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Monday, June 2, 2008

Who Leads the Generational Gap on Allied Drive?

I must precede my words with the statement that I do not purport to represent anyone other than myself. My blog reflects my opinions, my observations and my life experiences, and I equally support anyone in our community who wishes to express their opinions, observations or life experiences regardless of what they are or what statements they make. I may not agree, but I wholly support everyone's right to express themselves.

The very fuel that produced this blog was rooted in my feelings of being marginalized among the voices that represent our community. Throughout all the various politics that have taken place over the years I have spent here, my experience has been that some voices express our interests while others fall to the wayside. I did not find it effective to battle at meetings over what defines us as Allied Drive residents and I do not have the energy to figure out political agendas of anyone who comes forward to say this is what all of Allied Drive wants.

I would be the first to say that no one person, or not even a group of 30 individuals could accurately reflect what all the residents of Allied Drive want. Anyone who has knocked on doors here would know that there are so many different people here of different races, ages, educational levels, income levels, cultural backgrounds and primary languages spoken. If there existed a group of people that represented all the various groups of residents, I could not see there being any way that they could agree on something so minimal as the food served at a meal, let alone more important issues that relate to housing, education or economics. I think that is why there are so many groups and associations out here - to allow for something for everyone to belong to.

However in such a truly diverse community, it is inevitable that some voices will rise and others will be diluted, and it is all based on how much energy one wants to put into ensuring their voice is heard. Not too long ago, I was quoted as saying how can anyone get upset over being put out of Allied Drive? Really speaking, if all of us were told that this area was being turned into a sanctuary for homeless cats and we all must leave, though our people are diverse, we are common in the fact that we are survivors. We will make do. I think most of us, in this hypothetical example, would not divert the energy into voicing the unfairness of cats taking precedence over people. We will just do what we need to do to ensure our survival. If big man says it's time to go, I think it is time to go.

So among all the things in life we could divert our energy to, our kids, our dogs, our careers, our credit reports, our family relations, how many of us would consider it a wise investment of time and energy to combat the politics of voices representing Allied Drive to say something like "Hey, I think with some education and support and a lot of self-confidence building, many people here could become responsible home owners, and I think that would impact Madison's poverty issues"? I'll tell you from personal experience that I will say something like that once, twice, maybe three times, and maybe if I am truly frustrated, I'll voice it one more time, but after that, if I am still made to feel like a troll who has these ideas and concepts that are so ludicrous and far-fetched, I am basically done talking about it.

I love blogging because it provides a document that anyone in the world can reference without putting me in the frustrating position of repeating myself. So I journal today about who leads the generational gap on Allied Drive.

About a year ago, the entire staff at my work went to a motivational retreat in Milwaukee where various celebrities talked about success and perseverance. One of the esteemed speakers was none other than Mr. Bill Cosby. What struck me as a parallel between Mr. Cosby and my parents is with some of our elders who disapprove of the younger generation and the direction they are guiding our community. Similarly, Mr. Cosby disapproves of the direction the younger generation is taking his community. He often publicly voices his disapproval of hip-hop culture and the lifestyles of the younger generation. His comments prompted several guardians of the younger generation to voice their defense and the New York Times referred to the battle as "generational warfare."

One of the arguments is that the younger generation is a product of the older one and it is hypocritical for the older generation to criticize the younger generation without taking a look at themselves first. Mr. Cosby accuses today's youth of neglecting their history and overlooking the gains paid for by the blood of their ancestors. The flipside to this accusation refers to Mr. Cosby's younger years and the lessons he preached back then. Ironically, many popular hip-hop artists cite Mr. Bill Cosby as their inspiration.

Through the winter months, we had opened our home to many of the youth that "hang out" on the streets of Allied Drive to come someplace safe where they can eat (if we have food available), drink some soda and play some video games. Through this experience, I got to know how savvy our 15 and 16 year olds are when it comes to basic survival. Many of these kids were living in homes that were not very functional in the traditional sense, and in many ways, they were out on their own. I always heard people say that kids are amazing, but until I really got to know some of the youth that our community views as thugs or trouble, I never really appreciated it.

So one day, we have about 5 young people over at our place, all of whom are hungry, so we order pizza, of course with it's accompanying challenges of getting a pizza delivery on Allied Drive. Simultaneously, one of the hip-hop tracks from the video games came on that had the line "If ya hungry, pizzaman, he don't come around here" ... many of the other lyrics in the song were identified as a reflection of their own experiences of "life on the street" here on Allied Drive (not to undermine a real "life on the street" that youth experience in far more serious "ghettos" within major cities like Chicago or LA). For months onward, when that song came on, it was referred to as the Allied Drive anthem and it was expected that at that moment, in the video game, the player would prevail. How dare you die off while the Allied anthem is on! We had a lot of fun together, despite all the ugliness that likely was experienced outside of our home.

I made our declaration of the Allied anthem public in recognition of what I experienced with the kids I hung out with over the winter months. I wish more people could see what I saw or I wish some of the kids would have to courage or drive to write something that could be published and shared for the rest of Madison (and the world) to see that really reflects what is going through their minds. Maybe one day that will happen, but for now, this song is my best reflection of their experience as I see it.

Recently, the Allied Dunn's Marsh Neighborhood Association advised me that they are considering formal action, such as a protest, against my personal declaration of this song being an anthem without the Association's consent. I would like to make clear that the Allied Dunn's Marsh Neighborhood Association does not endorse anything that I say or do. And my declaration of this song as the anthem was in fun and jest, just as many of our community members proclaim themselves to be the "mayor of Allied Drive". There was a request to pull the song down, however after many experiences of witnessing kids being censored or otherwise blocked in expressing their thoughts and experiences in one form or another, I don't feel comfortable doing so. I will say that the Allied Drive anthem is in no way a formal anthem declared by Ms. Alice Howard or the Allied Dunn's Marsh Neighborhood Association, so please do not think that this song represents her or those associated with her.

All this makes me think of the generational gap and who will prevail when it comes to representing our collective voices. I have no doubt about it, the elders will prevail. If they decide to dedicate their energy into a formal protest, I am certain that the arguments will be compelling as to why such a statement is crude or inappropriate. There is always the issue of representing the positive - look at any debate about the validity of hip-hop as an expression of life. It all boils down to the question of whether life imitates art or if art imitates life.

Regardless, I would urge all members of our community the right to express themselves without any manipulation or censorship in what they wish to portray as their life experience or their opinions. Not everyone is going to agree, and I assume that my readers understand that my opinions are just that, my opinions. Accept them as that, and if you want to make your own judgment calls, feel free to do so, however make the effort to make sound judgments with complete information.

When our elders complain about our generation drinking or swearing or even having sex, we are also accused of ignoring our roots, forgetting where we came from and disregarding the sacrifices that our parents made to ensure opportunities for us. I never recall speaking to any of our youth and feeling that is the case. What I have observed however is that after being accused of not caring, we don't really care enough to set the record straight.

I can completely relate to what I have heard many kids say ... whatever.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Plans to Increase Income Must Include Financial Literacy Education

The Allied Drive Task Force recently produced a report that serves as a reference toward responding to employment and employability issues on Allied Drive. I forwarded my thoughts on the report for the Task Force to consider as follows:

To Whom It May Concern:

Upon reading the Employment and Training Report that was prepared for the Allied Task Force, I wanted to extend my appreciation to those who participated in the production of the comprehensive report that serves to coordinate many of the great services available to residents on Allied Drive. As an Allied Drive-city property resident with formal and informal experience with employment and job development for Allied Drive residents, I had one thought that I wanted to share with the Task Force to consider working into the report.

I have worked for nearly three years helping Allied Drive-area residents connect with employment opportunities working as a job developer to support employment and training staff on Allied Drive, and also as a resident, I have socialized with many of my neighbors through the years. One observation that I have made is that even with best programs and the best resources, it is very hard to meet employment objectives without addressing the need for a shift in cultural and societal values among my neighbors.

I have participated in professional and personal outreach among many communities on Allied Drive, including the expansive Latino and Asian communities. It saddens me that although ethnic cultures and even the languages we speak can be so different, one thing can remain so constant - many of us are in a crisis/survival mode that causes us to fail to look at the big picture. We are often so focused on the crisis of the day, whether it be the threat of our lights being turned off or an eviction notice, or any other such mishap, we often fail to have to ability to look three years down the line and make decisions that would benefit our long-term future.

More times than I can count, I have witnessed my neighbors not showing up to work because they were offered a one-day job that offered cash on the spot. It may not make sense to an outsider looking in, but it is very likely that individual needed cash today, and waiting for a first paycheck in two weeks was not feasible for the crisis being dealt with today. I have been in similar crunches, and in hindsight of my own situations, I can think of many responsible ways I could have responded to the crisis at hand that would have prevented financial devastation caused by things such as payday loans. However, when you are in the heat of the moment within an air of crisis caused by being around so many other people who are also in the midst of a crisis, there is a lack of sound rationale to help us navigate around financial emergencies so we often make decisions without fully evaluating the long-term impact of our decisions.

They say that the average American is two paychecks away from being homeless. I firmly believe that many Allied residents are only one paycheck away, and I speak of this from experience. In the three years that I have lived in what is now the city-owned properties, the financial fires I put out are barely at bay. My income is not the issue, rather the errors in judgment I made in my past haunt me constantly. Many of my neighbors have similar skeletons, whether it be enormous restitution fees owed to the courts, or child-support that is backed up to five-figure amounts. Our past skeletons serve as barriers in allowing us to move forward in more ways than one, and just getting a good job is not the full answer. Many of my neighbors have tried to go back to school but were ineligible for student aid due to past defaulted students loans. We can't legally drive because of thousands of dollars owed to the state for various past driving violations. We need financial education to help us learn how to legitimately navigate around these issues, many of which have easy solutions that we could easily learn with the right training.

The line between our day-to-day survival and being homeless and penniless is very fine here. In many of these situations, income is not the issue. I, along with many of my neighbors have household incomes (sometimes reportable, sometimes not reportable) exceeding $50k per year, however if our liabilities exceed our income, it really does not matter, we are all still in a big hole.

In my opinion, if we are unable to manage our income and expenses while making $10k per year, it is highly unlikely that our spending habits or our money management skills will improve with more money. It is necessary for all of us to gain an understanding of how to really manage money, and furthermore, how to effectively build wealth. Many of the crisis situations my neighbors and I experience are rooted in finances. If we can somehow invest some time and energy in teaching ourselves good financial habits, many of those crises will be eliminated, and perhaps we will make sound financial decisions that will impact our long-term future.

There are many financial literacy programs in Madison, and there are also many successful residents on Allied Drive that have gone from making $8/hour to $15/hour in less than a year. All these individuals need to be identified and I think that they would be instrumental in helping their neighbors achieve similar successes.

In conclusion, I would say that we need two things: firstly, residents need counseling to determine if full-time hours are feasible for them within the lifestyle they are currently living within. If not, then a part-time job could be springboarded into a full-time opportunity after several months of easing into a job-centered lifestyle. Secondly, financial literacy training that relates to the residents and responds to the sorts of crisis we face is required. I would urge the program to include education that would help residents proactively respond to festering situations before they explode and ultimately exercise sound judgments in the future on their own.

Thank you for considering my ideas and I look forward to seeing the fruits of our labor!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Why Allied Drive IS about race

It is often relayed in race relation circles that the best way to overcome racism is to oversee the differences of race and simply look at people for who they are. As Dr. Martin Luther King said, judge individuals by the content of their character, not by the color of their skin. That is all great in principle; however generally, people do not have such discipline. So often we assess people based on what they look like, and once you go there, you can’t backtrack and defend statements without re-connecting it to race.

As much as I would like to talk about all the great people that live on Allied Drive and all the potential that residents here hold on their own, it is nearly impossible to talk about (and often defend) Allied Drive without addressing Madison’s divides relating to race.

I wish the following people didn’t go there:

"For the person shocked at the racial divide in this city all I want to say is that the white community has been bending over backwards to help black people. We are building them community centers, giving them their own personal community police station, giving them practically free housing and intregrating them into our neighborhoods, promoting equal opportunity at the expense of more qualified white candidates etc..etc..etc..etc... And the black community is showing their appreciation for our generosity by filling up the local jails, making the entire city unsafe, ruining the public school system so badly that parents are taking their children to the suburbs or sending them to private schools and putting enormous pressure on the hard working tax payer. Twenty or thiry years ago, at least we were rewarded with a few good comedians, good barabues and some quality music from black people, but we don't even get that from them anymore. The black community now takes much more than they return. I think most native Madisonians would have perferred if they just stayed in Milwaukee or Chicago instead of moving to Madison and bringing the ghetto here with them."

"It's the black people who are causing the problems. they are predisposed to violence. get rid of the black people, and you will get rid of the crime. there is no disputing this."

"I also lived on Allied Drive circa 1967 and it was a perfectly safe neighborhood. Even back in 1967 it was one of the poorer parts of the city, but there was absolutely NO CRIME. The only difference between then and now is the demographics of the neighborhood. Back in 1967 it was all white and now it is all black. I find it quite interesting that many people blame crime on poverty, but back in 1967 none of the poor whites were causing a problem."

Source for all above comments: Channel 3000 Forums

These sorts of comments are endless. For me, the icing on the cake is when a reputed newspaper publishes editorials that defend such ignorance, as the Fitchburg Star published the words of Kurt Getknecht:
"Fitchburg's no leader in the struggle for racial equality, but it's probably no worse than most areas of the country. We're a heavily segregated community, mostly by economic status and class, which is also characteristic of much of the country, including Madison. It was mighty galling it was to listen to Lorri Wendorf's discourse on how Fitchburg residents should embrace differences, which assumed that their concerns about traffic weren't valid. Mind you, I'm not a huge defender of all things Fitchburg, but I felt surprisingly defensive of our fair city. It's difficult to fathom how funneling more traffic through a neighborhood fosters understanding and racial equality, but I probably don't understand the lofty precepts of Madison's elite. Pity the poor Fitchburg resident who had a car end up in his bedroom, a few feet from his bed. He's probably confused to learn that his attempt to prevent this from happening again is a reflection of bias."

Racism is a form of abuse and as with any other abuse, it is not up to the perpetrator to define when abuse is taking place. Furthermore, being "probably no worse than anyone else" is not a valid defense. If you are honestly thinking that you are "probably no worse than anyone else", maybe it is time to venture out and see how you really fare with the rest of the country, and maybe even the rest of the world.

Look at Madison's disproportionate rates of incarceration, home ownership and per-capita income, all among which Wisconsin and Dane County lead in racial disparities when compared to other states and counties in the US. For three years of my life, I had a job that required travel for 120 days out of the year through which I have repeatedly visited nearly every major city in the United States and I can say hands down, I have never felt the levels of unspoken discomfort about race until I came to Madison.

Allied Drive is the most disconnected area of the city when you look at bus routes and accessibility, and we have to actually fight to open up a street? I’ve sat in and observed a lot of meetings about Allied Drive and I remember hearing Fitchburg residents say that they do not want the people of Allied Drive walking up and down the streets of their community, so to back track and shift the focus to traffic safety is like listening to a rapist blame short skirts. You have got to be kidding me.

I have not written in my blog for some time because it has to be known that these issues are very tolling. It is similar to being in a difficult relationship. Sometimes you come to the conclusion that your partner is not going to change so futile efforts may be better spent toward something more constructive. Like a condo downtown. In a city that embraces differences, away from all this madness.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Roast on Milios

I had Milios for lunch today and I remembered they are another restaurant that delivers to our area, but not on Allied Drive. I remember about a month ago, there was a really bad snow storm and we didn't feel like going outside or cooking, and we were so indecisive on what to order, and finally decided that Milios would totally hit the spot. I love their sandwiches however would you believe that they made us walk over to the Boys and Girls Club to meet them? We said okay because we really wanted Milios, and the Boys and Girls Club is literally out our front door, through the neighboring building's parking lot, up a small three foot hill and we are at the back of the Boys and Girls Club. That small three foot hill was not such a small hill with all that snow. That driver could have driven another block, in my opinion. If anything, we should have gotten our delivery for half-off or something because they really did not deliver it all the way to us. Ahh well ... We made it up by not tipping the driver, which is bad I know, however the driver was the same guy who answered the phone and refused to come down to our place. I was feeling guilty for about 3 minutes until I came home to a really arrogant sounding voice mail from the driver asking us where we were at thinking we were blowing him off with our shady Allied Drive sandwich order. I haven't ordered Milio's for dinner since ...

Saturday, January 19, 2008

It is MAD COLD today!

It is cold, cold, cold outside! Whenever we have inclement weather, I always think of all the people out here who do not have cars and walk in the cold to Cub Foods when they are in need of groceries.



I always see people walking with strollers and small children with bags of groceries. Cold winters are a harsh reality of our community. Even though Cub Foods is right across the street, when I didn't have a car, I used to take the bus to the West Transfer Point and walk to Copps - for me, it was a much shorter walk to the bus stop and then to Copps, and plus, you don't have to cross Verona Road's busy traffic on foot. It's only a ten minute bus ride and it actually would take longer to walk all the way across Verona Road.

I have high hopes for the Timebank outreach that will be taking place here soon and I really hope that more Allied residents take advantage of Timebank's resources when it comes to getting rides for groceries, especially when it is as cold as it is this weekend!

Winter Paintball Season?

I was trying to think of some activities that the community may participate in over the winter (not when it is as cold as it is this weekend, but maybe sometime when it is above negative thirty degrees!) and paintball came to mind! I saw on television once a group of people playing paintball in the winter snow and it really looked like a lot of fun. I am not sure how to go about getting a tournament together, but I bet anything that a lot of people would want to play, even in the cold! If anyone is interested in organizing a paintball tournament out here, there are some great resources for paintball guns and various paintball supplies online. I don't know anything about paintball however some quick research revealed that the Tippmann A-5 is one of the top selling models. I think I would need something that isn't so bulky so I could move around, but being so out of shape, I am very confident that I'd be down pretty much right away, so I think I would opt to be like a referee or something like that. A paintball gun package has everything that anyone would need to be completely armed with paint, and taking a look at all that comes with the package, it looks like this is a very serious, serious hobby.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Move Forward and Move Out, If You Really Want The American Dream?

They say that a component of what is considered the American Dream is home ownership and those of us in the city properties who aspire to buy a home and want to own a stake in this community feel like we are being somewhat punished for wanting it. The way the development plans are unfolding, those who qualify for Section 8 or prefer rental housing are offered an opportunity to move into the new developments first. The rest of us who aligned with the city’s idea of facilitating property ownership among the community’s residents will have to wait for an undisclosed amount of time for our opportunity to move.

If the new properties are ready this summer, they will be literally 25 feet from my front door. I wonder how I am going to feel, seeing a beautiful living space with gardens and all this great architecture that only accommodates Section 8 and rental housing, and does not provide a viable option for people like me who want to own a place in our next move. The architects who are designing the new buildings are very talented and the new properties are going to look spectacular. It’s going to make my current apartment look, for lack of a better term, shitty. And it’s going to be right there in front of me to salivate over every time I come in or out of my apartment.

I may be inclined to move into the new rentals. I’ll think, hell, if I am renting, I might as well rent something nice! But then something is going to nag at me, hey, why I am moving into a rental? I should be looking at buying a piece of property. Just for kicks, we may see if we can get pre-approved for a mortgage and if by chance we do, we will be faced with the difficult decision of whether we should move into a nice house anywhere in the city now, or should we continue living in a crappy apartment for that undisclosed amount of time and wait for the privilege of being one of Allied Drive's first home owners. I am thinking that the only reason I would wait for Allied Drive would be if there was a complete lack of mortgage brokers who are willing to work with first time home owners with challenges. I don’t know ...

The State Journal recently interviewed a landlord out here who expressed that the city should consider building homes immediately because there is already a ton of low income housing out here. They say that Allied Drive is over 65% vacant – I remember one of the architects early on explained to us that if they cut off the top floors of all the buildings on Allied, there will still be vacancies out here. Currently, everything out here is rental and low income. Our Alder was quoted in response as agreeing in the concept of home-ownership, however stating that the community really wants rentals to drive the first phase of the project. Who? The community? What about those of us who live in the buildings that you bought? I guess we are all the red-headed step-children who have to wait until everyone else is appeased before our needs are met. God, this feels like a really unfulfilling relationship that I have with the city. I fantasize about a mortgage broker in shining armor riding up here on a white horse to sweep me away.

The ideal would be if the city would start building the owner-based properties right away with the rentals, and the options would be lined up for us when the new properties are unveiled. This all reminds me of when we first moved into our apartment and we had no furniture whatsoever. I had some friends back in Chicago who offered me some really nice furniture, I just had to rent a truck and get some help to move it. There were a lot of challenges in doing that due to finances and mobility restrictions I had to abide to. Just to get some basic furniture, I went St. Vincent DePaul and got pretty much everything that I immediately needed. My intention was still to get the really nice furniture and donate my interim furniture back to St Vincent’s.

Three years later, I am still sitting on my St Vincent’s couch and the furniture in Chicago is still sitting in storage. I’ve had opportunities to get the new furniture, but for one reason or another, I never did. I guess because I didn’t really need it and I was comfortable with what I had.

It’s one of the tragedies of missed opportunities ... The city is making us move, that is inevitable for all of us here. However, if they really want to guide us into home ownership on Allied, they should relish the opportunity of lining up the timelines to make it convenient for us to do so. Have both options ready at the same time so that no one has to wait for an undisclosed amount of time to move into a house. If the city makes the home ownership option difficult for those of us living in their properties, my suspicion is that someone else in Madison will make it easy. We’ll all be dispersed throughout other areas of the city, and in the interest of building stability in the Allied community, it will be a missed opportunity.

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