*Paul Tough, a New York Times writer, describes a stark reality for a Chicago neighborhood questioning whether or not Obama is really focused on the people.

From the back seat of Steve Gates’s white Pontiac, Monique Robbins spotted Jasmine Coleman walking home from school alone. It was an icy December afternoon on Chicago’s South Side, and Jasmine’s only protection against the wind was a thin purple jacket. She looked cold. Gates pulled the car over to the curb, and Robbins hollered at Jasmine to get in.

Jasmine was 16, and Robbins and Gates, who were both in their 30s, were her neighbors. All three of them lived in or around Roseland, a patch of distinctly subprime Chicago real estate that stretches from 89th Street to 115th Street, way down past the last stop on the El. Fifty years ago, Roseland was a prosperous part of Chicago, home to thousands of blue-collar workers, most of them white, employed by the South Side’s many steel and manufacturing plants. But the plants closed long ago, the white residents all moved away and Roseland has become one of the worst-off parts of the city by just about every measure you can think of: unemployment rate, dropout rate, murder rate or just the barren, empty feel of the streets.

Looking out for Jasmine and young people like her in Roseland and other blighted sections of Chicago was Gates’s full-time job. He worked for an organization called Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), acting as a mentor to the students in public high schools who were deemed most “at risk.” I met Gates, who is a laid-back, burly guy with tight dreadlocks and penetrating pale gray eyes, in the fall of 2010, and for several months he let me watch him at work, becoming, in the process, my unofficial guide to Roseland.

Read the full column here.