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Published: Sunday, 12/15/2013 - Updated: 6 months ago

COMMENTARY

Human assets elevate Toledo

BY KEITH C. BURRIS
COLUMNIST FOR THE BLADE

A few days ago, I had one of those days that can put your brain into overdrive: Lots of ideas coming at you and none of them taking a predictable path.

I started the day at a Toledo Federation of Teachers-sponsored seminar on what makes great schools. The occasion was the “national day of action,” and the speaker was Rob Weil, the American Federation of Teachers’ expert on school systems in other nations.

There was a lot a data to absorb, but two things, in particular, stuck with me: First, American schools in the suburbs do as well as public schools in any other nation.

I had been told the day before that Toledo’s suburban schools produce among the most-likely-to-succeed graduates in the nation.

This suggests that Toledo companies should be able to recruit talent here. And it suggests that our “urban school problem,” America's urban school problem, is really a poverty problem.

Teachers who have taught school in wealthy and poor areas will read that and say, “Duh.”

The second big finding is that what teachers most need to be excellent is ... time. Training time, retraining time, and preparation time.

I was still pondering all this when I went to see Keith Burwell at the Toledo Community Foundation. I wanted to talk to him about the Toledo branding initiative. More on this on another day. But, parenthetically, he told me a fascinating thing: He said this city has a humanitarian and philanthropic infrastructure comparable to a much larger city.

This squares with something Rodney Schuster at Catholic Charities and Dan Rogers at the Cherry Street Mission have both said in conversation: We are an incredibly generous community. Toledo supports school levies. We lead he state in spending for, and in treatment of, mental health. Indeed, Mr. Burwell said we are generous to a fault. We sometimes duplicate our efforts and create charities that really should be under the umbrella of larger organizations.

What an amazing and undervalued asset: A compassionate community. A committed and engaged community.

Can’t we leverage this?

I have lived in the South and in the Northeast, in Pittsburgh, and in Washington, D.C. The breadth and depth of Toledo’s compassion is a rare thing.

The third conversation that day was at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in the central city — an example of practical compassion in action. At St. Paul’s, they walk the walk.

I listened in on a conversation between a young woman who is a former gang member and several Toledo activists and ministers. The young woman wants to start a 24/​7 safe house where gang members can go just to hang and be safe. They need a place to be. Just a place to go that is not the streets or a troubled home. A place that is not dangerous. These folk were trying to figure out how to help this young woman make her dream come alive. She will need much technical assistance and an organizational umbrella. But, in this city, it is possible to find both.

To me that is amazing and worth celebrating.

Not to get too “Kumbaya” on you, dear readers. The pastor of St. Paul’s, the Rev. Mary Sullivan, told me the gang problem is far worse than most of us, or even the police, realize. I believe her. The reason is the utter lack of other options. The same is true in the case of poor women turning to prostitution.

Oh, yes, we have problems. And some are very deep.

But, in addition to the physical assets — the lake, the park system, the library system, the truly great art museum, and the zoo — all of which make Toledo an undiscovered midsize gem of a city in this nation, we have goodwill toward men and women.

Goodwill.

You can’t buy it. But maybe you can market it.

Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.

Contact him at: kburris@theblade.com or 419-724-6266.



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