Families & Community

The connections that build opportunity.

I put a call out a few months ago for poems by students that somehow tied back to the issue of race and culture. The kind folks at InsideOut Literary Arts Project in Detroit, an organization that brings creative writing into Detroit Public Schools, sent me a number of relevant poems by youth from the area.

We would love to read more poems about race and culture. If you think you've got a poem that fits, send it our way! Meantime, here are some poems we'd like to share with you. 


In Southwest Detroit
Life grows best on the roofs of abandoned buildings.
Outsiders look at the graffiti juxtaposed against islands of grass
but don't understand that art and science create wonders.

When I moved near Vernor St.
it took me a while to blend in with the community.
Like oil paint submerged in water, I always stood out.
Maybe I never understood the environment.
Learning the culture was like trying to decode
the meaning of a Van Gogh painting,
except my neighborhood was more like a mosaic
of different backgrounds glued together by struggle,
to prove that those abandoned buildings aren't abandoned.

Give what we've learned here at State of Opportunity about early childhood development, this interview with Jonathan Cohn about his recent article, "The Hell of American Daycare" seemed appropriate to add to the conversation. Cohn highlights some horrific day care conditions, the stunning cost to parents (single and two-parent), and the State's responsibility (or not) to regulate the industry. But, then, if we can call it an "industry" maybe that hints at the problem? What's being produced by this industry and at what cost? You can also see Cohn's article here: http://www.newrepublic.com/article/112892/hell-american-day-care#.

user woodleywonderworks / Flickr

I'm currently working on an hour-long radio special about race and culture, which is heavy stuff to be sure. I've interviewed students, parents, community workers, and experts to get their thoughts on race and what it means to be born Black or White or Latino or American Indian. Statistically speaking, race is predictive of a number of things, and it tends to correlate with relatively bad outcomes.

Here's a short list:

Guest blogger: Adoption and early childhood trauma

Apr 12, 2013

At 30, my husband and I became adoptive parents to a 5-year-old girl and a 2-year-old boy. We began the adoption process through the Michigan foster care system in 2008.

Dustin Dwyer

Grand Rapids endured a surge of violent crime involving teenagers this winter. Since then, there have been community meetings and plans put forward. Now, a group of local hip hop artists is getting involved, with a new song targeted at kids. They let me sit in on their first writing session. Click above to hear their thoughts on the song. 

Here are a few quotes from the artists: 

Ken Dill

"It's hard to escape the violence when you come up in the community that we come in because you might have a mom and dad that's doing drugs, or that's not really there. You might be raising yourself."

Pew Economic Mobility Project

This chart comes from a report released yesterday by the Pew Economic Mobility Project. The report looked at the effects of unemployment on American families. Overall, the report says one third of families in America experienced some form of unemployment between 1999 - 2009. But minority families were far more likely to be affected. Forty-one percent of black families and 51 percent of Latino families experienced unemployment during the period, compared to 30 percent of whites. 

A tale of two "Keishas"

Mar 29, 2013
pictures of girls named Keisha

To all the Keishas,  from one popular girls' name to another, I feel your pain (Kimberly is #20 in the top names over the last 100 years). 

We sometimes have to create names to protect the identity of kids under 18 in our reports. That's how we ended up with two "Keishas" in two different reports for State of Opportunity: Keisha Johnson and Keisha as a pseudonym.

Statistically, the odds are high that there would be multiple Kieshas in the State of Opportunity subject pool. According to Baby Center, the name Keisha was very popular in 1998. There are many young women named Keisha are in the 16-18 age range in 2013. 

We caught the double use of the name "Keisha," so we did some internal reflection, as well.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

As part of our State of Opportunity project, we’re following parents as they struggle to get off public assistance and make a better future for their children. We'll be bringing you occasional updates on families as we follow them over the course of the project. This is one of those updates.

I first interviewed Keisha Johnson on a steamy summer day last June. Johnson, 25, grew up poor and is still poor to this day. But she has three reasons she wants to climb out of poverty. Their names are Kaleb, Jurnee, and Alan, Jr.

Last time she was on the radio, Johnson talked about where she wants to be in three years. She wants to have her own home, she wants her children enrolled in good schools, and she wants to have a steady job as a secretary.

But first, she knew she would need some help to get there. 

"A lot of women in my neighborhood, they think being on Section 8 and being with Human Services, they think ‘Ok we can do this forever!’ No it’s supposed to be just a start, just a push to help you out for right now, and then you’re supposed to grow and progress on your own that’s the whole point of the program," explains Johnson. "So that’s what it is for me right now."

That was June. I checked in to see how’s she doing now, and well, things aren't so great.

I caught up with Johnson on a Thursday morning when she was getting her children ready for school. As she brushed her daughter's short hair into a ponytail, Johnson starts to tell me how she's essentially living on zero dollars. "They sent me a letter in December saying you're cut off your cash assistance, which was $592 a month," says Johnson.

A teen mom, twice

Mar 13, 2013
Dustin Dwyer

I first met Keisha late in the summer, when she was 16.  It was her second day living at the Salvation Army's Teen Parent Center in Grand Rapids.

Keisha is not her real name, by the way. The staff at the Teen Parent Center asked us to change her name to protect her identity. 

So, the first time I saw her, she was sitting on a couch with another teen mom. She didn’t say much at first. When she did, she spoke quietly, admitting what it had been like for her to move in to this place.  

“I was mad," she said. "I was crying . . . I ain’t used to it yet."

Inequality begins at home?

Mar 8, 2013

Check out this new animation by Dalton Conley. I wish there were more things like this out there! (If you know of any send them our way.)

The reason I like this is because it's giving me information I didn't have, that when resources are scarce even families tend to pick winners and losers. Then, it's helping me understand why that's true. There's no hard data in this little snippet, but it's given me a lot to think about and more questions. And, it took less than two minutes! To us in radio, that is quite a feat.