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					Neighborhoods: Creators of Evil or Places of Salvation?




                          by




                   Krystal Murray
       A.P. English Language and Composition
                   Barry McRaith
                  February 13, 2009
                     Final Draft
                               A Dedication to My Community



Community: 20 Reasons Why I Hate You

Because you’re ugly
Because every time I look at you I am reminded of enslavement
Because you are enslaved
Because you have no leaders, no sense of family, no unity - isn’t that the keyword in community
Because you make me feel down
Because you make me cry when no one is around
Because many of your people lay helpless strung out on drugs on your grounds
Because of Gentrification
Because of Discrimination
Because you’re within a so messed up nation
Because you make me full of hate
Because your little girls want to be hookers at the age of eight
Because I have a baby in my tummy and I’m only thirteen
Because I’ll have another by the age of fifteen
Because your young men start slangin’ rocks before they even reach fourteen
Because I like love and none is here
Because I have to walk down your streets in fear
Because your deaths are the cause of so many mothers’ tears
Because my father’s not home
Because I feel that wanting to make improvement within you will leave me alone
                                                                                         Murray 1


       As I walk alone through the treacherous and filthy streets of my neighborhood, I wonder

why any caring mother would allow her child to step a foot outside of the home without her strict

supervision. Though times have always been very tough for any child growing up in the inner-

city or “ghetto,” it seems that there are no longer the common worries from a mother of her child

getting into a simple fight at school or not doing to well on a spelling test. Most mothers now

deal with the fear of their twelve year-old-daughters getting pregnant and their fourteen-year-old

sons selling drugs and putting themselves at risk of being killed while hanging with their fellow

gang members. It is no longer common to aspire to be something other than a drug dealer/abuser

or a teen parent. Many of those who desire to be successful in life are usually led into a path of

failure because they are less likely to have peers like them. Many will eventually become

influenced by the people in their surroundings.

       Though I sincerely sympathize with the youth that refuse to believe that they are good

enough to make it out of their situation without getting involved in crime and becoming a

statistic, my mind tends to ponder more on the reason why the youth from disadvantaged

neighborhoods are this way. Though there are many more influences in today’s society than in

previous times, I cannot help but believe that the mentality of today’s black youth depends on

their neighborhood and surroundings.

       In my neighborhood I tend to see the same scenario. A new family with children moves

into the neighborhood. The kids seem to be well behaved, and from an outsider’s perspective, the

children would appear to be home trained and unlike the other children from the neighborhood.

Sooner or later, the kids begin to hang out with the kids from the neighborhood and slowly but

surely their whole demeanor begins to change — it’s like a never-ending cycle.
                                                                                        Murray 2


       The idea of the majority of the youth from the inner-city wasting their lives away and

barley being part of the likelihood of having a future other than death due to crime, being

imprisoned, drug abusers whether it be dealing or using and all of the other labels that society

seems to automatically place on people like me is very bothersome. I always wonder why I’m

not like them and why many of the other people like me are the way they are.

       When I was younger, my mother didn’t allow me and my younger sister outside in my

neighborhood. She would always make sure we went to many other places to experience things

that we wouldn’t have if we stayed in the neighborhood and only in the neighborhood. Yet and

still, she could not keep us away from our environment. I have hung out with people in my

neighborhood and I have been in countless situations where I could have done a lot of

inappropriate things. I’ve seen a slew of drug dealers dealing drugs, drug addicts doing drugs,

prostitutes and alcoholics, and I can’t help but wonder if the neighborhood an adolescent lives in

effects his/her behavior/ mentality.

       Though it may be tougher for an adolescent to live their life in society’s idea of a “proper

manner,” the neighborhood a child lives in cannot determine the person they will be. A

neighborhood, as a whole, does not affect a child’s behavior/mentality. An adolescent’s family

income, socioeconomic status (SES) status, and mentality play a bigger role in his/her future

lifestyle and mental health than the actual place they live in.

       Most kids who have parents with jobs are not likely to turn out like the children within

the neighborhood who have parents without jobs. “Neighborhood Residence and Mental Health

Problems of 5- to 11-Year-Olds” is a study that examines whether children’s mental health is

associated with neighborhood structural characteristics. “Children whose mothers were

unemployed had poorer mental health than those whose mothers were working” (Xue, et al).
                                                                                         Murray 3


Most children are affected greatly by the person they are raised by. Most children who live in

inner-city neighborhoods are raised by single mothers. “Only 6% of inner-city black men marry

their pregnant girlfriends before the baby is born” (Wilson). Adolescents are more likely to

respect and look up to a person who they feel is accomplished, and it is more likely that people

who are accomplished will have high standards of behavior for the youth that they are around. If

a child lives in a home where the mother works, he/she will be more likely to look up to those

around them if they are accomplished. “Since many black women in the inner city depend on

welfare to raise their families, they are unable to pass on work habits associated with the outside

labor market to their children” (Wilson). If children are looking up to people who they feel are

accomplished within their home, they are less likely to look outside of the home or within the

neighborhood and they will be more likely to feel that they have to act according to the their

mother or the adult within the home.

       If adults in a family have more education and are not like the people within their

neighborhood, the children in that family will be less likely to be affected mentally by that

neighborhood. Delbert S. Elliott, Ph.D., is Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for

the Study and Prevention of Violence within the Institute of Behavioral Science at the University

of Colorado. “In general analysis, we found that youth from families with more education, white-

collar/ professional occupations and higher income levels of individual competence, regardless

of the types of neighborhood in which they live in” (Elliot, et al 285). Most adolescents who

come from families with successful backgrounds are expected to do as well as the people in their

families or better. These expectations will most likely cause those children to feel that they have

to or should act accordingly. “If the vast majority of adults that a teenager knows either are not

working or have been unsuccessful in finding a decent job, the teenager is likely to conclude that
                                                                                         Murray 4


there is no real payoff to expect from responsible behavior” (Gould). Children who don’t come

from families with successful backgrounds do not have any examples to live by as far as

succeeding; these children are more likely to search outside of the home for examples to live by.

If a child lives in a neighborhood that has negative influences and they don’t have any examples

to live by, they will more than likely end up following those negative examples of behavior that

they see within the neighborhood.

       If children have parents with more money than the average person within the

neighborhood, they may be more likely to send them to a better school being that they can afford

it. Inner City Poverty in the United States is a book that documents the growth of concentrated

poverty in central cities of the United States and examines what is known about its causes and

effects. “Children from affluent schools no more, stay in school longer, and end up with better

jobs than children from schools that enroll mostly poor children” (Lynn 111). Youth who have

parents who are well off are more likely to have access to affluent institutions. Prosperous are

more likely to provide children with a better education that public schools or poor schools are not

able to provide. For example, public schools in Chicago do not provide students with the

necessities that youth need in order to really survive higher levels of education and if the students

that attend these schools are not prepared, they will be more likely to give up later. Youth from

wealthy schools will also be held at higher standards than children from poor schools. If an

adolescent’s parents can afford to send them to an affluent school, the child is more likely to

attend one. Children attending a wealthy school will have a different affect than them attending a

poor school being that they will be more likely to receive a better education making it less likely

for them to quit later in life and they will be more likely to have standards of behavior enforced

in them.
                                                                                          Murray 5


       Adults that influence a child have a heavier influence on his/her behavior and mentality

than the neighborhood they live in. The achievements of an adolescent’s parents influence

his/her mentality heavily. Felton J. Earls is the Professor of Human Behavior and Development

at the Harvard University School of Health. “For maternal characteristics, children whose

mothers had less than a high school education had marginally worse mental health than other

children whose mothers graduated from high school” (Xue, et al). In recent times, it is very

common to have a young mother; it is very common for young women to drop out of high school

when they get pregnant or after they have their child(s) to drop out of high school. It is also

known fact that teenage pregnancy occurs more often in inner-city/poor or disadvantaged

neighborhoods. “Poor families are more likely to be headed by a parent who is single, has low

education attainment, is unemployed, has low earning potential, and is young” (Brooks).

Children who are raised by parents who fit into one of these categories are more likely to be

affected negatively by their neighborhood. “These parental attributes, separately or in

combination, might account for some of the observed negative consequences of poverty on

children” (Brooks). An adolescent who is raised by a parent whose has poor mental health, few

achievements, and is less likely to have any future achievements are more likely to be affected

negatively by his or her neighborhood. The child will either be heavily influenced by their parent

or he/she will not see the parent as a suitable role model and will look outside of the home for an

influence.

       The behavior of an adolescent’s parent influences his/her behavior heavily. The Project

on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods is a multilevel, longitudinal study of a

representative sample of children aged 5 to 11 years in the late 1990s recruited from 80

neighborhoods.“…Children with depressed mothers had significantly poorer mental health than
                                                                                          Murray 6


children without depressed mothers…worse mental health in mothers was significantly

associated with unfavorable mental health in their children” (Xue, et al). Youth learn their

behavioral patterns from the people, especially adults that they are around. When they see the

people around them acting a certain way, they will usually pick up on that and act accordingly. If

children grow up around adults that are always negative and are not really progressive, they will

most likely be the same way. “What parents do and don't do, say and don't say, provide their

children with the experiences that the children interpret into beliefs. Those beliefs, in turn, then

determine their behavior and emotions and, ultimately, their lives-for better or for worse” (“Your

Behavior as Parents Influences Much more Than Your Child's Behavior”). If children grow up

around adults that encourage a positive attitude and are always trying to develop, they will

believe that that’s what they are suppose to do and they will act accordingly.

       The value of an adolescent’s parent’s parenting skills weigh more than the neighborhood

he or she lives in. Does Neighborhood Really Matter? Assessing Recent Evidence is an article

that synthesizes findings from a wide range of empirical research into how neighborhoods affect

families and children. “And some of the recent studies that have done the most careful job of

controlling for unobserved family characteristics (such as parenting skills or values) find no

independent neighborhood effect, casting doubt on the robustness of results from other studies”

(Turner). Most youth who overcome the many negative effects of living in an impoverished

neighborhood have someone in their lives who they respect that promote positive values. “As

children began to perceive and internalize the power structure within a community, they are most

likely to be influenced by the adults who possess power and respect” (Gould). If an adolescent

has parents that enforce good behavior, a positive mentality, and good parenting skills he/she
                                                                                          Murray 7


will be less likely to look for an outside influence and their mentality/behavior will be less likely

to be affected by the neighborhood because the child will only be influenced by his/her parents.

        A child’s mental health and future lifestyle can be significantly affected by the fallibility

and quality of services that are available in his/her neighborhood. A child’s mentality and

behavior can be significantly affected by the fallibility and quality of services that are available

in their neighborhood. Ellen Gould is Associate Professor of Public Policy and Urban Planning

and Co-Director of NYU's Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy. “If the local public

schools are poor, children are unlikely to receive a solid foundation in reading and math skills,

particularly if their parents lack the tools to supplement their education. Without these basic

skills, students may struggle with school later on and become frustrated and disenchanted”

(Gould). Even the poorest youth from the poorest neighborhoods have the potential to succeed

and overcome the problems that they face growing up in a less advantaged neighborhood.

“Someone born into a family in the lowest fifth of earners who graduates from college has a 19

percent chance of joining the highest fifth of earners in adulthood and a 62 percent chance of

joining the middle class or better” (Eckholm). Many people who escape the struggles of living in

a disadvantaged neighborhood do so with education, but an adolescent from a disadvantaged

neighborhood will be less likely to see the importance of education if the schooling he/she

receives is not efficient.

        One can argue that an adolescent’s neighborhood does not affect his/her learning

experience. Good Kids from Bad Neighborhoods: Successful Development in Social Context is a

a study of how children living in the worst neighborhoods develop or fail to develop the values,

competencies, and commitments that lead to a productive, healthy responsible life.

“Surprisingly, there are no significant differences in the average grade by type of neighborhood
                                                                                            Murray 8


in Chicago; the average grade in poor, moderate and advantaged neighborhoods are C’s” (Elliot,

et al 73). While affluent schools do provide better educations and backgrounds to youth, the rank

of education that students are provided with does not determine the rank of education they will

accept. Youth will make a choice of what they want to do regardless of what standards have been

set for them. Youth from affluent schools are more likely to feel that they are not smart enough

for their school being that they are more likely to be around kids with higher intelligence. Youth

from impoverished schools are more likely to feel that they is no purpose of doing work and see

no importance in education being that they see people in their neighborhood everyday who have

no success even though they attended school. These kids are also more likely to be influenced by

people just like them who feel that there is no importance in education adding to their belief that

education is insignificant.

        If an adolescent can find no happiness, his or her mental health is more likely to be

affected by a neighborhood. The Chicago Sun-Times is the oldest continuously published daily

newspaper in the city. “The kind of child-led "free play" kids enjoy on playgrounds "is one way

they process trauma… art, recess and physical activity benefit all children, but "kids with

difficult lives need them more than other kids,'' he said. "It's a nasty irony that they are less likely

to have these things'' (Rossi). Youth from impoverished neighborhoods are very probable to

experience problems within their home. “Children growing up in local authority care or in

severely disadvantaged homes are at greater risk than others of experiencing emotional

difficulties” (Buchanan). Most schools provide classes or sessions such as recess, art, and gym

that help kids take their mind off of the many problems that they face. Most kids who act out at

school do so because they use school as an escape, a place to process the problems they deal with

outside of school. Impoverished schools are less likely to provide these classes and sessions to
                                                                                         Murray 9


schools for many reasons (e.g. not having sufficient funds and not being able to let the children

outside due to the danger of gang activity in the neighborhood). If kids have no place or no way

to process trauma they are more likely to find negative activities or people within their

neighborhood to use as an escape.

       If a child has no way to express themselves he/she are more likely to be affected

negatively by their neighborhood. Margery Turner is Director of the Metropolitan Housing and

Communities Policy Center at the Urban Institute. She believes that “the availability of after

school programs, such as sports, music, and art, may matter a great deal especially during the

adolescent years. Without these diversions, teenagers may be at greater risk of getting involved

in dangerous or antisocial behaviors and may not have the opportunity to discover talent and

strengths upon which to build productive lives and careers” (Gould). Most children who face the

common struggles of living in impoverished or disadvantaged neighborhoods are able to find an

escape outside of the home. Most kids from these neighborhoods who grow up and conquer the

struggles of their neighborhoods speak of an afterschool program that they were in or a center

that they went to that kept them out of the streets. Poor schools are very less likely to provide

these programs to the children who attend the schools. “In areas where prospects and resources

are limited, afterschool programs are often the only source of supplemental enrichment in

literacy, nutrition education, technology, and preparation for college entrance exams”

(“Afterschool Programs: Helping Kids Succeed in Rural America”). If a child has problem

within the home they live in and have no escape from the problems, they will be more likely to

look within their community for an escape.

         An adolescent’s behavior or mentality is affected by his/her neighborhood. Daisey

Dowell is a pediatrician at the North Lawndale Christian Health Center in Chicago, Illinois. She
                                                                                            Murray 10


also works with the youth in the community. “It is not uncommon to hear patients or their

parents complain about their surroundings, much of which is true and legitimate. However some

of it is “learned helplessness” meaning that they have heard, been told, by those around them and

the media, that because they are poor, life just has to be this way, and they learn to accept the

conditions they find themselves in” (Dowell). Adolescents learn ideologies from the people they

are around and look up to. It is common for the people in inner-city neighborhoods to complain

about their surroundings and speak of life being unfair because of the situation they are in. It is

also common for the people who do complain about their surrounding to be the sane people who

are less likely to do something about their situation. If a child is influenced by people in their

neighborhood who complain about their neighborhood yet have no intentions on doing anything

about it, the child will learn to feel helpless, eventually becoming a product of his/her

environment.

       While many studies prove that there is a connection with living in a disadvantaged

neighborhood and behavioral problems, one can still argue that all kids misbehave whether they

live in poor neighborhoods or rich neighborhoods. Laurence E. Lynn, Jr. is the George H. W.

Bush Chair and Professor of Public Affairs at the George Bush School of Government and

Public Service, Texas A&M University. “And even the most affluent neighborhoods has some

teenagers who hate schoolwork, reject adults standards of behavior, and get into some sort of

trouble as teenagers in poor neighborhoods” (Lynn 117). There are children within every

neighborhood who will act up. If a person lives in a wealthy neighborhood and they are around

adults who have high standards of behavior, there is still a chance that they may misbehave as

much as adolescents who live in disadvantaged neighborhoods are presumed to.
                                                                                     Murray 11


       Living in a disadvantaged neighborhood has no connection with and adolescent being

involved with gangs. Chicago Tonight is an evening television news program that broadcast

weeknights on WTTW in Chicago. “This neighborhoods is considered to be an upper-middle

class neighborhood, nice yards, you know white picket fence. I would say $750,000 to 1 million

dollar homes and I know kids that are in gangs. I’m very scared to live around here and have my

kids grow up around this type of gang activity” (Gangs: Dreams under Fire). Though most

people assume that misbehavior related to violence such as gang activity only occurs in

impoverished neighborhoods, it can and does happen in rich and advantaged neighborhoods. The

neighborhood a person lives in does not determine whether they will be violent, or misbehave at

all.
                                                                                      Murray 12


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Buchanan, Ann, and JoAnn T. Brinke. "Disadvantaged Children at Greater Risk of Adult Mental

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Eckholm, Erik. "The New York Times Log In." The New York Times. 15 Feb. 2009

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                                                                                     Murray 13


Gang: Dreams Under Fire. Dir. Marlo Bendua. Perf. Malcolm- Jamal Warner. VHS. 1993.

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                                                                                 Murray 14


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