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Grandma's House
by Sudhama Ranganathan Thursday, Sep. 17, 2009 at 10:24 PM

>Over the last election season one of the most often sounded battle cries from the right involved voter registration fraud relative to ACORN. ACORN is a community organizing group known for being a non-profit organization helping the poor. Their focus started with aiding impoverished Americans on welfare with basic needs like clothing, furniture and later attaining housing, advocating for worker's rights and more. They got involved in political activism on behalf of the poor starting in the early 80's and later voter registration.

Grandma's House...
grandmas_house.jpg, image/jpeg, 512x400

When I heard about all the accusations leveled at ACORN during the 2008 election season I did research and discovered, at the time, most of the voter registration accusations were unfounded. There were some cases for sure, but any group hiring large amounts of people will always be subject to having some bad apples in the bunch. There were also cases of other voter registration groups having issues it just seemed like something that happened occasionally.

I often defended them as a group of people trying to do the right thing full of mostly good workers. When I saw the recent video footage of the workers in ACORN coaching people pretending to be setting up brothels (some involving minors) on how to attain housing I was shocked. I couldn't believe people who went into that business could stray so far from doing good things in their community. Not that it would make it any better, but they weren't even getting paid off by the video activists. They just up and volunteered the information.

Some elements of the video are contested, and I suppose the whole story has yet to come out. But, the head of ACORN on CNN's Situation Room admitted to wrong doing on the part of those workers and fired the ones caught.

The whole thing reminded me of a story my brother, a high school teacher, told me. It's one he shared with some of his students and it was one of the first things to come to mind after the initial shock of the videos wore off.

I decided I'd share it in his words:

"In 2005 I was a para-professional working in a New Haven Charter school. I was asked to teach a group of lower-level special education students English. Luckily I was going to college for a SPED degree and used a multi-sensory approach in the class. We read a book called "Our America," based on a real life story of two students growing up in a Chicago housing project. The book chronicles the struggles the kids went through daily through a series of audio journal recordings the students made over the course of a few years.

The book is both a written piece of literature and an audio recording. As the book progressed it highlighted several street themes we hear and read about everyday. One particular class, the topic was drug dealers and the impact they have on an urban community. The discussion started from one of the audio journals the kid made interviewing his ninety-year old Grandma.

She recalled a time when she bought her house over fifty years ago. At that time her house was an investment for her and her family's future. The street was respectful and everybody took care of each other. Then she recalls the projects being built around the corner. At first the city reported through the media the projects will help low income families by providing them not only affordable housing but employment opportunities, extracurricular, social and recreational activities for kids and a lot more.

However, funding was never provided and subsequently, year after year the neighborhood declined. Now, they can't even go outside because thugs took over her street and are pumping drugs in front of her home. We discussed in our class if this is a problem or not in New Haven and many students agreed it existed but had different views. I wanted to entice them into a discussion.

Many students didn't think it was a problem arguing if you have no job you have to feed your kids and pay bills. Others argued a lot of people in the "hood" have records and are forced into dealing because they can't get hired. I decided to guide the discussion toward the idea this kid's grandma was talking about in her audio interview.

I told them that people buy houses not only for the enjoyment of personal space but also for the purposes of an investment. We discussed how a house is bought and usually either sold or left to the family when a homeowner, such as grandma, passes away. We discussed the benefit the entire family gets from this economic process.

However, if drug dealers are taking over the streets and neighborhoods, the values of those homes depreciate and in the long run people suffer huge financial losses. Also, there usually is no-one to advocate for them and therefore they become a forgotten statistic; financial victims of an impoverished neighborhood.

They all thought about it and I could see they all had grandmothers with houses and some of them in hot-spot neighborhoods around the city. We started to discuss taking responsibility for our streets and community and they agreed because they saw the cause and effect relationship between neighborhood crime and the economic toll it takes on the community.

By the time the bell rung, I realized I had them engaged & thinking. Hopefully they will seek to make a positive change and advocate in their community when they become adults."

The story reminded me of how the now infamous ACRON workers charged with advocating for a better community were doing the opposite of that function. Both myself and my brother, though we were not raised in an impoverished neighborhood, had friends who did. We always did and as we moved into Junior High School that grew.

We know nothing is black and white. One of our best friends started selling drugs at twelve years old because if he didn't no one would put food on the table. His mother, who had become addicted to drugs, no longer could. It was the only option he could think of good or bad.

That said, what those specific workers at ACORN did was abhorrent. They were contributing to the demise of communities they signed on to help. They let down a lot of people and should be ashamed of themselves. I hope ACORN is able to clean house for the sake of all the good they do in the communities they serve.

To read about my inspiration for this article go to

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