OK

"Few will have the greatness to bend history; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation ... It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is thus shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."

- Robert F. Kennedy, June 6, 1966, Cape Town, South Africa

   

I recall an instance a couple of months ago when this community demonstrated that political progressivism means more than working on campaigns, or donating to candidates, or keeping an eye on the machinations of government officials and their (all too often) pliant enablers in the mass media.  A paralyzed combat veteran needed help buying a computer so that he could pursue a meaningful, post-military career.  When he sought help on craigslist, a shallow, heartless fellow questioned his honor.  This community responded differently, raising $4,000 in four days for him to buy the computer and begin his future.  See that story here.

I write now to call you to a similar challenge on behalf of members of our American family that are, perhaps, even more neglected than our brave veterans (if such a thing is possible) - our next generation.  Specifically, 50 schoolchildren in New York City who have the most going against them, but who, right now, have a brief opportunity at a second chance in life.  You have it in your power to give them one day in that life that they will never forget, one day that might, for any one of them, be the flicker of light at the end of the tunnel that makes the difference between the easy path of giving up, of drug use and crime, of surrender to the only streets they have ever known, and the hard, determined road, one that is only now barely open to them, that leads to hope and happiness and a contribution, instead of a tear, to the fabric of our society.

The children you can help go to a public high school in New York City called Community Prep.  It is unlike any "prep" school you have heard of before.  It is not for privileged suburbanites or standardized-test whizzes preparing for college.  It is for children who have recently been released from New York City's juvenile prisons and jails.  It is an attempt, and a very progressive one as government programs go, to prepare these children just to survive as members of their community without having to resort to addiction and crime to dull the pain of hopelessness and hunger.  You can read all about Community Prep here.

    My girlfriend recently became a social-studies teacher at Community Prep.  She, and the rest of her dedicated colleagues do the thankless work of real progressivism every day.  As part of their mandate, they must be the opposite of every adult their students have come into contact with.  Where parents have been missing, they must be there.  Where the street-idols have offered power through intoxication and violence, they must offer it through knowledge and diligence. Rather than taking a strictly punitive approach, Community Prep seeks to restore young people by offering the necessary structure and support. They must do it all with the funding of a New York City public school.  

    What they cannot give their students, without your help, is a taste of life outside the four walls of the Community Prep building, outside the concrete grid of Manhattan, outside of their students' experience on the street corners, the only experience they have ever known.  But they want to.  It is not uncommon for a student to have never traveled below the school's 29th Street location. Many have only traveled outside of the city in a caged bus to a secure facility. They are truly prisoners of New York. Community Prep knows that even a single day of blue skies, of green grass and tall trees, of contact with animals that aren't rats or dogs, of simple children's play in a swimming pool that isn't ruled by a gang, could make all the difference in the work they are doing.  If they can find the support they need, they plan on bringing 50 of their students to a ranch outside the city this June, as their students' time at Community Prep draws to a close.  They need $3,000 to do it.

    To people like me, who grew up in suburban comfort, the smell of clean air or the feeling of an open field under bare feet might not seem such a singular occurrence.  But to these children, it could quite literally be the difference between lives lived, or merely endured.  A day remembered and treasured not the next week, or month, but for the rest of their lives.  A day that reminds them constantly of what more there is than what they have known.

    Progressives (like me) make much of helping the least fortunate among us.  Some of us (like me) accomplish little more than ideas and talk that no matter their value in stirring the mind, have little effect on the voiceless fellow-citizens we strive to represent.   I have stood before RFK's "pond" for a long time, pontificating on how one might best throw a stone that would begin the ultimate "ripple of hope."   But when my girlfriend told me what her colleagues and principal were planning, a day trip to an alternate universe for 50 almost-forgotten children, I knew I had to put ideas aside and skip the stone that had been handed me with the best aim I could.  I chose to skip it here.

    I have set up a PayPal account

to receive donations for this effort.  The $50 I could afford to kick in myself is in the kitty.  It, and this appeal to you, is my tiny ripple.  Can the congregation help me build a mighty current?

    P.S. In the (entirely sensible) event that members of the community want the bona fides of this appeal verified, I can supply either a sworn affidavit from Community Prep's principal, or else provide ONE trusted member of the community with his email or phone number at the school so that that member can verify.  Please help me hash out in the Comments section 1) which would be best, 2) any suggestions to make this diary more effective, or 3) any other resources you can point the Community Prep folks to in their above-and-beyond effort to make this dream a reality for their students.  Thanks in advance.

    P.P.S. If we can get this off the ground, I promise that you will all be rewarded with an update post of pictures and a full write-up that will be sure to warm your heart.

Originally posted to Turtle Bay on Thu Apr 21, 2005 at 06:48 AM PDT.

EMAIL TO A FRIEND X
Your Email has been sent.