. Meanwhile, he is proud of his nation and wants to believe in its mission statement. Meanwhile, he decides he won't attend this fall. Meanwhile, meanwhile, meanwhile....

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