Nothing can be counted as progress in a community until the children and youth are well-served and show healthy development and steady, sustained advances in learning. The needs of children and youth in inner-city communities are very great, yet these communities continue to receive too little attention in most places. Even in those urban areas where major revitalization initiatives have been put into place, disinvestment of all kinds-economic, professional, and social-is the pattern, and fractionation across agencies, professional societies, and bureaucracies is pervasive.
Human development and education must be key considerations in sustainable economic and community development efforts in our nation’s inner-city communities.
Leadership in developing an overarching positive “vision” of what can and should be done for children and youth in urban America is critical. We provide a synopsis of the proceedings from a national invitational conference focusing on such a vision. The highly diverse participants at the conference offered views of what produces the healthy learning and development of children and youth and highlighted efforts to revitalize the inner cities of our nation. Conferees expressed both shared needs and prospects for the future amid their multiple perspectives.
Conferees communicated a strong need for deep and true collaboration at all levels, above all for collaboration in direct work with children and families. Conference participants pointed out that the most important decisions in revitalization work should be made at the neighborhood level, and that strategies should be replicated through careful consideration of the developments which are most sensible for each unique site. However, plans for accountability and technical assistance should be coordinated at higher or more general levels. The need for technical assistance is especially pointed in areas such as leadership, achieving collaboration, program evaluation, and accountability. Mutually assistive strategies forge a collaborative process that can result in significant advances in local sites and subsequent scaled-up efforts. Successful work at a given site should lead to the use of staff as consultants to staff at other sites, using all possible methods of communication-print, electronic, face-to-face meetings, and sustaining technical assistance.
Conferees called for the resources of urban universities to be drawn into the work of community revitalization through (a) the creation of new cross-disciplinary units in the academy that are aligned with the broad range of activities which constitute community revitalization efforts; (b) the alteration of perspectives and roles for university personnel; and (c) renewed commitments for researchers to enter inner-city neighborhoods as true partners with the community. Revised procedures for rewarding university personnel for community work were considered essential.
Conferees also noted that collaboration should extend to professional societies also, where leadership and coordination across associations are necessary in order to examine the needs of children in inner-city communities and design and implement effective programs.
Finally, implied in the idea of local decision-making is that funding offered by federal and state agencies should be as open and flexible as possible, emphasizing a field-initiated orientation rather than narrowly categorical and top-down funding streams.
Conferees noted that while community revitalization efforts are beginning to stir commitment and activities in many places, most of this increased activity suffers from a lack of clarity as to shared goals, starting points, and connections with other agencies and associations. Finding practical ways to join together to launch coordinated services has posed major implementation problems for those involved in efforts to improve the life circumstances of children and youth living in the inner city. A leadership mechanism for networking is called for to advance a broad-based initiative to revitalize our nation’s inner-city communities and to foster the development and learning of urban children and youth. The next-step “starter” tasks recommended by the conferees include the following examples:
– Cause the consolidation of resources across all government departments in support of new projects.
– Help to create visibility for community revitalization projects and assure the projects’ credibility and growth by culling resources of the highest quality and advancing public awareness of good work. Media contacts are important as a way of building public understanding and support.
– Meet with university leaders and representatives of professional associations to fire the “starter signal” for formation of cross-disciplinary teams of researchers and field-based professionals to join with community leadership for broadly coordinated efforts to address the situations of children and youth in economically distressed urban communities.
– Lead the way across federal departments in forming a broad pool of research and document funds to be available only for projects of cross-disciplinary design conducted in collaboration with people and agencies in urban America.
– Challenge every federal department and all state governments to double and redouble resources devoted to enhancement of the life and learning situation of urban children and youth.
While there are major challenges and problems of both will and practical know-how as we try to make urgent repairs in the life and learning of inner-city children, there are significant signs of readiness to respond if only we can find ways to assemble all stakeholders at the starting line, organize the necessary resources, and signal that the journey is beginning.
Jeff C. Palmer is a teacher, success coach, trainer, Certified Master of Web Copywriting and founder of https://Ebookschoice.com. Jeff is a prolific writer, Senior Research Associate and Infopreneur having written many eBooks, articles and special reports.