A few weeks ago, I talked about some of the problems facing Santa Fe Public Schools. Today, I want to talk about another educationally failing region of the country and the unique approach that one little non-profit called Write a House is trying to use to help fix the problems.
Now, I have never been to Detroit, but most of us know that it declared bankruptcy last year. Most of us have seen some of the images of its huge, abandoned, burned out buildings that the media likes to flash about these days (that look like scenes from the post-apocalyptic stories I talked about last week). I think Detroit has lost something like 1.5 million residents in the past 50 years. So it shouldn’t really be a surprise that Detroit youth are struggling.
But I did some research and came up with some pretty appalling statistics. According to a study done by the Detroit Workforce Fund, 47% of the Detroit population (adults, mind) is functionally illiterate. This means they can’t read pill bottles, fill out paperwork, etc. Last year, Detroit’s public high school graduation rate was about 65%, which is more than 10% less than the national graduation rate. And a study in Education Weekly reported that the Detroit school district had the #7 highest drop out rate in the country last year. On top of this, Detroit youth (age 16-21) have the highest unemployment rate of any metropolitan area in the country.
So what do teens who aren’t in school and aren’t working do? Well, apparently in Detroit they join gangs, do drugs, and make babies.
Obviously the problems facing Detroit are large, complex, and not going to be solved quickly or with one sweeping effort. But one hopeful thing about Detroit that I’ve discovered since I started researching it is that there seems to be a real community spirit there. Lots of folk are working to make positive change through grassroots efforts on a community/neighborhood level.
And perhaps the most interesting initiative I’ve ever seen is the project Write a House. Their proposal would help combat Detroit’s problems with illiteracy, youth unemployment, de-population, and dying neighborhoods. Basically, they are buying houses in struggling neighborhoods. Then, they are partnering with Young Detroit Builders, who take area youth and teach them construction job skills, to make the houses habitable. They will use these houses to create a unique writer’s residency program. But in this case, they want the writers to stay forever and create a more literary community in Detroit.
They’re not looking for community activists, but they are looking for good writers who have potential, are willing to settle down in Detroit for good, and are likely to be engaged citizens. The chosen writers’ official residencies will last for two years during which time they will be expected to contribute to the Write a House blog, give community readings, and use the house as their primary residence. At the end of the two years, the writer will be given the deed to the house.
Is it going to solve all of Detroit’s problems? No, of course not. But it’s a kind of fascinating solution. Detroiters need neighbors. The youth need job skills. And all of Detroit could apparently bear to have more highly literate folk in their midst doing literate things.
So what can we do to help? Well, they need money. They have already purchased three homes, but they need to raise more funds for the renovations. They are looking for a grant writer. If you are a grant writer or know a grant writer, more information can be found here.
And they are also asking for contributions through an indiegogo campaign. The page includes a great interview about the project with the director of Young Detroit Builders if you want to learn more.
So I guess what I’m asking is that you all consider helping them out to whatever extent you can and then pass this information along to anyone else you think might be willing to help them. And that feels kind of great to me since I don’t get to suggest actual, concrete solutions for specific problems really ever.
Good luck, Write a House!