Clinton St. Quarterly, Vol. 3 No. 2 Summer 1981

THE CRIB EMPOWERING THE PEOPLE BY PEGGY LINDQUIST THE CRIB’S Linda Johnson is fine.” THE CRIB operates a youth tutoring program out of a school room at the1 King Facility from 2:30 to 5 every weekday. This program is currently staffed by CETA Youth Career Training participants and supervised by 20-year-old James Morrison, who works with THE CRIB as part of a program to get high school dropouts into the workforce. I stopped by one Friday to talk to the staff and take a look at the program. I was greeted by two friendly, quiet young men who said that James would be there in a minute. Children and tutors drifted in as they finished with school and talked or just relaxed. There was nothing frenzied about this gathering. James arrived and we sat on a couple of desks in the corner while we talked. He seemed both serious and enthusiastic about his work. “We reinforce skills, here,” James explained. “We work wjth kids on whatever their weak points are.” Each child is evaluated in order to determine where help is needed and is assigned to a particular tutor. And the end of each day, the tutor makes a written report of the child’s progress. “We try to get away from the idea that we are providing day care.” The program, however, is not tutor who quietly encourages them as they work on math or reading. The children squirm and fiddle and yet their attention rarely leaves the subject at hand. Two children leave the classroom to go to a nearby conference room where tutors work with them on particular problems such as learning the alphabet or sounding out letters. Morrison says he asks the tutors to have patience when working with the children, something he says he had to learn when he first started. If he sees a tutor becoming frustrated with a particular child, he’ll have another tutor take over. “This is an age where they (the children) are hungry to learn. We don’t want to make them scared to ask or scared to learn. And scared to ask is the same as scared to learn, to me.” He is confident that the care they take with the children will pay off. “Some of the parents think of this as babysitting. But that’s o.k. because I know that what we do here will show up eventually in their report card and in their attitude.” During this summer, the program operates from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is housed at Adams High School. Another way THE CRIB champions the school child is through their Septima Clark School Advocacy Program. Septima Clark, an 83-year- old North Carolina woman, worked in the 1950s to teach blacks to read so SURVIVAL CAN MEAN knowing how to trap animals and build shelters in the woods. Or it can mean building a bomb shelter in your backyard arjd filling it with food supplies. But for people who are poor and living in the inner-city, survival in these times may be better defined as learning how to do things for yourselves as a community, so you’re not dependent on the whimsey of fickle politics and government charity. THE CRIB is an organization of “survivalists” in No'rtheast Portland’s Albina community who are doing just that. They are pooling their own resources to provide education, food, earning opportunities and help in dealing with institutions for anyone in their community. “One of the main things we do, we develop cooperative networks,” says THE CRIB’s volunteer director, Linda Johnson. “We want to empower the people.” I talked to Linda in her office in the King Neighborhood Facility, which houses a number of social service organizations and is connected by a courtyard to the King School. She is relaxed and direct and the clear sense of purpose which seems to move THE CRIB is apparent as she talks. There is a constant subdued hum to the place with occasional interruptions something that belonged to all of us, the people involved, so we had ultimate say of what happened and how it operated. The problem with that was, one, none of us had any community experience, secondly, the community didn’t have any understanding of what a co-op was. A co-op in our background was hippie generation, pot smoking and all that other kind of stuff.” Typical of Linda’s pragmatic approach is the solution to that semantic problem. “Instead of co-op we say extended— Extended child care facility, extended learning center, extended market. Because we had to find something that people could relate to. In our community extended family is a very well-known concept. And so right now that’s what we use. We don’t want to shortstop our success because of what we’re called.” The child care facility never got off the ground, although Linda is still interested in the idea. (“I can show you the blueprints,” she says wryly.) But they are operating a youth tutoring program, an adult literacy program, food distribution, a Saturday market, a school advocacy program and a new landlord-tenant telephone hotline. In addition, they are advocates of whatever issues their members feel are important as when Funding for THE CRIB would baffle most bureaucrats. Membership in the organization costs $2 a month plus 25C for each activity or service the member takes advantage of. Aneetra Harris works out her math problems in the class for 6 and 7 year olds. when a teenager asks for help in writing his resume or when another volunteer consults with Linda about a child whose teacher wants to hold him back a grade. Johnson has been working with THE CRIB as a volunteer since its beginnings in 1978 when a group of working parents got together to form a cooperative childcare facility. “We were looking for twenty-four hour and weekend care. And it didn’t exist. So we thought ‘Ahah! That’s a good project to get involved in.’ We started here in Northeast Portland and we rented a house with the concept of total home environment.” Thus the name THE CRIB: Total Home Environment; Creative Recreation and Instructional Buildings. “It had to be a home environment because that was what we were looking for. It had to be they became involved in fighting welfare cuts this fall or joined the Black United Front in the dispute over school busing of black children. “All of these things have come from an expressed need from our group and one of the things we always say is we will not start any activity under the auspices of THE CRIB unless the members request that we get in that area. We are volunteers and our people are not clients, they are participants. The program belongs to the community.” Any direction they feel needs to take place under the auspices of THE CRIB can be done because the majority rules. Now, some people say that’s a dangerous thing but the point is, all you want to do is to get people to take charge, to take control of what their environment is dictating. And however you want to take care of that Lavel Broadus sits proudly in front of his A paper. overly rigid. There is a lot of respectful give and take between the high-school aged tutors and the elementary school children. There are no harsh demands, and no physical discipline. And there is tolerance. “We give them time to just relax and play when they first come in. I know if I had been in the classroom for five hours, I wouldn’t want to get right back to work. We don’t have to have all the discipline that they do in school because we don’t have thirty kids for one teacher. So we just let them be kids because that’s what they are. They’re too young to be in the Army.” At about 3:30, the children move in twos and threes to desks around the edges of the room. At each desk is a they could pass the literacy test which was a prerequisite to voting. She has had a tremendous effect on literacy as well as political action. So THE CRIB took on her name and spirit in creating a way of helping parents negotiate with school officials. Volunteer advocates intercede on behalf of parents in such issues as expulsion, discipline, individual study programs and the child’s permanent record. Sometimes the advocate simply helps facilitate the communication between the parent and teacher or principal. As Linda Johnson put it, “even I take an advocate along when I go to talk to a principal. I’m not always too rational when it comes to my own kids.” The role of advocates can be 12 Clinton St. Quarterly Photographs by Laurie Meeker