Letters to the Editor

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Feeling Green

Ann De Lacy
Olney, Md.

Jim Myer’s story about the Darrell Green Youth Life Foundation (“Football Star Scores in Washington,” July/August) and his subsequent article about the foundation in The Washington Post (“Even a Rich Uncle Darrell Can’t Replace Uncle Sam,” Outlook section, Aug. 3) generated considerable feedback. Following are selections from some e-mails to the author, reprinted with permission of the writers:

As an African American, Redskin fan and teacher, it sickened me to learn that Green has become a spokesperson for Bush’s faith-based effort. The fact that between $10,000 and $12,000 per student is spent on only 38 children, considering the size of the grants, is a joke. This is really an advertisement for the needed increase in funding for after-school programs for poor children in general.

Carl Hemmer
Gainesville, Va.

Typically, writers overlook the cost-effectiveness of charity initiatives and leave the reader wondering why the same thing doesn’t happen everywhere.

I worked for USAID for 30 years and often found myself asking the same questions you raised about proposed pilot programs. “Can we afford success?” I’d ask the proponents. “Can we afford to replicate this program country-wide?” Predictably, the response was astonishment that I was bashing their creation. But the hard truth is that public dollars are extremely limited, as you point out, and public initiatives have to pass the cost-effectiveness test if they’re going to produce any significant results.

Darrell is a good man and has a right to spend his money as he chooses. But he’s also a taxpayer and should know the limits that restrict tax support of children like the ones who concern him. I wish he’d take a cue from Bill Gates and insist on cost-effectiveness and search for ways to leverage other support, so that more children in need could get the help that Darrell wants them to have.

Ray Martin
McLean, Va.

You may be accused by some of failing to appreciate the good works of people like Darrell Green. But caring people really need to look at the big picture.

My work and career have been in international development, first with USAID, and now with various church groups. Many mission groups (not all, fortunately) focus on compassion and good works toward others, but completely overlook the larger policy and structural factors – some created by us in the rich world – that explain, in part, Third World poverty.

Jerome James Jr.
Los Angeles, Calif.

I found your piece on Darrell Green’s foundation very interesting. That kind of reporting is necessary to raise questions about how we spend our tax dollars.

Too often it’s easy for people to jump on bandwagons, especially when an icon like Mr. Green is in control. That is not a knock against him or an accusation of wrongdoing. In fact, I believe the work he does is necessary and I give him credit for reaching out where others have ignored circumstances. This is just an observation that politicians will often not do their homework in favor of doing what is the most popular thing.

Rick Rosendall
Washington, D.C.

Thank you for writing that piece about the “rich uncle.” A lot of people aren’t going to want to hear it, and will object to it. But what you say is true, and needs to be said.

Jerome James
Chesapeake, Va.

Although Mr. Green’s efforts to try to reach some underprivileged youth are laudable, it is obvious that the monies spent are not being utilized effectively with such a large base of underprivileged students, not only in the District, but throughout the U.S.

Race and Arrests

Frank A. Orlando, Director
Center for the Study of Youth Policy
Nova Southeastern University
Ft. Lauderdale, FL

Regarding “Is Race a Factor in Arrests? Study Sparks Debate by Suggesting ‘No’ ” [July], there is no debate as to the focus of this study – serious violent crimes. The issue is discretion. The police rarely if ever have arrest discretion when the allegation is a serious crime. Where the police have discretion, the evidence is clear: It’s abused as to minorities, mostly African-American males accused of minor crimes.

Data are pretty clear, at least here in Florida. Misdemeanor arrests are increasing, and minorities are overrepresented at every stage of the process.

In the 1967 report, “The Challenge of Crime in a Free Society,” we got an early warning: “Once a juvenile is apprehended by the police and referred to the Juvenile Court, the community has already failed; subsequent rehabilitative services, no matter how skilled, have far less potential for success than if they had been applied before the youth’s overt defiance of the law.”

That fact has not changed. What has changed is the continued criminalization of children for minor transgressions of the law, and the adoption of discretion-elimination policies like school zero tolerance and one-stop juvenile assessment centers.

We know that not arresting minor juvenile offenders and using police discretion for diversion actually reduces future offending.

No more studies. Just start doing what was set out in 1967. Can’t get any clearer than that.

Inspiring Youth Into Action

Teresa Shartel, Program Coordinator
Teens on Target
Youth Alive!
Oakland, CA

In response to the article, “Youth Get Engaged, Civically Speaking” [June], we feel that young people are still engaged in speaking civically, although both the players and the arena are much different from what they were 30 years ago. Back in the day, there were parents and civic community leaders who would lead and define the goals of a campaign, helping youth to clearly see the purpose.

Today, there are more single-parent households, making it harder for parents to be civic role models, and fewer community leaders advocating for broad civic goals who capture national attention. Those youth who are getting involved with civic learning and engagement are doing it at a local level through organizations focusing on specific issues, or whose focus it is to enhance youth development and advocacy skills. These organizations try to provide and inspire in a way that parents and community leaders used to.

A prime example of youth leadership and civic engagement is a project we initiated in 2000. A group of our teens were reading the local newspaper and found an obituary of a young boy who died while playing Russian roulette with a handgun. Directly under the story was an advertisement for a handgun by the local gun dealership. Our teens launched a campaign asking the local paper to stop advertising handguns in Oakland.

The campaign involved contacting the editorial staff of the paper and getting the support of many of Oakland’s community power brokers. Teens on Target members held a press conference outside of the local paper’s building. They went to the city council to ask them to withdraw city-funded ads and notices from the paper until the paper complied with its own policy, which forbade the type of ads it was running. After a year of fighting the paper, the teens won their battle to get them to stop advertising handguns.

This is one of several civic issues relating to violence prevention that our teens have been enthusiastic about, and [for which they] have received results. If youth are shown how to reach people who can help them make a difference in their communities, and learn the steps to make change, they are easily motivated to learn how to be more engaged in a civic lifestyle.