published Sunday, April 7th, 2013

Cook: Call and response

It happened. Again.

This time, 500 people came. Black, white, young, old, rich, poor. In the rain. On a Thursday night.

Andy Berke's second forum -- first on crime, this about youth development and education -- was a powerful thing to witness.

As the panel discussion ended (Edna Varner stole the show), a civic collection of regular folk, underdogs, teachers, principals, street leaders, nonprofit people, students, community heroes and foundation heads pulled up chairs around two dozen tables to swap ways on righting the wrongs around them.

Around us.

This, I thought, is what democracy looks like.

This could be the best thing to happen to Chattanooga in a long time.

This may also be our greatest undoing.

"People are ready for this,'' one person said. "They're hungry.''

Parched. Starved. Suffering from some democracy disorder.

Before the election, Berke proclaimed he was running the most grass-roots campaign in the history of the city. I doubted him then; not so much anymore.

Of every problem our city faces, none can be solved without citizen input, action and power. None. It is the bedrock on which all positive society rests, and the trick -- perhaps the hardest trick of all -- is for elected leaders to recognize and honor that.

Second-hardest trick: for the people to stand up and grab the reins themselves.

My only fear from Thursday?

Citizen, interrupted. Hope, jilted.

There was so much hope in the room, even from the most hardened and battle-weary activists. If Berke can stay true to what he's begun -- which is a balance of power tilting downward -- then the revitalizations of yesteryear will pale in comparison to what's ahead.


If not, if all of this is for show, for talk, then our cynicism and negativity will reach unbearable, irreparable levels.

We will be citizens scorned. Citizens with broken hearts.

"The most important question of all: What can you do to help renew youth development?" Berke asked the crowd.

I realized three things Thursday night:

The problems have already been solved.

All the talk about education and issues with our kids? We already know the solutions. All of them. Clear as the aquarium roof.

It's not magic, some Sherlockian mystery. People are already doing the work.

But ...

Not enough resources. Funding and money are sent in another direction.

"We turn away continuously families ...,'' Bea Lurie, of Girls Inc., told the crowd, "because we don't have the resources. Every single agency has that issue.''

"The foot soldiers are not equipped,'' said Malvin Grimes.

Grimes and Wendell Bryant started Ways of Life Teaching Center in Highland Park. They teach construction skills, youth development and cultural enrichment to whoever comes in.

"We reconcile kids to their parents,'' said Grimes.

Their program was one of dozens represented at the forum. All solutions, on the small scale. All, underfunded.

Grimes spoke about applying for this one grant that would have set them up for years. It required them to put down a match of just 10 percent.

About $6,000.

They didn't have the money.

"[The city] appropriated money for the new shooting range,'' Grimes said. "But if we're going to appropriate for after the kids become criminals ... "

Then why not before?

"They're not asking for someone else's money,'' said Perrin Lance of Chattanooga Organized for Action.

He's right. Budgets belong to the people. And people need the ability to prioritize on their own.

"If we can fund the Blue Rhino,'' he continued.

Enough said.

Berke is no dummy.

Thursday was not stand-up, or improv. If Berke is going to orchestrate such an event, then he already knows what it will lead to.

Like a call and response.

You don't ask people such important questions without being ready to respond to the answers.

Contact David Cook at or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.
dfreezy said...

This is a great article, David. But I have a problem wrapping my head around something. Why is it that you support the right of a community to make decisions, take action, and make something together here in Chattanooga, but you don't support that right when it applies to students at UTK organizing their own sex education program?

April 8, 2013 at 11:57 a.m.
LaughingBoy said...

Throw more money at it.

April 8, 2013 at 12:57 p.m.
timbo said...

That was the dumbest bunch of crap I have ever read. It was so childish that I found it absolutely bizarre. Is this the standard that the "new" TFP wants to set.

Get rid of David Cook. He is awful.

April 8, 2013 at 5:19 p.m.
timbo said...

Also, "Berke is no dummy"? He hasn't even figured out that Chattanooga is out of the education business. As Father Guido Sarduci once said, "You playa de game, you no maka the rules."

Berke is an extreme "lightweight." He is the darling to the North Chatt liberal crowd. He couldn't manage a flea circus.

April 8, 2013 at 5:25 p.m.
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