Promise is not a word typically associated with Central City New Orleans. In 2007, the neighborhood boasted a homicide rate of 316 per 100,000 residents, making it the most murderous part of the country’s most murderous city. That same year, 55 people from the neighborhood entered prison and another roughly 211 between the age of 16 and 19 chose not to complete high school, according to the latest available census data.
Yet even with these grim statistics embedded into the minds of many New Orleanians, Crescent City youth advocates say that they are determined to make Central City one of the 20 communities chosen by the Obama administration as one of 20 “Promise Neighborhoods” tapped to receive federal funds to fight poverty though coordinated early childhood, education, health and social services programs. Pioneered by educational reformer Geoffrey Canada through his widely celebrated Harlem Children’s Zone program, Obama hopes to replicate Canada’s success in communities across the country, and has proposed putting $10 million towards the program in the 2010 fiscal year budget.
Gina Warner, executive director of the Greater New Orleans Afterschool Partnership,was one of 1,400 social service and education providers who attended a Harlem Children’s Zone conference in New York last week in hopes of gleaning tips for a proposal to be one of Obama’s chosen 20. It didn’t take long upon her return— less than a week—for news to break that yet another young man not yet old enough legally drink had been arrested on murder charges. Her questions for the Obama administration? Why was no one from the Department of Justice on the conference speaker roll with Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Domestic Policy Adviser Melody Barnes? “How can we talk about educating a population that is just as likely to go to jail as they are to college without talking about juvenile justice,” she asked.
The question is a good one. While Obama has spoken at great length about the general need to incorporate juvenile justice and anti-crime intervention programming into youth education, there has been no clear program of collaboration articulated on a national level.
Which doesn’t mean there won’t be.
One likely solution is that states will channel their own justice dollars towards Promise Neighborhood programs done in coordination with local anti-violence and juvenile justice agencies.
This has already started to happen. In September, New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine announced the state would support efforts to replicate the Harlem Children’s Zone in Newark and Camden. A portion of funding for the initiative came from the Attorney General’s Office and the Juvenile Justice Commission. At an event marking the announcement, New Jersey Education Commissioner Lucille E. Davy spoke of the need to consider education in crime-fighting initiatives.
“Education can be one of the best antidotes to crime,” she said. Davy’s point is plain common sense. Let’s hope Louisiana officials see it that way.