It’s been about two weeks since I last posted to the blog. Today however I was able to attend two meetings whose topics revolved around violence in the City of Reading and what we can do as concerned citizens to help. The first meeting was held at City Hall in the council chambers. The meeting which was hosted by Council President Francis Acosta
centered on the root causes of crime in our city. The Police Chief, William Heim, was also in attendance and gave some facts that the police department has collected as to the reasons crimes happen in the city. Below I will detail some of the key points of his presentation. And according to this recent Reading Eagle Article , Chief Heim gave a detailed list of the City’s plight with crime:
The 15 murders last year were the highest since 2005, when there were 23. The low was six in 2007, but the city averaged 10 to 12 murders a year from 2008 through 2011.
• The 44 rapes last year were double the 21 to 22 of the previous three years. The high was 56 in 2003.
• Robberies held even with 382 reported in 2012. The high was 510 in 2002.
• Aggravated assault cases rose 11 percent to 387 last year. The high was 665 in 2004.
In other major crime categories, burglaries rose 5 percent over the year to 1,448, the highest rate since the 1,512 burglaries in 2005.
Thefts rose 8 percent to 1,629; vehicle thefts rose 27 percent to 538; but arsons dropped almost by half to 17.
Still, thefts and vehicle thefts were well below their recent highs. Vehicle thefts hit 1,224 in 2006.
Since Act 47: The City’s Police force has been decreased by 20% which translates to about 40 police officers who have left the force since 2009. Currently, the Reading Police force consists of 163 officers out of a total of 168. When the force was at full strength pre- act 47 the Homicide rate in the city had decreased by 40%. Mr. Heim then went into detail about the 4 major facets of crime here in the City of Reading, which are:
Competition of territory.(infrequent)
Owning money to drug dealer. (frequent)
Ripping off drug dealers. (frequent)
Robberies committed to get money to buy drugs. (Happens all the time)
Street Robberies. (High percentage of all crimes)
Wolf-Pack robberies. (two or more people)
Delivery person robberies.(On the rise)
Difficult to prevent
Happens from a perceived disrespect. (often over Money, Women, and Men)
Easy access to weapons.
Minor arguments escalating into major violence.
Arguments usually involve intoxicated persons.
Highly emotional; rage and jealously play a key role.
Power and control.
The conversations then went on to include why the city has not hired anymore police officers. Of course, Chief Heim then went on to say that the civil tests are based off of 9th grade reading comprehension. Well, you all know what I did folks! I spoke up and said what I have been saying on this blog for such a long time. The attainment of our socio-economical status is directly tied to our educational attainment. 45% of our elementary schools produce kids that cannot read at grade-level. Less than 50 percent of 11th graders are barely able to read at grade-level. How can we expect to hire more police, if they can barely read the test in the first place?
I think its obvious to point out that yes the City of Reading does need more police officers. However, we also need our current police department to work smarter with the force that they already have. It’s also safe to say that this problem of crime and/or violence is not unique to Reading. Because of this, we shouldn’t feel the need to have to reinvent the wheel in order to combat violence and foster a safe community. There’re many urban communities within the U.S. that have taken this issue head-on. Why not use what these citities have been using and customize to fit our city? Food for thought, no?
The Second meeting of the day was held at AlbrightCollege. The meeting which was hosted by the Reading Youth Violence Prevention Project (RYVP)and was Mc’d by Laura Welliver (Grants and Special Projects coordinator, St. JosephMedicalCenter.) I’ll preface by saying that this is the first that I’ve heard of this initiative. I’m very glad I went today. The effort and blueprint, which I will post at a later time, will focus on the Northeast sector of the city, where the vast majority of youth converge by the secondary school level. The three focal points to this initiative will be:
Family: Connect Youth to Caring Adults
Develop creative and innovative opportunities for establishing or strengthening positive youth-adult attachments, including but not limited to: existing mentoring programs and new mentoring models; school-based, after-school and extracurricular programs; arts and cultural programs; faith-based and service groups settings, etc.
School: School Climate
Foster safe and positive school climates for all students and staff by ensuring that school settings feature characteristics that promote safety, academic achievement and positive youth development.
Community: Community Partnerships
Encourage strong commitment and collaboration among a broad spectrum of community partners to promote youth development and address violence, including local government, businesses, schools, faith groups, community-based organizations, the media, grassroots groups, and community residents (adults and youth).
Since this was the first meeting that I was able to attend (and also the first time that this initiative has been brought to my attention), I’m a little short on the facts. That being said however, I feel very confident in this project and was very enthusiastic about the people who were there and who showed their support. In the future I will have a more in-depth blog post regarding this effort so please be on the lookout for that!
I’ll leave you all with a wonderful quote that I have read often:
“Even if you can’t do great things, you can do small things in a great way.” – Napoleon Hill
Together we can all make a difference and with our coordinated and concerted effort we can do small things in a great way!
If you would like to learn more about this effort and how you can be apart of this initiative please contact Laurawelliver@catholichealth.net
I’ll preface by saying that David is a good friend of mine and when I asked to interview him for his upcoming book: “I’m David, Christianity is Goliath: Why Love is More Important than Religion,” I knew he couldn’t say no. In the blog that I published a few weeks ago “Rebirth: The Power of Initiative,” I spoke about the importance of initiating action in our community. This interview is proof positive that while the power of initiative is still too far and between for my liking, there are people just like David stepping up to the plate and handling his own small little slice of Reading.
We’re Starting off. Let’s start with this question: What Inspired you to write this book?
“I would just say my life. Growing up in a christian family I learned the right morals and values needed to succeed in life. But more importantly, it has a lot to do with my view of the world and the ways in which I see things are headed. With conversations that I have had with my two co-authors we tried to focus on a shift of consciousness. It’s something that I think the world needed right now and I’ve decided to put all my heart into it.”
Alright, Is there one particular theme that you want your audience to grab from this book, which you have considered part-memoir?
“I want them to know that they all have God inside of them. A God who can help them achieve everything they want out of life. I want people to know that they can live their life the way they want to live it and accomplish great things because we all have God inside all of us. All God wants us to do is use our talents and passions to help make the world a better place. “
Great, good stuff! Now are you learning anything while you write this book and if you are what is it?
“Yeaa… I’m learning a lot. I’m learning to be a better man. How to handle certain situations better. I’ve started doing yoga because of this book and also mediating which I never did with any seriousness before. Writing is my form of going to church and I know that’s exactly where God wants me to be. Hahahahahaha these are some good questions.”
You know how we do bro, always prepared. Moving on, how did you come up with the title?
“Umm… It just came to me. With my conversations with my fellow co-authors it started off as something else and naturally just drifted towards the title that it is today. It popped in my head and just clicked and I knew then that it was perfect.”
Alright… Word, can you tell me something about the cover? It is very unique. Also who illustrated it for you?
“Yea… The cover was actually designed by Mr. Theron Cook who is another artist that resides in the City of Reading. He is a very amazing artist and I am happy to have him contribute his love of art to my project. I actually had an idea of what I thought the book cover should be, but I didn’t share those thoughts with Theron. He ended up coming up with the same idea, I guess it is true when they say that great minds think alike. The story of the cover comes from the biblical story of David vs. Goliath and what it represents is the struggle that everybody has to go through in their everyday lives. The Goliath character represents religion and David represents love conquering all evil even the evils included in all religions.”
Ok. Just a few more questions. What was the hardest part about writing this book?
“Umm… I would probably say just the research. Everything else I had inside of me it came natural to me because I’m writing from my heart. For a book like this you have to be in the mood to write it but most importantly it has to come from the heart.. And that’s probably why it’s still not done yet, hahahaha. It was just the research because this is such a big subject matter.”
Ok. Just two more questions. David Nazario what are you working on currently, besides the book?
“I’m working on a personal website that will advertise my writing services, workshops, and a companion to the book once it is published. (Early Summer 2013) I am also the editor of MUTE magazine in Reading, PA. “
Last Question: Do you have anything specific that you want your readers to know?
“Read it with an open mind and an open heart.” *
It was such a great day today in the City of Reading with two wonderful events that I had the pleasure of attending.
At the TEA Factory on Willow street I attended an event called “Shift 2012: Celebrating a New Age in Reading.” In a nutshell, the event centered on a perceived shift of consciousness that I believe Reading, PA is currently undergoing. It was a great event which included people just like me and you expressing themselves through the use of art, fiction, spoken word, music. My dear friend David Nazario also shared an excerpt from his upcoming book “I’m David, Christianity is Goliath Why love is more important than religion.” It was an excellent time for him to read this excerpt because it stuck true to the ideals of the event. New Beginnings, new way of thought, and more importantly a new collective consciousness. Of course, I can’t not shout out one of my former professors Dr. Heather Thomas and the powerful readings she gave today. My love for poetry came directly from what she taught me as a student in her Intro to Poetry class. Believe me she still got it!
After that wonderful event, I went to 3rd and Spruce park were there was a remembrance ceremony for the victims of the Sandy Hook Massacre. I’m so proud of the organizers, one who happens to be my neighbor, for putting together such a wonderful event. This is proof positive that the community is taking in serious my plea in my last blog entry. All it takes is a little bit of initiative and great things can happen. No where is this more evident hen this event that took place today. The young ladies all had the imagination to put together this event, had the imagination to coordinte the city to allow it usage of the park, the imagination to know that citizens of a town as far as way as Reading is fron Newton, Connecticut cared enough to want to remember the lives of all those lost last week. And with this imagination came the initiative to make things happen. Obvisouly the circumstances of this cermony is one we all hopes never happens again; but acts of civil-activism is excatly what our city needs at this point.
The ceremony was Mc’d by the Reverend Frank McCracken Sr, who started by reminding each one of us of the importance of love besting all evil. As the program proceeded three poems where read by various speakers. As the poems where read, you could hear the genuine hurt in the voices of those individuals. It was a very emotional moment to see and I wish all of you where there to hear it. Moments like these make me realize just how special our community actually is. Sure we may all have our differences but in times of crisis its the American way for us to coalesce and heal as a community. As we crowd of 50 plus huddled together, (to see more closely, while also benefiting from the body heat of the next) around the small children who were given balloons to release into the air in remembrance of the 27 murdered on that fateful day. On the count of three they let go and for a brief moment in history the sky was filled with white balloons. And as they rose the crowd began to sing a wonderful rendition of “Amazing Grace,” IT TRULY WAS AN INSPIRATIONAL MOMENT.
Events like these reaffirmed to me the belief that I have that Reading has it’s best days in front of her. With a little bit of imagination, but most importantly initiative we can together create great things. Remember the quote I used last blog post. But I’ll repeat it again because I believe in it so much:
‘If you cant do great things, remember that you can do small things in a great way.”
It’s been quite sometime since I have written anything on this blog. I guess I could use a number of excuses right now to explain my absence. The fact is there isn’t one. If you want to blame anyone, please blame me; I lost the spark for quite sometime. The ability to challenge myself was gone and so went the aspirations to this blog. Somewhere along the way the fire went cold and I was no longer interested in writing, or anything else for that matter. In essence, you can say that I quit. I quit on myself, but most importantly, I quit on the founding ideals I laid out when I first started this blog. I quit on my community, comfortable to stand on the sidelines and let ‘someone else do it,’ knowing I had the ability to make a difference by speaking my mind through this blog. I’m sorry. Mostly, I want to apologize directly to a few individuals ,who will remain anonymous, who had to deal with me when I did not even want to deal with myself and became the very thing I fought against for so long: Being apathetic.
But the time for standing on the side-lines is now over! Life continues and now more than ever The City of Reading needs the one thing that had failed me for so long until now: Initiative. Yes, that’s right I said it. if you don’t believe this is exactly what the city needs one need to look no further than then the utter disfunction ranging from the federal right on down to our city government and city school board. If you want to look at it from a micro point of view: You could argue that the majority of the school-age children in the city of Reading lack initiative. How many have picked up a book during the summer months without being told to read? Those numbers don’t lie. Now you might be asking what exactly does he mean by initiative?
Now that’s a great question!
“As a great Philosopher once said: ” Initiative is the pass-key that opens the door to opportunity.” Those who work for money alone and who receive for their pay nothing but money, are always underpaid. This is what has been missing in our community, the habit of doing more for less. Sure our city is in a desperate situation both politically and financially, that doesn”t mean we have to settle for the status quo, though. People are up working right now trying to live out the American dream in ways that are both creative and productive to our community at large. And that’s happening right here in Reading. What I’m saying is we need more people like this.
We need you!
to help us in this transformation. The problem is we have become much to complacent in our once disorganized effort to make lasting change in the city. Do this: grab a piece of paper and write down any sentence that comes to mind. It doesn’t matter what it says just write it. Ok. Now after you’ve finished crafting your masterpiece of a sentence , ask yourself could this sentence have been better if I took the organized effort to write it? Blow it up and ask the universal question: Have I’ve given life everything I have or am I drifting aimlessly? What is the City Of Reading’s definite purpose? besides taxing and representation. What is it’s purpose. Are we really one of the poorest cities in the nation? Yes. Are our students failing? Yes. Is our national government, down to the city government failing us? Yes. We’ve been marked as failures… But do we have to stay failures for long? No!
Each of us can do our small part in making a difference. Whether its reading to your child more often, volunteering at a local food bank, etc. You get my point: Doing more for less. The answers to the questions we seek are inside all of us. We just have to be brave enough to face the person in the mirror first. To humble ourselves by providing opportunities not only to ourselves but in the mutual benefit for the community at large. Each one of us has a motor that runs on initiative and right now, I’m giving away gallons of it for free! Are we really a collection of all those awful things said about our city, our children, and our culture on the internet? If we’re not, then what are we willing to do to change those perceptions? Better question: What are you personally willing to do to make our city a better place for all?
My journey leads me back to this blog. This is my calling. What I love to do and where I believe I can make the most difference in this city, besides my community activism. My vision is to keep you up to date with everyday life in Reading while providing an avenue to have frank discussions about the future. This is how I change my little piece of the city. And all it takes is a little bit of initiative and a whole a lot of an imagination. But I believe I will succeed because I’ve planted that seed into my subconscious. My piece of Reading has been taken and there are many more slices for the taking (No seconds though) How will you change your individual piece of the pie for the overrall good?
I know… It’s not popular to suggest that we get rid of a democratic institution which ideally represents public interest and provides accountability, as well. It’s the idea that collectively we have the power to change the outcome of our children’s education which gives the school board their untouchablity as far as reforms go. I’m here to tell you that system just doesn’t work. As concerned citizens we should eliminate the role politics play in the education of our students. At least, at the local level. It is clearly evident, and probably even more so now, that the Reading School Board has failed and will continue to fail to do what is right by our students because of the constant bickering between what “they think they know about education” and what educators actually know from experience about education. The board is that red tape we all hate in our governmental bureaucracies, the type of red tape that slows progress down like cold weather slows molasses leaking from a tree. Control of our schools should be given to the Mayor, whose ultimate job is to enhance the well-beings of his constituents. Later, I’ll get into how this process is actually working in cities across the U.S. where the Mayor holds some sort of control over how policy is produced and followed. But first, let’s get into some back-story.
On January 6, 2011 The top five administrators, including the Acting Superintendent, of the Reading school district resigned in a letter that was sent to the Board of Directors and signed with all five names. The letter uses stern words to describe “Philosophical differences (between themselves and the board) on how to best operate the Reading School District…” In that very same letter the administrators declared that “Reading High School is the poorest academically performing high school in the Commonwealth.” It’s important to note that tensions between Drue Miles (Acting Superintendent) and the Reading School Board have been brewing for some time. In fact, at a recent school board meeting on October 20th, Miles suggested that the school board was not letting him run the district because of his impression that board members continually over-stepped their boundaries. Some detractors argue that the tensions arose because Mr. Miles tenure was a temporary one. He and his team had been contracted on 200-day contracts after the failed nation-wide attempt to hire a superintendent after then Superintendent Frank Vecchio resigned in early 2011. What they fail to emphasize enough is that this very same nation-wide effort to find a new head man in charge was actually shelved until just recently. That is January 7th, 2011. What is clear however is, year after year our students have failed to perform; just recently in 2011 83% of Reading schools did not meet Adequate Yearly Progress. In fact they have not reached any of the important academic goals set by the Commonwealth in the last 5 years! I won’t finger point and place all the blame on the clear ineptitude of the Reading School Board, there are a lot of factors which have contributed to these causes. But let’s be frank, if anything please be frank with yourself, our students have been underperfoming for decades and our elected officials have done little if anything to change this course around. So why after years of unfulfilled promises and unfulfilled duties should they keep their jobs? The time is now for change!
But there is hope for us to take decisive action. There have been breakthroughs in other cities where control over cities’ public educational system was given up to mayoral control. Kenneth Wong in his book “The Education mayor: improving America’s schools,” describes this model as [Intergrated Governance] “School district governance is incorporated into the governance of the local municipality.” In essence the Mayor is responsible for appointing the right individuals to effectively lead the cities educational responsibilities. In order to make this work these officials need to be directly accountable to the Mayor and that in turn the mayor is accountable to the public who elected them to their posts.The Mayor would have the responsibitly to appoint a Chancellor of education, or Superintendent who has a stellar educational background. Someone proven and capable to institute broad reforms. (Because it is clear that we need them). Someone who directly reports to the mayor and therefore is responsible to the people for the progress of failures of it’s students. The mayor also needs to appoint someone who has the business acumen to run a business into the black. Someone who through experience and education has dealt with multi-million dollar budgets and is able to effectively manage and control the school districts finances; something this current board has been unable to do. I bet you didn’t know that the Reading School District complied a food tab of more than 76,000 dollars between 05’ and 08. A responsible business man or woman would know this is unacceptable and someone who is appointed by the mayor would be directly accountable for his or her actions. The rest of this committee should be appointed from community members at large who have proven to be consensus building, results-driven individuals. These systems are working, from our own backyard in Harrisburg where graduation rates were improved by some 73%, to bigger cities such as New York, Chicago and countless others who have decided this was the best approach towards improving the education of it’s students. So my question to you is: If this could be done in many urban cities, once facing many of the same problems we currently face today why can’t it happen here?
Look I’m not saying I have all the answers, but what I have presented to you is a framework for us to work with. The status quo is no longer acceptable and frankly our students deserve better. Maybe this monumental change is just the spark we need as concerned citizens of this city to finally put all the bickering aside and do what is right by our students. To finally grant and empower our newly-elected mayor, and future mayors to come, the power to appoint real educators, with distinguished experience to serve not themselves but to serve the students whom genuinely need the help and don’t have the time to wait for progress to seep through this nepotist board. So that is why I will start a petition to include on the November ballot to dissolve the school board and grant those powers to the the Mayor’s office by 2014. Tell me what you guys think? What are some of the opportunities of this new venture, what are some of the risks, and what are some of the obstacles we face to bringing the change that we desperately need to city hall. Feedback is always welcome!
The City of Reading with a population of about 85,000 people was declared the poorest city in America, with an overall population of 80,000 people. This is quite a feat, considering that Reading has surpassed Flint, Michigan as the most poverty-stricken city in the USA. A feat because unlike the city of Flint, whose misfouturnes can be directly tied to the collapse of the Auto industry dating back as far as the 1970′s with the bankruptcy filing of Chrylsler. The city of Reading has been on this downward trend for the last decade. Ten years ago Reading was 35th poorest city in America breaking the top ten in 2007. It should be no surprise to any resident why the situation in the city is so dire. Issues with the city range from governmental ineptitude, decreasing state funding, Act 47, and, the lack of significant educational achievements by their students.
Don’t get me wrong, I was a graduate of the Reading School system and I know first hand the quality of education avaiable for those students who strive for excellence. In fact, something that I feel is really underreported, The Reading school district has more Advance Placement courses then any other county school. I personally graudtaed with classmates that were accepted into prestigious ivy league schools; but lets not forget to mention those of us (myself included) who attended the fine Public institutions of PA, who didn’t do too bad themselves. So it really saddens me, as I believe it should sadden you, when I read that only 65% of residents of the City of Reading obtain a high school dipmpola. When the national averages somewhere at around 84% But anyway, enough of that rant.
The city of Flint was and by most standards is, still is a primarily manufacturing city; as oppose to the City of Reading, which for the good part of 50 years was considered a low-grade manufacturing city. In fact 95% of all manufacturing jobs in Reading left before I was born, and certantily before my parents were. I know that sounds ridiculous and is probably not true. But it sure feels that way doesnt it? What is true is that the olden days are not here, so we shouldn’t remeience about them anymore. The reality is that 46% of residents are underneath the poverty line. Take a second to think about that. That’s 46% of residents who live below 20,000 dollars. Also take another second to think about the amount of single-parent families in the city. This alone magnifies the sigincianence of these numbers 100x. The city of Reading has been dying a slow death nd the Grim Reaper is knocking on the door.
But this doesn’t have to be the future. In fact, many of the residents of the city have taken a stand against recent downturns. And, while the buzz from the recent election is starting to ware off, these serious discussions will continue to be important in the development of a communal plan to face our crisis head on.
This is why I relaunched this blog! This can be the avenue for us to converse amongst ourselves about problems, conerns, but more improtantly, solutions to the very same problems and concerns that we all have. Bring your thoughts and leave with new ideas.
I want to discuss an effort that I believe has so much potential, every Readingnite should know about it. On December 19, 2011 The Collective held a discussion on the potential of Reading winning the All-American award. The Award is given out to ten cities that put together a package to address certain issues in their communities. This year theme revolves around 3rd grade reading levels. You might ask why specifically is the group focused on 3rd grade reading levels. Well, let me learn you something today. Educational research has predicted that depending on the proficiency of students’ reading ability, students who do not read at grade-level are more likely not to graduate high-school, land themselves in jail, and continue the cycle of poverty in their generation.
By the 4th grade 74% of students will not catch up to their more affluent classmates. The committee has identified three main reason why low-income students, which is mainly composed of minorities, are lagging so far behind their middle class counter-parts. The three reasons are:
These key problems are the key themes that this collective group has been challenged to tackling. Let’s break down some stats on each point so that you have a better idea of why these three themes were chosen.
The Readiness Gap: One-fifth of all children under the age 6 live in poverty. Children from these families are twice as likely to tart school with limited language skills. Studies have shown achievement gaps between low-income and High-income students exist as early as kindergarten. Another study concluded that in the first years of life, low-income students hear 30 million fewer words than Higher-income students. By the time both the proficient reader and the non-proficient leader have reached the 5th grade, the proficient reader is ahead academically 3-5 years ahead of their low-income, non-proficient classmates. Each year, that gap grows at an exponential rate.
The Attendance Gap: 1 out 5 students misses at least a month of school per year. In some school districts the number jumps up to 1 in 3. kindergartens who have miss a cumulative 10 percent of school days have lower academic performances when they reach the first grade. Chronic absence in kindergarten translated into lower fifth-grade achievement. Poor children are 4 times more likely to be chronically absent in kindergarten than their more affluent peers. By the 6th grade, chronic absence can predict high school dropout rate. By the Reading School district’s own numbers, 90% of all students living in poverty. Knowing what we do know at this present moment about the importance of third grade reading levels, take a second to digest all this information.
The Summer Slide: Low-income students lose two months in reading Achievement in the summer, while their more affluent counterparts tend to make gains. By the end of the 5th grade disadvantaged students are nearly three grade equivalents behind the proficient peers. Low-income students tend to learn less and gain more health problems than their peers. Reteaching forgotten material costs schools more than $1,500 per child and up to $18,000 during their K-12 career.
Now that you have some basic facts about the importance of 3rd grade reading levels, you’re probably wondering what you can do to help? These three topics will be divided into workgroups which will be tasked with finding local solutions to these national problems. One of the biggest obstacles this group faces is time. The deadline for the submitted application is on March 12, 2011. Yup, that doesn’t give us too much time to get this work done. But what we do is have is optimism, hope, and persistence. Now is the perfect time for the City of Reading to pursue this award. And while there is no monetary reward for the top-10 cities, the national recognition is tantamount to the PR of Reading which has taken a hit lately. Besides this being a golden-time as far as PR goes for Reading to take advantage of this opportunity, our students deserves our best, sincere, effort. I’ve spit out the numbers, brought out the facts, and done everything I could to paint a picture of low-income students who are failing at every aspect of their educational careers. They deserve the opportunity to compete on an academic scale like their more affluent counterparts. Our students need people, like you and like me, who have the credentials to help change the failing course our students are on.
If you would like to be involved, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information about the campaign, visit the site at gradelevelreading.net.
Together we can move mountains and “When Spider webs unite, they can trap