My childhood has granted me a relatively unique perspective on segregation.
After my parents separated, I split time between living with my dad and brothers in a middle-class suburb of Chicago and my mom living in a low-income section of Chicago’s south-side. My suburban neighborhood was incredibly diverse with great schools and engaged parents. There were examples all around me of parents with a variety of incomes and professions (including stay-at-home mom). Exposure to these diverse options was a large part of what sustained me when I returned to the south-side of Chicago where many of the adults around me were unemployed or in many ways simply the same.
There is the possibility that my natural drive and inquisitiveness would have led to many of the same outcomes but I doubt that very much. I do believe that my exposure to other cultures growing up made it easier for me to adjust to the diversity of my college and work environments. It also instilled in me a desire for diversity. As an adult, I actively seek out inclusive organizations.
Being both very poor and middle-class at different times in my life has enabled me to empathize and analyze social issues in a different way. I understand the challenges that exist in both socio-economic groups. This experience has definitely come in handy in my roles as a non-profit Board member and youth mentor where empathy and relatedness is required to truly engage and make the most beneficial decisions.
Viewing dissimilar people through the lens of ‘otherness’ can lead to some very bias actions. A host of social scientists have demonstrated how the segregation that was imposed on African-Americans continues to linger and has concentrated the poverty, intensifying the ills of the neighborhoods.
According to Starkey, rigid segregation of urban neighborhoods means that the black child will be raised in a residential environment with higher poverty, fewer resources, poorer schools, and more violence. These differences have an important impact on children’s opportunities as they move toward adulthood.
Demographers measure segregation with a “dissimilarity index,” which represents the percentage of a racial group that would have to move for the group to be perfectly integrated in a city or metro area. An index above 60 represents high segregation. In 1960, Chicago’s black-white dissimilarity index was 93. It’s now 84.
The following map by the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service shows the concentration/segregation of ethnicities throughout Chicago.
This is why I believe in mentoring. If done right, it is a structured and effective way to match a diverse group of volunteers and mentees in order to expand thoughts and life experiences. It is a way to overcome the segregation in Chicago.
We must prepare our youth to enter an interconnected world that demands adaptability and maturity. Exposure to different cultures can help inspire global understanding and respect for the uniqueness of each individual. Hopefully, creating engaged, reflective and contributing citizens of the world.