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RECIPE FOR COLLECTIVE COMPLACENCY: SOCIAL BARRIERS IN A
COMMUNITY-BASED AFTER-SCHOOL ENRICHMENT PROGRAM
A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF ARTS
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
To my mother, Ginger.
I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to all my professors over the past four
years at the University of Florida. They are truly responsible for sparking my interest in
finding novel ways to improve human lives.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ACKNOW LEDGM ENTS ........................................ iv
ABSTRACT.................. ................. vi
1 INTRODUCTION ................... ............................ ......... .. .......... 1
2 OVERVIEW OF THE STUDY SITE ............................. ...............2
3 CONTEXT OF LOCAL AFTER-SCHOOL PROGRAMMING.............................10
4 OPPORTUNITIES TO ENHANCE LOCAL PROGRAMMING.............................34
5 ACTION RESEARCH THEORY AND METHODOLOGY ..................................40
6 ENTRY TO ACTION: ASSESSING RESIDENT INITIATIVE ..............................44
7 A NARRATIVE OF ATTEM PTS................................ ................... 53
8 CONCLUSIONS ...................................................69
A IN-DEPTH INTERVIEW SCHEDULES.............................................. 82
B SEMI-STRUCTURED INTERVIEW SCHEDULES ................ ...............84
L IST O F R EFE R EN C E S ....................... ................ ............................... 90
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH .................................................. ............... 94
Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts
RECIPE FOR COLLECTIVE COMPLACENCY: SOCIAL
BARRIERS IN A COMMUNITY-BASED AFTER-SCHOOL
Chair: John Scanzoni
Cochair: Tanya Koropeckyj-Cox
Major Department: Sociology
This study attempts to address the reasons for consistently low child attendance and
low adult volunteer support during community-based after-school programming in a
disadvantaged African American neighborhood. Research began with immersion into the
after-school tutoring programming and local resident association meetings in the fall of
2002. Later, 60 semi-structured interviews were conducted with neighborhood residents
living with and without children to explore their views concerning the social aspects of
the neighborhood and their implications for local children's activities during their non-
school hours. In the summer of 2003, the experience culminated in a fortunate natural
experiment featuring a Participatory Action Research (PAR) component. Residents
mobilized and pushed their city commission to reestablish a well-funded municipal
summer program for children in the area. Eventually, momentum anticlimactically
collapsed when too few local parents completed the requisite application forms.
Following these discouraging developments, further motions to transform the
fundamental dynamics of the neighborhood's child enrichment programming to include
more resident volunteers were rejected by the director in charge of the community center.
The inquiry in this thesis focuses on how the contextual social characteristics of the
neighborhood and its connected institutions foster conditions in which substantive change
in the opportunity structure for local children remains hard to come by. The specific
neighborhood factors inhibiting resident participation in ameliorative initiatives are
examined in depth, with focus on features such as social divisions within the
neighborhood based on age, class, and residential tenure. These findings are then directly
tied to the nature of the director's largely unaccountable position within the neighborhood
and implicated in an overarching pattern of collective complacency among residents and
parents alike towards improving the programming.
This study attempts to address the problem of low child attendance and low adult
volunteer support in community-based after-school programming. Specifically, this
pertains to programming particularly geared to low-income African American boys age 6
to 12 years at their local community resource center. The central question of this
research is broken down into three parts for greater clarity within the text:
1. Why do so few local boys attend the programs in the neighborhood?
2. Why do so few adults, especially local residents, volunteer in the programs?
3. Under what conditions could participation levels be improved?
Chapters 2 through 4 address Questions 1 and 2 with a broad overview of
conditions in the neighborhood and within the programming. Question 3 required that
the study move beyond traditional methodologies toward an action research model that
attempts to devise novel solutions to confront the problems of low child attendance and
volunteer support. The contextual timeline in which this took place, the strategies used,
and conclusions regarding how the experience ties into relevant social science literature
are presented in Chapters 5 through 8.
OVERVIEW OF THE STUDY SITE
I moved into the neighborhood hereafter referred to as "First Street" in the Summer
of 2002. Over the next 18 months, I spent 4 hours per week tutoring children involved in
after-school enrichment programs at the local community center. Through interactions
with local children, fellow volunteers, and the director of the center, I became quite
familiar with conditions in the programming. Also, in tandem with this experience, my
everyday activities and transit within the neighborhood helped me to get to know many
local residents. Regular attendance at monthly neighborhood association meetings
offered a deeper understanding the area's history, demographic patterns, and relation to
institutional operations at the municipal level. My personal journals and the structured
field notes collected throughout these experiences allowed me to keep track and make
sense of my increasing base of knowledge and understanding of First Street. To help the
reader more fully understand the nature of the questions at hand within the context of the
First Street neighborhood, I offer my own set of observations and interpretations of what
life is like for the adults and children who call it home. Without this quasi-insider
information, many of my analyses would not make sense.
First Street possesses the following key characteristics: a high-proportion African
American population, a large public housing development, a high-proportion of low-
income residents, many single-mothers and grandparents raising children, and high drug-
related crime with related police presence. The neighborhood is about 35 square blocks
in area. Census data from 2000 indicate that three quarters of residents identify
themselves as African American. The remainder almost all identify as White. Female-
headed households make up two thirds of the households with children. A fifth of these
households were living below the poverty level in 1999. The average per capital income
in the First Street as a whole was about $9,000.
First Street is a socially isolated neighborhood inside the larger scope of the city in
which it is set. Residential areas populated mostly by white students and professionals
flank the neighborhood on three sides. All of its border streets are heavily trafficked
roadways. The only demographically similar neighborhood is separated by one of the
roadways. Even so, historically there has been a social gap between these two
neighborhoods due to railroad tracks that separated them up until 15 years ago. Within
First Street, this other neighborhood is broadly referred to as "cross-tracks" to illustrate
the deep-seated separation. The two neighborhoods have entirely distinct social
institutions ranging from their own small businesses and local clienteles to their own
political organizations, churches, schools, and community centers. Many First Street
parents don't want their children crossing the busy road necessary to get "cross tracks."
A primary explanation for adolescents' "failure to thrive" in neighborhoods such as First
Street is the social isolation/segregation characteristic of disadvantaged urban African-
American communities in the United States. This malady brings with it accompanying
levels of general resource deprivation, less effective families and schools, the
development of delinquent subcultures, and a lack of valuable social control over the
youth residing within these neighborhoods (Wilson 1987, Sampson 1997).
First Street once held a special place in Gainesville's historic African American
community, but it has since fallen from grace. Residents claim it has been disintegrating
socially since the 1960s. Desegregation marked an exodus of its most wealthy families
who left in search of a better life outside of the confines of the ghetto. Its once vibrantly
self-sufficient commercial district was slowly decimated as it found it could not compete
with lower prices that larger white businesses now offered members of the black
community. The epidemic of crack cocaine abuse and the violence of its markets
particularly scarred the local black community, much as it did nationally. Today,
residents sadly acknowledge that it is only a shell of its former self. The city's largest
newspaper runs history pieces on days that commemorate important dates for the city's
black community, which always seem to have a particular focus on First Street. There is
a prominent feeling of loss among the older long-time residents in the neighborhood who
remember its glory days.
At least one abandoned or partially demolished house sits on almost every block in
the neighborhood, visibly advertising the inability of the area to attract new residents.
Most of the houses in the neighborhood are quite old, and are built on land deeded by
Union forces after the civil war. Most have been kept within local families for long
periods of time. Many of the abandoned houses were seized after crises rendered their
owners unable to pay their property taxes. Many of these have been bought and
subsequently ignored by large property management companies. Others have been seized
and are slowly processing through the city bureaucracy to eventually be razed. Those
houses that do get renovated are immediately rented out to white students at inflated
rates. Locals either cannot afford such homes, or consider their rates exorbitant and go to
look for housing elsewhere. Thus, a pattern of gentrification is slowly changing the face
of the neighborhood. At least a dozen houses have been renovated and occupied by
students (like myself) in the past 2 years I have lived in First Street.
At one end of the neighborhood in which new student renters have tended to
concentrate, houses are much newer and often multi-storied. These streets are also better
lighted at night and shaded by luxurious oak trees during the day, making them especially
attractive properties. While this often appears to outside observers as "diversity" or an
"integrating" force, to long-term residents it may again highlight the trend of social
disintegration. The pattern of gentrification has not de-segregated the area so much as it
has created a more obvious racial and class divide within the neighborhood. Social
interaction beyond common pleasantries between these two distinctly different groups is
still very rare. In great part, this has root in the lack of cultural similarity between how
these groups express their values. A prime example of this can be seen in how these
young white renters, many of whom identify with the styles and values of the punk
subculture, strive to appear lower class in their outward appearances. Black residents, on
the other hand, often strive to show off higher-class consumer products such as flashy
cars, clothes, and jewelry. Such directly opposed displays do not foster communication.
Most homes in the eastern part of the neighborhood are owned and occupied by
older long-term residents whose children have long since moved out. A good number of
them, however, still have significant responsibilities in caring for their grandchildren.
The financial burdens of these elderly residents are often quite evident through the
outward appearance of their homes and yards, many of which are in obvious states of
disrepair. Grossly peeling paint, badly slanted foundations, rusted tin roofs, and missing
windows covered by plastic tarps are all easy indicators. Still, many properties in the
neighborhood remain remarkably well kept, evidencing the relative stability and success
of their owners. There have even been a few new homes built in the last decade,
complete with intricate gardens and landscaping.
Another omnipresent feature of First Street is the high proportion of houses
displaying at least one "No Trespassing" or "Keep Out" sign. This seems to indicate a
fundamental aura of mistrust and a widespread perception of imminent property crime,
even though the area has only average rates of theft and burglary. It is likely a holdover
from an earlier mentality common during the late 1980s and early 1990s when crack wars
made theft and violent crime a much more serious and rampant problem in First Street.
Drugs are still an omnipresent blight on the neighborhood and their presence is felt in
many ways. For a prime experience of these effects, one need only stroll down First
Street's main avenue. It is common to see groups of young men standing on the corners
day and night, moving only from one block to another. The only thing that moves these
formations is the appearance of a police cruiser. Police presence is quite high First Street
and especially targets the neighborhood because it has one of the city's highest drug-
related arrest rates. Drug dealers have a set lookout system that often utilizes local
children letting them know when to move off the block or take cover in nearby homes. In
my two years living in First Street, I have seen levels of drug trafficking ebb and flow
with policing efforts, but police tactics have seemingly not been able to reduce the overall
number of dealers doing business in the neighborhood.
Another indicator of the drug presence is the constant flow of addicts crackheadss),
prostitutes, and homeless men and women (these categories often overlap) constantly
wandering up and down the streets at all times day and night. A lone banner is displayed
in a resident's yard near where the majority of the dealing occurs, reading "Stop Drugs
and Prostitution in Our Neighborhood." This may indicate most residents' displeasure at
effects of the constant drug presence in First Street, but it doesn't speak well to such
resistance having any measurable effect. Homeless people are often seen pushing
shopping carts filled with collected aluminum cans past this banner on their way towards
the reclamation center. Over time, enough abandoned carts had accumulated in one
specific empty lot within the neighborhood to create a "cart graveyard" that had to be
brought to the attention of a code enforcement official at a monthly meeting I observed.
The public housing apartments are the center of the drug trade in First Street. A no
trespassing policy ("guests and residents only") represents an obvious anti-drug policy,
but has been remarkably ineffective as a social impediment since the dealers often have
close relationships with the young single mothers who live there. These housing units
were originally built for university students, but since their conversion a quarter century
ago, their landscape has deteriorated. The city only maintains the area sporadically and
many of the "front yards" consist mostly of dirt instead of grass. The nearby "tot lot"
built for local children remains quite poorly maintained as well. Its basketball hoop is
bent and many of the metal structures are dangerously rusty. This complements the run
down basketball court at the community center across the neighborhood. Many residents
think these conditions are representative of how the city discriminates against and
neglects the neighborhood as a whole. This is especially felt in regards to their priorities
concerning the well being of local children.
The neighborhood's landmark restaurant has a large flyer posted in the window
reading, "Young Black Man Beaten to within an Inch of his Life.... Stop Police Brutality
in Our City". This is an indicator of an underlying oppositional political sentiment
regarding the police within the local black community. The owner of the establishment
displays large evangelical messages on his customized SUV along with a large quote
below reading "been there, done that" as a reference to his past history with drug abuse
and spiritually recovered outlook on life. The restaurant also gives free food and clothing
to the homeless and indigent on a weekly basis. Nearby, a two-story building is being
used as a rehab clinic, a church, and recently as another tutoring site in the neighborhood
staffed by university students. There are three other churches operating in First Street.
On the two neighboring blocks, two poorly capitalized small business ventures operate
selling fried fish, barbeque, snacks, jewelry, and bootleg videos. A bit further down the
main drag is the remains of the neighborhood's largest storefront, now abandoned and
collapsing. The owner promised neighborhood association members a year ago that he
would have the building renovated to avoid having the city seize and raze his property,
but workers have not been present in many months and all that remains is an equally ugly
plywood fence around it and a "Trespassing = Felony" sign.
Over half of all children in First Street live in the local public housing
developments. Most of the children involved in the local after-school enrichment
programs reside there with their parents or grandparents. These are low-income families,
most of which are headed by single African American females. Many of these mothers
had their children at a young age. Some mothers living in the "projects" are known to
fraternize and occasionally cohabit with local drug dealers. These types of relationships
provide the dealers with safe haven from periodic police patrols while giving some of
these young mothers high profile boyfriends with access to quick cash.
Adolescent outcomes associated with growing up under such conditions are often
poor. Serious pit-falls range from juvenile delinquency, substance abuse, teenage
pregnancy, socio-emotional problems, and dropping out of high school (Brooks-Gunn et
al. 1997a,b). Furthermore, such outcomes become more likely where many forms of
disadvantage such as low incomes, single-mother families, drug trafficking, and public
housing cluster in geographic "hot-spots". They are thought to converge and intensify to
form greater-than-sum "concentration effects" (Wilson 1987; Sampson 2001).
Furthermore, the characteristics of disadvantaged neighborhoods directly influence
children's socialization processes by selecting of the types of role models youth are
consistently exposed to, especially those encountered outside of the home (Wilson 1996).
Ainsworth (2002) suggests collective socialization processes may be unparalleled in
importance when attempting to explain the effects of neighborhood contexts on youth
development and especially educational outcomes.
CONTEXT OF LOCAL AFTER-SCHOOL PROGRAMMING
Many neighborhood children have few options open to them to escape
disadvantaged environments. School is obviously one of them. However, most of the
boys involved the after-school tutoring programs are at already at risk for low academic
performance. The community center's director informed me during my time tutoring that
almost half of them had already been held back a grade level in school. The failure of
schools to provide formats in which often disadvantaged minority students can succeed is
often partially attributed to dissonance between the culture and values of the institution
versus those of the population they purport to serve (Fruchter 1984). There is a
concomitant value judgment in the black community that issues specifically pertinent to
African Americans should be ingrained within curriculum to foster motivation in students
and optimal educational outcomes (Lightfoot 1978). Utilizing such intrinsically
motivating activities has been found to be of great salience. These findings speak to the
greater psychosocial need amongst African American boys to feel well-treated and
respected by adults during activities, a likely allusion to self-esteem.
However, parents would have to propose such improvements in curriculum in order
to see them eventually enacted. Many local parents already seemed to be uneasy in
dealing with their child's respective officials and/or the educational material brought
home. This could certainly be interpreted as a result of many parents' poor personal
academic performance in the past. The director of the center sometimes acted as a proxy
between students who were struggling academically and their frustrated yet non-
responsive parents. Research proposes that African American parents often feel
institutionalized settings within schools tend to delegitimize their perspectives and hence
alienate them from the mainstream educational experiences of their children (Winters
1993). This finding is in concert with others proposing that school professionals often
consider educational decisions to be fully within their purview and that they resist
external parental programming, especially when considering input from black parents
(Chavkin 1989, Lightfoot 1978). Due to these constraints, parents may not be able to
take advantage of opportunities to influence their children's educational experience, the
empowerment that comes with such contribution, and/or the chance to network and
develop new skills through such interactions.
Despite common findings that African American students fare poorly in public
schools as compared with white counterparts (Kozol 1991), parental commitment to
educational achievement as a means to upward mobility remains unwavering. They tend
to hold their children's education as the highest priority behind respect, obedience, and
discipline in their child-rearing practices. This is even more pronounced among lower
income, less educated, single parents, and those residing in high crime areas. However, it
seems their aspirations for their children's education are not grounded in the current
academic performance of their children or on pragmatic strategies of how to make
desired levels of achievement more likely (Hill 1999).
It seems their families and schools may lack the necessary resources to secure the
developmental outcomes and academic success they hope for these children. With
improvements in these arenas seeming quite distant, the responsibility may fall to what
can be done in the context of after-school youth development. Thus, it becomes
important for these children to have access to quality after-school institution that are
effective as possible in filling in social, emotional, and academic gaps for young people
in these contexts. There are certainly different options open to parents in structuring their
children's after-school hours. Some attend their school's after-school extracurricular
activities. Many others go to day care centers in the neighborhood. Unluckily, a large
cadre of these children just "hang out" in the neighborhood after school. These young
African American males with excessive amounts of unstructured and unsupervised time
after-school in a disadvantaged, high-crime neighborhoods are at serious risk.
Researchers have argued that formulating safe, structured, and enjoyable after-
school programming reduces the risk of a variety of such developmental pitfalls (Brooks-
Gunn et al. 1997ab). Also, instead of strategies that hinge predominantly on risk
prevention, the "youth development" perspective emphasizes providing opportunities and
supports for youths within such programs as they strive to develop a wide range of skills
and social commitments within the community context (McLaughlin et al., 1994).
Bergin (1992) found significantly higher achievement measures in grades and self-esteem
of children who were involved in an educationally oriented after-school program.
However, requisite supervision in after-school contexts does not guarantee that
programming will be high quality or even beneficial. The nature of such effects is
believed to be dependent on the type of strategies an organization employs in their
The Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development in 1991 called attention to the
potential benefits of community-based youth development organizations. Such programs
are an especially important resource for students who do not value their school contexts
very highly. They especially appeal to young African American males, who seem to find
the treatment they receive in neighborhood-based after-school programs preferable to
what they receive during the school day. This may be a relatively rare affective context
in their lives, where they can feel safe, respected, and motivated. Thus, supports made
available to them here make the adoption of pro-social norms and improved social
integration more likely (Kahne et al. 2001).
The following is an examination of collected data that speaks to the first two parts
of this paper's central question, namely why child and adult participation levels in the
local after-school boys programming is so low. While I consider all my experiences at
the center data, I also took the time to step back from my position as tutor to examine the
workings of the programming from afar. The experiences I recollect and quote here are
from four separate occasions when I engaged in structured field observations at the
center. My sessions all got underway at about 3PM on either Monday or Wednesday and
lasted till about 5PM. I obtained permission to observe at the site from the director of the
center, Kandra. She knew me quite well from the tutoring I had done at the boys
program there over the past year. Kandra is an African American woman in her mid-
fifties who has been the director of the center for three years now.
The children that I observed at the center were all African American boys between
the ages of 8 and 13. The children were observed outside during recreational activities
before the tutoring sessions began and I later followed them inside to observe and record
the actual tutoring sessions in progress. I attempted to diversify my observations at the
center by focusing attention at different times on different component aspects such as the
director herself, the activities and interactions of the children before and after the
tutoring, the volunteers themselves, and their interactions with the children. In this way, I
believe I was able to get at a more coherent picture of the center's operations.
In addition, an in-depth interview was conducted with two neighborhood parents at
their homes to get these key informants' perspectives on what they believed to be going
on at the center currently and what could be done to improve it now. (Appendix A) Both
respondents were given informed consent forms and had the totally voluntary nature of
the interview verbally explained to them. Biographical information was then gathered
from the interviewee and the main theme of the interview was then stated,
"Almost everyone in the neighborhood claims to want to see more educational and
recreational opportunities locally available to children when they're out of school.
The center is available as a base for such activities. Why aren't more people taking
the initiative to help structure and participate in what goes on during children's
The first interview was conducted with a resident of the public housing projects in
the neighborhood. Jenny is a single African American woman in her late thirties who has
lived in First Street for a decade. She is currently raising two children in the
neighborhood. She had experience working at the center with Kandra in the past (for
pay), but left two years ago due to personal differences. Jenny knows most of the people
in the public housing developments and has some personal networks that extend into the
longer-term residents on the other side of the neighborhood. She is very well known to
most of the neighborhood children and is still involved in activities with them, especially
on the holidays. However, her two children are now only occasionally involved in the
activities at the community center.
The second interview was conducted with Dante, who originally hails from New
York but has spent the last five years living at his family's First Street home. Dante is an
African American man in his late fifties who is father to eight children. Most of these are
still pre-teenagers who live with him currently in Gainesville. He was once a promoter
for the club scene in Manhattan and retains his independent, creative style in his analyses
of the neighborhood. His wife enrolled five of their children in programs at the center
two years ago, but has since moved them to after-school day care due to difficulties with
Kandra and other children involved in the programming. His personal networks within
the neighborhood are not as deep or well developed as Jenny's, but he has been involved
in activities with trying to improve the situation for local children.
During my field observations at the center, there were always around ten boys in
attendance for the full length of the programming. It is important to note that the original
number of boys around for the pre-tutoring basketball games was always recorded as
higher than the actual number that attend the tutoring session. Some children are able and
choose to sneak away right before tutoring begins. It can be inferred that they don't wish
to attend because they feel they have better things to do in the street. Kandra, however,
does not acknowledge this fact. In the following observed interaction between herself
and a sports volunteer named Jared, she denies this situation. Jared said, "It looks like
you're missing a couple of kids." Kandra replied, "No, I don't think so." (9/22/03).
Attendance has been at these levels and lower for at least the past year. This means
that only about a quarter of neighborhood boys who are of eligible age are attending the
after-school programming at the community center. Jenny claims there had been more
children involved at the center in the past, especially during Kandra's first year in the
position, "When I was working over at the center, I had it packed with tons of kids from
[First Street] because I actually used to get out and walk to get my kids." (11/04/03) If
we take her at her word, we must then ask what caused these children to stop attending?
In my observations, the average ratio of tutors to children was about 3 to 1. An
African American psychologist who works with students at the University of Florida, Dr.
Brown, was brought in by Kandra on Mondays to work on social skills with the children.
In his opinion, "These kids are still behind in their schoolwork. We need to get them up
to speed, but I just don't think the tutors have the right skills or a consistent enough
relationship with a child they know. And there aren't enough tutors to cover the children
individually." (9/22/03) Kandra is directly responsible for recruiting and screening the
tutors that attend. During my observations, none of the tutors who came were locals from
the neighborhood. They were all people who either came from the university through
obligatory service learning classes or they were people Kandra knew through her
connections to other organizations such as the local chapter of the NAACP. In my other
experiences tutoring at the center, it was extremely rare for a local resident to volunteer.
Kandra seems to specifically recruit black professionals and activists because she
believes that they are especially good influences on the boys. It is thought that children's
perceptions of their own self-worth are enhanced when they have the opportunity to see
and work with individuals from their own cultural communities in positions of
responsibility carrying out valued tasks (Comer 1989). However, just because these
volunteers share some similar characteristics with the boys they tutor does not mean that
they intrinsically have a deep commitment to these children. Being outsiders, they have
no real connection to or investment in the lives of local children and their families.
Specifically, they would seem to have much less so than someone who is actually from
the First Street neighborhood. The following quotes from interviews labor this point
further. When I asked Jenny why she thought there wasn't much recruitment of
volunteers from within the neighborhood, she replied,
"Well, Kandra isn't doing it yet. She does she gets people from outside the
neighborhood. Even the parents of the girls in Girl Power [the girls programming
at the center] tell me that a lot of the girls in the program are from outside the
neighborhood. The center is for this area, not outsiders. Take care of people
around here first. I used to tell Kandra all the time that there's so much talent in this
neighborhood but we've got to find out what people like to do, especially for the
community. We had lots of people help out with the Halloween party this year."
Some of the quasi-volunteers who lived in the First Street at one point or another
have some harsh things to say about the character of other residents, especially parents.
Jared, who had been playing football with a group of the boys every afternoon, had been
forced to cut the games back to a couple days a week, specifically, after their tutoring
sessions. When asked why, he replied, "I just don't have the time anymore with my other
responsibilities pressing me, you know like my wife, my job, and my church." Upon
hearing that he was overburdened, I suggested, "Well, maybe we could find somebody
else in the neighborhood who would be interested in filling in for you on the days you
aren't available, like a parent or one of the kids older brothers." However, in response to
my proposition, Jared looked at me very seriously and said,
"Man, you've been out there with me enough to know no other people from around
here show up to help out these kids. They're too busy off in their own worlds to
care about what these kids are up to or what they need. You think they'd be acting
how they did if those type people were working with them now. Their behavior is
just a reflection of their environment in the neighborhood and in their home
situations. You know, these kids wanted to play a game against the city league kids
that share the field with us some days and I just thought to myself, man, they
wouldn't know how to act, they'd be cussing and fighting as soon as the thing got
underway and the next thing you know, the cops would be involved or something."
With the criticism some have of possible local people volunteer candidates not
withstanding, many of the current tutors are sporadic and relatively transient in their
attendance. There was at least one new volunteer on each day of my observations at the
center. (Kahne et al. 2001) found that supportive long-term relationships between
African American boys and the non-kin adults involved in their after-school
programming were one of the most often mentioned positive aspects of such programs.
Many of the boys these researchers interviewed reported that this was among the biggest
reasons that they attended. Those boys who reported they liked the activities more got
into trouble less often at the programs. Relationships between involved youth and the
adults who structure and participate in after-school programs are hoped to be supportive,
protective, and encouraging of achievement.
The psychologist's earlier reference to insufficient individual attention seems well
founded. In my observations, the more children a tutor was charged with, the less
effective the tutoring session became. The attentiveness and responsiveness of the
children simply declined. The children seemed to need the attention and praise of the
tutor focused on them more than was possible in a three to one situation. When the tutor
moved to help one child, the other would almost immediately get off task. Students I
observed reacted to attention shifting off them by laying their chins on the desk or staring
off in another direction. The volunteers were simply unable to multitask well enough in
such a format to maintain the performance level of multiple children simultaneously.
Other shortcomings of the tutoring program that came out in the observations
touched on aspects of the tutors themselves, the children, and the material they had to
work with. It seemed the tutors had little training in working with children. As the sole
exception, one of the center's most consistent tutors is also a teacher at the juvenile
detention center. The children that the tutors were charged with assisting were almost
always in different grades and working within different levels of achievement. This
made the tutoring all the more difficult to handle since the children were often working
on different sequences of material. Work could not under these circumstances be
streamlined in a group fashion.
Some of the children in attendance were also defiant and disrespectful to the
volunteers at times. Some of them, especially the younger tutors from the university, did
not seem to know how to respond appropriately to this poor social conduct. Through my
observations on one particular day at the center (10/22/03), it became clearer than ever to
me that this resource mismatch in the tutoring program was inherently frustrating to all
parties involved. It becomes obvious in this example, however, that the situation is
significantly more frustrating to the children involved. My field notes that day give an
illuminating picture of the situation.
A young African American woman named Gloria came in for her first day at the
center. She was a sophomore university student who was tutoring to fulfill the volunteer
requirement of a class called "Exceptional People". Gloria was assigned three children to
work with. One boy, Teal, was used to the routine and got to work almost immediately.
The other two, who had not been coming to the center very long and who were already
friends, proceeded in giving the tutor a hard time with getting them on task. One of the
boys, Maurice, didn't even attempt to get started on anything academically constructive.
Instead, he divided his time between trying to distract the other boys and just laying his
head on the desk. Kandra eventually came over to see what was going on and noticed
that Maurice wasn't doing any work. Since he claimed he did not have any homework,
she brought him a sheet of multiplication problems and a Newsweek article about the
new anthropological theories surrounding human decendency.
I believe Kandra chose the article because the magazine cover featured a drawing
speculating what the hypothetical Adam and Eve might have looked like. This drawing
gave the impression that the pair looked much more like present-day African populations
than present-day Eurasian populations. Kandra is highly concerned with an Afrocentric
curriculum and related decor in the center as a means to give the children self-esteem in
feeling good about their culture and heritage. However, the article turned out to be far
above the reading level of this ten year old boy who was obviously academically
challenged to begin with. Maurice struggled to read this piece as the tutor aided him in
sounding out the words. Eventually, she had to shift focus onto one of the other children
who needed assistance with their workload. Maurice quickly put the article away out of a
sense of frustration at the lack of sufficient aid, attention, and support. He began to try to
do the multiplication sheet, but since he did not seem to know his times tables very well
at all, he had to ask the tutor if his answers were correct on almost every problem. Most
of the time, before the tutor could even answer, one of the other children who were his
age or older and already knew their times tables would chime in with the answer, which
frustrated Maurice even more. The same thing had been happening occasionally when he
was attempting to sound out words. Eventually, he just put his head down and stopped
all work when the tutor was dealing with the other two children. She brought her
attention back to him after about a minute and asked, "Why aren't you working on your
math problems?" He replied, "I don't want to, I'm sick of this." At just this moment,
Kandra had walked into the room and heard this interaction. She said, "Maurice, I can't
believe you just spoke to Miss Gloria like that. You better apologize right now and
explain to her why you are being so disrespectful and not working on your math. We do
work around here Maurice, this isn't no place for games."
The boy looked back and forth between the two women, but no words came out of
his mouth. Instead, tears began to well up in his eyes. Kandra looked at him sternly and
said, "Well, what do you got to say for yourself?" He still said nothing and the tears
began to roll down his cheeks. The tutor looked sad as well. Kandra shook her head and
said to the boy, "Well, if you aren't going to do right by me and you're not going to do
right by yourself, then you can't be here. You are here to do your homework, but since
you claim not to have any; and I don't believe that because all the other kids at least have
spelling words, then you can't be here. Go ahead and get your stuff together and go
home." So Maurice quietly packed up his things and left out the back door.
The group began to work again and Kandra left the room. With only two students
left, Gloria was able to work more effectively. They began taking turns reading in a book
about Frederick Douglas, the great black orator and abolitionist. They talked about some
of the meanings in the passages in the first couple of pages, which were directed at an
understanding of the African slaves' understanding of Independence Day through the
meaning of the word "freedom." I thought the interaction to be quite positive. After they
had been reading and talking for a while, Maurice's friend Anton left to get a water
break. On the way back he strayed off to see what one of the other tutoring groups in the
room were doing. Kandra appeared back in the room again. He seemed noticed her
presence out of the corner of his eye and he began moving back towards his tutor to avoid
being tagged as off-task. Kandra called out to him, "Anton." In order to get back to his
seat he had to walk past Kandra. As he passed her, she called out again, "Anton." The
boy sat down and began to ask Gloria, "Do we have to read anymore...?" At that point
Kandra had walked up behind him with her hands on her hips and said in a loud,
intimidating voice, "I know you didn't just walk past and ignore me when I was talking
to you." The boy replied defensively, "I didn't hear you and I just wanted to ask Gloria a
question." She replied,
"Oh, and now you're going to sit here and lie to my face in front of everybody in
this room that just saw you do it. You're not even going to apologize? You know
what, you can pack your things up and leave too. Go on. You and your friend
Maurice will have to learn how to act around here. We will not put up with this
kind of disrespect towards people who are trying to help you. And you better come
back and have a long talk with me about this before you think about coming back
Anton remained defiant with a scowl on his face as he gathered his things and left
the room out the same back door as his friend. Everyone in the room stared. Two
children from the other room had heard the commotion and came into the other room to
watch. Kandra said to Gloria after Anton had left, "I'm sorry. I don't know what's going
on with these boys today. They're normally not like this."
Out of my observations and personal experience in the tutoring program, I can
conclude that although these types of interactions certainly represent the extreme
negative of the program, they are indicative of the underlying challenges it faces. I have
also witnessed Kandra on many occasions being very affectionate and understanding with
the children, so I am unsure if this represents an anomaly in her mood or if she just
thought that the children's behavior warranted discipline by dismissal. Still, the root of
the problem most likely lies with the structure of the activities at the center and not the
fluctuations of personalities.
Common criticisms leveled at many after-school enrichment organizations center
on widespread failures to provide activities that are developmentally appropriate,
academically targeted, and enjoyable. In additions, many seem to lack the ability to
provide for the development of meaningful long-term relationships between adults and
involved children. There is evidence that mothers place higher value on exchanges and
influences that occur within their social networks between their children and other non-
related adults. This can only happen in networks where concordance of values leads non-
related adults to feel that they have shared stake in the adolescent outcomes of local
children and thus take an active interest in their lives (Hirsch et al., 1994). Studies show
that social support processes mediate child development, but the characteristics of certain
children (poor behavior or lack of respect) receiving such support can affect adults'
willingness or enthusiasm to work with them or others. These interactions must be
properly mediated by persons skilled in monitoring such exchanges if they are to be
positive and rewarding for both parties (Maccoby and Martin 1983).
Children's inconsistent attendance and participation in programming may hamper
efforts to provide concrete benefits. This can also be a negative result of children
attending different organizations' programs simultaneously (Kahne et al. 2001). This
may happen often in the neighborhood where other after-school activities such as those
aligned with primary schools, or organizations such as the YMCA, or government
subsidized day care for low income parents competes with programming at the center.
The contrast between day care and the center's activities is important to consider. The
two local day care establishments in the neighborhood are close and do an excellent job
of keeping children off the street. However, they provide minimal services to enhance
children's academic success or skill repertoire. They have an incentive to keep children
happy because they want parents to continue sending them to their establishment so they
can collect inflated rates picked up mostly by the government. Kandra has no such
incentives and perhaps her strategies highlight this fact. Again, it seems that children
lose out at the end of this distorted youth development equation.
The tutoring activities do not appear to be intrinsically motivating to these boys.
The activities and overall tutoring atmosphere are a bit too conventional and a bit too
much like school. Since they just came from that possibly stifling atmosphere earlier in
the afternoon, it is not pleasurable to be plunged back into a poorly run facsimile of it
again just an hour after they get off the bus and finish their brief basketball session. This
rings especially true when taking into account the poor academic performance of these
boys at school and the frustration it must cause them day in and day out. Dante says,
"I really think that they kids should be involved to the point where they can play an
active part in governing their whole situation. I've been talking to a bunch of
neighborhood kids lately and the things they tell me make me think that there's a
whole untapped market out there because people don't listen to them. It's always
people telling them what to do or they just push them off to the side and tell them
that what they're saying isn't important. If you get the kids motivated by
incentives to not just go run around and throw rocks and not to as the alternative,
come here and listen to some flugies sit here and tell me about school. If there was
some kind of weekly field trips. Movie theaters, pawn shops, UF stadium, Ocala.
There are places to take them and things to do outside of the basic routine of come
on lets play some basketball and do some homework. Get them out of the
doldrums. Kids today are hip man. It's the same problem with church. My kids
fall asleep in church. There's a couple of churches that have their own little
churches for kids. They run it themselves. They have their own little deacons and
ushers and ministers and they run it. There's lots of kids in these places."
Here is some recognition that perhaps the activities in the programming need to be
more child-centered. If children feel as though they have no motivation, representation,
or responsibility within the structure, they will simply vote with their feet and not attend.
This is the continual fight that after-school strategists focus on: how to win the hearts and
minds of youth. The interviewees recognize this. Jenny told me of her experience,
"It's a lot of little things that they tell me that keep [the children] away [from the
center], a lot of different things about why they don't want to be there or why they
don't want to do this or that. A lot of little issues... But if you get out there and
give them reason for wanting to be there, they'll be back around. Being adults,
we've got to be able to find things that peek their curiosity. You know, something
fun for them everyday. I sat down and asked them what they wanted from us and
they told me their opinions so we tried to do the things that they wanted to do to
keep them interested and busy and at the center. I don't know if that's what's
happening now because you know Kandra has her own agenda. We had a problem
with this before, she asked me how I was able to keep them here, say for her Girl
Power program, and I told her that I just asked and listened to what they had to say
when I asked them what I could do to keep them there and keep their minds
Again, the problem of listening comes back to haunt Kandra. My earlier field notes
give an impression of her failure to accurately gauge the academic competency of the
children or their response to attempts at discipline. Her own ideas about how things
should be done within the context of her programming may get in the way of productive
activities. The same can be said for her interactions with local parents. The two parents I
interviewed have had problems in the past dealing with Kandra. While the following
excerpts probably do not represent the norm, there may be enough evidence of these
types of problems here to validate the criticisms beyond just bad personal experience.
"My wife had the kids go to the after school center and eventually they had some
kind of conflict down there and they refused to have the kids come back there or
something like that. It was definitely a conflict with the person who runs things
over there. She has ways of doing certain things..." (Dante, 11/06/03)
These two parents, who happen to be personally unknown to each other, seem to
have a unified critique of the way Kandra handles some of her altercations with children
in the course of her programming. While they view her as just another person with
human flaws, they realize these are magnified by her position and the social situation of
the neighborhood. Jenny told me in our interview that, "Kandra has her ways and she
always has. I like that she cares for the kids. But kids will push her to a point, but being
an adult you should come out of that better." (11/04/03) These two parents also have a
much larger and more scathing indictment of her (ab)use of her position as director and
the way it often seems to stymie the larger mission of the center to serve the community.
They seem to believe her intimidating autocratic style alienates both local children and
their parents and thus suppresses their overall participation in the programming.
"I think there should be more community people involved in the program and there
should be more people who are of this neighborhood sitting on the board of
directors making decisions about the programs instead of just one person in total
control of everything regarding who comes there and who doesn't come there and
what programs get run. Like the other day, they wanted to have a drumming class
or something over there and she decided hey I don't want you here on this Sunday
after letting them be there for a while. It was just disappointing because my kids
were involved in the drumming class and then Sunday we went over there and they
told us well Kandra doesn't want us here anymore and that was the end of that."
"Well, I tell you what really made me angry was a couple of weeks ago, my new
neighbor sent one of her two girls over there to see if Kandra had any more room
for her in Girl Power. I went over there with her and I've never seen Kandra turn
away a child before but she told me they didn't have any more room for this girl.
She really wanted to go because some of her friends already attend. That's what
scares me. We had our little dispute but I look over that and hope that our adult
issues aren't impacting her decisions about working with the children." (Jenny,
There seems to be fundamental disagreement over whom the center is "of, by, or
for." The respondents feel that it is too "of, by, and for Kandra" at the present time.
They feel there isn't enough community control over the center and its programming
decisions. They feel unable to constructively resolve conflicts that arise in the course of
programming. This barrier might be easier for them to acquiesce to if a remotely known
city employee operated the center. Then the dynamic would be a classic example of the
"expertise" of a larger municipal bureaucracy vs. the political and cultural will of a local
neighborhood community. However, Kandra takes a strong rhetorical line concerning
her pro-black allegiance with neighborhood residents. Thus, the lack of internal
cooperation and input taken from locals becomes all the more contradictory and appalling
"With one person in charge with a dictatorship-like position where they feel some
new type idea might be threatening to their job or their position they don't want to
have nothing else to do with it and normally it gets cut off. In some kind of way
we need to talk to the head of the finance committee or whoever is really in charge
of the programs to find out what's really happening. I think it could be improved if
she is willing to change her attitude and be a little more open-minded. This has
been going on for years now. A lot of people are ready for regime change already.
She's been more or less running the place since I've been in Gainesville and that's
seven years now. A change in authority definitely couldn't hurt. Short of that, if
she would just have an open forum and invite people for the neighborhood to really
make changes instead of them just being invited to bring their kids so she can look
good and make more money. Have some type of democratic voting instead of like
if your kids are [bad] like this here, we're not going top have them over here
anymore. Have some kind of alternative. Like if your kid is bad, have special
people set up to work with the bad kids. You never know the person's situation.
You don't know the reasons behinds these kids behavior all the time because you
don't know exactly what's gong on with their mother or if they're hungry or
whatever." (Dante, 11/06/03)
"It's like this... a lot of people have had bad vibes and incidents with Kandra and it
has turned a lot of people away and like one time this magician wanted to come,
this guy B Magic, and she had some kind of beef with this guy and I told him he
had to squash it because it was for the kids. He told me that she didn't want him
around the center. I told him that it isn't her center. It's owned by the city of
Gainesville. It belongs to the community. So I had him bring the magic show
down to my house." (Jenny, 11/04/03)
Regarding other parents in the neighborhood, the interviewees seem to have
conflicting interpretations. On one, hand they felt badly for the situations of many other
parents in the neighborhood and that there wasn't enough of an indigenous social support
system for those who really don't have sufficient personal or familial resources.
"These kids need some tutoring or mentoring around here because a lot of their
parents are single moms so we've got babies having babies. I noticed there are a
lot of situations where kids get put out of school. I'm in a situation right now with
a kid down the street and they're talking about taking him away from his mom so
we're thinking about adopting him and bringing him into our house. He's in
kindergarten and they're talking about putting him out of school. It's insane, I've
never heard about that kind of thing. Its his environment. His mother is involved
in a relationship with a drug dealer and all this guy's friends are in the house and
the kid has nothing to do and he has no one to look up to. When he comes around
here he calls me daddy." (Dante, 11/06/03)
"The kids want that attention and they want that love but again back to the street
mentality, that's all Anje (a local girl with behavior problems) really sees in her life
and therefore that's all she really knows. I always try to give her an outlet to show
her that that's not all that life's about. Like at the Halloween party last week I let
her come over here even though we both knew she wasn't supposed to be over here
and before the night was over with she end up you know getting in trouble for
fighting with one of the other kids. She's acting out about something, something is
not right at home, you know kids will show you things like that." (Jenny, 11/04/03)
On the other hand, there is also good indication that people in the neighborhood
simply feel as though the parents aren't taking enough personal responsibility for their
own lives, especially regarding their children. Residents who do take time to try to help
local children are discouraged by parents who are not fulfilling what they see to be their
own responsibilities. Unluckily, this is also conducive to people lording their efforts over
these children's parents as good deeds gone un-returned due to supposed character flaws.
"I went over there and talked with their mom about her children's problems and I
tried to encourage her to send them over, but she was just making some crazy
excuses. She better know it's going to be her fault when those boys flunk this year.
I don't know, people like that who are lazy, well, I just don't consider them my
responsibility." (Jared, 9/27/03)
"The problem is that you've got a lot of parents who just don't do the right things
for their kids. Like with Anje and her mom, I'd work with them for the longest but
Ijust had to give up. I went down that road with them but some kids just can't be
helped. They're more concerned with who's got this and who's got that.
Materialism, money, and jealousy. It doesn't make any sense how grown-ups act
like children. Your child did this or yours act like that. Some of them, I can tell
you, they're not [concerned], the kids come home and these kids are right back out
the door. The school may even call and they'll be like, "whatever". (Jenny,
Many believe conditions can't improve unless parents stop bickering over petty
differences amongst themselves and step up to take responsibility for getting their
children the things they need. Still, others acknowledge that there are other forces
besides poor character at play here. These two interviewees recognize that the social
system in place for parents in the neighborhood does not do a good job adapting to their
"I think the parents are too busy caught up in their own little worlds. I don't think
that it's that they're too busy. I also don't think there is enough information out
there to motivate them to think that they need to get out there and do this because
they should. Make it interesting for them and let them know exactly what they can
give out because when I was doing this my friends told me that they would help,
especially those who have children involved in the program. But still, you're not
going to get many." (Jenny, 11/04/03)
"Jealousy over how much money you have or how much money you don't have or
how your kids speak and how their kids speak. It comes from ignorance and a lack
of bonding in the community. We don't have a neighborhood watch or nothing
neighborhood with neighborhood people. You get a conflict between people
interacting in the neighborhood and they think this one is talking bad about them or
this one has more money that them. We don't know much about each other's
situations where if we all got together and had a forum about what the kids are
doing or if you're having trouble paying your light bill this month then maybe we
could help each other out. We need a more helpful situation. We always feel as
though people are out on their own." Dante (11/06/03)
Despite reservations about the character of individual parents, general consensus
builds around the idea that the social structure in the neighborhood isn't very helpful for
getting parents the help they need. There is little mutual aid, representation, motivation,
or responsibility of which they could take advantage of even if they wanted. This leads
to an environment where individual desires and disputes can run roughshod over the
interests of many needy residents and children. The backbiting from other parents and
residents does not serve parents in making the best of their state of affairs. Their
situations are too unstable to risk going out on a limb in search of a superior social
arrangement with other residents. They may have neither the resources nor the skills to
take on such a task. Thus they remain cloistered and disempowered. Perhaps it really is
a vicious environment in the neighborhood and the rational choice is to not rock the boat.
"Yeah, quite a few kids and parents are afraid of disappointment in these programs
because it's not solid enough that it won't start and then stop. We need some type
of structured programming that's going to be there all the time. They can't depend
on their kids being able to be there between three and six o'clock. Parents are
scared and they'd rather have something definite where they know where they
know exactly where their kids are so they don't have to be worried about them
wandering up and down the street because the center closed early today or they're
not allowed over there at the moment or this particular day. Basically, as I found
out since the time I've been in the neighborhood, the people around here are afraid
to experience anything new. One is financial reasons because they don't think they
have enough money to afford it and two, because they think that the community or
the city or whatever program gets started and they get involved and they start to
enjoy it, it gets cut off. So they feel like they'll eventually just be left out in the
ocean paddling with nothing else to do." (Dante, 11/06/03)
Their fears of inconsistencies in programming have merit. Many neighborhood
improvement programs have been very short-lived, much like the current situation with
local churches continually closing and reorganizing under new names and new
leadership. Two powerful programs catering to youth in the past both ended up
dissolving in under a decade. One was university sponsored and the other was city run.
Many residents and former participants remember them fondly, but also harbor
resentment that they stopped serving local youth who had no other real alternative. Each
had their heyday, but inactivity throughout the 1990s led up to the current situation with
operations at the center. Many feel this is better than nothing at all.
"I feel as though even with the parents around here, they feel that everybody is
getting something out of it but them. If they could feel as though this is their
program and they could get some recognition for volunteering their time, its not so
much money, but that they feel like they're not doing it. If the program did well
and got a write up in the paper, it would be the director that gets featured for what
she did and what the city did to help. Parents need to feel as though they're a real
part of the operation. Let them do some paperwork. Give them elected offices.
Make them take charge of handling an issue that comes up. Let them become more
involved and not so much out on the outside feeling like they're being used. I think
they're motivated to participate on the basis that they'll be in charge of something.
If Kandra could just step outside for a second and be like okay, ya'll got this here."
Parents are said to feel alienated from dealing with outside agencies whose
standards for their children they have to live up to without and direct rewards.
Traditional child-care arrangements are a one-way street. Parents are only the recipients
of indirect rewards in that their children are taken off their hands and put in safe and
productive learning environments for a period of time. However, these parents can't
really feel that they have had any part in this process besides just getting their children
involved. Their responsibility ends at this point, as does the possibility of more personal
rewards that might come to them if they were more deeply involved. It is believed either
Kandra's personality or the nature of her position, is not conducive to her relinquishing
decision-making power over the operations in the center. She would then run the risk of
losing current rewards for playing the "hero" in a poor neighborhood. However, this
overall mentality precludes the possibility of a situation whereby both Kandra and
residents could work together in such a way that rewards for both parties could be
"It's the whole mindset that a whole lot of them out here got that coming to
meetings means something negatively automatically when it would actually would
be much more positive if they came. The parents need to feel secure. The center
has never promoted itself as that kind of a place, which is why there are so many
parents who put their kids in day care. Ease and security are the buzzwords. The
parents don't even want to be on the street themselves, so they don't want their kids
out there either. Parents are scared of being cussed out and intimidated by the drug
dealers and now they have Kandra to worry about too. Either they keep their kids
inside or they send them to day care. They're also scared that these programs are
gonna disappear or not be open to them anymore. That university program years
ago was wonderful, but they left and people are scared that their kids are gonna fail
by either of those paths. They know the city don't care about them and they doubt
that they can even get along with their neighbors half the time." (Jenny 11/06/03)
"If you want people to come, you know, offer refreshment. Set it up where it's
enjoyable to come and it's not just a bunch of people sitting up there with pens and
papers and everybody is sitting there looking at each other. Offer some donuts and
coffee too. Then we could set up something. Maybe even an election process
where we people can delegate authority like a job. Get people really involved and
offer them rewards for performance. Get their names on the walls if they do a good
job." (Dante, 11/06/03)
As to how other residents and other social forces in the neighborhood affect the
ability of parents and children to cope with their often-difficult circumstances, it seems as
though the odds are again stacked against them. Jenny believes that some of the greatest
dividers and sources of inactivity in the neighborhood are residents who gossip amongst
themselves and regularly commit character assassination on others. There are many
stories swirling about how peoples' past conduct evidences their continued poor character
traits. In such an environment, especially with younger single-mothers being broadly
segregated from the older and more "decent" residents, the line blurs between what is
considered to be appropriate behavior and what is considered "street" or "ghetto".
"The drug presence and the police might not directly cause the parents not sending
their kids to the center, but they have a certain mentality because of these
conditions. You know, if you snitch on this here person or somebody else, you
ain't down with the clique, as they call it around here. I try to teach them that the
police are not their enemy, even though lots of parents will tell their kids that the
police are just out there to lock their family and friends up." (Jenny, 11/04/03)
"Everybody has a story in their life and a past but if a person is willing to give
freely out of their heart for as activity for the kids, then let them. Just watch if you
think something is going to go wrong. Don't let child abusers help out or let people
do drugs there. We've got a lot of good people in this neighborhood, but we've got
so many people who put other's characters down and knock a person's past. All
the negativity makes people not want to do these kinds of things. We can't tell by a
persons past whether them helping out in some way might also make an impact on
their life. Whatever they're going through, it might be good for the adults in this
way too. I thank Kandra for giving me a shot around there because when I used to
spend a lot of time shut up in this house and she gave me the opportunity to do
what I really wanted to do around in the neighborhood. It made me come out more
and gave me the opportunity to see what else I could do for the neighborhood. I
definitely learned some things." (Jenny, 11/03/06)
As for the people in the neighborhood who don't live near the projects, the kids, or
the single mothers, it is still thought that they feel the repercussions of poverty and the
drug trade. They take the impressions that they get of such "street problems" and then
apply them to the entire population of the apartments and those parents who live near
there. It is believed that older residents think much of this younger generation embodies
disrespect, irresponsibility, and trouble in the end. It is likely that they also feel these ill-
effects are a threat to their investment in the neighborhood.
"In this neighborhood, the people who don't live over here in these apartments are
the only ones who consistently don't have kids and they're kind of elderly. They're
very put off by the drugs. The dope guys disrespect their elders around her. The
elders have lost their trust. When the dope boys are out in front of their houses and
they ask them to move on they get cussed out. The kids are what they see as the
future of that mentality. I used to try and get the kids out to give the older people a
hand with things to show them that maybe the kids aren't so bad and maybe they
could get involved with them. Still, the police and the dealers throw a lot of those
efforts off track in the end. (Jenny, 11/04/03)
However, Dante says,
"I think they'd love to get involved if you get their motives straight. If they're
concerned about their property in the neighborhood then they'd want to get the kids
on the right track so they aren't destroying stuff or selling drugs on their front yard.
Maybe we could all get involved in an entrepreneurial venture with the kids. Give
them something to do to help bring back the way our older folks remember [First
Street] thriving back in the day" (11/06/03).
OPPORTUNITIES TO ENHANCE LOCAL PROGRAMMING
The ability to utilize local social support networks to enhance community-based
enrichment programs is recognized as an asset in field of youth development. When this
view is taken seriously at the neighborhood level, it may help answer many of the larger
socio-political dilemmas of overcrowded, understaffed, and under funded municipal
initiatives. It may cut reliance on politically beholden and often-unstable levels of
professional social services. Perhaps the largest drawback to such purely extra-local
programs is the instability of funding sources. Programs such as these are often the first
to be jeopardized and cut back in times of budget shortfalls, such as the one federal and
state legislators are currently encountering. Additional grant monies that help fund many
after-school programs are also vulnerable. Even when such programs are not being
scaled back, waiting lists often serve as a reminder that most still cannot accommodate
the sheer number of children and parents who desire this type of service (Norris 2003).
Furthermore, neighborhood-based initiatives may also provide an opportunity to
alter community social norms and attitudes to encourage the utilization of untapped
resources and skill development activities in the interest of local children. This holds the
added promise of simultaneously strengthening local relationships and capacity to act
cooperatively. Collective efficacy refers to a group's perceived ability to mobilize their
available capabilities and resources in an effort to attain a conjoint aspiration. Collective
efficacy rests on the larger dynamics and overall character of communities' social and
emotional cohesion their sense of trust, solidarity, and shared identity. This points to
unforced consensus within the community on value positions and especially strategies of
conjoint action (Tilly 1973). In most cases, the observed factors inhibiting collective
efficacy are not normally that of disconnect over core value judgments within the
community (i.e. drugs, violence, crime), but over specifics concerning the deployment of
resources to enforce such value consensus (Kornhauser 1978; Selznick 1992).
Levels of social competence, another dimension of collective efficacy, rely on the
abilities of individuals to use their perceptions of social environments to provide
feedback to the group which may allow more motivated and goal-oriented planning to
occur in a realistic fashion. Social competence, as structured by Gladwin (1967),
involves increasing the ability to learn to use different behavior patterns to realize goals,
negotiating to utilize resources embedded within a social network, and using contextual
skills to assess social realities. The quality and context of communication across varying
social terrain within the community directly moderate exchanges that produce normative
consensus (Small and Supple 2001). These ingredients are all necessary to develop,
maintain, and improve supportive relationships within a social network (Rohrle and
The concept of social capital refers to tangible and non-tangible resources found
within social networks that individuals or groups can utilize to attempt to achieve certain
aims (Lin 2001). Social capital revolves around the dynamics of giving and receiving
within relationships. It is a dynamic resource that can be created, maintained, and
dissolved, based on courses of action taken by individuals within a social system. Social
capital is created when relationships change among actors within the contexts of social
systems in ways that facilitate action (Coleman 1990). Thus, a model of social capital
zeroing in on the neighborhood level needs to first understand the dynamics of how it is
accessed in a specific social context. Only then will it be able to characterize the
processes of resource mobilization and investment in such a social structure, and thus
accurately predict the returns on such actions (Lin 2001). Furthermore, social capital
does not have to be thought of in the context of a closed social system of a community,
but can be open to outside resource development and deployment. Specifically,
individuals and groups may mobilize their social capital with other actors in congruent
social systems to give them access to resources outside of their immediate control.
If heightened levels of social capital and collective efficacy can positively affect
youth development outcomes within communities, then we must strive to find methods
by which to optimally promote these traits within communities. The key in this equation
is to find strategic means to do this in such a way as to add to aggregate resiliency to a
specific ecological context, especially those in greatest need. Building the capacity of
communities to provide enhanced mutual aid requires the instilment of such values not
only in the adult population, but also in ingraining such qualities and their rewards within
youth. An interactionall" approach views youth as both active recipients and providers
of various types of support. Furthermore, more malleable interventions originating below
the bureaucratic radar may provide opportunities to fashion programs that more implicitly
understand the specific needs of different individuals and groups within a community.
The burning question remaining is how to optimally fashion such networking systems
and resource allocation techniques to a specific ecological context with its particular
needs (Nestmann and Hurrelmann 1994).
The answer many overburdened after-school enrichment programs are looking for
may lie in larger community building efforts; that is, the efficient use of indigenous social
resources to make the best of macro-determined ecological settings. However, the
superficial nature of most recent sociological studies focusing on the neighborhood level
does not seem to help us find strategies for enhancing localized support networks. Most
of these studies rely almost completely on correlation research attempting to untangle
complexities of confounding census-based variables. Many such findings could be
applied to already existing conditions within First Street, but do not help answer the final
posed in this study. They are too contextually shallow to take into account mediating
community-level variables that determine the actual effects of social structure in specific
neighborhoods. They can really only serve as inanimate guidelines for theorized locales.
Even when a decade's worth of such findings are reviewed under a larger
contextual umbrella, their ability to generate insight for future interventions (not just
more research opportunities) is dubious at best. Top researchers utilizing this type of
approach to measure neighborhood effects remain skeptical of the induced superficiality
within current designs. Robert J. Sampson and his colleagues (2002) admitted after a
meta-analysis of such literature over the last decade that,
"Despite progress, fundamental questions remain. Even when directly focused on
social processes, the many differences in research design and measurement across
studies [reviewed herein] make it difficult to provide an overall estimate of the
magnitude of associations. We also know little about the causes of key social
processes or whether they are responsive to neighborhood policy interventions. For
example, what produces or can change collective efficacy and institutional
capacity? Although much effort has been put into understanding the structural
backdrop to neighborhood social organization, we need a deeper focus on cultural,
normative, and collective-action perspectives that attach meaning to how residents
frame their commitment to places. (pg. 473)
These shortcomings have been acknowledged before. Commonly used census-tract
or zip code data generally do not approximate boundaries of what have been called
"functional communities" (Coleman and Hoffer 1987). In trying to use easily accessible
large data sets that may overemphasize the importance of individual-level characteristics,
many studies have overlooked contextual community-level processes (Brooks-Gunn,
Duncan, and Aber 1997).
One of the most impressively intensive studies conducted in this field over the last
few years comes out of a mixed methodology research project in some of Philadelphia's
disadvantaged neighborhoods. Furstenburg and colleagues (1999a) used both detailed
regression analysis and qualitative interview methods to again try and gauge the strength
of variables predicting youth outcomes and reported back in book called Managing to
Make It: Urban Families and Adolescent Success. This contextual study is superior to
others using solely cross-sectional data, because it involves an analysis attempting to
determine effects of changes and exchanges in individuals and communities as they
change over time. Also, Furstenberg's study was able to pick up on measures of
mediating processes operating in the smaller institutional settings within schools,
families, and community organizations. Still, the analysis of indicators picked at the
census-tract level to measure academic performance, behavioral problems, and mental
health found no reliable means to predict cross-tract variation in neighborhood race/class
composition or levels of social capital. Neighborhood-level predictors of family
management strategies could not reliably predict adolescent success. However, when
levels of normative consensus between neighbors, institutional connections, and family
climates were high, the strength of informal social networks and locally managed
organizations fared significantly better in predicting levels of the three above indicators
of youth success.
What do these researchers have to say about what should be done to aid
disadvantaged families and communities via public policy? Furstenberg and colleagues
(1999) close their book with the same types of incredibly brief and general propositions
common within this field. They place emphasis on finding means to help parents to
better access institutional support systems such as schools and community centers. They
advise the construction of "functional communities" that give parents a place to involve
their children in co-socializing processes with like-minded neighbors and their children.
They advocate for increased government involvement at some level of this amorphous
"institution-building" process, but summarily acknowledge the subsequent federal and
state cutbacks for this type of social spending. The final half of this paper seeks to apply
new methodological techniques to attempt to further the search for answers in this field.
ACTION RESEARCH THEORY AND METHODOLOGY
One of the oldest and most durable theoretical paths within sociology centers on
attempts to more fully delineate the rational processes by which individuals and groups
create and change their systems of social relationships to better the life chances of
themselves and their closest relations. This approach is historically grounded in the
efforts of the early 20th century Chicago school to implement a community-based
methodology in their research. This "process sociology" attempts to buttress the
perceived weaknesses of pure "mechanical" or "organismic" models by adding an extra
dimension of socio-structural adaptation in response to ever-changing external
conditions. The focus is thus placed on the analysis of social conditions that lead to such
structural elaboration and the continually shifting strategies of interaction and
accommodation in complex social environments (Buckley 1967).
Anthony Giddens (1979) elaborated his concept of structuration in order to
emphasize the structural properties of social systems as both the medium and the
outcome of active, agentic processes constituting such systems. In this, he refused to
conceptualize any pragmatic differentiation between systems' statics and dynamics by
utilizing agency as the conceptual link between action theory and structural analysis.
This points to the inquiry process within the social sciences as a means to utilizing "lay
practical consciousness" that must involve "tacit knowledge skillfully applied in the
enactment of courses of conduct, but which the actor is not able to formulate
discursively" (pg. 57). Structuration thus refers to specific patterns of purposeful actions
and their perceived justifications that govern the continuity or transformation of social
The Participatory Action Research (PAR) paradigm offers us a means by which to
conduct more viable forms of community-level inquiry. At its core, PAR can be seen as
a democratizing, pragmatic, social change agenda via social science research. Action
research distinguishes itself by refusing to privilege the pure vs. applied distinction in
science and the corresponding gulf between thought and action. It attempts to produce
more valid forms of social knowledge via immersion in groups' attempts to organize
means to address and resolve perceived deficiencies (Greenwood and Levin 1998).
This current research endeavors to create what William Foote Whyte called in his
1981 address to the American Sociological Association, "social inventions for solving
human problems." The grounding for such inquiry methods lies in the conviction that the
most valid social knowledge can only be gained by attempting to change a social
environment. This can be thought of in terms of the most powerful research in the
biological sciences. A more full understanding of any environment can be achieved by
observing how certain stimuli cause change in an environment. Even using the most
complex tools, a biologist can only learn a finite amount of pragmatic information when
simply observing and measuring dynamics of an organic system. However, when the
environment of the organic system is changed by adding some form of stimulus, one can
see how such a system responds, thus opening up new avenues of understanding that
were unattainable from the stance of the removed observer.
PAR requires conjoint participation of the researcher within a social system as a
means to demonstrate solidarity and acquire a first-hand perspective. While biologists
cannot communicate on a higher level with the organisms they attempt to understand,
action researchers commit themselves to being "friendly outsiders" who work hand-in-
hand with the people who have the most intimate knowledge of any particular social
landscape. Action in democratic concert with these stakeholders is thus seen as the most
powerful way to generate intricate knowledge of a particular social world (Greenwood
and Levin 1998). This paradigm does not altogether shun the data of more "hands-off'
social science inquiry, but renders its methods and findings secondary to primary
corroborating evidence from ground-level feedback within communities.
Only by attempting to change current realities in this manner can we hope to
understand the true meanings behind the conceptualizations we create as social
researchers. This idea represents the PAR paradigm's attempt to bridge theory and
praxis. It not only collects data to cross-reference with earlier findings, but goes a step
further and attempts to assess the effects of certain types of "inventions" on the behavior
of the social environment as a whole. Community members, who represent fully
collaborating co-participants in any legitimate PAR project, gain knowledge and
empowerment through formulating and carrying out such "inventions" in pursuit of goals
legitimate to them (Stringer 1999).
A participatory process provides a much more valid standpoint from which to
collect data that potentially increases understanding of the phenomena at hand. The
reasoning for this is the common inability of outside parties to fully comprehend the
embedded meanings and contexts engendered in non-local environments. There is great
need for normally passive participants in social science studies to be placed in a position
where they can become full co-investigators of issues that affect their own well being.
This must involve suppressing the classical distinction between researcher and subject
and reorganizing this relationship into of one of mutual initiative and shared control of a
continual action and reflection cycle. For example, without the full involvement of local
stakeholders, researchers might interpret a subtle strategy of resistance as passivity,
quiescence, or apathy without the perspective of an acclimated insider. This would
hamper possibilities for successful change-oriented research and distort the realities of a
situation for later application of such knowledge elsewhere. However, attempting to
understand the complexities of conjoint efforts in diverse group settings normally means
that the PAR approach requires more time, effort, and commitment from social scientists
compared to a basic or pure research methodology (Greenwood and Levin 1998).
PAR can also be described as a form of co-operative experiential inquiry along the
lines of the philosophy first presented by John Heron and Peter Reason (1995). This is
based on the notion of aiding groups of stakeholders to more fully actualize their desires
within an integrated community setting. Such a process aims to expand the boundaries
of a collective consciousness ("conscientization") and allow stakeholders to expand key
forms of knowledge that allow them to execute plans that better their life situations. This
concept dovetails with another put forth by Bill Torbert (1991), "action inquiry", which
focuses on transforming communities and the organizations that serve them into more
efficient, collaborative, and especially self-reflective entities. This entire perspective
focuses on the creation of knowledge that has high external validity in action.
ENTRY TO ACTION: ASSESSING RESIDENT INITIATIVE
Sociology undergraduates from the University of Florida assisted in conducting 60
open-ended interviews with residents. By January 2003, my professor began teaching the
class he had incorporated the First Street action research ideas into. The students helped
devise two distinct semi-structured interviews for residents with and without children
living in their homes (See Appendix B). I pre-tested and continually refined the
interview questions with a few of my neighbors over the next month. Beginning in early
February and continuing through early April, pairs of students went door to door in the
neighborhood conducting a total of 60 interviews with residents in their homes. We
utilized snowball sampling to get a representative segment of people living with and
without children in different parts of the neighborhood.
The specific ideas for questions emerged partly from ongoing discussions with
residents in neighborhood meetings and on the street as well from my own areas of
curiosity and from sociological spheres of interest residents may not have cared to touch
upon. The measures we attempted to assess in this survey unintentionally fell very much
in line with what Coulton, Korbin, and Su (1995) used to assess qualities of
neighborhood environments that were deemed especially relevant to children and their
families. A recent study built on the aforementioned process by concluding that the
measurement of neighborhood norms can be strengthened by assessments utilizing
resident perceptions of parenting strategies adopted by others in the neighborhood
(Caughy 2001). Such norms assessed within these studies and our own should not be
emphasized in a "should" or "should not" light, but instead as the routine of behavior
patterns within a neighborhood.
Following this train of thought, our questions mostly pertained to residents'
perceptions of neighborhood social interaction dynamics, provision of social services,
residential stability, organizational participation, pride in the neighborhood, presence of
crime and social disorder detrimental to children, behavior of parents and children, and
value consensus across the neighborhood on such measures. Aggregating individual
responses on such measures can reliably assess all such aspects of neighborhoods with
the exception of social interaction patterns. Lack of cross neighbor connectedness and
communication may bias responses towards personal experiences only when assessing
levels of neighborhood social interaction (Caughy 2001). Our questions zeroed in on
patterns of child care and youth activities within the neighborhood. They also attempted
to open the door to resident suggestion concerning what had gone on in past after-school
enrichment and what might now be appropriate to improve opportunities for positive
The 28 parents we interviewed in First Street had an average of about three children
residing with them in the household. We interviewed mostly mothers, but fathers,
grandparents, aunts, and uncles were also represented. On average, residents with
children had much shorter residential tenure periods than those without children. They
were also much more likely to be renting as opposed to owning their homes. About half
of respondents with children were single parents and three quarters were female.
About half of parents interviewed reported that their children have some kind of
structured after-school activity, these mostly pertained to school-based sports programs
or day-care centers. Others reported lots of generalized play activities, either in the house
with TV/video games or out in the streets. Some of these parents said they were not able
to supervise such play activities since they are working during these hours. A significant
number of parents who reported that they are able to supervise keep their children either
very close to home and/or family-bound. During after-school hours when they can't keep
an eye on them, the children are with their extended families for supervision. One half of
the parents interviewed had family residing in First Street and tended to utilize them
fairly heavily for child-care. In these relationships, there was low reporting of reciprocal
involvement and/or formal compensation.
Over three-quarters of parents interviewed claimed to know nothing about the after-
school programming at the neighborhood center. Most of those who knew about the
programs already had their children involved. This may be reflective of the fact that very
few respondents in the total sample had any involvement in groups or organizations
within the neighborhood. Those who did were primarily church-based. Less than half of
respondents identified "close friends" living within the neighborhood, and those who did
relied on them only marginally for child care when compared with extended family use.
Around half of the parents claimed to know the parents of their children's close friends
well (more than just their names), but many respondents tended to use the names of their
cousins with children. They tend to trust other parents outside the family far less with the
care of their children and only rely on them for basic supervision around their homes.
As for how parents interpret the neighborhood environment, safety issues are not so
much a concern as exposure to the drug trade. They believe that bad influences abound,
from both adults and children. A significant proportion cloisters their children at home to
prevent contamination as much as possible. Others think "exposure with parental
explanation of the circumstances" may be beneficial for children, and still others contend
that "it is the same everywhere." Most parents believed that their children had enough
positive adult influences in their lives, with these mostly stemming from family and
church ties. Some concede that they believe that there simply aren't enough around to be
had and that sometimes over-protection might get in the way. Most parents also believe
that their children simply have too much unstructured free time on their hands.
Our interviews found a low overall level of communication between parents living
in First Street. In the small number of interviews in which genuine communication
networks were found, there did seem to be consensus on the issues of poor neighborhood
social environment and little structured activity opportunities for children. However,
there is a certain degree of underlying suspicion in these interviews that many other
parents in the neighborhood are less concerned with the well being of their children than
they should be. The words "lazy", "ghetto", "irresponsible" and "untrustworthy" came
up on occasion. This is often attributed to a poverty or "street" mentality associated
especially with single parents living in the housing projects.
Some interviewees deferred the question of whether they thought parents in the
neighborhood agreed about child rearing practices because they did not know many other
parents personally. Still, most said that they would like to have more cooperation with
other parents in the neighborhood. Most were unable to say exactly what kind of system
or intervention they would like to see put into place to make this a reality. A few claimed
that such support systems already exist for them and others, but not among the single
mothers who need them most. It was acknowledged that the center and the churches are
the only neighborhood organizations working with children and that they are not as well
organized or utilized as they had been in the past.
There was total consensus among parents that children in the neighborhood needed
and would benefit from more local educational and recreational activities. The main
problem they saw with bringing this kind of programming to fruition was that people in
the neighborhood, especially parents, were very difficult to motivate. Parents were
doubtful that people could be brought "out of their own little worlds" to cooperate on
such a level and build a structure for improvements. Some respondents thought that
parents would be too "defensive" of their current strategies (the implication being that
they haven't been doing a good job) to think critically and try something new. Everyone
would like to see improvements happen, but they were more apt to appeal to outside
experts and staffers from city government or the university apparatus.
When asked if they would be willing to help plan or participate in improvement
efforts in the near future, the majority of parents responded that indeed they would be
available to take part in at least one of the two, barring scheduling constraints. Many
were very enthusiastic about such an initiative and proposed personal skills and ideas that
they believed would be particularly helpful in building successful programming. When
parents were then asked how they though they would personally benefit from such
efforts, many suggested an undefined kind of aggregate benefit for themselves and their
children. This normally revolved around a sense making the neighborhood an overall
nicer place to live. Some mentioned structured activities for children making them feel
safer about their children's future in the neighborhood. Others thought positive change
might come about through changing residents' isolationist attitudes and providing for the
needs of the neighborhood's more elderly residents through service projects.
The 32 individuals we interviewed living without children in the neighborhood
tended to have much longer residential tenure, averaging about 20 years. They were also
far more likely to own their homes. The vast majority of these people had somehow been
intimately involved with children in their lives, whether the role was that of parent or
extremely close family member. Only about a quarter of respondents confirmed the
presence of kin currently residing in First Street. This was said to be much less than in
the past, and especially few people had related children living in the neighborhood. A
significant number of respondents made a point of mentioning that family bonds seemed
to them to have weakened during their time living in the neighborhood, concomitantly
with the tightness of community bonds as well.
Most respondents reported a strong sense of pride in the First Street neighborhood,
stemming primarily from long-term personal/family connections and its historical legacy
and prominence in the city's African-American community. Many residents say it is hard
to maintain this sense of pride in the face of powerful detractors such as the drug/policing
blight and the structural effects of poverty evidenced in the neighborhood's overall
dilapidation. When asked about feelings of personal responsibility for the neighborhood,
responses gave the distinct impression that in the vast majority of cases, actions were
confined to the personal domain around one's home or on their side of the block. Many
people said the problems of the neighborhood are more than they feel competent to
confront on any larger level. Some examples were given of instances where individuals
looked out for mischievous children or marauding crackheads, often intervening in street
disputes where people became too loud or belligerent. Many respondents reported
calling the police on occasion.
When asked whether they felt other residents held the same sense of personal
responsibility for the neighborhood, answers were divided in thirds. One third deferred
the question by responding that they did not have sufficient experience or connections
with other residents these days to make such a judgment. Another third felt that most
people probably felt the same and had fairly decent intentions as well. The other
proportion strongly voiced concern about the nature of other residents' commitment.
There was a feeling among some of these respondents that there is a distinct division in
the neighborhood between those who have lived in First Street a long time and have long-
term interests in mind (property, family) and those who are transient (renters).
Individualism in the neighborhood is thought to prevail over cooperative attempts at
neighborhood improvement projects with other residents. Personal responsibility tied to
work, family, and church commitments were especially prominent. Social functions at
churches aimed at larger-scale service projects were more commonly cited examples of
working together with others than neighborhood clean-ups, meetings, or yearly festivals.
Respondents seemed to feel that the sense of community in First Street is declining.
This is linked to historical community dissolution from desegregation and the problems
linked to what one resident referred to as "the other PCP" (poverty, crime, and policing).
There was a lack of connection reported between newer (younger) neighborhood's core
of older residents. In addition, two respondents mentioned serious infighting between the
more disadvantaged families in the neighborhood. Some people seemed genuinely
distrustful of the newer residents' moral fiber and their allegiance with the problems of
the street i.e. substance abuse, drug dealing, sexual promiscuity, adolescent childbirth,
and poor parenting practices resulting from "babies raising babies".
Half of respondents could not name a single neighborhood child they know because
they claimed that none lived near them. It is assumed that they all live in or near the
housing projects, which is also considered the epicenter of most of the neighborhood's
problems. Almost all said they were concerned about effects of the neighborhood on
children in terms of drugs especially. Other problems addressed were too much exposure
to poor role models on the street who may fight, have "dirty" verbal arguments, and have
altercations with the police. Outside of school and church, these residents expressed
worry over children's lack of structured activities and parental supervision in a
neighborhood that was described by one respondent simply as "bad news". Many people
gave examples of witnessing far too many children just "hanging out" on the street near
the "drug boys", even at night in some instances.
All residents interviewed wished that children (adolescents in particular) had a
place that they were proud to attend where they would be offered mentoring, tutoring,
and a variety other supervised activities. However, almost none of these respondents had
any conception of the programming currently running at the center. Those who did had
participated in one or more in the recent past. In addition, none could name any other
organizations that put on after-school activities for children. One resident believed that
what the neighborhood really lacked was a mechanism for contacting, organizing, and
persuading parents to take a keener interest in improving conditions for their children.
Most respondents thought that neighborhood residents as a whole probably agree
on child rearing methods, although some voiced concern about incidents of excessive
corporal punishment and neglect that had witnessed among poorer parents. The
consensus of respondents was that they though about half of the children growing up in
First Street today will live here as adults. Most would also consider staying a negative
outcome and a result of young black people being "stuck" in Gainesville with a poor
education and little hope of finding decent jobs. A few interviewees gave examples of
how people they watched grow up here and stay haven't done so well themselves. As an
example of this mentality, some respondents encouraged field trips outside of the
neighborhood as activities for children's programming.
In these interviews, there were lots of suggestions made for children's activities
that they would like to see implemented in the neighborhood, and 60% of respondents
said they would want to be involved. Still, some of these interviewees made qualifying
remarks and caveats that gave the impression that people were more obliged to step into
an existing organization with prearranged structure and resource allocation than to help
formulate a new one themselves. Others felt the city and/or the police were likely to co-
opt such an endeavor. Some simply doubt that parents in particular could ever get their
act together enough to make programming workable. As for how they see this project
possibly benefiting them, most of these residents just want their neighborhood and the
people who live in it to look and feel more respectful.
A NARRATIVE OF ATTEMPTS
I spoke with Kandra about the problems of low child attendance and volunteer
participation quite a few times. I came to understand through our interactions that she did
not feel much could be done to immediately improve the situation. When I suggested
that we go door to door in the neighborhood in an effort to recruit more volunteers and
children for the programs, she supported my initiative, but indicated that she would not
be willing to participate in this effort. Kandra seemed to have little confidence that
residents could be brought into the fold in such a manner, if at all. While her long history
working in the city's African American community led me to trust her judgement to a
certain degree, I could not bring myself to completely accept such an assertion. By this
time, I was quite familiar with the social patterns of the neighborhood. I had gotten to
know quite a few of the parents of children I tutored on a personal basis and her
characterizations of them as uninvolved and obdurate were now slightly unsettling to me.
Her quick dismissal of them as possible resources seemed a reflect more a self-
constructed barrier between herself and the population than genuine disinterest.
She did, however, encourage me to bring my friends and student associations to aid
in the programming. I tried this route. Friends of mine came for a while, but they were
often unreliable due to distance constraints and other personal obligations. Also, I
noticed that many of my white, college-educated counterparts had trouble relating to the
children they were tutoring (the hip-hop generation), both from a socioeconomic and
cultural standpoint. Their attendance eventually tapered off into non-attendance. While I
felt that when utilizing this volunteer group, such shortcomings would always be the
case, I pushed forward towards creating what I hoped would be a more institutionalized
and consistent framework within the university's offices of community service.
Approaching this organization was not difficult since students who were my peers
ran most of its operating branches with the oversight of a single university employee.
However, I came to find that even in middle of the Fall semester, they were unwilling to
change their already strained volunteer apportioning for that semester or the next to
accommodate the needs of First Street that I articulated. Despite the neighborhoods'
relative proximity to campus in relation to their other volunteer sites, the students I dealt
with had never heard of it. They specialized mostly in service projects for the large tracts
of public housing in the far eastern portion of the city. My neighborhood was not as poor
nor as visible as these other locales. Also, they had trouble understanding why First
Street needed one of their programs if it already had one in place. Supplementing
existing frameworks did not seem to be in their playbook. Still, I continued to push
through the bureaucracy to try and get Kandra what she wanted. I went as far as to apply
for a summer internship position in which I believed I might be able to personally ensure
support for the next Fall. The more time I spent in the neighborhood and with the kids at
the center, the more I felt personally responsible for making improvements happen.
Following a flyer left at my doorstep one evening, I began to regularly attend
monthly neighborhood association meetings at the center. There was always a visible
core of about five older neighborhood women who controlled the flow of the meetings,
but initially there was a handful of other concerned residents who attended. The issues
were consistent, mostly revolving around police reports on their strategies to stem local
drug trafficking, discussion of dilapidated homes needing to be razed with associated
property code violations, and planning for special occasions. Issues concerning children
or families were never mentioned. Being a white student outsider, and recognizing that
there was already a patterned routine in place for these meetings, I did not initially bring
them to bear. There were those in attendance who were noticeably more radical than the
core members on issues of neighborhood blight. These folks wanted to see all the drug
dealers arrested and imprisoned or all the run-down houses demolished in one fell swoop.
Their impassioned outbursts were sometimes well received, but none of the officials in
attendance from the city or the police seemed capable of accommodating their vision.
Thus, they became frustrated with the inaction and the way the meetings were run and
permanently retreated from the setting.
Seeing this pattern, I was careful to try and introduce my concerns for local
children in such a way that I was not perceived as a threat. I offered this problem as a
topic of discussion only as a side note when the other issues had passed their allotted
time, as not to co-opt their designated prominence. At the meeting in which I spoke up,
there were only two parents in attendance, but they eagerly approved of my interjection.
Kandra was not in attendance for this particular meeting. As in all other issues brought to
bear in such meetings, the response was directed at the city. Members lamented the poor
facilities for children in the neighborhood. The "tot lot" on First Street's main drag had
long languished in disrepair. The basketball hoop outside the center was bent and had not
been fixed for years. In addition, the city's department of parks and recreation had closed
off a building directly adjacent to the center to use as a storage facility for their other,
better funded recreation centers. Kandra had told me in the past that the only reason the
center was open to the public at all was because a non-profit group she had helped found
was under contract from the city to operate at a fraction of the cost of their other centers.
People at the meeting came out and said the issue was historic patterns of discrimination.
In response, the chairman of the meetings, a man who had once been mayor, but
who was no longer a neighborhood resident, was designated as a special envoy to our
district's city commissioner on this matter. The next month, the regularly scheduled
neighborhood meeting was surprisingly co-opted altogether by a special meeting on
something called the "model block program". This was billed as an attempt to start a
cascade effect of structural rehabilitation throughout the neighborhood by selecting a
small number of blocks and pouring grant money into making the property more
attractive. Our district commissioner, Mr. Wally, had walked into the wee hours the
night before hand delivering flyers door to door in the neighborhood to encourage
attendance. A remarkably large number of residents showed up to hear the developers in
charge speak about their plans and receive feedback from residents. While the attendees
were mostly composed of long-term, older residents, there were so many people that
there was no more space left in the center's meeting room. This attendance gave me
hope that when something big seemed to be happening that residents cared strongly
enough about and were duly informed of (even on short notice), they would come. This
made me think that perhaps the meetings were simply not advertised well enough. Thus,
I volunteered to distribute flyers throughout the entire neighborhood for the next month's
The older residents who consistently attend the meeting are the closest things to
representatives for the eastern side of the neighborhood. The monthly residents'
association meetings have been poorly attended as long as I have been going to them.
The characteristics of attendees has not really changed. There is a small group of
committed older men and women who dominate the forum. They are highly organized in
that they are versed in local political happenings and formal meeting mechanisms. They
have interest in the future of the neighborhood with their property holdings and/or
remember it in its glory days and would like to see it revived. However, there were other,
younger, and more contentious voices at the meetings last year during the uproar over
lack of children's summer programs and a drug escalation in the neighborhood. Within a
couple of tries, these folks eventually became frustrated with the suffocating formalities
of the meetings and realized that either no one wanted to hear or no one felt compelled to
act on their radical vision and strategy.
The police tend to dominate the meetings because the principal area of interest to
the people who come to the meetings has always been the drug problem. Older residents
see it as a new blight on their community to add to the poverty they grew up with, and
they would like to see the police simply remove it. Their age means that for the most
part, they didn't grow up with the drug culture close enough at hand to understand the
nature of this beast, which spans social, political, economic, and cultural realms in the
community and in the nation at large. Thus, they are always appalled by the perceived
inability of the police to eradicate the problem for good. The issue of drugs is always
followed up by concern with the physical dilapidation of the neighborhood, which has
worsened. This is where codes enforcement comes in. They believe they can simply
destroy or punish people into hiding the effects of historical elements of poverty.
The only other thing that gets substantial airtime in these meetings are special event
planning sessions. There are the holidays; there are neighborhood cleanup, and the
annual arts festival of which Kandra is in charge. These things, which make the
neighborhood look and feel better superficially and sporadically, are prime topics of
interest and bones of contention over the right ways for them to be done. However,
addressing issues that concern the general population of the neighborhood, which often
do not coincide with these middle class older women, like police harassment, finding
jobs, bettering educational situations for children and adults alike, and helping out the
single mothers and grandparents with child care, are almost uniformly ignored. These are
hard questions that require sustained and seemingly selfless efforts to accomplish for a
group of people these women have far less commonality with.
Disappointingly, despite my delivering flyers to all the homes in the neighborhood,
the same traditionally small number of people attended the next month. To make matters
worse, when the chairman was reminded of the responsibility he had been charged with
and why he had been chosen (his insider ties to city government officials), he reported
that he had forgotten to request an audience with the city commissioner at all. The issue
was once again dead on the floor, drugs and demolished houses having seemingly
trampled and forgot about it in the end. There being no one else to designate
responsibility to, I was given the go ahead to try and secure a meeting with the
commissioner myself. I couldn't help but wince when Kandra later said to me, "See, that
is what I'm talking about. Some people are simply unreliable."
While I was waiting the standard two weeks for my appointment with Mr. Wally,
an opportunity arose. One of my sociology professors expressed an interest to me of
doing an action research project as part of his next class on the American family. We
talked over the possibility of using the problems with after-school activities in my
neighborhood as a platform. I went back to discuss the possibility with involved parties.
Kandra had no problem with the idea of the initiative when I explained that it would
potentially bring more resources to her programming. However, apart from this tacit
endorsement, she did not commit to any support or involvement at this point in time. My
feeling was that she wanted to see the current of the idea before taking the plunge herself.
My meeting with Mr. Wally was quite receptive, considering that I myself (a white
student transient) was unrepresentative of his constituency within the district. I told him
of problems associated with the tutoring program in First Street, emphasizing the fact that
low volunteer support in the programs was constraining the number of local children
Kandra could adequately serve. I then explained to him the idea of using students to
interview neighborhood residents as to the social climate in the neighborhood that might
be preventing their participation. I told him my hope was to be able to find ways to
promote a programming system within the neighborhood that would encourage more
adults to volunteer and involve their children. He made a point to second my concerns
wholeheartedly and endorse any future efforts that I would undertake. His impression of
the challenges that the children faced, however, were still focused much more on the
problem of drugs in First Street than mine had been. He switched the topic of
conversation to a south Florida anti-drug crusader whom he had been courting to lead a
resident protest past some of the known drug houses in the neighborhood. His plans on
the drug war front were much more specific and thought out than his platform on the
educational and recreational needs of children in the area.
The same could be said of the local police lieutenant who I also consulted on the
matter. His ideas for the children involved providing small monetary incentives for good
grades on their report cards, a technique he had applied in the past when the department
had more disposable funds available for disadvantaged children. In an attempt to consult
all of the stakeholders involved in this arena, I also consulted with the members of the
First Street Neighborhood Association at one of their meetings. In the same manner, they
voiced their support for improvements, but did not offer any concrete assistance to such
efforts. Still, all parties seemed to be pledging their support of any initiative which
would help get the children the after school opportunities they needed to keep them off
the streets and involved in productive and supervised enrichment activities. My hope was
that the initial exploratory nature of the project would help make us aware of avenues that
could be utilized to normalize local support patterns in the after school realm.
During the April neighborhood association meting, a few neighborhood parents
voiced concern that the city was not offering a First Street branch of their summer
recreation program. These parents voiced concern that they would have to transport their
children to and from another city program miles away and that other less fortunate
children would have to walk. In turn, it was thought that this would lead to less total
children from the neighborhood being able to attend the city programs at all. This was
because many of the disadvantaged parents were expected to not allow their children to
make such an unsupervised daily commute and instead place them in locally available
daycare or simply keep them around the house. The neighborhood association members,
especially the chairman, were outraged that the city had not earmarked First Street as a
location for their programming. They saw this as another act of ongoing discrimination
and vowed to force the city into complying with their demands for the programs.
In response, the next month's meeting featured the presence of the city's assistant
director of parks and recreation, the agency responsible for the summer programming.
After listening to the grievances of the board and parents in attendance, the man justified
the apportioning by claiming that budget shrinkages had forced the agency to cut back
their most poorly attended recreation site, First Street. He showed the board the average
attendance numbers from the summer before as proof. Kandra brought to light during the
meeting that the same problem had happened the year before (unknown to the association
members) and that she and other concerned residents had been forced to go door to door
to collect enough applications themselves. Kandra claimed that the applications had been
far too complicated to complete and that this deterred parents from registering their
children. The man from the agency re-emphasized that the city had no choice in this
matter and proposed that perhaps a transport van could be sent from First Street to get
children to the next closest recreational center and back. The people in attendance that
night were still miffed by their neighborhood's exclusion and began to organize an appeal
to the higher-ups at the biweekly city commission meeting.
At this time, I began circulating a petition with the help of a neighborhood resident
and a few of the students from the class who had signed up to continue working on the
project through the summer for individual research credit. We did so not to gauge or
display neighborhood support on the issue (who wouldn't support children having local
recreational opportunities), but more to get an idea of how many children and parents in
the neighborhood wanted the services. In the process, many people were informed of the
situation at hand and a few even volunteered to help.
By marshalling the collective resources of the personal information on the
interviews, the petition, and Kandra's connections, we were able to make a strong
showing at the city commission meeting in the first week of May. A large contingent of
about 30 neighborhood parents and children made a big effort by carpooling to the
meeting to make a stand on the issue. When our time to speak came, there was a parade
of parents in attendance who pleaded with the city commissioners to grant their
neighborhood a program. Knowing beforehand that the overstretched resource argument
would be employed, we parlayed a position whereby we were willing to complement city
staff for the programming with local resident and student volunteers. The mayor, who
presides over the city commission meeting, was enthused by the grassroots showing and
commended our caravan for our efforts. He immediately called for a response from the
only official from the Department of Parks and Recreation in attendance.
This person relayed the same message to the mayor about their budget shortfalls
and their inability to operate another summer activities site within such limitations.
Hearing this, the mayor then chided this official for not listening to our proposed plan of
action in the manner that we deserved. He said that what he had been hearing was a
desire to work together with the department on the issue from a community-based
perspective. This, he believed, was an outstandingly fresh and creative notion that
needed to be explored. Since the matter could not be properly discussed at the time
without the top director of the department present, the mayor called for one of the
commissioners to start a motion to take up this matter anew at the next meeting. This
was jumped upon by Mr. Walnut and was summarily seconded by two other
commissioners. The mayor gave us a final endorsement and had the issue promptly
scheduled. The dozen or so children in attendance sensed victory and began clapping and
yelling ecstatically, prompting an "order in the court" type response from the mayor.
With these new developments afoot, the second week of May seemed to be the
appropriate time to hold a general neighborhood meeting with special invitation to the
past interviewees. A few students who stayed to work on the project over the summer
helped me flyer the neighborhood to advertise for the Wednesday evening meeting. In
addition, we attempted to call back all of the interviewees who had said they would be
interested in attending the meeting. When the time came, only a handful of parents and
residents showed up for the meeting, which was utterly disheartening for the organizers.
It looked much like a monthly meeting of the neighborhood association, but with
different faces. There were a couple of long winded and enthusiastic speeches given by
people present who had worked with neighborhood children in the past, but little concrete
planning occurred. In response, those in attendance collectively decided that it would be
a good idea to make these meetings a weekly scheduled event so that perhaps interest
would grow and people who were unable to attend tonight would be able to in the future.
However, the next Monday night, we were back on the city commission roster to
resolve the matter once again. This time, the director of Parks and Recreation for the city
had prepared a rebuttal to our case. She said that her numbers from the summer
programs from the year before showed that the First Street site had the lowest attendance
of all the city's sites and thus was the obvious place to start cutting their budget costs.
The neighborhood group had shrunk considerably from the previous presentation and
now included just Kandra, myself, and one resident. I presented census information at
this meeting showing that the number of children living in First Street was actually larger
than the number living in the next closest (and smallest) site. Kandra presented copies of
the petitions we collected in the neighborhood, which showed many parents with over 60
children aggregate that were in support of a local summer recreation site. The director,
getting frustrated at this point, contended three points via PowerPoint presentation: 1.
Signatures are meaningless unless applications are actually completed 2. There was not
enough money in their budget to open another site 3. Summer programs were set to open
in under three weeks, not allowing enough time to get additional staff to cover a new site.
Again, we responded that we were proposing a volunteer supplemented
programming option that would help with the budget and staffing shortfalls. The issue
was hotly debated among commissioners and city staff, but with mayor still in favor of
our innovative strategy, we got another chance. He allowed us the opportunity to gather
a compelling number of completed applications from interested parents and opened up
the possibility of using some emergency municipal funds should our endeavor prove that
it had sufficient merit. In the elevator leaving the meeting, we encountered the
Recreation and Parks director and her assistant, who at this point seemed noticeably
nervous about the possibility of having to revamp their whole program. They scheduled
a time with us to meet at the center and negotiate possible details.
In the two weeks that followed, residents living with children who had signed our
petition were given the application forms at their homes. This saved them the trouble of
having to go to the center to pick them up. We handed out over 60 forms to parents who
specifically asked for them. Many were extremely enthusiastic about having a summer
activities center opening up in the neighborhood. Some parents even took applications
for friends, family, and neighbors they thought would be interested. Kandra waited for
the forms to be returned to the center so she herself could take them downtown.
However, as time passed, we began to worry about the low numbers of forms being
returned. Kandra revealed that she had these same problems the year before when many
parents claimed to be having trouble filling out the forms. Kandra said they were
"complicated." What she meant is that the Department of Parks and Recreation operated
their programs on a sliding scale fee system. This meant that parents had to prove their
income to determine what they would be charged for the summer program services. If
they did not prove their income, they defaulted into the highest pay bracket, which was
around $75 dollars a week per child enrolled. However, many of the parents, if they
proved their income, would qualify for free tuition or very low weekly payments.
Proving their income meant they had to get a copy of their tax returns for the previous
year. For the lower income residents, many of them living in the housing projects, this
meant they would have to negotiate the welfare system in order to procure evidence of
their financial status.
In the meantime, the weekly Wednesday meetings had attracted a small group of
committed parents. We had begun to plan specific activities for the summer program
utilizing neighborhood residents. The list of proposed people and activities was
becoming quite impressive. We had propositions for sports, arts and crafts, modeling,
dance, self-defense, puppeteering, and even computer activities. However, when it
became apparent that the entire endeavor was in danger due to lack of completed
applications, the discussions switched to survival strategy mode. We talked about
provoking a standoff with the city whereas we would simply have the children dropped
off at the center on the first day and begin activities whether the center had been
recognized as an official site or not. The problem became how to accommodate large
numbers of children in the small rooms in the center. The building adjacent to the center
had been proposed as a sticking point to bring to the attention of the city. It had been
closed for the city's storage use in staging summer programs at other city sites and was
off limits to our needs until opened and cleaned out.
A few days before the next meeting with the city commission, the director of Parks
and Recreation showed up at the center for our meeting. Although we had tried to
remind and stay persistent with neighborhood parents to turn their completed forms in,
most had not. We only had 23 completed forms in Kandra's office when she came. The
director spoke to us for a while in trying to come up with strategies for our volunteer
supplemented version to mesh with their more conventional program, but once she found
out about the number of completed applications in, her tone changed. At this point, she
had decided that the volunteers would not be able to work within their current program
schemes. This was said to be because they would not be able to work more than a couple
hours at a time, making the coordination of activities too difficult and contingent on
punctuality that could not be expected from the general public. Also, she claimed that all
volunteers would have to be evaluated by the city through fairly extensive criminal
background checks, which would take more time than we had left before the scheduled
starting date of the programs. When the last meeting with the city commission arrived,
the small cadre of parents accompanied us to city hall. We presented the 30 or so
applications we had in at the time as evidence of parental demand and asked for more
time. By this time however, a sufficient number of the city officials had lost patience and
faith in our endeavor. We were told that our attempts at getting a program for First Street
now seemed completely unfeasible.
Kandra set up programming at the center during the summer months, but only a
dozen or so children attended regularly. Most of these were the children who had to
attend summer school and didn't get to the center until noon. Many of the children from
the neighborhood ended up attending the next closest center, although the city never
provided the van transport they had promised earlier on in the process. Parents couldn't
turn down the benefits of free lunch and numerous field trips that only the city could
afford to provide. Also, Kandra believed she would now come under fire from the city
for supporting the initiative in the first place and chose to consolidate her programming
into total "cultural" activities. She felt that this would differentiate her programs from
those of the city and in that way not invite direct competition or comparison. However,
this meant that she wouldn't allow any outside athletics besides just shooting around on
the one outdoor basketball hoop. She ran many of the volunteer supported programs that
we had discussed earlier at meetings like puppet shows, piano lessons, dance, modeling,
music, karate, arts and crafts, etc.). Still, the problem was that these activities were run
so intermittently during the week that many of the children became disillusioned with
waiting around the center all day for a few programmed events to happen. The number
of children in attendance dropped throughout the summer months as they avoided or were
banned the center (due to poor behavior) more and more and their parents were forced to
find other activity options for them. Also, Kandra became much stricter with outside
input on how the programs were run and she became increasingly focused on the children
learning standardized demonstration routines that could be performed at the end of the
summer in her own personal showcase downtown. When the summer ended and the
school year began anew, the programming at the center was much as before, if not even
more strained by low participation from adults and children.
The title for this paper, "Recipe for Collective Complacency", functions as a
metaphor for the overarching findings within this study. The specific social
characteristics and processes present in First Street comprise the ingredients, materials,
and cooking conditions for collective complacency. The especially bitter aftertaste of the
resulting concoction can be perceived in the lack of quality opportunities for children
within the neighborhood. The social structure and dynamics of First Street tend to
paralyze collective efficacy towards changing what many residents already acknowledge
are problems with recreational and educational after-school activities.
The divides of age, race, and class produce what I call "segregated social capital."
That is, their respective spheres of interaction are confined to people with similar sets of
characteristics along these dimensions. Within these collectivities, there are varying
degrees of internal efficacy. The groups who have the most productive internal
interactions seem to be those with the most demographic advantages. A good example is
the middle-class older women who consistently attend the neighborhood meetings to
represent their constituency. Those who have the worst interaction patterns are the single
mothers living in the apartments, who constantly face unrelenting criticism and vicious
gossip from their peers. There is always competition within groups, but the fiercest
competition seems centered in the groups with the least personal resources. The
competition between groups is less overt and is carried out by avoiding interaction with
those believed to "below you" or who believe they are "better than you." This overall
pattern of interactions can be related to the street/decent continuum developed by Elijah
Anderson (1999) to explain the functions of social systems in urban neighborhoods.
Those who can remain above the fray can also exploit this pattern of relationships
with its fragmented solidarities. While the city government is guilty of this in their
treatment of the area, Kandra may be specifically implicated in this manner. She has
either fallen into or produced a situation where there is little or no accountability for her
actions. She is not originally from the neighborhood and she continues to live outside of
its geographic grasp. Furthermore, she has modeled herself as someone different than
any of the social groups in the neighborhood. She is a woman in her late fifties, putting
her in the category for older people in the neighborhood. However, she does not fit the
mold set for these individuals. She is not involved in the Christian church and is highly
Afrocentric to the point of displaying rich portraits of Elijah Mohammed and Malcolm X
on the walls of the neighborhood's community center.
The people who she purports to serve in the neighborhood seem distanced from her
by many of her characteristics and her policies at the center. Being an older and well-
respected woman in a position with a high degree of authority, she unluckily fits many of
the stereotypes some parents hold about unfavorable school officials they may have to
deal with. Many disadvantaged parents already have an aversion to dealing with such
people and therefore may avoid engaging Kandra. Even if they do, many seem to have
reported that they did not feel well treated in the interaction. If their children get expelled
from the program or decide they no longer want to attend, they have little recourse within
their means. It is highly unlikely that they would take such matters to the city for review.
The parents cannot accuse her of discrimination or racism like they may with their
children's schools because Kandra is overtly pro-black and has a history of activism in
the African American community. Parents can send their children to local day-care
centers in the neighborhood, but sometimes the government may not subsidize this
decision. The day care centers are not expected to be much more than a baby-sitting
service and they do not serve to advance the child's skill levels in educational or
recreational activities. Some parents will thus opt to keep their children at home rather
than have them exposed other children at day care that might be seen as poor influences.
Furthermore, the continued use of programming activities at the center that are not
particularly enjoyable or academically targeted helps to limit the number of children who
attend. If more children attended the center in the afternoons, the associated stress of
looking after more children might overflow onto Kandra personally. She has told me that
she had past experience with being overwhelmed by too many children to serve in her
twenty years of experience as a youth activity coordinator. While this is understandable,
her current low attendance numbers do the neighborhood that she has been entrusted to
serve a disservice. She is quite content with the status quo within her programming and
is not very open to change in business as usual. Although her pay is relatively low, her
position seems quite comfortable and stable. Since the city refuses to expend the
resources needed to maintain a full-scale after-school center in the neighborhood, they
contract lesser services out to her non-profit "cultural" organization for a fraction of the
cost. These circumstances give Kandra free reign over the space and the activities that go
on within. The city is not obliged to hold her particularly accountable because tacitly
they understand that they could easily be shamed for racist discrimination if someone
raised questions about why the city isn't already operating a full-scale program in the
neighborhood. Thus, Kandra is left to her own devices with little or no oversight from
larger municipal bureaucracies. It is in her best interest to continue to push her own
agenda until the balance of power somehow shifts.
It also seems this current state of affairs will continue to produce low levels of
volunteer support. If there were more adult volunteers involved in the programming and
more opportunity for one-on-one interaction, the children would likely have a more
enjoyable experience. From my experiences, this would seem to hold true no matter what
the specific activity might be. In fact, I have observed a consistent positive association
between the number of volunteers in attendance and the number of children in
attendance, tit for tat. Disadvantaged neighborhoods that claim to have few "positive"
adult residents with time to participate in activities outside of their household are less
likely to have residents involved in organized community activities where they would
directly interact with children. Children in these settings are less likely to have a
multitude of constructive choices regarding how to spend nearly 40% of their conscious
The programs at the center are not effective because the programming design and
resource base is underdeveloped. The activities are not relevant or intrinsically
motivating. The children have little responsibility to be in the program and the reward
system of field trips fairly weak. If more children attended, eventually there would be a
need for more tutors. Kandra might even have to start looking for volunteers who
actually live in First Street. Perhaps she might even need to call someone who was
related to one of the children attending the programs. This would contain the possibility
of bringing people into the fold who could raise legitimate criticisms about her activities
and interaction strategies with children and parents alike. These volunteers might feel
they have a right or a responsibility to raise such concerns since they are a part of the
neighborhood. This could endanger Kandra's position of authority. Instead, she will
likely continue to bring in personal friends from her ties in extralocal organizations.
Kandra favors using university students. This would seem to be a perfectly
convenient fit for her type of programming. Student volunteers are mostly white and
most do not live in the neighborhood. They have little or no connection to the residents
or the neighborhood and are universally transient. Also, they feel that they have no place
commenting on the way young black males are socialized in the programs and/or
disciplined by Kandra. However, if she used students too heavily and advertised need for
volunteers, it might come to the attention of one of the community aid groups at the
university. While this might foster a larger contingent of student volunteers, it might also
unintentionally import professional oversight that would quickly discover flaws in the
programming and press for change in her midst.
No singular parent could successfully push Kandra for change with her position of
power so well dug in already. The chance of a group of parents converging on this front
also currently seems slim. They are for the most part too busy infighting and trying to lift
themselves out of often already difficult predicaments. Many are actively trying to get
out of public housing and leave the neighborhood because they fear for their children
around the drug presence and "ghetto" mentality. The concentration of multiple forms of
disadvantage (poverty, residential instability, high crime) suppresses collective action and
expectations for social control. That these parents cannot utilize local institutions such as
community centers to address their collective problems serves as a significant indicator of
community cohesion. They cannot appeal to the older and more "decent" residents on
the other side of the neighborhood for help, because they have little means of connection
to relate to them. These residents are already distrustful of the street aspects of these
parents' world on the other side. The street subculture that most local children embrace
could be interpreted by older residents as disrespectful and thus deter them from
volunteering to participate in activities with these children.
Many people in the neighborhood tend to emphasize a lack of responsibility among
the disadvantaged and thereby make the effects of widespread social problems
(inequality, discrimination) seem personal no matter how counterproductive this tendency
turns out to be in the end. For these reasons, older people are less likely to advocate for
the young mothers or their children who live on the other side of the neighborhood. They
ignore their plight in the neighborhood association meetings. Even if they wanted to help
these children at the center, they could have trouble identifying with the extremely
Afrocentric, non-Christian, and anti-police values of the woman who runs the center. In
sum, these conditions form a system of interlocking and especially pernicious barriers.
There seems to be little initiative available to motivate a qualitatively different kind
of interactions between or within any of the groups involved, whether they be the parents,
children, or the older residents. Kandra, acting as the de facto conductor of this currently
disharmonious social symphony, is not trying to recruit the efforts of any of these groups,
even if their participation would seem to help all involved. She thus stymies any hope of
emergent collective efficacy by reassuring them that they need not feel responsible for
anything outside their homes. This is all too easily embraced because it falls especially in
line with the "take cover" mentality of a neighborhood that feels itself under siege by
drugs and police. In addition, the improvements in the neighborhood since the easing of
the crack cocaine epidemic a decade ago has probably given long- term residents
recourse to conclude that in fact, things are getting better, albeit slowly.
Individual and group agency in First Street is stunted partially because many
residents believe that today's forms of poverty in the African American community breed
a kind of endemically (and unalterable) underdeveloped system of mutual responsibilities
and social relationships. Final analysis of the data collected during my experiences leads
me to conclude that there is a set of truly counterproductive relationships operating
within the neighborhood that exacerbate already disadvantaged conditions. While the
ultimate negative effects fall hardest on local children, it seems that the rest of the
community loses the chance to utilize fellow residents as valued resources as well.
These findings are in sync with the assertions made in past research. The harshness
and unresponsiveness of the neighborhood's after-school structure seems to disempower
parents, much as in the conventional school structures with which they already may have
difficulties. This type of top-down power structure that is often typical of both the public
education system and the after-school realm is especially alienating to disadvantaged
African American populations. The conventional bureaucratic tendency is to devalue
voluntary participation by labeling it "non-professional". Here, it seems more likely that
the character of local volunteers is being called into question. This speaks to the current
post 9/11 push to administer background checks for all school volunteers, potentially
disqualifying many low-income parents and relatives of children.
The data presented in this study again evidences single mothers' lack of parental
efficacy as a lack of experience and resources. There is a fundamental dearth of
reciprocal obligations having to do with the children's after school activities. Networked
social capital and collective efficacy are especially shallow and underutilized in this
especially important group. This impedes communication and action towards progress
for the children of the neighborhood. Thus, criticism of current conditions cannot get
beyond attacks on personal character and empty speculation on what systems could
hypothetically work better in their situation.
Kandra often seems to act as a lightning rod attracting all criticism directed at the
state of children in the neighborhood, even though no one else (not even the critics) is
really pushing any other creative initiatives. Characteristics of parents and networks of
residents within the neighborhood have a large impact on the type and quality of services
that a community-based organization can provide. What are thought to be "adaptive
strategies" in disadvantaged, high-crime neighborhoods often deter the formation of
effective social capital networks among adult residents. The lack of widespread and/or
reliable systems of reciprocal obligations leads to residents avoiding contact with people
outside their kin and close friends (Furstenberg 1999). This in turn leads to problems in
personal and collective efficacy among local residents and parents especially. Many lose
belief in their ability to cooperate to create situations that will yield positive outcomes for
neighborhood children. Parents may feel that they are unable to influence their children's
environments and developmental outcomes.
A de-motivational self-fulfilling prophecy may take hold whereby the parent only
makes token attempts to improve the situation and then confirms their powerlessness
when their efforts run into immediate difficulties due to the severity of the neighborhood
and/or family disorganization. For these reasons, it is not yet clear whether offering more
after-school activities for children can compensate for the problem of low parental
efficacy and its negative effects on youth outcomes. It may be that the parents
themselves especially lack the necessary personal characteristics and adaptive strategies
to get themselves and their children involved in community-based programming in which
they themselves would need to be in some way involved (Ardelt and Eccles 2001). This
lead to strategies that either cloister children in the home away from often negative
socialization processes occurring in the neighborhood's streets or enroll them in a
sufficiently well supervised and self-sustained activity program (likely a large city run
program outside the neighborhood) (Furstenberg 1999).
Older African Americans are said to lament the loss of shared community
responsibility they found segregation-era neighborhoods and its institutionally contrived
modem replacements. African Americans' neighbor networks now tend to be more
confined to a few very well established relationships in comparison to whites' more
extensive and superficial networks (Hill 1999). The decent-street divide observed in this
study speaks to the fragmenting of values as well. The more variation that exists between
the values and resources of actors' who can be meaningfully connected in a social
system, the less likely meaningful change will occur (Sewell 1992). This leads to the
question of how interactions can be structured to take into account the needs of actors
with lower resource levels overall to access and maintain strong relationships within
richer social capital networks.
Also, the theory of "structural holes" within actors' perceptions of social networks
may explain why some actors do not realize that gainful opportunities exist and thus are
more reluctant than their neighbors to mobilize to act on latent social capital resources
(Burt 1992). Coleman (1990) emphasizes that effective and knowledgeable networks are
more likely to develop and sustain themselves the more they exhibit high degrees of
reciprocity, cohesiveness, density, and an overarching participatory ethos. The interplay
between collective efficacy and social capital lies in the group's ability to recognize a
collective need and common resources that can be accessed to fulfill resource gaps. This
conjoint recognition, in a social environment with sufficiently high collective efficacy,
then allows them to begin to change the nature of individual relationships within their
social system in a way that addresses the larger need. This never really happened during
the endeavor to secure summer enrichment programming for First Street.
There is accumulating evidence that attests to the importance of after-school and
summer programs for youth and the impressive magnitude of disadvantage they face if
they are denied the opportunity to participate (Entwisle and Alexander 1992). The city's
actions during the summer eventually kept a good number of neighborhood children out
of the city's well-funded programming completely. There is growing concern among
those who plan, fund, and run such programs that such institutional inflexibility may
stifle sustained initiative to diversify such programs and include more input from local
communities they work within. The resulting lack of local participation often leads to a
program where personnel responsible for the children's growth share neither the culture
nor the values of the population they purport to serve (Winters 1993).
The attitude-behavior inconsistency lies at the root of understanding the problem of
formulating collective action for a common good. People saying one thing and doing
another is an age-old conundrum, one that is well illustrated again in this study.
Unfulfilled verbal commitments are problematic and impact the well being of the
collectivity. They seem more likely to occur when an existing social structure is not
conducive to holding such individuals accountable. This can be seen in terms of a
"tragedy of individualism" where disconnected self-interest leads to less than optimal and
largely irrational collective outcomes. A compromising solution must engender a process
that realistically accounts for the needs of individuals within the shared needs of the
larger community. This difficult task requires finding methods to encourage and support
a group in attempting to enact such a vision through cooperation with their neighbors.
If just a few relatively isolated individuals demand the establishment of a
collectively beneficial resource exchange system, this call to action will be insufficient to
organize actual production of this joint good in the community at large. Certain
individuals may recognize opportunities for greater sharing of costs and liabilities with a
few choice others, and thus receive higher returns to scale via such collaborative
arrangement. The larger question lies in how to move from such small and inconsistent
start-ups to a more conclusive, coherent, and optimal programming scheme that takes
greater notice of the resources and constraints endemic to the social system of the
community as a whole. In concert with this work, previous research has recognized that
this task is only made more difficult when powerful individuals in community institutions
stubbornly refuse to allow non-professional initiatives to appreciably alter their status quo
operations (Scanzoni and Hasell 2000, Greenwood and Levin 1998).
Key decisions must be made by the actors themselves in order to construct a
cooperative institution that is satisfactory enough that the vast majority of group members
wish to participate. Decisions about the degree to which goods produced will be private
excludablee) or public and the functions by which the institution manages obligation
relationships, free-riding, liability, and norm-compliance issues then rise to the forefront.
Finally, the costs of working out such design issues and monitoring their implementation
must be less than the anticipated benefits. However, it is a consistent finding in social
science research that the more fully group members participate in collective decision
making processes, the more satisfied and enthusiastic they will be about the task and the
less likely that intractable conflict over differences will erupt (Epstein 1991; Parker et al.,
1987, Winters and Easton 1983).
Further research in this area should focus on developing strategies from an action
research perspective to confront the current conditions in such neighborhoods and
empower parents to find ways to alter the after-school arrangements for their collective
betterment. Action research, however, is only an applicable methodology if it is able to
initially bring enough stakeholders to the table to fully negotiate possible strategies to
remedy a collective concern. This too, never was able to take place in First Street. One
reasons for this might be that the students and residents involved in trying to muster
grassroots participation in the enrichment programs did not arrive under the banner of a
larger professional institution or organization. Recall the contrasting high meeting
turnout in the First Street for the discussion of the "model block" redevelopment plans
backed by the city and a professional consulting group. Perhaps their message was more
palpable to residents, but we should not underestimate the power of professionalized
status. Practical means of pre-testing a site for this requisite involvement would save
much unproductive effort expenditure. Furthermore, in order to salvage something
academically productive from ultimately unsuccessful initiatives such as this one, viable
backup methodologies must be in place as a failsafe in case of participatory fallout.
Otherwise, this chance of total loss will continue to deter researchers from attempting to
apply these more risky "hit or miss" PAR techniques.
A possible policy implication from this study is to advise concerned city officials to
keep a closer eye on the workings of contracted organizations running public
programming on public property, and to consistently evaluate their performance. Also, in
areas with recognized conditions that foster low parental efficacy and social capital
segregation, municipalities may wish to take it upon themselves to lead the charge in
getting children enrolled in summer programs. Responsible public servants should know
their constituencies do not wish to pay the public costs associated with poor
developmental outcomes amongst disadvantaged African American youth.
IN-DEPTH INTERVIEW SCHEDULES
Main Theme: Almost everyone in the neighborhood claims to want to see more
constructive educational and recreational opportunities locally available to children when
they're out of school. The center is available as a base for such activities. Why aren't
more people taking the initiative to help structure and participate in what goes on during
children's after-school activities?
1. Can you tell me what you know about the after-school programs running at the
Wilhelmina Johnson Center?
2. Do you have a child involved in these programs? If so, which ones?
3. Do you know any other children that participate in the programs? If so, do you
know their parents? If so, how well?
4. Tell me what comes to mind when you think about some of the neighborhood
5. What kind of activities would you like to see them doing when they're not in
6. Do you think the after-school programs at the center meet these goals? If not,
7. How do you think the programs could be improved?
8. Do you know any of the neighborhood children who do not participate in the
programs? If so, do you know their parents? If so, why do you think these parents
don't take advantage of the programs at the center?
9. What do you think might make more children want to participate in the after-school
10. Why do you think that so few neighborhood adults volunteer for the after-school
11. Do you think that encouraging children's relatives to participate in the programs is
a good or a bad idea? Why do you think this is?
12. What kind of things do you think should be taken into account when determining
whether a person is suitable to be a volunteer at the center?
13. Which adults in the neighborhood do you think would be particularly valuable to
the programs at the center and what kind of things would you like to see them
14. How do you think that residents who don't currently have children could be
encouraged to participate?
15. Do you think that tensions and conflicts among residents or groups of residents are
preventing some people's participation? If so, could you explain what you see as
some of the main divisions between people in the neighborhood?
16. Do you think a neighborhood-based mentoring program at the center would be a
good idea? Do you think it could actually happen? If not, what do you think
would be more beneficial and realistic?
17. Do you think it would be a good idea to establish a weekly meeting forum for
anyone in the neighborhood to come and discuss issues concerning children and
families? If not, what do you think would be more beneficial and realistic?
SEMI-STRUCTURED INTERVIEW SCHEDULES
Initial Question: Do you have any children under the age of 18 living in your household?
IF CHILDREN PRESENT, USE ALTERNATE INTERVIEW FORM.
IF NO CHILDREN PRESENT, PROCEED BELOW.
Name of Interviewer:
1. How long have you lived here in the 5th Avenue Area?
2. Do you rent or own your home?
3. Have you ever been directly or indirectly involved in the raising or activities of
children at any time in your life? When?
4. Do you have any family living in the neighborhood?
If so, do they have any children under the age of 18?
What kind of activities do you normally do with them when they are around?
5. Would you say you have pride in this neighborhood? Why or why not?
6. Do you feel any personal responsibility for the well being of the 5th Avenue
If not, why don't you think you feel any sense of personal responsibility?
If so, could you give some examples of what exactly you would say you feel
7. In your experience, do other neighborhood residents seem to feel the same? Why or
8. Do you feel like you have a sense of community in your neighborhood? If so, what
do you think this feeling comes from? If not, why do you think that you don't?
9. Would you say that you sometimes work together with your neighbors to try and
make your neighborhood a nicer place to live in?
If not, why do you think this kind of cooperation doesn't happen?
If so, what kind of things have you done in the past?
10. How many children or young adults in the neighborhood do you know by name?
If you don't know any, why do you think you haven't met any recently?
If you do know some, how did you come to meet them?
Also, do you know most of their parents?
11. Do you have concerns about children's exposure to drugs, violence, and crime in
the neighborhood? If so, do you have any specific experiences you could tell me
12. From your own experiences, would you say that children in the neighborhood have
enough positive adult influences outside of their family?
If so, who do you think are some positive role models within the neighborhood.
If not, why not?
13. From your own observations, does it seem that children in the neighborhood have
too much unoccupied, unstructured, free time on their hands?
If so, could you provide some examples of this?
14. Is there anything important that we haven't already discussed which comes to mind
concerning the activities of children in the neighborhood?
15. Do you think you and your neighbors generally agree on ideas about how to
properly raise children, especially when it comes to their activities and supervision
within the neighborhood?
If so, could you give examples of how you think children should be supervised?
If no, could you explain in what ways you don't agree?
16. Do you believe that a lot of the children and young adults growing up in the
neighborhood today will still live here as adults?
If so, in this way do you feel that they will shape the way your neighborhood looks and
feels in the future? How?
17. Do you belong to any kind of group or organization in the neighborhood like a
church group, club, or association? If so, what kind of activities are they involved
in and where?
18. Do you know about any of the programs and activities for kids that the community
center offers? If so, which ones? Have you ever volunteered at the community
center? If you have in the past, why don't you anymore?
19. Could you name any other groups, clubs, or organizations in the neighborhood that
are working towards giving children and young adults something positive to do
during their free time when they are not in school? Can you remember any being
active in the past? If so, could you tell me a little more about them?
20. Do you know of any informal arrangements between groups of residents to provide
supervised activities for children within the neighborhood? If so, could you tell me
more about their structure and activities?
21. Do you think there is a need to have more opportunities for children and young
adults to participate in meaningful and supervised activities in the neighborhood?
Why or why not? Also, what kind of new things would you like to see happen
within the neighborhood to improve the lives of young people?
22. Do you think ideas for activities such as help with schoolwork, sports, dance, arts
and crafts, or gardening could realistically happen in the neighborhood? If so, how
do you think the best way to set-up and structure these activities would be?
23. Do you think you would want to and be available to help get these kind of activities
started in the neighborhood? Can you think of any personal skills you could offer?
Do you think anyone else in your household or in your neighborhood might want to
participate in some way or have their children participate?
24. If you were going to put more effort into improving the neighborhood, how exactly
would you like to see it improve? How do you think these improvements could
Initial Question: Do you have any children under the age of 18 living in your household?
IF NO CHILDREN PRESENT, USE ALTERNATE INTERVIEW FORM.
IF CHILDREN PRESENT, PROCEED BELOW.
Name of Interviewer:
1. How many children under the age of 18 live here? How old are they?
2. How are you related to them?
3. Are you the only parent?
4. Do your children attend school/preschool/daycare? At what times during the week?
5. Do they do activities or sports at school in the afternoons? If so, what kind and
6. Does your schedule allow you to be around them during times when they are not in
school/daycare? If not, what other responsibilities normally make you unavailable
to be with them during these times?
7. Are you involved in any kind of group or organization in the neighborhood like a
church group, club, or association? If so, what kind and where?
8. What are some of your children's activities when they aren't at school/daycare like
on afternoons and weekends?
9. Do you know about any of the after-school programs and activities for kids that the
community center offers? If so, which ones? Are your children involved in any of
10. When you are at home with your kids, do you normally supervise them in their free
11. Do you have any relatives living in the neighborhood? If so...
a. How much time do your children spend around them during a normal week?
b. Are these relatives involved in any of your children's activities or are your
children involved in any of theirs? If so, what kind of activities?
c. Do they look after your children when you are not available?
d. For compensation, do you pay them or watch their children in return?
12. Do you have a lot of close friends in the neighborhood? If so...
a. How much time do your children spend around them during a normal week?
b. Are these friends involved in any of your children's activities or are your
children involved in any of theirs? If so, what kind of activities?
c. Do they look after your children when you are not available?
d. For compensation, do you pay them or watch their children in return?
13. Do you think that other neighbors who aren't close friends or relatives play an
important part in supervising your child or other children within the neighborhood?
If so, how?
14. Do you know most of the parents of your children's friends? How well?
15. Do you feel they play an important part in supervising the activities of your
children? If so, what exactly do they do to supervise children's activities?
16. Do you have concerns about their safety and exposure to drugs, violence, or crime
within the neighborhood? If so, do you have any specific experiences you could tell
me about without mentioning names?
17. Would you say that your children have enough positive adult influences outside of
If so, who are some of their positive adult role models within the neighborhood?
If not, why not?
18. Do you feel your children have too much unoccupied, unstructured free time with
lots of boredom, TV watching, or aimless wandering around the neighborhood? If
so, can you give some personal examples?
19. Have you talked to other parents in the neighborhood who feel the same way about
their children's activities? Have any parents you've talked to expressed other kinds
20. Is there anything important that we haven't already discussed which comes to mind
concerning the activities of your children or children in general within the
21. Do you think you and your neighbors generally agree on ideas about how to
properly raise children, especially when it comes to their activities and supervision
within the neighborhood?
If so, could you give examples of how you think children should be supervised?
If no, could you explain in what ways you don't agree?
22. Do you wish you had more cooperation with other parents in the neighborhood to
better supervise your children and share other child care responsibilities? If so,
what kind of set up would you like to see?
23. Could you name any other groups, clubs, or organizations in the neighborhood that
are working towards giving children and young adults something positive to do
during their free time when they are not in school? Can you remember any being
active in the past? If so, could you tell me a little more about them?
24. Do you know of any informal arrangements between groups of residents to provide
supervised activities for children within the neighborhood? If so, could you tell me
more about their structure and activities?
25. Do you think there is a need to have more opportunities for children and young
adults to participate in meaningful and supervised activities in the neighborhood? If
so, what kind of new things would you like to see happen within the neighborhood
to improve the lives of young people?
26. Do you think ideas for activities such as help with schoolwork, sports, dance, arts
and crafts, or gardening could realistically happen in the neighborhood? If so, how
do you think the best way to set-up and structure these activities would be?
27. Do you think you would want to and be available to help get these kind of activities
started in the neighborhood? Can you think of any personal skills you could offer?
Do you think anyone else in your household or in your neighborhood might want to
participate in some way or have their children participate?
28. If you were going to put more effort into improving the conditions for your children
and yourself in the neighborhood, how exactly would you like to see it improve?
How do you think these improvements could benefit you?
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