Teenage Reporters
by Paul Hazelden


Reflection 2:
Teenage Reporters
For Dr. Charles Yeboah

Task

I have to reflect upon the given story by applying one of the four models of reflection presented in the workbook, and write up my reflection in 1,000 - 1,500 words.

Introduction

I cannot use the 'Doing Theology' model, as Laurie Green is quite insistent that his method can only be used in a group context. I cannot use the 'Hermeneutic Circle' model, as this model requires me to start off with an experience of real concern to me, and I have no experience of living in a black ghetto in the USA.

The 'Spurgeon's College Theological Reflection' model has nine stages, which would allow me an average of 111-167 words per stage. This would be challenging, especially as one of the stages requires me to 'debate alternative points of view'.

So I am left with the 'Four As' model as the most appropriate one to use in this situation.

A1: Anecdote

The initial anecdote was provided in what appears to be an article taken from an un-named North American newspaper, apparently published shortly before 21 March 1996 (there is a reference to 'Remorse' saying "it is to be broadcast... on Thursday"). It concerns two Chicago teenagers who, with the help of David Isay, a producer, have made two radio programs - Ghetto Life 101 (1993) and Remorse: The 14 Stories of Eric Morse (1996) - depicting life in and around Ida B. Wells in Chicago: their ghetto. The place they live in is close to and similar to that described in There Are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in the Other America by Alex Kotlowitz.

After the two programmes, the two boys published a book in June 1997, Our America: Life and Death on the South Side of Chicago. LeAlan Jones, who was the main driving force in all three collaborations, has gone on to a successful career in public speaking, and seems likely to be academically successful. Lloyd Newman has been less successful, dropping out of several colleges. In May 2001, he wrote, "Lately I've been thinking of a million things that I want to do, but I've had a hard time putting it all together."

Because the newspaper article is about the two boys, I assume that the 'Story' I am to work with is the story of these boys, and not one of the stories they have told.

A2: Analysis

The normal purpose of this section is to explore the concerns, issue and questions that this story raises, identifying everything that impinges upon the story. However, in such a short article only a few of the issues can be touched upon. Here are some of the important concerns raised by this story.

Poverty

Clearly, much of the detail described by the boys is directly tied in to the level of poverty they have experienced and grown up with. Poverty and unemployment are often seen as the two root causes of many of the other problems experienced within the sub-culture they describe.

Unemployment

Few of the adults in the ghetto have a job: they talk to their principal, Mrs. Tolson, about her job as a teacher, and to Jones' grandmother about the work his grandfather used to do, but most people (like Newman's sisters) survive on benefits.

A simplistic view would say the poverty is due to the unemployment, but life is not that simple: there are few jobs in the area, and (for perfectly understandable reasons) few employers want to employ people who come from the ghetto.

Gangs

One standard feature of run-down city areas in the USA is the gangs. David Wilkerson described some of the New York gangs in his book, The Cross and the Switchblade, and they are still functioning (albeit in a less organised form) today. These gangs create many obvious problems, including much of the violence in the area, but they do provide teenage boys and young men with an identity and sense of belonging, and the gang offers a context in which they are valued as an individual.

Drugs

Drugs and drug addiction form a constant backdrop to ghetto life. The problem is much wider than the ghetto, but that is outside the scope of this article. The problem of drugs has grown much worse over the past 15 years: drugs are much more readily available, the price has come down, far more people are engaged in illegal drug taking in some form, and the range of drugs on the market has increased - partly due to new manufacturing techniques, and partly due to a higher degree of organisation within the drugs trade.

Racism

It is very obvious that the two boys, and most of the people alongside them in the ghetto, are of African origin. Racism is a very complex issue, and there are many conflicting views on the subject. It is not entirely clear how important an issue this is for these boys, and how much the racial inequalities can be explained by other cultural and social pressures. As they are based in the USA, it is difficult to ignore the legacy of slavery, and the prejudice and discrimination fought by the Civil Rights movement.

Family

In Western society, family life has been breaking down for a number of generations. We can see examples of this in the dysfunctional family life described by the boys ("I grew up in the ghetto, got an uncle and a cousin who are career criminals, no father, a mother who was pronounced mentally ill... a sister who had a baby at fifteen... I'm supposed to be a loser."), but even when family life is not working as we think it should, family ties are still very strong, and family relationships have a profound influence on the members of the family.

One reviewer comments on the relative success of the two boys since their two programs, and wonders about the impact of their family circumstances: Jones, who has grown up without a father, is successful and confident; Newman, who is still living at home with an alcoholic father, has great ambitions but seems unlikely to achieve any of them.

Hopelessness

One key ingredient in the mix of problems described by the boys is the sense of hopelessness experienced by many of the people around them. Talking of a school friend (presumably 13 or 14 years old) who is dealing drugs on the street, Newman says, "...he won't be alive in ten years, because with his selling drugs, someone's gonna shoot him before that."

Ghetto

Their ghetto is a physical place in which all the above issues are crammed together. The creation of a ghetto can be seen as an attempt by society to limit the impact of these problems on the more affluent people who have escaped them.

The creation of a ghetto implies that the wider society has turned its back on the problems of the people living there: they are placed out of sight so that they may be out of the society's collective mind. It is part of a deliberate strategy to avoid rather than address the problems of the people living there.

In continuing to publicise the reality of life in the ghetto, Jones is deliberately fighting this strategy, and encouraging the wider society to face up to its responsibility to deal with the issues. His work can be seen as countering the ghetto-ising tendency of society.

A3: Application

I am tempted to say that the application of Biblical truth to the issues identified here is largely self-evident.

Some of these issues are large themes running through the Bible. Family life, for example, features in every part of the Bible: we have stories about successful and unsuccessful family life, laws designed to protect the family, proverbs and other instructions concerning family relations.

Other issues are touched on, but not dealt with in great detail. Racism, for example, is addressed in the commandments given to the Israelites concerning how they are to treat the stranger and foreigner within their gates.

But we can also consider the larger picture. All of these issues describe ways in which people are de-humanised and dis-empowered. The Biblical authors may spend little time dealing with the concepts like 'dignity' and 'respect' you will find in the sociology textbooks, but almost everything the experts teach about the regeneration of run-down neighbourhoods can be summarised by Jesus command to 'love your neighbour.'

A4: Action

The obvious idea arising from this Story is that you can transform a person's life by giving them the opportunity to tell their story. But I fear this is a vast over-simplification. It has worked well for Jones, who is clearly a very gifted individual, but it is not clear how much Newman has gained from the publicity he has received.

The success of Jones and Newman comes about partly because they are almost unique within the USA. Even if others wanted to tell their versions of life in the ghetto, there is a limit to the number of such programs major stations can broadcast in a year, and a much lower limit to the number the public would be prepared to listen to. If the experiment was a success, it is not one that can be repeated for many other people.

But people do not need to be broadcast nationally in order to feel they are being heard; you don't need a microphone and tape recorder for this to work; and you don't need to feature in national newspapers and television programmes. The main thing is to know that someone else is listening to you, and this can happen in a coffee shop or at the end of a Christian meeting.

It is difficult to know what to write as my response, as I am regularly writing and teaching on most of the issues raised in this Story, from both a Christian and a secular perspective. My work with drug addicts and homeless people brings me into regular direct contact with people who have been abused in all the ways the two boys describe, and while some of the details are specific to the USA, the issues are just as important and urgent in the UK.

While half my work consists of helping people who have been damaged and abandoned by society, the other half consists of helping the church understand these issues, and how we can (and must!) respond to them as God's people who are called to demonstrate our Father's character in the way we love everyone - but especially in the way we respond to the weakest, the poorest, and those most in need of His redeeming love.

 

(Total: 1777 words)

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