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Carol Craig is the Centre's Chief Executive. She is author of The Scots' Crisis of Confidence, Creating Confidence: A Handbook for Professionals Working with Young People, The Tears that Made the Clyde: Well-being in Glasgow and The Great Takeover: How materialism, the media and markets now dominate our lives. Her latest book is Hiding in Plain Sight: Exploring Scotland's ill health. She is Commissioning editor for the Postcards from Scotland series. Carol blogs on confidence, well-being, inequality, every day life and some of the great challenges of our time. The views she expresses are her own unless she specifically states that they reflect the Centre's thinking.

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Posted 03/11/2010 | 2 Comments

Thursday and Friday last week were very special days for the Centre. We are a small organisation and yet we managed to put on two very successful events.

The first, early on Thursday evening was an event on the celebrated TV series The Wire.  The event was sold out but inevitably on the night there were a few spare seats in the hall. Anmol Chadhha, a postgraduate student at Harvard University and co-teacher on a course on The Wire and social policy was our main speaker. In the course of his talk Anmol described and commented on some scenes in the series, and their importance, but in the main gave us some sociological background to life in the type of urban communities The Wire focuses on.  Unlike the UK which defines poverty as being on an income less than 60 per cent of median earnings, the USA's poverty definition is much lower. Someone is poor if they don't have enough money for subsistence. This means that the poor characterised in The Wire literally live on less than $5,000 dollars a year. Those involved in drugs often earn less per hour than the minimum wage.

Studies show that many who grow up in these communities are trapped as a result of poor language skills, lack of education, and access to jobs.  Yet in the USA two thirds of white folk believe that the root cause of African American poverty is related to individual factors such as the lack of a work ethic. Even a slight majority of black people believe this. 

Anmol finished his talk referring to one of the most moving scenes in the series. Two young black drug dealers are talking about the dire circumstances in which they live. One of them says that not everyone lives like this – there is another world out there. The other replies: "and how do you get to that world from here?" The skill of the series is to show how difficult that transition is for many poor black youth.

The next speaker was John Carnochan – head of Scotland's Violence Reduction Unit. I had been keen to give John the chance to speak, not just because he is a big fan of The Wire, but also because I thought we needed someone to say that while we could learn something from discussing the series Glasgow is not Baltimore. This John did with great insight and flashes of humour.  Glasgow has a major violence problem but it is not criminal gangs but territorial gangs that plague our streets.  He also said, controversially, that some of the most dangerous gangs were those of social work, education, the police and other professions protecting their own disciplines rather than working for the common good.

We've run many events since we got going  but I must admit there was something very special about Creating Good Lives which took place the following day. Baroness Helena Kennedy chaired the event and everyone I spoke to was impressed by her authorative air and the way she stamped her personality on the event. 'Don’t think you are asking me to come all the way to Scotland and then not expect me to put my tuppence worth in', she said on one occasion. Her comments were lucid, articulate and often very radical.  The keynote speaker Professor William Julius Wilson did not disappoint. He set out a cogent argument for the need to consider structural and cultural factors if we want to understand the problems of folk living in poor neighbourhoods.

We had so many speakers and great contributions in the course of the day that I just can't do justice to in the course of the blog. We are also planning to add lots of content about the event to the previous events section of this website and you'll be able to access some of the material yourself.

I would like to mention a couple of comments which particularly gratified me. One was from a man who works for a think tank. "I think that something special is happening here today – I don't just mean the numbers of folk you've managed to get along (c.240). There is an atmosphere, an urgency about the need to change, that I haven't detected before. It is as if we've turned a corner.'

Another senior civil servant stopped me on the way out to tell me how much she had enjoyed the whole day, adding: "I really admire your knack of getting people to talk about things that we don't normally discuss." This was exactly what I had hoped would happen.  If we are going to begin to address some of the big challenges facing us we need to analyse what's going on better and we need to be honest about what's going on.   

Comment By Comment
Alex Smith

Comment Posted: 09/11/2010 14:25
I made a mistake last week. I couldn't come to Friday's event because I was committed elsewhere although I knew I should like to be there. I chose not to attend Thursday night's event because I knew I'd be tired and I have never seen The Wire. I have a vague idea of what it's about but I don't watch television and it's not the kind of programme which I thought would draw me in. The only programmes which I have watched faithfully as an adult were M*A*S*H*, Cheers and the spin-off, Frazier. Reading Carol's blog, I realise I was wrong on two counts. I should have watched The Wire (and I may now look out for the boxed sets) and I should have come to the event. I'll know better next time. And well done for continuing to organise such successful and popular events.
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