Families & Community

The connections that build opportunity.

taken from the book "The Rise of Women," by Thomas A. DiPrete and Claudia Buchman

I've been spending a lot of time recently trying to figure out why girls perform better than boys on almost every measure of academic achievement. 

Michigan foster care rates by year
Kids Count Data Center / Annie E. Casey Foundation

We've already acknowledged the proliferation of different days and weeks, whether by official proclamation or organizational mandate, declared for raising awareness of various social issues. But let's talk about just one more: National Foster Care Month. While it's likely meant to raise awareness about kids who need foster care and people willing to serve as foster parents, kids who age out of the foster care system caught our attention. 

Photo courtesy of Boys & Girls Clubs of Grand Rapids Youth Commonwealth

Every once and a while, our State of Opportunity team receives a story pitch from someone in the community who's trying to make a difference in the lives of disadvantaged youth. This is one of those stories. It’s a piece about boys, girls, and the universal language of music.

There's a new crowd-funding website called Benevolent that's trying to help low-income people overcome the small barriers keeping them from moving up in the world. The site opened in a few cities around the country, and soon it's expanding to Detroit. Check out this write up from the Knight Foundation.

In 1998, Amy Valderas was a single mom with three kids, all under the age of seven. She stayed at home. She had no work experience. She lived with her sister.

So she goes into a Department of Human Services office (which was at that time called the Family Independence Agency), to apply for cash assistance. And, in the lobby of the office, there’s a man who says he’s from Cascade Engineering, a manufacturing company in Grand Rapids.

He asks Valderas if she wants a job.  

"And I was very hesitant at first," she says. "Because I was always with my kids, and I was worried about transportation, daycare, all kinds of stuff, you know."

But the man is very convincing, and Valderas decides to try it out. Before long, she’s working 12 hour shifts. She’s working weekends. She thinks about quitting.

"Because the work is so difficult," she says. "I’d never worked before, and then the long hours. So, I didn’t think I’d be here."

Southeast Michigan Screening of American Winter

May 3, 2013
Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

It’s time to have The Talk.

I know, it’s not going to be easy. Might get a little uncomfortable, maybe make you squirm a little.

But it’s time; it's time to have a frank conversation about race. Now I know some of you listening right now are thinking "Race? Really? It’s 2013. Aren’t we past this by now?"

Good. I was hoping you’d ask that.

I'd like you to meet two young girls, both freshmen at a high school in Grand Haven, MI. Their names are Katie Bridgeforth, age 15, and Dystany Dunn, 14. Both girls are mixed, half white and half black, and they describe their skin as caramel colored.

The two girls ride the bus together to school every day, and that’s where the trouble started:

This wasn’t some isolated incident. The girls tell me about the boy who wore a KKK mask in the cafeteria, another one who wore it during homecoming weekend. Then there was the time a boy came up to Katie when she was taking a test, and he made a joke about slavery and ‘has she picked any cotton lately?’

Dustin Dwyer

  A few weeks ago, we reported on research showing that children become aware of race at a very young age, and they seem particularly prone to developing stereotypes. The message from that research is simple enough: If parents don’t want their kids to develop racial biases, they need to talk to their kids about race. 

To quickly review: the reason parents need to talk to kids about race is that if they don’t talk to them about race, kids will come up with their own ideas. Those ideas will usually be wrong, sometimes be harmful and occasionally, they’ll be ridiculous.

Cherée Thomas has a story about that.

"Many years ago, my son was in a classroom and a kid licked his hand because he thought he was chocolate," Thomas says.

As part of her documentary on race, Jennifer Guerra spoke with kids---of all races---about how race shapes their lives in school, in their neighborhood, and among their peers. Tune in on Thursday at 3pm, and again at 10pm, to hear what kids, teachers and parents have to say on the topic. And in the meantime, check out this story from NPR's Arts Desk on how kids are using "yo" as a gender-neutral pronoun. Linguistic innovation coming from a teen near you!

Thomas Levinson / flickr

I spend a lot of my time, as many journalists do, trying to convince people to share their experiences and stories. Sometimes it takes a lot of work. 

Most of my persuasive skills have to be channeled into convincing people they have a story worth telling, that their experiences matters. It does matter. The telling of every day experiences informs and connects people. Reporters can put connective tissue made up of context and background around these experiences and out comes a news story.