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- Apr 2020
I chose to go to Compton and Watts for a specific reason, which offers a way forward. Harvard economist Raj Chetty recently led a study that showed that though these two neighborhoods are demographically similar and only 2.3 miles apart, 44 percent of the black men who grew up in Watts were incarcerated on April 1, 2010, compared with only 6.2 percent of the black men who grew up in families with similar incomes in Central Compton. Similarly, social mobility was much lower in Watts than in Compton.Why are some neighborhoods, including some in Compton, able to give their kids better chances in life despite so many disadvantages? Chetty points to several factors: better schools, more fathers present in the neighborhoods and more cohesive community organizations.I found all those things in my reporting in Compton — and something else. Watts is part of Los Angeles. Compton is its own city with its own mayor. I met a lot of great people in Watts, but Compton has more civic infrastructure — community groups and locally controlled government agencies. Compton has a lot of homegrown civic reformers, like Rafer Owens, who is a deputy Los Angeles County sheriff and pastor at a Baptist church. There’s also a mentality: We have faith in our ability to take care of ourselves; only people in the neighborhood really know what’s going on.
Fascinating but be careful of descending into structural-solutionism vs the culture. cf Putnam and Italy. Structures arise from (and also, of course, create and sustain) culture.