Written by Eric Kilbride, MCCOY Board Member
There was a man who collected birds, among them a rare bird from Africa. When the collector planned a trip to Africa, he asked if the bird if there was anything he could bring back. “The best thing to do is to let me out of this cage,” the bird said, but the man refused. In Africa, members of the bird’s family asked about their cousin. When the collector told them their relative was in a cage, one of the birds fell out of a tree, dead. Upon his return, the collector told the caged bird what had happened, and the bird collapsed, just as his relative had. The man took the bird out of the cage, and suddenly it revived, flying off. As it escaped the bird said, “Thank you for the information.”
In early 2000, as we were writing “Community YouthMapping: A Guide and Toolkit,” Richard Murphy rightly suggested we include this story in the foreward. As a youth development pioneer, Richard was a staunch believer in the message of the story: KNOWLEDGE EQUALS POWER. He knew that, whatever its immediate cause, a deficit in knowledge is severely limiting. This hasn’t changed—we know that youth who don’t have a view past their immediate circumstances are unlikely to move beyond them.
But what about us, the youth development advocates and workers who are attempting to empower them? What knowledge deficits do we have and how have they impeded progress?
If we examine our databases, we find stores of deficit data that tell us what’s not working—juvenile detention statistics, teen pregnancies, school drop out rates, and so on. But what data are being collected to broaden our view, to inform us with respect to what IS working—the number of young people who spend time in structured after school activities, volunteer around the city, etc.? Wouldn’t we be better served collecting data with a broader view to better inform and shape budgets, policies and programs?
I spent the past seven years running businesses and we used the maxim “What gets measured gets done.” Lets add to what we are measuring about young people and become a leader for what “gets done” for young people. Our community has been a beacon for many groundbreaking initiatives that have positively changed lives. Let’s begin to collect and report data surrounding our many successes to broaden our knowledge, breathe new life into our efforts, and to put the “positive” back into positive youth development.