Shepherds of the inner-city, social reform at its best!

In this blog today I have included part of an article which I read in Newsweek magazine on April 18, 1994. Now, 13 years later this article still makes so much sense that I want to share it with you. It deals with a depth of commitment in the areas of justice and social reform as we are lacking today. I copied this article from a paper copy of Newsweek, unfortunately it is not found on line:

Shepherds of the inner city
How to help troubled adolescents—and make welfare reform succeed – By Joe Klein

Leon Dickerson will be attending the Carrolton middle school in Baltimore this week. Leon is 23. He is a graduate of Holy Cross College. His presence at Carrollton will be a demonstration of concern and a show of force and an attempt to save a life. The life belongs to a 13-year-old named Shawn, whose story is all too common.

Shawn’s father isn’t around. His mother is incapable of caring for him. He lives with his grandmother. “He’s really smart,” Leon Dickerson says, “but he doesn’t want anyone to know it. He’s afraid they’ll pick on him in school, call him a nerd. So he acts out a lot, roams the halls, talks back to his teachers. I told him the next time he was given a ‘disciplinary removal,’ I’d spend a week sitting in class with him, making sure he didn’t mess around. He’s really embarrassed, but too bad. I had to show him I’m serious about his education.

Leon Dickerson is part of an extraordinary program called Choice. His official title is “team coordinator,” but a more accurate job description might be: -shepherd-which we’ll define here as something like a social worker, only a lot more intense.

His flock includes 60 troubled adolescents — “the cream of the crap” is the operative one-liner— who are under the direct supervision of six caseworkers, all recent college graduates who have agreed to work 70-hour weeks for a year for a pittance. The strategy is simple: prodigious face time with the kids (who are referred by an array of local agencies that process juvenile miscreants). The caseworkers are in contact with each kid three to five times each day. They make sure the kids are in school. They see that the kids do their home work, get tutored, get medical care. They trail after them in the evenings, herding them back toward limits’ their homes, making sure they’re in bed on time (each has a curfew). The kids are watched over for three to six months, which doesn’t seem long – but new habits and expectations apparent begin to percolate; a recent study showed that 73 percent stay out of trouble for six months after they leave the program.

Choice is a rather extreme example of an emerging truth about programs that deal with behavior-driven—that is, underclass— poverty: those that work best concentrate on socialization. “These kids know no fear,” says Leon Dickerson. “They need limits.” They need to be taught how to behave in civilized society; they need to be punished when they break the rules (and, off course, encouraged when they do well) In a word—and this – not very surprising, given the family disintegration in the poorest neighborhoods — they need parents. The trouble is, being a parent is very labor intensive.

Creative shepherddry also takes a lot of time—but it appears to be the indispensable element in addressing the anomic poor. The degree of attention may vary with the situation; the terminology may change, but not the basic principle.

At America Works, perhaps the most successful welfare-to- work program in the country, the shepherds are called “corporate representatives.” Each has 20 or so clients to watch. “They’re trouble-shooters,” says Peter Cove, the founder of America Works. “Their job is to cut through the static that overwhelms the lives of most welfare recipients—the babysitter and boyfriend problems, the confrontations with bureaucracy. They explain what’s expected in the work- place, how to behave.”


I can’t tell you how effective this welfare program is today; I did check them out on the internet and they still continue with their community development. When I read this article 14 years ago I was touched to my inner core… and even today I realize that what our world needs is people with the same kind of commitment to reach out and bring hope to their world, their communities and their neighborhoods.

If only we would be able to look past our own desires, our own ambitions and own dreams to flesh out the reality of the life of Jesus in the midst of brokeness, touching those who need a touch, praying for those who need prayer and; most of all, loving those who need to be loved and who long to be be loved…Then I know we will (finally) function as shepherds of the city to which we are called!

That’s the Way I see it!

God bless you,



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