If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com.

September Interviews

9/2 Dianne Freeman, A Lady's Guide to Mischief and Murder

9/9 Ellen Byron, Murder in the Bayou Boneyard

9/16 Marilyn Levinson, writing as Allison Brook, Checked Out for Murder

9/23 Rhys Bowen, The Last Mrs. Summers

9/30 Sherry Harris, From Beer To Eternity

September Guest Bloggers

9/19 Judy Alter

WWK Weekend Bloggers

9/5 V. M. Burns

9/12 Jennifer J. Chow

9/26 Kait Carson


For The Love Of Lobster Tales by Shari Randall is now available to download free for a limited time. Go to Black Cat Mysteries at: https://bcmystery.com/ to get your free copy! Thanks for the freebie, Shari.

Keenan Powell recently signed with agent Amy Collins of Talcott Notch. Congratulations, Keenan!

KM Rockwood's "Secrets To The Grave" will appear in the new SinC Chesapeake Chapter's new anthology Invitation To Murder, which will be released by Wildside Press on 10/6.

Congratulations to our two Silver Falchion Finalists Connie Berry and Debra Goldstein!

Paula Gail Benson's "Cosway's Confidence" placed second and Debra Goldstein's "Wabbit's Carat" received Honorable Mention in the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable 2020 short story contest. Congratulations, Paula and Debra!

Susan Van Kirk's Three May Keep A Secret has been republished by Harlequinn's Worldwide Mystery. The WWK interview about the book can be accessed here. We're so glad another publisher picked up this series.

KM Rockwood's "Burning Desire," and Paula Gail Benson's "Living One's Own Truth," have been published in the anthology Heartbreaks & Half-truths. Congratulations to all of the WWK writers.

Please join Margaret S. Hamilton's Kings River Life podcast of her short story "Busted at the Book Sale" here. Congratulations, Margaret!


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Looking for Hope for Inner-city Youth

One of the writing projects I have in my “semi-active” file is a young adult novel set in Baltimore.

Recent events there have dragged it to the forefront of my mind.

For several years, I taught special education in Baltimore City public schools. One of my assignments was
The school was the nicest building
in the neighborhood.
teaching life skills to developmentally and emotionally disturbed fifth graders. The school building was almost a stereotype—a three story red brick building rising in a desolate neighborhood of decrepit town houses and crumbling apartment buildings.

We took frequent field trips. Some of them were to places like the Inner Harbor, but most were to neighborhood resources, like Mondawmin Mall and the local library. We used public transportation, since we were trying to equip our students to navigate their world.

The area was devastated in the recent rioting.

When I think about what those kids had to deal with, I can see how despair develops. So few of them had living situations we would call reasonable. One girl lived with her great-great grandmother. Another slept in a closet she could lock from the inside to keep away from her father’s friends, who were often drunk or high. One foster parent told me she wasn’t really interested in anything we had to tell her, since she was intending to “send back” the foster child as soon as her car loan was paid off.

Much of the housing is abandoned
or substandard.
Very discouraging were our discussions of preparing for the future.

The self-esteem movement was in full swing at the time, and the way it was being applied at our school emphasized how wonderful and unique and entitled each child was, with awards and ceremonies and cheerleading, but little or no effort to show them how to earn any self-esteem. We were not permitted to try to add a dash of reality—if a child with an IQ of 65 announced he wanted to be an architect, we were to support that, instead of investigating more appropriate possibilities. Many of the boys planned to be professional athletes. No one told them how the odds were stacked against them.

No thought that respect was to be earned.

So much of what the kids felt they should have, but didn’t, was drawn from TV. They simply did not believe that most people don’t live in luxurious single family mansions, expensively furnished and with several high-priced cars in the garage. They just knew they didn’t have that, saw no way to get it, and were frustrated and angry at being denied what they thought everyone else got easily.

Some of the life skill discussions came to a dead end because they didn’t understand how things operate. They didn’t realize that most people worked for their money—indeed, they saw little correlation between work and money—and thought credit cards entitled people to get things without paying money for them. 

Several small stores were opened in the neighborhood by Asian immigrants. My fellow teachers were sure that “the government” financed their startups, refusing to believe in the self-help coops the groups had formed, where they would all work to finance a tiny grocery store, then move on to a dry cleaners. Of course, the teachers spread this misinformation to the students, who then felt even more deprived.

Probably the saddest conversations, though, centered around what the students might do in the future. So many of them—especially the boys—spoke in terms of “If I grow up…” rather than “When I grow up…”

Every week brought news of another young man killed by gunfire, overdose or accident.

I continued to teach special education to the same type of students when I transferred out of the city, but in high school. The students had many of the same challenges, but they were not as immersed in the self-esteem models, and they realized they could have a future if they would work for it. A big part of my job was job preparation and placement in the last year or two of high school. As soon as he turned 18, one kid went to work as a paid intern on an HVAC crew. He proudly brought in his first paycheck, and he was on track to earn more than I did that year. Another, who had social interaction problems, got a position pulling parts in a salvage yard, where he didn’t have to deal with the public. One girl, a mother at age sixteen, got a private grant to go to cosmetology school. She was determined to translate that opportunity into a future for herself and her child.

I don’t know if there is a solution, or if there is, what it might be, for our angry, despairing inner city youth.

But I do know that young people who don’t see how they can succeed will end up being perfect examples of self-fulfilling prophesies.

My young adult novel may be too depressing to finish. Or to market if I ever do.

Do you have any ideas for how to address the situation?

KM Rockwood


Jim Jackson said...

I wish I did knew a magic bullet, but I do not. Kids will seek out role models. Society needs to provide appropriate, positive ones, otherwise the kids will choose ones on their own that will generally not be what they need to make a big positive change in their lives.

~ Jim

Warren Bull said...

Sadly, I have no solution. I worked with similar kids. I found that even average basketball and football players thought they could play professional sports.

carla said...

"If I grow up" is the saddest thing. I think you should be honest with your project. Maybe it will raise awareness. Solutions are complex and elusive.

E. B. Davis said...

Like any change that must occur, it must start from within. We are perverse creatures. When changes are forced upon us, we rebel even knowing the changes will be good for us. Somehow education must be seen as a cool part of the culture. Overcoming the hip-hop, gansta, or whatever the vernacular depending on the era, culture is nearly impossible.

Shari Randall said...

Kathleen, the most shocking thing in your essay is that some of the teachers believed something so patently false. It shows how deeply embedded beliefs can be.
Money doesn't seem to be the answer - so much has been spent with little result. I wish I had some answers.
Keep working on your project. Harriet Beecher Stowe probably didn't think she had the answers, but her book helped turn the tide against slavery in the US. Art reaches people in ways nothing else can.

Gloria Alden said...

Kathleen, what you did for your students even if it wasn't enough, was enough to make them feel they were worth something by at least one person. No matter how discouraging it seems, keep working at changing the situation. You are to be admired for not just shrugging your shoulders and saying nothing can be done about it so I'm not going to waste my time worrying about it.

KM Rockwood said...

Jim, one of the most positive programs I saw were career days, when they were thoughtfully constructed. They provided role models that were sadly absent from the kids' lives.

I still remember one man who had grown up in the 'hood coming back. He told the kids that the best way to become rich in our society was to develop a skilled trade, work for someone successful while they learned the business, analyze their owns strengths and weaknesses, then open their own small business. He told them it was important to recognize that no one is good at everything, and they might need to hire accountants, office managers, etc. to handle the portions of the business that they would find difficult.

A few of the kids took his message to heart, including the "it takes hard work," but most of them felt he was a shill for unnamed powers who were trying to take advantage of them.

KM Rockwood said...

Warren, I've seen that, too. I've even seen kids who don't play sports saying that when they got to high school, they were going to become basketball or football stars.

KM Rockwood said...

Carla, I agree with you. Many of these kids don't see a future.

KM Rockwood said...

E.B. I find it hard to figure out when this idea that education isn't "cool" developed.

During reconstruction, many people recognized that lack of education was one of the serious barriers freed slaves faced, and a lot of effort went into providing opportunities.

KM Rockwood said...

Shari, throwing money at the problems isn't the answer, although poor funding can lead to underachieving school.

I fear that today's "hold the teacher accountable" atmosphere will drive many dedicated teachers out of the field. Who wants to be assigned to a class like mine, where it's a foregone conclusion that, no matter how much of a good influence the teacher may be, the students will never score well on the mandatory standardized tests?

KM Rockwood said...

Gloria, I do have some heartwarming stories of kids who defied the odds. The kid who got a job as a hotwalker before school at Pimlico, and ended up as a traveling groom with racehorses. As he said, it paid as much as McDonalds, the horsed loved him, and he got to see a lot of the country. And the girl who wanted very much to be the "lady who wears a dress every day and takes the bus to work" who was hired by a small company looking for a receptionist/office worker who could relate to inner-city customers.

Kara Cerise said...

I don't have a good answer either but I have a story about someone who escaped that kind of life. I have a friend who grew up in a rough neighborhood in Los Angeles and lost friends to gang violence at a young age. At one point she realized she could either be part of the drug and gang culture prevalent in her area or go a different way. So she became a sheriff. I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for her to resist intense peer pressure.

KM Rockwood said...

Kara, there are always the exceptions--people who have the strength and drive to move out of that environment and join the main stream. Your friend is a sterling example.