Parents, educators, clergy and community leaders met again on Monday, April 11 to address the problem of after-school safety in the South Austin area. The meeting was held at Mandell Methodist Church, 5000 W. Congress Pkwy., where the Rev. Gregory Livingston, pastor, chaired the meeting. On hand was CPS President Michael Scott, CPS Liaison James Deanes, Bureau of Safety & Security’s Reginald Williams, May School Principal Dr. Sandra McCann-Beavers, Rev. Lewis Flowers, Michele Clark High School Asst. Principal Ron Bellamy, 29th Ward Ald. Isaac Carothers, and other community leaders.
Rev. Livingston said, “We’re not here to blame anybody but how we can bring a solution to this situation.”
The reverend challenged those in attendance to reclaim control over the children in the neighborhood, saying, “We’re the grown folks. They’re the children. We should be able to solve this problem.”
As part of her opening statement, Theresa Welch, education organizer with South Austin Coalition, stated, “I’m here tonight because of the children. This is not a blame-game meeting. We know that a lot of the children are coming out of homes that already have problems. We have two and a half more months until the end of school and we need to address this problem now. Next week we want to go to Mr. Scott with some solutions, something we can implement to save our children.”
But Welch said flatly that the current situation is “not acceptable.”
“Our children cannot learn if they’re afraid of getting beaten at school,” she said.
Michele Clark Asst. Principal Ron Bellamy gave an update: “Michelle Clark posted notices of meeting on 3/14. Present was 15th District, Ald. Carothers, Mr. Deanes, South Austin Coalition, church organizations, community leaders and others. They helped identify the problems with safe passage or the lack of safe passage. We came up with solutions. Michele Clark has ongoing assistance from CPS Safety & Security, Youth Outreach (yellow jackets) who are posted at strategic locations, Harrison to Laramie and northbound on Laramie. Ald. Carothers posted a small forum with local business and CAPS.”
School Board President Michael Scott spoke next.
“I didn’t come here to make a speech,” said Scott, who said he’d made a special trip out to the West Side after hearing of the neighborhood’s concerns.
Scott told the audience that he grew up on the West Side in the Lawndale area and was very impressed by the turnout. But he cautioned that unless people became more empowered in dealing with the problems in their neighborhood, they’ll eventually just move away.
“People, when they don’t know how to take care of their community, they keep moving out,” Scott said. “That’s what happens when people can’t work together.”
Scott said he hoped they would not spend a lot of time rehashing the past, but spending time working out solutions.
“Typically individuals spend 85 percent of the time talking about the problem, and 15 percent talking about solutions,” he said.
Scott concluded by indicating his willingness to be involved and pledged his support to assist in any way CPS could, whether with resources or manpower.
A retired school teacher from May School who lives in the area gave her “eyewitness” account of what happens every day after school. “What is the policy of the Board of Education regarding supervision of the teachers?” she asked. “You don’t see any teachers in the morning out in front of the school or in the afternoon. I also had kids from May School break out all my windows in my basement, and it cost me over $200 to get this boarded up. So what is the policy for teachers coming out to help supervise in the morning and afternoon?”
Ald. Carothers explained that when you’re dealing with children the dynamics are entirely different. “Very little happens to juveniles first of all. Normally what happens, they are picked up, carried to the station, called the parents, parents come pick them up, next day, same thing. The reason, juveniles are supposed to be under the authority of their parents. That is why it is more difficult when we have to come together to talk about a problem that primarily deals with juveniles. And what makes the problem more difficult is when you have parents that are not involved with their kids. Then do we want to criminalize all these young people? But when they become criminalized, they never become police officers, FBI Agents, never be a firefighter. They will never be a lot things in life when they become criminalized. So you can say, ‘It’s the parents’ fault,’ but really is it the kid’s fault that his parent is no good?”
Carothers cautioned the audience that “This is going to be one of the hardest things we have to do.”
Whatever people do, he added, creating a safe environment for kids is essential.
In spite of all of this, how do we create a safe environment?” he asked.
Tio Hardiman, head of the Cease Fire Organization, told the audience that when everyone is asleep, he is one of those activists working 4 p.m.-midnight in high-risk communities trying to work things out. He said, “We don’t understand these kids’ sociology; this is a different day today. I understand old school techniques, but the streets dictate to these kids how they should act out here. Ald. Carothers said he knows what his son is doing, but he can’t control his son once he leaves the house. But at least he has an idea what his son is doing because he has laid down rules. Cease Fire is a public health approach, community organizations are very important, CAPS program. If we can all just come together and agree on one or two things and set some common ground, we can make a difference.”
Following were some of the ideas presented for immediate action:
? No cell phones in school policy implemented immediately (young people use cell phones to notify each other about fights, etc.)
? Volunteers needed for manning the corners
? Parent patrols
? Teachers supervising outside buildings
? Predatory store owners need to stop selling “blunts;” getting this type of store owner out of the community (Blunts are cigars that are hollowed out and marijuana or other drugs put in its place).
? After-school programs
? Having necessary funds and resources from CPS
? A community march to let young people know that the violence will not be tolerated and getting the media involved.
There will be continued follow-up meetings.