This is the first of a three post series inspired by a speech by Mike Sabin, principal of the McCormack Middle School in Boston by AOC Director, Lallie Lloyd.
Not long ago I attended a fundraiser for the the Trinity Boston Foundation (a subsidiary of Trinity Church Boston), which runs a program that provides clinical support and daily guidance to students both in school and outside of school at the McCormack Middle School, which serves some of Boston’s neediest students. Mike Sabin, the principal at that school was the keynote speaker. In his address he touched on three aspects of our current social and political climate that are creating a “triple concentration” of need that McCormack students (and many students served by AOC partnerships) bring to school everyday. His succinct and to-the-point breakdown of these issues inspired me to delve deeper into these issues and how they impact our work at AOC.
The first concentration, he mentioned was housing segregation.
Deteriorated housing and underfunded public services are the norm in the neighborhoods where the McCormack students live. And evidence shows that where poverty is high, so is the crime rate. It’s also shown that access to health and wellness services, work opportunities, and motivating adult models are low. This combination is decimating to our youth.
Sabin’s comments challenged me to reflect on the neighborhood outside Philadelphia where I grew up.
My parents owned our home, and we lived among neighbors we knew. Summer evenings included games like kick-the-can on the school playground just outside our backdoor. I was invited to supper in many of our neighbors’ kitchens and played in many of their backyards.
We did experience petty crime – some (unlocked) bikes were stolen from the (never locked) garage. And once my mother was surprised by a stranger walking through the dining room, heading for her pocketbook on the far end of the couch where she was sitting. But mostly, we felt safe. We were surrounded by adults we trusted.
I took ballet, tennis, and swimming lessons at local arts and recreation centers, and I went to Sunday School, at least sometimes. I walked to and from the local bus and train stations, expanding my sense of neighborhood. When I was old enough, and started babysitting, I earned some money, met parents younger than mine, and observed how different families lived.
For McCormack middle schoolers, as for many students served by our AOC member partnerships, these experiences, so normal for a young, affluent, white person in the suburbs, would be a rarity, if not impossible.
Existing housing patterns didn’t evolve in a vacuum. For decades white people used their social and political power to manipulate local financing and zoning rules, protecting their privilege at others’ expense.
And many white people remain ignorant of this history. I was until just recently.
For example, I didn’t know that black veterans returning from World War II were excluded, by federal policy, from the federally-guaranteed mortgage programs that drove the suburban housing boom of the ‘50’s and formed the nest-egg of that generation’s extraordinary wealth accumulation in the decades since.
“All of us in this room,” Sabin said to that packed, festive room of donors, volunteers, staff, and parents, “Are unintentionally responsible for the social policy that has created a triple concentration of needy students in a small number of schools…we make decisions, those of us in this room, and it’s important to think about our policy.”
Many AOC partner volunteers support students and develop meaningful one-on-one relationships that make a lasting impact on one student’s life.
But bigger forces are at play that isolate children living in poverty from the social benefits of healthy community. Can you see the lasting effects of discriminatory housing policy where you live? What does that look like, and how are people near you living into God’s desire for restored and reconciled community? We’d love to hear more about that…