February 20, 2017; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has correctly put its finger on a bit of rogue activity on the part of the Pittsburgh Foundation, which actually decided to consult the sentient beings residing in their communities about what they need.
“Philanthropists and large foundations,” they write on their editorial page, “sometimes approach their grantmaking with an agenda of their own. They have occasionally tried to impose solutions on communities that don’t agree with or want those solutions.”
It’s refreshing to learn about the methodology behind a new report from The Pittsburgh Foundation, titled “A Qualitative Study of Youth and the Juvenile Justice System.” Researchers interviewed more than 50 young people who had direct experience with the justice system and asked their opinions about various issues. They heard frank answers about why the young people got into trouble and what could have kept them out of the justice system.
The study reflects the authentic expert intelligence of those it has consulted and “has found that youth involved with the Allegheny County juvenile justice system could play a much greater role in shaping prevention and diversion programs.”
The report also recommends addressing disproportionate system involvement by youth of color, particularly girls, and that youth have a seat the table with human services staffs, law-enforcement authorities and school officials. The Foundation’s study also calls for schools to reform discipline policies and cultivate race-positive curriculum and advocates for changes to court-related fees and restitution policies, which can leave some youth trapped in the system.
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But the words of the young people themselves is the source of this report.
“‘I believe that this is in your best interest.’…What the heck. You don’t know what’s in my best interest! That’s the wrong statement. That’s the only thing in the world nobody should ever tell a person who they don’t know, [or know] their situation. They may be on probation, but they don’t know what’s going through the kid’s head…NO! It makes me feel like…a Monopoly piece!”
“Sometimes, especially in black culture or inner-city culture, a lot of females are raised to be tough and hard and independent. So we’re coming off as angry, that’s all we know how to be, that’s what we were taught since we were born, to be this person. It means you’re out here in these streets because that’s all you know. Your parents are teaching you how to take care of your family from a very small age.”
The editorial page of the paper is impressed:
The ability of the foundation staff and researchers to listen to youth in poverty and take their opinions seriously is laudable. This can lead to better and more-informed grantmaking in the future.
The approach flows from an organizing principle of 100 Percent Pittsburgh, an initiative designed to address inequality. The idea that one element of addressing inequality is respectful consultation and guidance from the community is, in fact, too rare among philanthropists, a point that the local paper appears to have caught: “We applaud the Pittsburgh Foundation for tackling a tough issue and especially for listening carefully to the young people involved.”—Ruth McCambridge