meeting tonight. BREAD stands for Building Responsibility Equality And Dignity. The organization has existed since 1996, and it is community activist
group interested primarily in literacy
, inner-city crime
and economic development
. We've done some good locally, initiated a 'card report' system that allows people to turn in crack house
s and dealers without getting fingered as a snitch
, and we have developed contacts with the local police
that have boosted patrols, and cut response time
But the real bread and butter issue is education, in particular getting poor kids to read. It's no secret that you can't get anywhere economically if you don't have good reading skills. I'm a construction worker, a blue collar job. In my job trailer i have three project specification books, each thick as a big city phone book, plus five or six other volumes of equipment specifications and details. Plus the blueprints, which also have to be read. An illiterate can dig a ditch, but he can't do my job. Which means an illiterate is never more than a step or two out of poverty.
In order to make this happen BREAD has supported and promoted a specific teaching technique called direct-instruction. I am not as up on the details as I'd like to be, but the organization's research, (and i know a couple of the researchers) suggests it works very well with inner city kids. Certainly it has worked well in the two pilot schools here in Columbus. The percentage of kids passing the fourth grade proficiency test is up over 500%.
BREAD is a pretty big organization, and about forty Columbus churches and synagogues belong. My church hosted it, partly because my pastor, Rev. Tim Ahrens, is one of the founders and president. We're also a pretty good sized chuch, capable of squeezing in about a thousand. And we have a history of rabble-rousing.
First Church started out in 1853 thanks to a split over slavery, with us on the abolitionist side. The underground railroad used to run through the church cellar. Later the Reverend Washington Gladden used the pulpit to become one of the foremost promotors of the social gospel during the early part of the twentieth century. A few presidents have sat in our pews. And finally, we know how to throw a party.
So we packed 'em in. It was standing room only inside. As i was passing out schedules, I knew we were full. My church choir warmed up. That in itself is worth hearing. The Beckerath Organ is fully E. Power Biggs rated, quite capable of making your earth move. We have a few singers from opera Columbus in the choir. This people nail every note and sing with amazing purity of tone.
But BREAD has a lot of black members, and one Zion AME church brought their choir too. Traditional gospel style singing, the sort of choir where Chakka Kahn got her start. They knew how to wail too. So we brought the high-cream natural vanilla bean ice cream and they brought the hot fudge with the cherry on top.
Folks, it doesn't get any better than that. The church rocked!
But the real highlight of the evening came when one of Zion's Elders, a Mr. William Polley was asking questions of our school board Superintendent, Dr. Jean Harris.
Now superintendant may be an appointed position, but don't let anyone tell you the job isn't political. Anyone in that job has to be a politician in the sense that they have to be able to get other people of fractious mind to work with them. So Dr. Harris knows a thing or two about evading questions she doesn't want to answer.
But Elder Polley knew a thing or two about asking them. He asked nasty questions, and wouldn't let go. I could hear the sound of political mackeral wriggling around as if it was trying to escape Gollum's clutching little fingers. He pushed and pushed, and all the while a thousand people sat politely, but looking the good superintendant in the eye. Mr. Polley's smile never cracked as he politely pointed out that she had a budget problem and she might like some help when the next school levy comes up. Say, in November.
If you want to understand what political pressure is all about, this would have been a good place to be, because her constituents were sitting there watching, and they weren't acting like the clueless fools who so often insist on embarassing themselves in front of the school board. Polley knew the school board was in a budget crunch, that they were talking about laying off teachers, and he knew where $5 mil might be found, if only we applied.
I liked it. Afterward, i wanted to shake his hand and tell him 'well done'. Oh, he didn't get the hook all the way through her cheek, but she felt it.
People often feel like they can't make a difference, that the world is fixed by the money men and whomever else. That really isn't true. You alone can't accomplish much unless you've got a billion or two backing you up. But if you join with like minded folks, keep your eye on your objective, act smart and don't back down, you too can make a politician wriggle like a fish.