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Showing posts from September, 2014

The Spirit of Austin?

I'm wondering what the poem below captures of the true, unseen spirit of troubled Chicago neighborhoods like Austin, Chicago's largest neighborhood - and one of its most violent. It was written some years ago by a Freshman at Marshall High School, Shannon Phillips:
I'm an English teacher. The poem below, I tell my students, is precisely the kind of poem that Emily Dickinson might have written when she was 16. Its revolutionary insight, expressed flat out in its last three lines, goes far towards explaining why real literary genius is so often suppressed in its own time.

Shannon Phillips wrote this poem about poetic liberation - actually, about liberation obstructed by fear of liberation - on a piece of scrap paper during a meeting to create a school newspaper at Marshall High. It that would have been tossed out with a pile of unwanted papers had I not spotted it on the way to the wastebasket. (At the time I was working with The Austin Voice to help students create this n…

Yo MacArthur: Dan Bassill of Chicago's Tutor/Mentor Connection Deserves Your Genius Award

Hullo John D. and Catherine T.   Every year around this time you roll out your genius awards, and every year,  including 2014, I find myself wondering why on earth so many of these coveted awards go to established artists, poets, musicians, novelists and scientists - and why so few go to the little-known sociologists, city planners and community activists whose big ideas, duly recognized, could go far to helping cities like Chicago define and solve, at long last, the set of youth-victimizing problems that over the past fifty years have destroyed the lives of so many young Americans.

So who's my choice to receive a MacArthur Genius award in 2015? It's Dan Bassill, a big-picture systems thinker from Chicago who over the past twenty years has quietly developed a massive, interactive online database which, fully implemented, would connect and empower thousands of talented Chicagoans (including city leaders) to give 200,000 at risk Chicago youngsters the educational skills t…

It Happened Sep 6 in Austin

There are public meetings and then there are public meetings. This one in Austin on September 6 was convened by a politician - State Rep. La Shawn K. Ford - who said it's up to Austinites to reshape Austin. Things get done, Ford said, when the community weighs the issues and tells its elected representatives exactly what needs to be done. The next Town Meeting is September 20. It will be the first of many and the goal, if I understand it right, is a New Austin.

The meeting opened and closed with a prayer. In between were three hours of open mike, breakout sessions (on education, youth issues, homelessness, and youth violence), and a final plenary session in which the thirty participants who stayed for the full three hours shared ideas and were promised that this meeting was the first step in an ongoing process. Below are some shots of the breakout sessions.