Monday, October 23, 2006

M.L. Carr's Deputies

Ex-Celtic player and coach M.L. Carr sure seems warm and empathetic. However, in his only political mention of the afternoon yesterday, he tied gubernatorial candidates to his main theme.

"I don't know Deval Patrick and I don't know Kerry Healey, but neither of them is being a role model right now. If I met them, I'd tell them that."

Speaking at the nearly four centuries old First Church in Roxbury, he made it plain there was serious work to do to save Boston and the larger world from violence. Yes, the after-school programs he intends to replicate in many urban areas will help, but that's not a whole solution by any means to him. He figures it all starts by building people up, not name calling or labeling, taunting or insulting.

His WARM2Kids (as in We're All Role Models to Kids) program holds lots of promise for teens most at risk. Carr is not about to be satisfied with providing places to be with character-building activities in the most dangerous 2:30 to 6 p.m. hours.

Guess Who's Coming to Church

Years ago, a female minister announced to my church board that my anti-sexist stands qualified me as an honorary girl. Today, M.L. Carr looked over an almost entirely white audience and said that he was deputizing us all as African-Americans.

That actually was a very cool save for what must have been a jolt to him.

Perhaps we can pause to wonder as Carr and seemingly the only Latina there, who rose to ask later why 1) the audience was almost entirely middle-aged white people and 2) the church was not filled with Black and Latino area residents. Carr was speaking on preventing violence and reversing its causes. He was in John Eliot Square, but honestly, the folk before him looked a lot more Newton and Wellesley than inner city.

When the church first opened in 1632 and was rebuilt in 1804, its parishioners reflected Roxbury, white ladies and gentlemen. Today, white people come for meetings and to volunteer or staff the numerous programs that the Unitarian Universalist Urban Ministry offers, largely for people of color.

Carr knows that kids doing drugs and carrying guns may be more common in Boston's Black neighborhoods, but he made it plain that this is about all kids. Quite a few teens in wealthy suburbs have the same problems.

Likewise, he came down really heavy on domestic violence. He works with prevention programs, has testified in Congress for funding, and does these presentations almost non-stop around the country.

To the Latina's question, he admitted that he was disappointed that Black families were almost absent yesterday. We're not surprised, the group that invited him is from the very white UU churches. Those that support the UU Urban Ministry are largely in wealthy towns. When we signed in, we saw mostly Needham, Weston and the like in the Town column.

It made us wonder why they didn't mention it to him. Surely they are not so self-unaware that they don't know who their parishioners are.

On the other hand, if the flyers like the one we picked up in a Brookline UU church only went to such places for distribution, the audience composition should be no surprise. A couple of Black women spoke in the question period. That Latina even said that she heard from a white friend about the presentation.

We would hope that if such an event occurs again that the Urban Ministry folk would put up a few posters in the largely Black neighborhoods. Some residents would come for the same social-action motivation as those who did today. Some might come to hear a famous basketball player. Either way, the good message gets a wider hearing.

Marching Orders

Carr's deputizing quip was worthy of a skillful preacher in a surprise situation. Those gestures may be just that or there may be power in naming, as in dubbing a knight. Carr certainly spoke, or perhaps preached, as though we should do the right things.

Carr's message was simple, powerful, and maddeningly daunting. He wants kids and parents alike to change their attitudes and behaviors. It is a call well suited to us do-gooders -- no cry for the government to fix it and no pretending that self-reliance by the underclass will solve things.

Many would say it is utopian, but in fact and in history, such seminal restructuring has been the only real effort that created lasting change short of violent revolution. Think abolitionism, women's suffrage, withdrawal from Viet Nam, and finally getting voter acceptance of gay-rights in Maine.

I think of the segregated South I knew as a child and where I visit today. Integration was only real and meaningful when cultural shifts made it okay and even mandatory to call racists on their remarks and prevent harmful acts. In Boston, we lag behind many Southern cities in our integration of housing as well as employment. Everybody has quite a ways to go, but attitudinal shifts have been far more pervasive and convincing than laws in the process.

Carr's jovialness stops at violence, down to the everyday level. He told of his own troubled youth, of long-term domestic violence against his sister, about his best friend's teen son gunned down. He sees a culture that trivializes and celebrates violence on the streets and in the home.

As far as he's concerned, the WARM solution is to call it. Call it from the joke level up; he doesn't laugh at gender jokes and tells people why they're wrong. Call it by not participating. Call it by telling people sexist jokes, taunts and labeling are out, and battering women is never acceptable. Call it most firmly by taking a stand when you discover the problems.

It may be easier for a 6' 6" jock, but maybe not. What he says is that he doesn't care if he gets sued. If he finds out a kid is doing drugs, he wants to talk to the parents about it.

Looking to cops or other government officials is a typical solution, one that seldom has any real or lasting effects. His answers are tougher to act on, but are likely more meaningful. If you want the system to change, you have to work for systematic changes. That seems evident, but he expects us all to do

He says it's exhausting, but that it has become his real work. He suggests people do what he does. Go until you get tired, take a little rest, then do it some more.

If you want to see what he's about, check the WARM site. In particular, look at the book he and his son are distributing, as are many other groups. It is available online here. Coaching Boys into Men Playbook (girls version in the works) tells about situations adults can run into or overhear, and then what they can do to act as role models and give alternate behavior.

Multi-Level Changes

Even without the audience he expected, Carr is not relying on his presentations to do the job. His WARM is setting up those after-school programs at JCCs, Ys, and similar kid-safe gathering spots. The target communities will know and use those, even if they missed the presentations.

At the beginning of his talk, he spoke of his own troubled youth. His very religious parents trusted his siblings, like his brother who became a minister, but to hear M.L. tell it, if there was a fight or other trouble in Wallace, North Carolina, his father knew that his son would be there and causing it.

Carr remembers hearing his parents almost nightly praying for him. "That used to drive me crazy," he said. A white guy in the small town, Davis Lee, took his hand, told him he could do a lot more with his life, and started him in basketball. By the bye, Lee is a poultry guy and still contributing liberally to Carr's philanthropic efforts.

Carr said that people called him bad all the time and he thought as a kid that he had to go out and do bad things. As a result of Davis' faith (and his parents') in him, he says he learned that those labels are terrifically damaging.

He called on his new deputies to do what he must ask of all his audiences. The job is to take the hand of one teen, help him or her through the tough years, and when they are in good shape, ask them to do the same when they are adults.

He doesn't ask the impossible, just the hard and effective.

Tags: massmarrier, Roxbury, violence, M.L. Carr, UUUM

1 comment:

POPS said...

what a great post. and yes, that should could do a LOT more to reach out to the local community. it' actually not that surprising to me who the demographics of that meeting turned out.