Youth Crime and Urban Policy: A View from the Inner City

By Robert L. Woodson | Go to book overview

Youth in Action

TOMMIE LEE JONES

With commentary by Patricia Fountain and Lewis Fields

TOMMIE LEE JONES: Chester, Pennsylvania, is a small city, 4.8 square miles, with a population about 50,000. When we began, the population was about 70,000. The white population began to move out, leaving it 80 percent black and 15 percent Hispanic. Youth in Action started from my working at a poverty program during the 1960s and 1970s. I worked as a field representative. I went from door to door to find out the problems in the homes, to see what we could do to help different families.

During this work, I found that the problem not being considered was our young people. Everyone decided that they would not involve our young people; they did not care about what was happening to young people in Chester. I decided to take on this problem myself and I began to work closely with the young people. About six months after I began to work, I was called into the office of the director. He asked what I intended, what I was trying to do. He said that his job depended upon whether I kept my nose out of other people's business. I asked him what he meant by that. He said his children were used to eating a certain way, used to dressing a certain way, and he was not going to let anyone stop this action. He thought the extra time I spent with the young people was a threat to his job; so I told him then that I would have to resign. I went to another job, working for the county welfare agency for children's youth services. As a nonprofessional, I was hired as an example of how nonprofessionals can work in a professional situation and do well. I found out that in this agency no one cared about giving services or meeting needs or finding problems or trying to help kids solve their problems. They were too busy trying to put kids in institutions. In a vicious circle, you put them in institutions, whereby you keep jobs going for probation officers; they saw me working people out of jobs. The heat became more intense. I had to resign from that job and started working for youths on my own.

I took my kids and opened my home to them. We would sometimes

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