Tag Archives: Jack Calhoun

Understanding Dissing

Note: Today’s post is written by guest author John A. (Jack) Calhoun, who directs the Network for the National League of Cities Institute for Youth, Education and Families.

 It had been a long day, beginning with a crack of dawn speech to the Salinas/Monterey Community Alliance for Safety and Peace followed by day-long meetings with the mayor and chief, local academics and a two-hour training I led for Court Appointed Special Advocates volunteers.

I was in Salinas for a site visit.  Salinas participates in the California Cities Gang Prevention Network, a 13 city initiative designed and run by the National League of Cities and the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.  In addition to Salinas, Network cities include Fresno, Los Angeles, Oakland, Oxnard, Richmond, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Rosa and Stockton.

Toward the end of the day, two teenagers were shot in East Salinas.  One of them, 16-year old, Manuel Perez, a “B” student at Salinas High School, was gunned down while waiting for a ride to football practice. The other, 19-year old Santiago Ortiz, a known gang member, was shot and wounded.

The shootings affected me profoundly.  They shouldn’t have.   I’m a vet.  I was deeply moved, perhaps because I was tired after a cross-country trip coupled with a day packed with back-to-back meetings; perhaps because I know so many good, competent and caring people in this city, people from all key sectors of the Salinas community—police, schools, the faith community, the mayor’s office, social services and more—all  pledged  to stop violence and to build a Salinas that does not produce violence.  Perhaps because I witnessed first-hand the manifest hope and commitment early that morning, soon followed by the shootings and then by a collective sense of worry, of how daunting the task.

I needed a break before my evening dinner meeting. The cross-country flight, a day beginning at 7:00 a.m. and ending with training, had drained me. 

I took a brief bar break. Jacqui, who was cutting limes and plucking fresh mint leaves for my mojito, was, she told me, working at the bar to help support her fledgling music career.  Lydia from Western Siberia who served me appetizers, attended the local university in Monterey, where she was enrolled in the graduate linguists program.

The day before, a member of the hotel staff, Betsy, had given me a walk-though for our upcoming thirteen city conference, showing me the meeting rooms and other facilities.  A dietitian from Rochester New York, she, deciding to start over, packed up and moved to California.  She landed a job with the hotel, soon becoming its events planner.

It is future, a sense that you can take a street that leads out: Jacqui cutting limes to sing.  Lydia moving from table to table, gathering tips to pay for her university courses, her road having covered thousands of miles.  Betsy, freed from Rochester’s snows, coming across the country to settle in her sun-strewn home.

Each confident.  Each traveling well beyond the street where they began. Each striding confidently  into a new future.

Bryan Contreras who directs Salinas’ “2nd Chance Family and Youth Services,” a program for street kids told me later that night that most of the East Salinas kids rarely get out of their neighborhoods.  “Jack,” he said to me after the shootings, “Most of them have never been to the beach in Monterey.  And it’s only a few miles down the road.  Their ‘corner’ is where their world ends.  End it does—often too soon, tragically.”I thought this:  if Brian and I are walking in separate directions and we happen to bump into each other, we say a quick “Excuse me,” and move on.  Brian and I each have somewhere to go.

If I live in East Salinas and bump into someone on the way to my corner, it could be death for one of us, because, all-too-often, that is all there is, just the corner.  It is not an accidental bump.  It is “dissing”.  If all I have is the corner, I’ll defend it with my life.  Dissing is not the presence of something.  It is the absence of future. My corner.  My turf, which I will protect with my life.  Nothing beyond.

How desperately I want kids to know of long streets, streets that don’t kill, people that don’t u-turn at the end of the block, returning to spray bullets.

I want them to know stories of long streets, stories of people who have walked long streets, people who will walk with them down those streets, with them beyond the corner.

I want them to know they can be Jacqui, Lydia, Betsy, Brian.

-John A. (Jack) Calhoun

John Calhoun, who directs the Network for the National League of Cities Institute for Youth, Education and Families, was former CEO, the National Crime Prevention Council, and under President Carter, Commissioner, Administration for Children, Youth and Families.

Jack also serves on the Operation Kids Whole Child Committee. You can read more about Jack here.

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Filed under Initiative: Children's Issues

The OK List of America’s Best

As we congratulate Bill and Kathy Magee and Senator Orrin Hatch on their well-deserved recognition in November’s U.S. News & World Report, we are mindful of other great leaders with whom we have had the privilege of working during the past year. With that, I’d like to contribute an “Operation Kids: America’s Best Leaders in 2009” by highlighting additional leaders who have made an enormous impact in their communities and, due to their commitment and influence, the world.

Anthony Kennedy Shriver: In 1989 Anthony created a mentoring program on his college campus. That project turned into a life’s work. Today, through his stewardship and entrepreneurial spirit, Best Buddies® has grown into a leading nonprofit entity with increasingly international reach across six continents. It has established a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. They positively impact more than 400,000 participants every year.  The organization is active in each of the 50 United States, and operates accredited international programs in 44 countries.

Drew Brees:   When Drew left the San Diego Chargers and signed with the New Orleans Saints in 2006, he and his wife Brittany took a higher view of the situation. They believed that they were directed to New Orleans for a reason, and committed to become part of the community. They immediately sought way to help rebuild post-Katrina. Today, Drew and Brittany have rebuilt nearly a dozen successful projects including athletic facilities, day care centers and critical education programs. Their adopted city of New Orleans have hailed them as true “Saints” in the city.

Steve Young: With an NFL Hall of Fame career behind him, Steve maintains a broadcast career, participates in a private equity firm, and continues to provide leadership of the Forever Young Foundation. Forever Young Foundation is a non-profit organization that serves children facing significant physical, emotional, and financial challenges. They focus on efforts to provide academic, athletic, and therapeutic opportunities to at-risk youth. They have expanded beyond their historical focus on Northern California, Arizona and Utah, to include development projects like the Forever Young Zones, Youth Education Town Centers (YET Centers) in each Super Bowl city and now, international initiatives including the building and expansion of schools in Ghana, Africa.

John A. (Jack) Calhoun: In his “retirement,” Jack manages the 13-California City Gang Prevention Network for the National League of Cities Institute for Youth, Education and Families. In 2007 and has published a book, Hope Matters: The Untold Story of How Faith Works in America. He has spent a lifetime attempting to improve the lot of children and families and the communities in which they live. President Carter appointed Jack to the nation’s top children’s job, Commissioner of the Administration for Children, Youth and Families, where he oversaw such programs as Head Start, Child Welfare, The Center to Prevent Child Abuse and Neglect, the Office of Domestic Violence and the Office for Families. For 20 years he served at the National Crime Prevention Council as its President and CEO. He also has served as Vice President of the Child Welfare League of America, was the Massachusetts Commissioner of the Department of Youth Services, and chair of both the Adolescent and the State of the Family Task Forces.

We give our deepest gratitude and respect to these great Americans who have truly made an enormous impact on their communities and the world around them.

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Filed under Initiative: Thought Leadership

Selfless Service (Part I)

I just had the remarkable experience of addressing about 1,500 people at the 31st Annual National Credit Union Director’s Convention at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas. This is a gathering of credit union leadership nationally and while it is fresh on my mind, I wanted to make a couple of observations.

First of all, I thought many times during the preparation of the speech, and again while presenting it, how extraordinary it is that a group such as this would dedicate a full session of their conference to the theme of “service.” Just knowing that and preparing for the session made me feel hopeful about the experience.

 Of course Operation Kids knows first hand that credit unions are a special part of the community. One of our largest and longest standing donors and partners is America First Credit Union in Salt Lake City. They believed in the vision of Operation Kids as a financial partner when other institutions did not, and we thank them.

I sensed a significant responsibility with this group of Directors. Since they committed the time to discuss service, I was most anxious to deliver a message with meaning and useful perspective on the topic. I found myself addressing the concept of “service” at a very basic level.

 Here was my premise:

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Filed under Initiative: Thought Leadership

What is in a Name?

I do a lot of reading in my work. I also meet a lot of incredible people who are passionate about children. It is the best part of running a children’s organization – the people.

It is truly amazing to spend every day in association with people who want to make a difference. It is a privileged place to be.

Sometimes, I have the wonderful opportunity to read something written by one of the incredible people with whom I am so privileged to associate.

Recently, I read an excerpt of a new book: Hope Matters: The Untold Story of How Faith Works in America, by Jack Calhoun, a renowned national authority on children, and one of our National Advisory Board and Whole Child Committee members.

His comments on giving children a name – a place, a sense of belonging – resonated very strongly with me.

In this excerpt, he recounts his experience at a conference of educators, pastors and ministers in Washington, D.C.:

“At one of our meetings, held in a junior high school in Southeast Washington, D.C., a minister presented. He described what his church was doing to help stem the tide of crime and delinquency, referencing Head Start, mentoring, family counseling, after-school programs. He concluded: “We also go out into the streets to simply get to know the kids by name.”

I was stunned. How wonderful, how powerful! For underneath the bravado of so many kids is the profound ache of not being claimed, named by anyone. So many youth act on their profound loneliness, their almost primordial need to belong. How simple, but how basic to be called by name: it is parental. We name our kids. It is love; it is protection—“you are mine.”

While serving as Commissioner of Youth Services in Massachusetts, I heard a juvenile murderer say something I will never forget, “Commissioner, I’d rather be wanted for murder than not wanted at all.”

Some thoughts require no elaboration.

I do hope this might have an influence on someone in their own home, in their own neighborhood and community. Next time you see a child on the street that you think may be heading for trouble, say “hi,” and call him or her…by name!

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Filed under Initiative: Children's Issues