Dear Resident


Editor’s Note: Dear Resident is on vacation this month. In honor of Black History Month, the column below reprints the Dear Resident column from February 2000

Despite the mild to moderate to monumental Y2K disaster predictions, here we are, just like the rest of Chicago, safe and sound in the new millennium.

Here we are with the same old new challenge of how to improve the quality of life for public housing residents and the same new old problems.

Old problems affect more of our young people at even earlier age, causing them to fall victim to something that can only be described as a cultural plague.

A culture of single, female head of households, below-average elementary school students (too many classified as having behavioral disorders), high school drop-outs, teen-age parents, young criminal offenders, very young, young, old and even older substance abusers in a national atmosphere of violence, violent music and violent movies. All of this, coupled with confusion and anger and more anger with respect to their place in society. Young people today do not view our position in society and societys position on us as reasonably as past generations.

By no means are these cultural ills exclusive to public housing. Unlike past generations, when a culture was what you did, today a culture is what you become. And things will continue in the same old way. So we thought. So we think? Truly, the only difference between the old and new millennium was the nanosecond when 1999 became 2000.

What was the old millennium rolled over into the new millennium just like the numbers on a clock. Little else changed for most of us, unless we were already in the midst of change when the new millennium struck.

Change, for the most part, even when it seems radical (extreme), is slow and methodical (arranged, characterized by or performed with method and order). Sometimes change results from careful planning and manipulative cunning (the ability to change by artful or unfair means so as to serve one’s own purpose). Every once in a while, but not often, change is sheer happenstance or coincidence.

But if nothing else, change is necessary. There can be no progress without it. There can be no movement without it. We would be stuck in time. And we have been for a long time.

While the new millennium did not bring catastrophic change, change will come. Change will come gradually. Change will come methodically. Especially for the old, outdated, burdensome, effortful (full of effort) concepts of the old millennium like public housing in Chicago. Public housing is not just groups and rows of red and white high-rise structures that signal danger, death and drugs to most and home to others.

Somewhere in the old millennium, and not only in Chicago, public housing went from a place to live to a way to live. It became a culture (the ideas, customs, skills, arts, etc. of a people or group in a particular period or place that are transferred, communicated or passed along in or to succeeding generations).

Originally, public housing was a social program accompanied by other social programs designed to improve the quality of life for Americas less fortunate.

But somewhere in the old millennium, the “fortunate” financially and physically withdrew support from America’s social programs. The fortunate began living in such a manner that it appeared they would not, could not, be affected by the ills of societys less fortunate.

Now, the “fortunate” ones realize that nothing could be further from the truth. Their pulling away from society and its norms left behind a sub-society that then evolved into a culture with own norms. Today, while many cultures may exist in America, we are still, if nothing else, one society. While many things may separate the fortunate from the less fortunate, physical space is not one of them.

Once again, society sees the need to improve the quality of life for America’s less fortunate. Without a doubt, you can tear down public housing. But can you tear down its culture?

For as long as a society has members, its cultures are sustained. Unfortunately, not only are they sustained. In our case, culture is fueled by confused, angry youth who do not see any way out, who work to optimize (develop to the utmost extent) the culture. Add to that the societal differences and you have two things that hinder change more than anything else; a lack of understanding and distrust.

So, while we have no choice, can we trust society to look out for our best interest again? Do they care about our problems or the fact that we pose a problem to them?

The culture of public housing is such that most residents seem as hopeless as the structures in which we live. They are totally immersed in the culture, unaware of much else. For culture, too, is slow and methodical. Like the fortunate, many of us live here somehow thinking that we cannot be touched by the ills of our society or maybe we just accept it. But slowly, we lose our children, our families and our lives to the culture of public housing.

In any culture/society, it is the “survival of the fittest.” Only the fit will survive. Like everything around us, we must change. Ultimately, we will change for the better or worse anyway. So why not change for the better?

We must become fit if we are to survive and prosper. And we must help one another become physically, mentally, emotionally and financially fit. We must learn and teach our children a new way to live.

The new millennium has also increased the speed with which social generations evolve. While family generations remain the same, a social generation is a high school graduating class that occurs each year.

Therefore, we lose a social generation every year that the majority of our young people fail to graduate high school with their graduating class. In addition to becoming high school drop-outs, they become social drop-outs as well, unable to function in society, many confined, physically and mentally, to their public housing community.

Perhaps the question should not be “Can we trust society?” but “Can we trust our collective self to work together to improve the quality of life for our future and our children?

Surely, some of us remember the promise of hope for our children’s future as we held them in our arms. The hope and desire for an opportunity for a better life for them and their children. If they are to have the hope of this promise, we must change. We must become slow and methodical or lose more of our children, even whole families, to our culture. We must do what we can to keep the promise of hope. I will. Will you?


Author’s Note: Definitions in this article that are in parentheses are all from Webster’s New World Dictionary.

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