The Urban League’s idea is to fundamentally transform the 70-block neighborhood surrounding the campus of Crenshaw High School.
The center of the transformation is to be the high school itself. But there is much more to the concept. One could say that the larger purpose is to recalibrate the educational outcomes for Crenshaw’s students by remaking the ecology of the community itself.
The notion that a host of social ills—failing schools, gang violence, public health challenges, unemployment, lack of low-cost housing, prison reentry—should best be viewed and solved, not separately, but as pieces of an interdependent system, is a concept that has been gaining currency over the last decade.
However, the ecological theory of community problem solving is one thing; putting it successfully into action is quite another.
Geoffrey Canada’s now famous 100 block Harlem’s Children’s Zone is the best known example of the concept in action.
The Urban League is trying it’s own version—the hope being that, if their model is successful, it can be replicated around the city, and beyond.
Three years into the project, the staff of Annenberg’s Neon Tommy has done a multi-faceted interim assessment of progress made. The Neon Tommy reporters ask what has been achieved? What remains to be done? Overall, how well is the project working?
Neon Tommy gives the Urban League’s Neighborhoods@Work endeavor mixed reviews. But the news is not altogether unpromising.
To give you a small taste of some of the anecdotal stories in the package, here is an excerpt from an article by NT’s Olga Khazan, who examines how Crenshaw students and teachers manage to achieve despite high levels of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder among both the student and the faculty population.
(Olga’s video above features Raheem Giddens from Crenshaw High.)
During a mid-morning break between classes at Crenshaw High School, a senior named Patricia was showing Sybel Stanley pictures of a prom dress on her phone. Earlier in the week, another girl at the school had told her friends that the dress in question, clearly a store-bought number, had been special-made for her by a designer. Patricia was speaking in the outraged tone of a sassy high schooler-cum-prosecutor, and Stanley, whether in earnest or in a convincing show of support, was shocked as well.
“Well, would you look at that,” Stanley said. Sybel Stanley is a parent-resource coordinator at Crenshaw, which essentially means she makes sure students are doing well enough at home to do well enough at school. Her round frame barely breaks 5 feet, and she has a gap-toothed grin that she’s quick to flash anyone who needs it.
“She’s gonna show up at the prom, and someone else is gonna have her same dress on!” Patricia said. Patricia’s bobbed black hair is straightened and pulled back in a pink headband that matches her shirt. Everything about her appearance is carefully coordinated, from her purse to her phone cover.
“I mean, it’s a dress. Why would you lie about that?” she concluded emphatically. After all, nothing is sacred in high school if not prom.
“Well, you know how tight money is for everyone these days,” Stanley said.
Suddenly Patricia remembered something on a more serious note.
“Oh Granny, you don’t even know,” Patricia said. “My momma broke down this morning.”
Patricia, like many of her Crenshaw peers, was accepted to college. But her mom, like many Crenshaw moms, was having trouble paying her initial deposit. That morning Patricia was faced with the reality of the financial pressures when she saw her mother crying….
It’s all very good stuff. Enjoy!
And a big thank you to Neon Tommy for doing an important series of stories that most other major LA news outlets have somehow managed to ignore.