Saturday, October 9, 2010


Yolanda Conley Shields
 As the ED of Youth Life Foundation of Tennessee – Youth Life Learning Centers, I regularly go to meetings with city officials and Metro police department representatives. Every day I receive by an email police report with all the previous day’s incident in the neighborhoods we serve. Some days I intentionally don’t read the reports because it breaks my heart to see how many young people we are losing. All across the country, and particularly in Nashville, so many of our young people are falling through the cracks with no one there to catch them.  In addition to the things I see happening to individual children in these neighborhoods, there the sad and sorry statistics. The recently published-
Yes We Can: The Schott 50 State Report on Public Education and Black Males found that only 47 percent of black males graduated from high school in the 2007-2008 school year. The report’s authors also stated that the results of the eighth grade reading assessment test scores, which measure how many black males read at or above the proficiency level, “should set off alarm bells.” The “best” score was a dramatically low: 15 percent (Kentucky, New Jersey), and several states averaged only five percent (Mississippi, Nevada). According to the report, “More than twice as many black students are classified as ‘mentally retarded’ in spite of research demonstrating that the percentages of students from all groups are approximately the same at each intelligence level.” The report adds, “The persistent over-classification of black male students as ‘mentally retarded’ reflects, at best, a lack of professional development in this area for teachers and other staff.” For more information on this report go to

So who to blame — the school system, parents, students, or political/community leaders? It’s not about the blame but about looking for solutions. I know what teachers mean when they say, “If we can reach just one child…” But why can’t we reach more than one? The great need for Youth Life Learning Centers is reaffirmed every day when I see the increase in juvenile crime in YLLC neighborhoods as well as the waiting list for children wanting to get into our program. 

YLLCs attack the problem of at-risk kids in inner-city Nashville with a proven strategy that concentrates sufficient attention and resources on each child, enabling that child to overcome the enormous challenges in their life and surrounding neighborhood. It is the philosophy of Youth Life Foundation of Tennessee that to achieve consistent results among a large majority of  the youth being served, the program has to consistently address a variety of  issues. In short, the Youth Life Learning Center program takes a lot of  work. If you take short-cuts, the positive results as a whole will diminish proportionally.

Over the last 30-40, years billions of dollars and countless volunteer hours have been marshaled to attack the problems facing inner-city youth. Yet, by many standards the problems have worsened. There are no simplistic answers because the obstacles inner-city children must overcome are both many and formidable. While every little bit helps, unless there is a concentrated effort applied to each individual child, large investments of time and money will produce sporadic and inconsistent results at best.
It Is about COMMITMENT AND CONSISTENCY. This takes place with great teachers, volunteers, and donors. That is our approach. Join us and be that difference for a child. BECOME A CHAMPION FOR A CHILD !

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