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From Schools to Streets, Poor Assert Themselves With AM-Power To The Poor

February 23, 1991

Undated (AP) _ Community control.

Those two words have become a rallying cry in many poor neighborhoods as folks who once were silent and submissive are speaking out and taking steps to shape their communities.

″We’re giving people an alternative - to take control over their own lives,″ said Charlene Johnson, president of REACH, a Detroit-based community group involved in many self-help projects.

From the schoolroom to the streets, the movement is growing. Here are some examples:

EDUCATION: In Milwaukee, less than 300 children attend private schools at public expense in a first-in-the-nation choice program that is the subject of a court fight.

The program, approved by the state Legislature, was struck down last fall by a state appeals court, which said it had been slipped illegally into a larger bill. The children continue to attend six private schools while the decision is being appealed.

Critics, including the NAACP and state schools superintendent, argue the plan siphons off needed money from public schools and uses tax dollars for private purposes.

But supporters hail it as a great equalizer.

″It’s allowing parents to make decisions that bureaucrats have always made,″ said state Rep. Polly Williams, the program’s chief sponsor. ″Bureaucrats don’t run slipshod over people with money.″

In Chicago’s public schools, a sweeping reform program enacted in 1989 gives wide-ranging powers to local councils.

That plan, however, was declared unconstitutional last year by the Illinois Supreme Court. State lawmakers have approved a measure that validates past council actions until new legislation can be drafted this spring.

NEIGHBORHOODS: In Detroit, REACH has bought, renovated and sold more than a dozen homes, some of which were crack dens. It purchased another building that was converted into a 150-seat cafeteria last fall and is co-owned by several group members.

REACH, based in a neighborhood where the average income is $13,000, also has led anti-crime marches and established a small business development center providing counseling for budding entrepreneurs, and hopes to provide transitional housing for the homeless.

″We have no choice but to do this,″ Mrs. Johnson said. ″If we don’t, neighborhoods will continue to die, families will continue to be separated or destroyed. ... When your back is against the wall, you have to come out and fight and fight with every means you know how.

″There is a stigma poor people cannot do for themselves,″ she said. ″(But) it’s a determination to survive that often makes a difference.″

CRIME: In Omaha, Neb., Mad Dads, a grass-roots crime-fighting force, was formed in 1989 to patrol neighborhoods and provide male role models.

The program’s aim is to have men maintain a high profile as they tutor, clean up graffiti, or help in other community problems. Chapters have been formed in Florida, Colorado, Texas and Nebraska.

″People feel empowered,″ said Eddie Staton, a co-founder. ″They’re not waiting on anyone else to tell them what the problem is. These people are living the problem.″

End Adv for Sunday, Feb. 24

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