Justice
6:00 pm
Fri August 22, 2014

Here's what we know (and what we don't know) about the use of force by police in America

Credit flickr/uneditedmedia

Before Mike Brown, before Kajieme Powell. Before Eric Garner. Before John Crawford. Before Ezell Ford. Before Sean Bell. Before Ramarley Graham. Before Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Malice Green and Keenan Ellsberry. Before Derek Copp. Before even Amadou Diallo, Rodney King, or any of the other names you might have heard.

Before any of these people were shot, or beaten or choked by police, citizens have questioned the use of force by police officers in America. 

We know that the ability to use force when necessary is central to the role of a public police officer. But who keeps track of when and why police officers use force?

It turns out, it's incredibly difficult for average citizens to find out. Police departments don't report how often they use force. Most of what we learn comes from the extreme cases that make the news

For a more representative picture, we have to rely on the work of outside researchers. 

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Education
7:24 am
Wed August 20, 2014

One way to avoid tears on the first day of kindergarten

Abigail, a soon-to-be kindergartner.
Credit Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

A little before 9 a.m. Monday, it’s time to clean up the morning work in the KinderCamp classroom at MLK Leadership Academy in Grand Rapids.

The free, week-long program is happening at four schools in low-income neighborhoods around Grand Rapids.

At MLK, nine children showed up on the first day.  The idea of KinderCamp is to ease kids into the experience of entering kindergarten.

Sitting on a blue carpet, kindergarten teacher Tina Watson leads a discussion with her KinderCampers.

"Can you say, expectations?" she asks them.

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Families & Community
1:30 pm
Tue August 19, 2014

Former foster care youth says system "makes you feel disposable"

Credit user Meggy / flickr

"It kind of makes you feel disposable, and that’s not a good feeling at all." 

That's how 22-year-old Jerry Caster describes his time in Michigan's foster care system. Caster bounced around from foster home to foster home starting when he was just 5 years old. He eventually "aged out" of the system when he was 19, and since then he's been alternately homeless or in jail. He wouldn't share with me why he was taken from his parents at the tender age of 5, except to say he suffered some serious trauma and as a result lives with mental illness. 

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Education
10:33 pm
Mon August 18, 2014

More questions than answers about the racial imbalance in Michigan's schools

Credit Derek Bridges / flickr

The death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown and the resulting chaos in Ferguson, Missouri is an extreme example of the long tail of a racial power imbalance. 

Racial power dynamics between police and the communities they patrol have historically been, and still are, important for communities in Michigan and across the country to address. But, a less explosive version of this racial power imbalance plays out elsewhere every day.

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Families & Community
1:20 pm
Thu August 14, 2014

"Rich Hill" is the most watchable movie I've seen about poverty

One of the subjects of the film, Andrew Jewell.
Credit Andrew Droz Palermo

We don't do a lot of movie reviews at State of Opportunity. In fact, we've only ever done one.

What makes the documentary Rich Hill worth watching is also what makes it rare and worth talking or writing about.

It is raw and not sentimental, but neither is it hopeless. The film won the top documentary prize at Sundance this year.

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Families & Community
8:21 am
Wed August 13, 2014

Offering a place to call home when home isn't an option

The Kids First building, an emergency foster shelter at D.A. Blodgett - St. John's in Grand Rapids.
Credit Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

Rosslyn Bliss leads the way across a boardwalk on a five-acre piece of land on the north side of Grand Rapids to a one-story light-brown building. This building is an emergency shelter for kids who’ve been removed from their home by the state. 

"We serve ... medically fragile children, we serve children with developmental disabilities, whatever they're struggling with, whatever child comes to our door, whatever their current state is, we take care of them," says Bliss. 

This campus is run by D.A. Blodgett - St. John's in Grand Rapids.

This building is exclusively for kids who’ve been removed from their homes because of abuse or neglect and have nowhere else to go.

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Families & Community
3:10 pm
Tue August 12, 2014

What is life like for Michigan's rural poor families?

Lake County has an abundance of natural beauty but few job opportunities
Credit Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

What's life like for Michigan's rural poor? The folks over at Bridge Magazine have been looking into that question and the answer is far from rosy. We're talking incredibly high rates of child homelessness, poor health outcomes, and few employment opportunities.

The Bridge series starts with a profile of Lake County, arguably the poorest county in Michigan. 

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Families & Community
11:52 am
Mon August 11, 2014

Charter schools, college sports and juvenile lifers: Here's what to watch for this week

Credit Jeff Stvan / flickr

Let's start with some things you may have missed late last week:

The O'Bannon decision: Otherwise known as the case that could change college sports and higher education forever, this case is all about how much control college athletes should have over moneymaking enterprises that swirl around them.

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Families & Community
11:59 am
Thu August 7, 2014

Where is suburban poverty growing fastest in Michigan? Grand Rapids.

Credit Terry Johnston/Wikimedia Commons

A recent research brief from the Brookings Institution takes a look at the startling rise of concentrated poverty in America over the past decade or so. 

The brief finds that the number of neighborhoods in the U.S. where at least 40% of residents are considered poor has risen by more than 70% since 2000. That is to say, poverty has become more concentrated in certain areas. That's significant because the Brookings researchers say people living in areas of concentrated poverty face a "double burden" – their own poverty, and the poverty of those around them:

The challenges of poor neighborhoods – including worse health outcomes, higher crime rates, failing schools, and fewer job opportunities – make it that much harder for individuals and families to escape poverty and often perpetuate and entrench poverty across generations. These factors affect not only the residents and communities touched by concentrated disadvantage, but also the regions they inhabit and the ability of those metro areas to grow in inclusive and sustainable ways.

The problem of concentrated poverty has been spreading to places you might not expect: the suburbs. Brookings finds that the number of neighborhoods with at least 40% of people living in poverty has grown by 150% in the suburbs since 2000. That's about triple the rate of growth in urban areas during the same time. 

And there's one metropolitan area in Michigan where the rise of suburban poverty stands out: Grand Rapids. 

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Education
6:55 am
Wed August 6, 2014

A vision for how to make school choice work better in Detroit

Dan Varner
Credit courtesy of Dan Varner

Dan Varner went to law school, dreaming he could change the world. When he got out, he got a job at a firm that handled class-action discrimination lawsuits. 

"Got what I thought was a great job at a great firm," he says. "And became one of many unhappy attorneys."

He was unhappy because he realized the work wasn’t having any impact. So he got another job. He worked as a public defender for people accused of committing federal crimes.

"And I had this sense of this parade of largely black young men coming through my office," Varner says of his experience there. He says these men were "accused of committing crimes that most of them had committed, and who were going away to prison, for whom I couldn’t do much – A – and then B – for whom the education system had failed ... So at that point, I really began this journey back upstream."

He stopped being a lawyer, and ended up in education.

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