Map: Detroit’s Digital Divide



I’ve often shared information here that notes 40% of Detroit households have no access to internet, both broadband and cell phone access. In a city that faces countless issues with connectivity and communicating with pockets of people spread across a large area, there is great potential for internet to bring Detroit together, improve communications, and equalize access – jobs, education, resources, etc.

The latest numbers from the 2014 American Community Survey show Detroit has 95,825 households or 37% of all Detroit households have no internet access. The city sadly ranks #2 nationally for cities with over 50,000 households. The logical next step in saying that 37% of Detroit households have no internet is to then ask where are those households located? Who is impacted?

From the above map you can see the obvious outline of Detroit with low broadband internet access. Downtown, Boston-Edison, Grandmont-Rosedale, Palmer Woods, and a handful…

View original post 343 more words

Map: Attainment of Higher Education in Detroit



I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about higher education in Detroit. The pattern that can be seen here with more individuals with degrees on the West side is mirrored in other categories such as income. There are approximately 32,805 individuals with a Bachelors degree and 22,185 individuals who have a Graduate level degree. That’s a total of 54,990 people with higher education degrees or about 12% of Detroit’s population compared to 101,749 people with less than a High School education. Michigan’s population has an average 25.5% Bachelor’s degree attainment. Compared to other cities often grouped with Detroit we see: Philadelphia, PA 23%, Oakland, CA 37.9%, Cleveland, OH 14%, Chicago, IL 33.6%, and Baltimore, MD 22.6%.

Detroit has 11 different institutions for higher education (see map) and at one point in its history as Michigan’s largest city, it once held the most highly educated population in the…

View original post 63 more words

Map: Colleges and Universities in Detroit



In recent years Detroit has seen an influx of college and university satellite sites. Notably, the University of Michigan (UM) Detroit Center opened in 2005 while the Michigan State University (MSU) Detroit Center opened in 2009. Detroit has been host to a number of colleges and universities from its founding. As Michigan’s largest city and former state capitol, Detroit held the greatest number of highly educated individuals. In 1817, Justice Woodward wrote up plans for the University of Michigania (Catholepistemiad) with 13 departments. The building was constructed at Bates and Congress, but due to disagreements over educational ideas, controversy with the land, and general mismanagement, the university never really took off. Land that had been previously earmarked for a new Michigan state capitol soon became the new University of Michigan in Ann Arbor under the leadership of Henry Tappan in 1837. UM’s proximity to Detroit has afforded many…

View original post 606 more words

the missing ingredients from Jamie Oliver’s #FoodRevolution

Since November 2010, when I started working with adolescents in the Detroit area tackling childhood obesity, television shows that deal with weight loss and healthy eating have become more interesting. I diligently watched The Biggest Loser and similar shows to re-examine the tactics they use and how successful they were.

More recently I’ve been caught up in Jamie Oliver’s “Food Revolution” because what children and adolescents eat at school is a critical piece if the current trends of obesity are going to be reversed. I’ve been very interested in Jamie Oliver’s attempt to become a healthy food “rockstar” from the UK (sorry Jamie, you can’t compete with First Lady Michelle Obama). Watching the most recent season in Los Angeles, I can’t tell you how many times I yelled at the screen about how ineffective Jamie’s tactics were or how naive he was going up against an institutionalized system.

I don’t doubt Jamie’s good intentions or his passion for the work, but if this is going to be a real revolution then there needs to be some basic understandings of behavioral change and social change as well as community engagement. I’m not sure if this is just a case of making good TV by “making noise” vs. making social change by public health, but there is room for improvement.

Behavioral Change

With the recent release of new cigarette packaging and the tactics used on Jamie Oliver’s show, it has become obvious that many people disregard research in lieu of “making noise as public health.” Any first year public health student (or someone in close proximity) could tell you that the “Health Belief Model” (HBM) of making people change their habits by highlighting fears no longer works, especially among young people. The HBM relies on scare tactics, some of the best example are from old posters from the 1940-50s that feature skeletons, sharks, and death if you don’t immunize your child, cover your cough, etc. The posters and messages worked for the time period when people were scared of new health issues and followed the messages, but we live in a different time. People don’t respond to scare tactics or negative messages. This is true across the board: in politics, with non-profits, and especially within public health interventions.

The scare tactics that Jamie uses, predictably, have minimal impact on changing people’s minds or getting more people involved. People prefer to be told what is going right or what can easily be done to make things better. Messages that empower individuals and reinforce positive behaviors are more likely to receive a respond. People want to know that they have the ability to make the changes themselves. When Jamie has a classroom discussion with adults who are facing health problems as a result of their past bad eating habits and lack of activity he fails to realize earlier that this is something the teens are facing already with their own family members. Studies have shown that young people respond even less to HBM tactics like these, largely because out of all age groups young people like to know that they have control of their lives – and they do!

Tactics for Social Change

I know its a TV show, but one man cannot make a revolution happen. Any community organizer will tell you that it takes many hands and years to make real and lasting changes to systems and structures that are doing harm. Jamie Oliver stands in a great position to include more people, spread awareness, and organize communities to work together to change their political and educational systems for better school health. However, that is not what happens. Jamie is always surprised by the low turnout and minimal impact of filling a bus with sugar or getting upset with the LAUSD superintendent. Telling parents that they are doing everything wrong won’t create community buy-in.

It isn’t until the final episode that Jamie encounters a group of parents protesting high sugar flavored milk in the schools that a first real attempt to meet people where they are happens. There are many people who want a food revolution and they are already doing the hard work. The final episode is also where Jamie brings together a group of top chefs in LA to run a competition with school cooking teams. This is a great example of the necessary coalition building and community engagement that needed to happen closer to step one.

If you want to change the policies of structure of a system, then you can’t start at the top. The superintendent, as we saw, has the power to kick people out, but not change whole policies. Jamie needed to start by building relationships with people within the system who have more power to push for change. The cafeteria workers would have been a great start. When Jamie finally met some of them, they were overjoyed with his message and could have been  a big force for change in food preparation. The superintendent wasn’t on board, but maybe one of the Board members was sympathetic to the food revolution message and could have been an important ally inside. You have to work on smaller targets before you can take on your primary target.

Building a coalition of people both inside and outside the system that you want to change is critical to making real social change. Jamie kept trying to take on his primary target, the superintendent, as an outsider with no community backing. You have to start with the hard organizing work of bringing together other influential community members, workers in the system, and individuals with power inside the system in order to effectively push for change.

Community Engagement

Throughout the whole season it was painfully obvious that the community wasn’t behind Jamie’s antics, but there weren’t very many opportunities for collaboration. Many of the points I want to make about community engagement are already listed above, but I do have one key ingredient that was missing in Jamie’s outreach.

Listening. From Jamie’s first show in LA he was telling people what was wrong. He used a series of scare tactics about school meat by waving inedible raw pieces of cow in parents’ faces. It was gross and it made a point, but it didn’t give anyone the opportunity to get involved.

Thinking back between the first show and the final show, if Jamie (or his crew) had taken the time to LISTEN and find people who were already championing the cause of better school food then he might have had a more successful season.


Jamie ended this season by saying, “It’s not about me. […] We all gotta start stirring the pot.” I have more hope for Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution after the final show where he did some community listening, some great community engagement, and even some coalition building. Maybe he is even beginning to recognize that the problem isn’t all on his televised shoulders, but it is shared across the community – and they want change too.

Here are a few improvements to tactics that could revolutionize the food revolution:

  1. LISTEN to a community before acting on their behalf
  2. Focus on systems change, not just people in power
  3. Practice patience: the problem wasn’t created overnight, its not going to go away overnight
  4. Use inclusive tactics: don’t reprimand or scare

education is more than a building

No more cups of any kind, number 3s, or beverage references. Let’s talk about root causes.

“Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime”

To build on this wonderful old adage (which was all too easy to add before writing anything original): If you give a community a school; they have a nice building until it decays. If you invest in an education system; they will have education for generations.

In a recent response to the Greg Mortenson controversy Rebecca Winthrop, Director of the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institute, gave a thoughtful response and criticism of Mortenson’s engagement methods on providing education.

As I had written yesterday, my biggest take away from the book was the idea that it is necessary to build relationships and community connections before entering into any international project. However, Mortenson may not have followed his own advice. Like many development critics, I don’t see the benefit of building a school structure without engaging teachers and education systems. There are many accounts of corporations and notably oil companies that have built schools for communities where they exploited resources – but those structures remain empty. A school is no good if there are no teachers or if the local education system is not consulted or included in the process.

This has been noted to be an all too common problem in development projects and one that I saw firsthand during my experience in Nicaragua. The US based non-profit that I worked for utilizes the same method as Mortenson’s CAI: increasing education by building schools. During my trip to Nicaragua the organization was actually building a concrete school structure next to an existing wood school. Granted this old structure wasn’t the most amazing, but the root cause of the lack of education opportunities in this community was not due to a lack of a school building, rather it was a lack of dedicated teachers and adequate training among other issues.

The Nicaraguan education system didn’t have much influence in rural communities. There was no accountability to the community school or to any educational body for that matter. Some teachers choose to come whenever they pleased and others had never been given any formal or informal teacher training  even though they displayed incredible dedication.

We need to address structures that perpetuate the problems that we see if our work is going to have a real impact for those we seek to help. By asking communities what solutions  work best, we can change the way “development” has been done in the past and focus on our own accountability.

Recommended articles:

Three Cups of Deceit” by Jon Krakauer (on Byliner)

Three Cups of BS” by Alanna Shaikh (on Foreign Policy)

Photo credit: James Warden / S&S (from Empty Schools, Dashed Hopes Stars & Stripes)

vvocf education fund

17 June 2008
Sphe and Nhlanhla helped me learn some more Zulu today with even more Swahili similarities coming to light. The Bantu peoples spread from central to east and south Africa, thankfully they kept the same language structure and vocabulary similarities.

Today we began the VVOCF Education Fund! We had the idea of collecting the 5 cent pieces that everyone throws on the ground to be collected and used as a way to provide educational scholarships for the VVOCF students. The four teams will have a competition with the winner getting some prize determined later – the students in secondary will be able to apply for the scholarship later. This will be a way for the children to invest in their own education while providing ground to approach other investors overseas or in more wealthy neighborhoods/ SA businesses. Funding cannot solely come from the outside so this is a great start. “Our future is in our hands” education campaign begins today!

The on-the-ground of running a project and NPO is exciting and a great experience for me to see to be able to find out how SCOUT BANANA can be most helpful to our own projects later. Linking education with health development will be important. Giving youth a voice in-country is just as important as giving developed youth a voice to help other youth.

when in ghana

This is just a brief note before I leave Ghana from my six week study program. Our group is leaving for the airport in less than an hour and the despicable aspect of time and its restrictions have come to hit me full in the face. While in Ghana you come to forget about the importance of time – nothing is too fast (some would say that everything is too slow), there is no defined tiem to meet or eat or finish, everything is done as it comes and finished in whatever time it takes. This I have come to love and I dread the jump back into the society of extreme time management. I stopped wearing my watch 4 weeks ago and I stop asking for the time. I do things when they present themselves and never do I rush.

I have learned a lot in Ghana, not so much about myself, but more about other people and the way the world works. More importantly I have been able to think about and study how the world should work (obviously my opinion). I have loved my time here, but I do not want anyone to think that it is over. I will be back someday and I stil have much to write about related to Ghana, when I return. One of the most painful things that I have learned in Ghana is that here sunscreen doesn’t work. No matter how many times I apply SPF 50 to my body, especially my nose, I get a nice burn and peel. Sunscreen just has no place in Ghana – I would hate to think what would happen if I just didn’t wear any at all – I might have lost a limb.

At any rate this is goodbye for now from Ghana. I will resume with the regularly scheduled blogging about when I am not in Africa as soon as I get a nice long night’s sleep, some Mexican style food, and a tall glass of cold cow’s milk with a box of cheez-its. America here I come, you’d better be ready. Be sure to check back for some awesome videos of traditional drum and dance and other interesting thoughts on issues. I am sure I will have some interesting reflections on being back in the US after a month and a half in Ghana.

Signing off from Accra, Ghana. . .

Index of blog post series on Ghana.