The Miami Herald

Let's talk about what works for black children

You and I are about to embark on something new.

But first, the back story. Your humble correspondent has been at this podium 13 years now, speaking to the readers of roughly 250 newspapers around the country. That's hundreds of thousands of words passing beneath millions of eyes. Words of sorrow, sarcasm, censure.

But seldom, words of solution.

Lately, though, I've been thinking that if they give you the privilege of reaching that many people, maybe you should sometimes use it for some purpose higher than calling out intolerance, beating up stupidity or bashing the president.

Don't get me wrong. I make no apologies for any of that. Still, I've come to believe this space can -- should, in fact -- be used for more. Used not simply to point out problems, but to highlight solutions.

BROKEN-HEARTED

And here, I'm thinking specifically of black children. Black girl shot in the head because she lives in an urban war zone. Black girl going to school hungry in hand-me-downs. Black boy who couldn't tell you where his father was if you paid him. Black boy who couldn't diagram a sentence if you threatened him. Black girl who thinks she is unattractive because she is a black girl.

Black children breaking my heart.

I am not unaware that violence, poverty, fatherlessness, miseducation and self-esteem issues threaten other children. But they are acute, they are crises, among African-American children.

From today, I want to do more than bemoan that. I want to solve it. Which means talking not just about what's wrong, but about what's right, what's being done, What Works.

FIVE CRITICAL CONCERNS

So, here begins a series of columns, an ongoing dialogue between you and me. It will be open-ended; I envision it lasting the rest of the year -- longer if the response is strong, less if it is not. We'll call it What Works. Here's how it will go: I want to see e-mails from you on how we should approach -- how we can fix -- any or all of the five areas of concern (violence, poverty, etc.) listed above. But -- and this is important -- I don't want generalities and pet theories. Rather, I am asking you to steer me toward specific, concrete, up-and-running programs anywhere in the country that are showing demonstrable and verifiable results.

Who in your community is doing good, forward-thinking work that the rest of us can learn from? Let me know. I will visit the most promising-sounding programs and profile them in this space. The idea is to share what we know and create a database of workable ideas that drives the discussion forward and inspires change.

Please send your e-mails to lpitts@MiamiHerald.com. Keep them short -- 250 words, max. In the subject line, put "What Works." Follow those guidelines and I promise to read -- though I may not be able to respond to -- everything you send.

These columns will be irregular. When there is something new to say, I will. When there isn't, I'll be calling out intolerance, beating up stupidity or bashing the president. You will be able to follow the series online at www.MiamiHerald.com. Click the "columnists" link, and then my name. Also, if you visit my website (www.leonardpittsjr.com) you'll find a "What Works" page containing links to the various programs, interview transcripts and other useful information. There'll also be a message board you can use to extend the conversation.

IDIOT-PROOFING

Finally, a note to my more intolerant friends: Please don't take this as your cue to send the usual asinine treatises on the congenital inferiority of black kids. It takes a while to write a treatise. It takes half a second to hit delete.

OK, that's about it. Assuming the news does not intervene, my next column will get the ball rolling with a profile of the Harlem Children's Zone, one of the most ambitious programs of urban uplift in the country.

After that, it's up to you.




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