By Sam Piha, founder and principal of Temescal Associates, a consulting group dedicated to building the capacity of leaders and organizations in education and youth development who are serious about improving the lives of young people.
Milbrey McLaughlin has been a leading thinker, researcher, and advocate on youth development, out-of-school time youth programs, and community schools for decades. Dr. McLaughlin teaches at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education and is Founding Director of Stanford’s John W. Gardner Center.
Dr. McLaughlin recently released a new book entitled, You Can’t Be What You Can’t See: The Power of Opportunity to Change Young Lives. Below are her responses to a few questions regarding her work.
Q: Can you say a few words about the subject of your new book and why you decided to write this?
A: My 1994 book Urban Sanctuaries chronicled the successful youth outcomes associated with CYCLE (Community Youth Creative Learning Experience), a neighborhood-based youth program operating in Chicago’s notorious Cabrini-Green housing project. CYCLE provided the high-poverty black youth growing up there with concrete alternatives to gangs and school failure, occasions to experience life outside the four square blocks of their dense neighborhood, and opportunities to imagine futures different from the concentrated poverty they saw around them.
While Urban Sanctuaries documented participants’ encouraging outcomes in the early 1990s, it could say little about whether these positive attitudes and behaviors could or would be sustained over time given the powerful challenges of poverty and negatives of life in Cabrini-Green. You Can’t Be What You Can’t See: The Power of Opportunity to Change Young Lives follows up with around 700 CYCLE participants 30 years later and provides a rare opportunity to see the long-term impact of a youth program on their lives, and the lives of their children.
In a community where around 30 percent African-American females and less than 20 percent of African-American males graduated from high school, and where gang membership and early pregnancies were the norm, CYCLE participants’ accomplishments are extraordinary. Around 90 percent of the youth involved in CYCLE’s scholarship programs and other activities during the 1980s graduated from high school. They subsequently achieved careers such as educators, doctors, office workers, social workers, managers, youth leaders, tradesmen, and law enforcement officers. Many attained success in higher education. In addition to earned Associate’s and Bachelor’s degrees, CYCLE participants from the 1980s include 11 doctorates, two MDs, and MAs in programs such as architecture, social work, education, and business.
Today, CYCLE alums have stable jobs, families, and friendships; they are active in their communities and in their children’s lives, and a majority of their children are high school graduates headed for higher education.
Q: What were the key takeaways?
A: There were several:
Read part II of the Q&A here.
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