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Social-Light » Education

October 7, 2008

It’s the System, Stupid…

posted by: Jim @ 11:01 am
tags: Tags: , ,

I think Bill Clinton gets it. I watched him recently in an interview on CNN with Larry King where part of the discussion focused on his work with the Clinton Global Initiative. Larry asked President Clinton what the most important lesson was he learned since the inception of CGI in 2005 and he responded:

“That you can make a difference, because intelligence and effort and dreams are even — are equally distributed throughout the world. But systems investment and opportunity aren’t, and that people who are given the chance to make something of their lives and to rebuild their countries and communities will more often please you than disappoint you if they have a system where there is a predictable connection between the effort they make and the result they get.”


As someone who pulled himself up by his bootstraps, I completely agree with President Clinton—it is the predictable nature of what you “put in” and what you “get out” that provides the underpinning for the “you can be anything you want to be” speech that so many kids are bombarded with on a regular basis. Really, how? What’s the path from the ghetto to Wall Street? That’s the question, how do I become an Investment Banker, Doctor or Curator? Who shows me these role models—what qualifications do I need? How do I even know these professions exist?

Individuals who grew up in households with significant earning potential generally don’t live in the hood for obvious reasons. They live in communities around other people who have significant earning potential and enjoy great schools, low crime and their kids have access to a diverse set of professionals to emulate. These are the attributes of “socio-economics” that define the haves and have-nots—those whose networks provide the systems and resources to make regeneration a predictable process and those who do not. I have lived on both sides of this coin and have come to conclude that it is possible to change any circumstance—that is my personal testimony—but significant change is no easy undertaking. Clinton emphasized that most in need are motivated to change their personal circumstances but often the obstacles that they face or the lack of a defined pathway overshadows the ambitions. In essence, who doesn’t want to live in a community with low crime, great schools, nice houses, have disposable income and a sense of security about their future? That’s human ambition and it does not belong to any one group of people. So why do the disparities in socio-economics persist if everyone is equally motivated to succeed? Maybe we have to look at some who have made this transition to get a better understanding of the task at hand to change your circumstances.

Chris Rock in his recent stand-up “Kill The Messenger” discussed how he lives in a very affluent community in Alpine, NJ that has only three other blacks amongst hundreds of residents—Mary J. Blige, Jay Z and Eddie Murphy—all individuals who have achieved monumental success and are arguably in the top 10% for their individual crafts. Chris juxtaposed this to his next door neighbor who is a dentist—not in the top 10%, but just a regular dentist. And here we begin to see in action the discrepancy in the systems. Chris’ point is that if you’re someone who comes from the hood you have to be a superstar to achieve the same level of success as your counterparts, “the haves” who only need to be average. “Do you know what a Black man would have to do to move into my neighborhood…he would have to invent teeth”. This is the practical outcome when you lack the systems and processes that deliver predictable outcomes—“have nots” who succeed today do it through herculean efforts and are truly superstars at what they do. Is that fair? Of course not, but life’s not fair and you have to play the hand you’re dealt and learn the game quickly.

The focus of my work is to level the playing field by developing technology and systematic processes that deliver predictable results and are based on sound economic principles. This is the essence of the Kinetic Potential Mentoring System, to provide the technology, processes and roadmap to help navigate what is for many a monumental journey. The reality is that the process of graduating from high school, identifying a college to attend, obtaining a scholarship, selecting a major and securing a career with high earning potential is not rocket science. But without a guide or a mentor to show you the way, without predictable systems, hey, it might as well be. Clinton is right, ambition is a human trait and if we utilized the resources available today in a more systematic and efficient manner, we would produce better outcomes. That’s why we developed the Computer Assisted Mentoring System and we are excited about its prospects to significantly impact the lives of the have nots throughout the US.

But we have learned that developing a system with predictability is not enough as my colleague Vik Kothari wrote in a recent blog posting—“I am not Complaining”. Our students live in environments where the glass ceiling is defined by the four corners of their city blocks—and their attitudes towards education and work ethic leave much to be desired. The sense of entitlement is remarkable—is this generational or socio-economic? I’m not sure and I think it would be fair to say that it’s likely a combination of the two. How do we break out of the pervasive cycle that has become an acceptable expectation of under performance, entitlement and increasing negative youth outcomes (i.e., high school drop-outs, teen-age pregnancy and criminal activity); all of which limit upward mobility and continue to plague our communities? As with any other significant change that is ingrained …we must first address the self-esteem and motivation issues that limit the belief that “I can be anything” and provide examples of individuals that have come from the same socio-economic conditions that have successfully made the transition—the superstars. Today’s youth need role models and mentors who have overcome the obstacles without the requisite systems in place. We have to raise the expectations of our students to WANT MORE. DO MORE. BE MORE. That is our slogan for the 2008-2009 academic year.

We believe that providing a predictable framework and the resources required to support demonstrable change is a critical catalyst to reversing decades of under performance but not a sufficient solution without the involvement of citizens within the community to reach out and challenge the coming generations to fulfill their Kinetic Potential. Please join us in encouraging our students to Want More. Do More. Be More. To put their vision into motion. Let us know what you think by leaving a comment about our future generations and how we turn the tide of negative youth outcomes and rebuild our communities.

April 14, 2008

Busing Programs…are they worth the trip?

As creator of Social Light, I felt it appropriate to inaugurate the site by sharing my personal experience with social programs.

In 1979, I was chosen to participate in Project Concern, one of many desegregation social experiments implemented during the sweeping idealism of the 1960s. Based in Connecticut, Project Concern was a program that bused minority students living in impoverished inner cities to wealthy communities in the suburbs. From the third to the 12th grade of my education, I was bused nearly 25 miles from the city of Bridgeport, CT to what seemed like a completely different world–the affluent town of Westport, CT. Even today, the disparity between Bridgeport and Westport remains the same; by 1991 Bridgeport was listed as 5th in the nation for cities with the highest homicide rate per capita while Westport remains one of the wealthiest communities in the United States. It was my experience in Project Concern that taught me the true meaning of “the other side of the tracks”.

Today, researchers and scholars’ evaluations of Project Concern suggest a number of positive outcomes. Program participants pursue higher education at higher rates, perceive less discrimination, and feel more comfortable in predominately white environments. (Check out the following links for more expected outcomes: “ Finding Niches: Desegregated Students Sixteen Years Later” and “School Desegregation and Black Occupational Attainments: Results from a Long-Term Experiment”)

In many ways, I am a living testament of these positive outcomes. Nearly 20 years after I was bused daily from Bridgeport to Westport, I am an entrepreneur, motivational speaker and graduate of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. I certainly recognize the significant contributions Project Concern played in my ability to achieve key milestones in my life.

With all the positive outcomes of Project Concern, you would think that I would be a fervent endorser of the program. Ironically, this is not the case. When asked whether programs like Project Concern should be replicated in urban cities across the country, my answer is always a hesitant “I’m not so sure?” Why? Simply put, with the benefits come the tradeoffs…and the unresolved question in my mind is always, “was it worth the trip?”

In the example of Project Concern, the city of Bridgeport funded the buses to transport inner-city children to schools in Westport but did not monetarily contribute to the Westport school system. Despite the busing program, Westport schools remained financed solely by the taxpayers of Westport. Needless to say, Westport parents expressed a little more than frustration over having to spend their tax dollars to have their children socialize with inner-city kids. Let’s just say that they had strong views on the subject.

Besides backlash from the “receiving” communities of busing programs, programs such as Project Concern have other problems as well:

  • Logistics: Imagine yourself as an 8 year old Project Concern kid catching the bus to go to school in Westport, CT. You arrive at the bus stop a little after 6 a.m. to catch the 6:15 school bus. Once on board, your bus then takes approximately 60 minutes to pick up the other Project Concern kids. At 7:15 a.m. you begin the 25-mile journey to Westport, which takes approximately 40 to 45 minutes in rush hour traffic. At 3:00 p.m., the process is reversed and you arrive back at the original bus stop around 4:30 p.m. (traffic’s a little bit better in the afternoon). Oh, and don’t ask what happens if you miss the bus because you arrived at the bus stop at 6:20 a.m.
  • Participation in extracurricular activities: Since there was no funding for a “late” bus to provide transportation back to Bridgeport, participating in extracurricular activities was nearly impossible for Project Concern kids. Limited extracurricular opportunities and lack of time to socialize with fellow classmates amplified the differences between Project Concern kids and the kids resident to Westport.
  • Lack of strong advisors: The presence of mentors or counselors to help Project Concern kids and Westport resident students deal with cultural differences was nearly nonexistent. While coordinators were available periodically, I personally do not recall a strong support structure to deal with adjustment issues. Survival skills were acquired over time, and the experience was more difficult for some than others.
  • Alienation from home community: Arriving home at 4:30 pm (best case scenario) didn’t facilitate the bond between the Project Concern kids and the Bridgeport community. There was always a sense of being between two communities but belonging to neither.
  • Being a desegregation pioneer: Very difficult stuff. Given.

Regardless of these tradeoffs, my experience with Project Concern has shaped who I am. “Crossing the tracks” on a daily basis for 10 years provided me with a broad comfort zone socially, lead to excellent educational opportunities, and allowed me to navigate within different racial and socioeconomic worlds with ease—an invaluable skill that I am glad to possess.

So the question I pose to this community is what’s your opinion of busing programs? Do the long-term outcomes of busing and similar social experiments outweigh the short-term sacrifices? Are busing programs really worth the trip? Please leave a comment and answer our brief, three question survey by clicking the following:

Surveymonkey: What’s Your Opinon Of Busing Programs