That summer of 2012 when the constant heat was like a silver choke collar wrapped around the city’s neck. No one could remember it being this hot for this long. To blink was to sweat. On many days, you’d wait till the sun went down for the tiny temperature drop that would make you think “OK. Now we can eat dinner.”
And if you were a kid, you’d say “Mama? Is it alright if we have our dinner out on the front porch?” And she’d say, “Fine.”
So that’s where the two of them were. The 14-year-old girl. The 13-year-old boy. Friends. Known each other all their short lives. From the Brighton Park neighborhood of Chicago. Eating pizza on the front porch and listening to the music of the city night. And then it happened.
A lone gunman, not much older than the two kids on the front porch, ran out from the dark gangway separating one house from the next. He looked around, got scared, and because he had a gun, he used it. The boy on the front porch, his name was Rony, stood up in front of the girl, and he took the shots.
Six shots. And Rony lived. He shielded his friend. And he lived.
Many have not lived. But Rony took the shots and he lived.
The tally sheets on Chicago’s injured and dead now reported nightly with the routine rhythm of a weather report. Crime statistics turning to dust in an unforgiving wind. A United States Congress, according to my Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, “practically bought and paid for by the National Rifle Association.” With today’s NRA talking point being, “Now is not the time to talk about gun safety laws.”
And if you were to ask why that young man became a hero on that porch, if you were to ask an expert---say somebody from the University of Chicago’s Crime Lab—an institution standing squarely at the crossroads of academia and real life, they’d tell you that this young man showed what it meant to use what the scientists call “social-cognitive” skills.
Translation? The kid had a solid handle on becoming a man.
And that’s where this story gets really interesting. Because on July 13th, right in the middle of this horrifically hot and violent summer the University of Chicago released the results of a two year study on the Chicago based organization “Becoming a Man---Sports Edition” showing that the program:
· Reduced violent crime arrests by 44%
· Shows future graduation rate increases of 10-23%
· Reduced weapons crime and vandalism by 36%
· Reduced the likelihood of attending school in a juvenile justice setting by 53%
And that’s before they got to the money part. Before they got to the part where the learned skeptic raises the hand, clears the scholarly throat and says, “Well this is all well and good, but we have a budget crunch. And these kinds of programs, whatever it is they do, are simply too expensive.”
The answer to that tired concern is this. The costs of this program average $1,100 per participant. The program generated societal benefits that ranged from $3,600 to $34,000 per participant, depending on how you measure crime.
Read those numbers again. And then if you are so inclined, delve into the detail of the study---available on the web—where the numbers get even more impressive.
What’s a social benefit? It includes but is not limited to lifetime savings to victims of crimes, savings to the government, and to the participant.
In other words, turns out that violence and crime cost a lot of money. Prevent it and you save money. LOTS of it. Common sense to some. But now backed up by science.
And we haven’t even gotten to the best part. That part when the proud skeptic pipes up with, “Well, you can do anything you want with statistics. It’s all just numbers. I don’t believe it. So it must be wrong.”
To which anyone can now answer, “You’re wrong Sparky. This time, you’re wrong.” This study was conducted with 2,740 disadvantaged males across 18 Chicago Public High Schools. The largest study of its kind. This target group chosen because “of the sobering reality that homicide claims more lives of this group than the next nine causes of death combined.”
A control group was used in the study. And the same kind of rigor used to scientifically measure the safety of our food and effectiveness of new drugs governed the project.
The science behind the study is simply unquestionable. Which doesn’t mean someone has to like the conclusions. But it does mean that the conclusions are based on science.
This social program both works and saves money.
At the heart of the program are six core values.
· Self Determination
· Positive Anger Expression
· Visionary Goal Setting
· Respect for Womanhood
All of them just words. Until they are put into action. And that’s what the program does. They teach what it means to put the words into action.
Like that kid on the front porch who took the six bullets for his friend.
From the study abstract released by the University of Chicago. “While non academic or ‘social-cognitive’ skills are important predictors of student outcomes, schools devote little attention to these skills after the first few grades.”
So how does BAM--Sports Edition work? The BAM curriculum, originally developed in 2001 by social worker Tony DiVittoria of the Youth Guidance Organization takes place over 30 Sessions. It’s been in place and quietly working long before science and the University of Chicago produced this groundbreaking study.
A tiny example of showing how the program works can be seen in the picture above,
Look at the picture up top of the kids lined up on either side of a long, hollow stick. The object of this exercise is for everyone to crouch down and pick up the stick and raise it up high at exactly the same speed.
Sounds simple, right?
I remember being part of a group of slightly older kids, standing in a gentle rain in a clearing in an Arkansas forest, trying to do the exact same exercise. This was a leadership development group I wrote and ran for a group of high potential leaders---back when corporations invested in things like that.
I remember trying to pick up that stick like it was yesterday. And it’s been seven years now. The energy, intensity, the power of that team, giving everything we had to accomplish something together. Even something that simple. Turns out that we never did it. Never picked up the stick in unison. But the trying? Together?
It was everything.
What did that exercise teach us? It gave us that feeling of what it means to put words like “teamwork” into action.
Which is exactly what happens at BAM---Sports Edition. It works by teaching kids what it feels like do what matters together.
A program resting on the values of what it means to be human. Then taking words and turning them into action.
And a dollar value to the program?
They’ve found it.
But even more important---they’ve found the spark in the eyes of the kids trying to pick up that stick. The same spark in the eyes of the boy who took bullets for his friend.
And then became a man.