State of Opportunity

Wednesday during Morning Edition and All Things Considered

State of Opportunity is a special project produced by Michigan Radio with major financial support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

The project features documentary reports, first-person storytelling, youth journalists, an online portal, and Michigan Radio’s Public Insight Network.

The goal is to expose the barriers children of low income families in Michigan face in achieving success.

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Families & Community
6:00 am
Wed October 8, 2014

Teaching black kids about the police: "They have legal authority to kill you."

Attorney Stephen Drew gives "survival tips" for police encounters during an event hosted by the Grand Rapids chapter of the NAACP.
Credit Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

The gymnasium at the Baxter Community Center in Grand Rapids started filling up a little before six Monday night. Dinner was provided. Parents and kids loaded up Styrofoam plates, then sat down with their meals at the rows of tables. It was a full house.

As the meal finished, napkins folded on plates, a man in a dark grey suit took hold of the microphone and began his presentation.

In front of him were families. Parents. Children. Young children.

The man talked for a while. Eventually, he got to this:

"They have more power than you do," he said. "They have guns. They have legal authority to kill you."

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Families & Community
6:44 am
Wed September 10, 2014

"I want people to not be afraid to reach out and help someone else."

Joy Mohammed and Paris Brown
Credit Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

People who manage to overcome poverty in childhood don't succeed by accident. They work hard, of course, but usually, they also have some help.  And often, that help can be traced back to one person who decided to make a difference.

We're running an occasional series about the people who make that decision. We’re calling this series, "One Person Who Cared." To share your story of the One Person Who Cared, click here

Joy Mohammed and Paris Brown are loosely connected through family. They met once at a wedding. Then they became neighbors in the Russell Woods neighborhood of Detroit. Mohammed, who is nine years older than Brown, helped tutor her with schoolwork, and checked up on her at her house.

"I wouldn’t call myself a visitor. I was snooping," Mohammed says with a laugh. "I was watching to make sure that the kids were okay."

"Were you?" I ask Brown.

"Um, no …"

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Education
8:38 am
Wed September 3, 2014

When you want to play, but you have dreams that require work

Musa, a new fourth-grader.
Credit Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

On the last lazy Sunday of summer, Musa lies down on the living room floor to play with his cat Romeo. Later today there will be shopping for school clothes, and maybe some time to play. But for now, Musa just hangs out, not using any more energy than is absolutely necessary.

"Tell me about your summer," I say.

"It was all right," he says.

"What’d you do?"

"Uh, nothing really," he says. "I just really played outside."

"Did you have fun?"

"Yeah."

"Did you forget everything you learned in third grade?"

"Nope."

"Are you looking forward to going back to school?"

“A little.”

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Families & Community
9:24 am
Wed August 27, 2014

11 years before Ferguson, there was outrage in Benton Harbor. Have things changed?

Part of the new arts district in downtown Benton Harbor.
Credit Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

It’s not a new story:

A young black man dies after an encounter with police. A community takes to the streets to demand answers. Their protest turns violent, and the national media takes notice. When calm is restored, there are promises. This time will be different. This time things will change.

That was the scene 11 years ago in Benton Harbor, a scene not unlike today in Ferguson, Missouri.

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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
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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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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Education
7:00 am
Wed July 23, 2014

Detroit kids go to camp to do things they can't do in the city

Detroit students get to practice archery at Camp Burt Shurly.
Credit Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

This week on State of Opportunity, we’re going to summer camp!

I spent this past Monday with about 100 elementary school students at Camp Burt Shurly, a 250-acre campground near Chelsea. The week-long, overnight camp is run by the Detroit Public School district. Each Sunday a new set of campers arrives by bus. There's tons to do here – everything from boating and swimming to arts and crafts, nature hikes and archery. And because the camp is run by a school district, the campers have to take math and English classes, too, to help combat the "summer slide" many kids face.

Camp is paid for with Title 1 funds, so it's free for DPS students, many of whom might not be able to afford camp otherwise. 

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Education
7:00 am
Wed July 16, 2014

Teaching students how to switch between Black English and Standard English can help them get ahead

Credit user: frankjuarez / flickr

Last week we did a story about whether people judge others based on how they speak. (Spoiler alert: Yep, they do.) One African-American high school student we spoke to said he hated how often teachers corrected him when he spoke. "Every time you try to say something they gotta correct every line you say. It's like ... I don't want to talk to you now."

University of Michigan education professor Holly Craig says that type of "correctional" teaching style is a sure-fire way to turn African American students off from education, and the results play out time and again in standardized test scores for African-American students. 

Across the country, black students consistently lag behind their white peers on standardized tests. Experts have been trying to come up with ways to shrink the achievement gap for decades, but it’s still there. Craig and a team of researchers thinks teaching kids how to code switch at an early age can go a long way reducing the gap. 

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Education
7:00 am
Wed July 9, 2014

Do we judge people on the way they speak?

Credit user dbphotography / flickr

It’s not hard to find an example of people being judged because of the way they speak.

Take the George Zimmerman trial. The primary witness for the prosecution was a young African American woman named Rachel Jeantel. She was Trayvon Martin’s friend and was on the phone with him the day he died. You can listen to some of her testimony here.

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