Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Urban Sanctuaries: Neighborhood Organizations That Keep Hope Alive

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Urban Sanctuaries: Neighborhood Organizations That Keep Hope Alive

Article excerpt

Some inner-city youth have "ducked the bullet" and built hope through their participation in neighborhood-based organizations that offer safety, support, guidance, companionship, opportunities for growth, and engagement.

IN THE WORDS of one youth worker, the daily goal of many young people in our nation's inner cities is "just to live, to duck the bullet."(1) For these youth, the seemingly simple task of making it through adolescence is a challenge. Success for them comes from surviving the everyday urban threats to their future -- the literal and figurative bullets of drugs, violence, crime, pregnancy, abuse, and neglect.

Many inner-city youth express a hopeless view of their future, and their voices embody life in the inner city for many who live inside and outside its borders: "You don't plan your future; you just take it as it comes. Life's a constant struggle 'cuz you can't count on anything. You don't know for sure what's even gonna happen the next day. You could get shot walkin' down the street."(2)

"You get more respect for carryin' a Uzi than you do for goin' to school. Ain't nobody gonna cheer you on with 'I hope you do well, go to college.'"

"Lyin' by, gettin' high, drinkin' beer, smokin' weed. Yeah, boy, that's our future. The future be dead."

Such despair no longer startles or surprises many Americans, for they, too, have lost hope for inner-city youth. When middle-class Americans hear that, by some estimates, more than one-quarter of U.S. young people confront a "serious" risk of never reaching productive maturity and that another one-quarter are at "moderate" risk,(3) they understand where the despair comes from. When they hear that between 60% and 80% of today's young people judged "seriously at risk" live in this nation's inner cities and are unlikely to achieve healthy, constructive adulthood. they may well despair themselves.(4)

Yet, despite all the somber evidence, there are voices of hope -- hope among some special adults who work in organizations that support inner-city youth and hope among the youth themselves: "[People in this organization] push me to stay in there and work harder. They know I can go all the way; I know I can go all the way. It's just a choice of me doin' it, I'm gonna get there."

"I've decided in my mind that I can match anybody. . . . If you're smart and everything or you're tryin' to make somethin' out of yourself and you live in the projects, that's good . . . because then you can encourage other people who live in bad neighborhoods."

"The [youth organization] is an opportunity to become something. The people here, they'll help you become what you wanna become. They trust me. It makes me feel good. People here care, and I can become something."

In many respects, these young people, whom we came to call "the hopefuls," are no different from their peers. Every day they confront the same vortex of gangs, drugs, violence, and poverty. Many contend with turbulent families, deficient and impersonal schools, and communities that seem to care little about them. Their interact ions with such "helping institutions" as service agencies or the local police are often inadequate or degrading.

What distinguishes the hopefuls from other youth engaged in inner-city survival is their active involvement in some kind of neighborhood youth organization. These young people have "ducked the bullet" and built hope through their participation in neighborhood-based organizations that offer safely, support, guidance, companionship, opportunities for growth, and engagement.

Urban Sanctuaries

Inner-city youth have a lot of time on their hands. For adolescents who are in school, some 40% of their waking hours are uncommitted.(5) When school doors shut behind them in the early afternoon, these young people are often claimed by the streets. For those not in school, free time hangs even heavier. In neighborhoods where recreational facilities are run-down and ill-equipped, parks become urban battlegrounds, shops and other commercial hangouts have closed one by one, and jobs are practically nonexistent. …

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