Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Environment and Justice

"...Poverty has forced many people into homes in neighborhoods that are vulnerable to everything from flooding to mudslides to toxic air - as if it isn't destabilizing enough to have to worry about safety on war-torn streets, get an education in schools with no resources, or hunt for scarce jobs.

Meanwhile, the stability of the relatively affluent is also under threat. The average American family has spent itself out onto a perilous perch. Credit card debt outstrips savings plans. A sharp economic downturn or the collapse of the U.S. dollar could toss millions overboard into financial crisis.

And of course we are also on the verge of environmental bankruptcy. That big greenhouse-gas bill is fast coming due - in the form of extreme weather events that could overtake more than just the Gulf Coast. Some say it could be Manhattan, and most of our cities are no more ready than New Orleans was. Our levees, dams, schools, and hospitals are crumbling or in poor repair."

On a larger scale, Katrina also shows the flaws of the individualist 'sink or swim' philosophy that dominates both major political parities. That political-economic worldview informed New Orleans's free-market evacuation plan, which ensured that only those with private car sand money could get out.

The Katrina story illustrates clearly the two crises we face in the United States: radical socioeconomic inequality and rampant environmental destruction."

"The Green Collar Economy -
How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems"

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Friday, May 29, 2009

Scattershooting...

Dr. Michael Hinojosa, Superintedent of the Dallas Independent School District and I had dueling op-ed columns in the Dallas Morning News yesterday.Dr. Hinojosa believes that cuts in the budget of magnet schools and learning centers in DISD are required in order to avoid loss of Title I and stimulus dollars for education. He also believes its an issue of 'fairness'. Let's just say, I disagree.

I've been hoping that school board trustee Carla Ranger would be elected President of the DISD school board. She was voted 2nd VP. Adam Medrano has been elected president and Lew Blackburn is 1st VP. All should be steps in the right direction...

In the category of REALLY GOOD NEWS - Jerry Lee Evans became the 20th man freed from prison, exonerated by DNA evidence. Mr. Evans is 47 years old and has been in prison 22 years!“I’m not angry at all, said Evans. Amazing. Absolutely amazing...

Interesting read? Why Black Radio Doesn't Deserve Our Help.

Finally, what am I reading now: 'The Power Broker", by Robert Caro.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Something to Remember and Enjoy

For no other reason than I enjoyed this HBO series and I enjoyed this speech, I thought I'd share it.

I think its something we ought all remember, when we are tempted to be complacent in the face of those threats that would make us less free, or settle for less freedom for others.



Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Ladies and Gentlemen - We Have a Nominee!

So it looks like the job opening is filled! Once more it appears that our new president has continued to confound critics and some supporters alike by choosing - gasp - someone who doesn't march lockstep with everyone of his ideological views!

He actually found someone qualified who is basically a moderate with a mixed record. Judge Sonya Sotomayor, does indeed fit the need on the Supreme Court for diversity in life experience, gender and ethnicity. She is a moderate liberal, who has sided with business and ruled against minority lawsuit plaintiffs. So what's to complain about?

Mark Davis, a local columnist with the Dallas Morning News: "President Obama has, unfortunately, given us exactly what he promised, a nominee who allows feelings and personal agendas to color her judicial temperament."

Ronald Cass of Real Clear Politics opines: "President Obama [picked] a nominee less for her intellect, her understanding of the law, or her facility for interpreting and explaining the law than on her identity. Worse, he picked someone who sees identity as important to deciding what the law is, how it applies, and who wins and loses."

Stuart Taylor of National Journal Magazine says: "...apart from Sotomayor's Supreme Court prospects, her thinking is representative of the Democratic Party's powerful identity-politics wing."

"Sotomayor also referred to the cardinal duty of judges to be impartial as a mere "aspiration because it denies the fact that we are by our experiences making different choices than others." And she suggested that "inherent physiological or cultural differences" may help explain why "our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging.""

"So accustomed have we become to identity politics that it barely causes a ripple when a highly touted Supreme Court candidate, who sits on the federal Appeals Court in New York, has seriously suggested that Latina women like her make better judges than white males."
But then there's this...



This is going to be very, very interesting!

That's Another Way To Look at It






Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A First I Never Thought About Seeing

There are times when its hard to express what you are thinking in ways that others can understand. So I want to say this carefully:
This falls in the category of something I never thought about seeing!

Congratulations, Rabbi Stanton! Wow, talk about about making strides!!!

Alysa Stanton is set to become the first African-American female rabbi when she is ordained next month.(Courtesy Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion)
But that day will come June 6 for the
single mother who will be ordained by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, becoming the first African-American female rabbi in the world.

You can read the rest of the article here...

Monday, May 25, 2009

Where Will Our Love Go?

I had a great privilege of meeting with a group of students from Abilene Christian University who are a part of a fellowship program that spent the week with us at Central Dallas Ministries.

On Thursday, I was explaining to them how our permanent supportive housing program, called Destination Home works.

When one of the students asked where we get referrals to this program from. I explained that we get some from the Bridge, Dallas' homeless assistance center. Then I said that we also get some referrals from the Veteran's Administration Hospital. Then something struck me and I guess I was musing out loud:

The country, pro-Iraq war and anti-Iraq war, take great pains to say how much we love our troops. And how every American should be proud of them, their sacrifice and their that of their families. And they are all absolutely right!

But we have a habit of not treating our veterans well after the wars are over, and it dawned on me...some of these patriots, whose virtues we extol, will come back with mental health issues, financial problems, and broken families. Advances in medical science mean that soldiers who might have died with the same injuries in Viet Nam, will have disabilities and all of these circumstances will contribute to many of our fighting boys and girls ending up on the street.

We welcome them with banners and balloons now. But I wonder will we love our troops then?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

What Does it Take to Get Through to You?!


"So then, with what shall I compare the people of this day and what are they like? I know, they are like children playing int the streets, and shouting at each other, 'We put on some jazz, but you wouldn't dance; so we put on funeral music, but you wouldn't go into mourning.' For John the Baptizer offered you a harsh, rugged life a, and you say, 'The guy is nuts.' I, the son of man, offer you laughter and joy, and you say, 'Look at that man, a gadfly and a jitter-bug, a friend of Yankees and a 'n-lover'. So, if intelligence can be judged by all that it produces, well -!"

Luke 7:31-35

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Jack Kemp
1935 - 2009

AFL Hall of Fame Quarterback, Politician, Congressman, Vice-Presidential Candidate, Author

"When people lack jobs, opportunity, and ownership of property they have little or no stake in their communities."

Friday, May 22, 2009

The World As it Should Be; The World As it Is

Tawnell Hobbs who writes the Dallas Morning News' DISD blog, has put out a poll asking who should be the new chairperson for the Dallas Independent School District's board of trustees. I'm not exercising any grand insight when I say it SHOULD be Carla Ranger.

When she ran for her seat I was pretty unimpressed. The more she has fought to get this board to do the right thing by the students by fighting against the decrease in funding for magnet schools and learning centers; or for the citizens of Dallas by fighting efforts to circumvent the democratic process by extending their terms of office, Dr. Ranger has shown wisdom, courage and great judgement.

Dr. Ranger quite suspiciously lost her job recently at the Dallas Community College District. More than a few believe its because she has been such a contrarian on the board.

She's my kind of contrarian.

A look at the popular poll shows I'm not the only one who feels that way. But then again, we don't get a vote. The trustees choose their president (sigh)...

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Justice at Last!

Justice at last. Awaiting the signature of the Governor of Texas is 'the Tim Cole Act', named for Tim Cole, a veteran, Texas Tech student falsely accused of rape in 1985. After dying in prison in 1999 Cole was exonerated posthumously exonerated last year.

HB1736 "...set(s) compensation, for all cases [of wrongful conviction], to $80,000 for each year served in prison and would be prorated for a partial year. Claimants would be entitled to receive $25,000 for each year on parole or as a registered sex offender, and would be prorated for a partial year. The bill would also require the Comptroller to make equal monthly payments to claimants based on an annuity derived from the present value sum of the wrongful imprisonment compensation, interest, and other actuarial considerations at the Comptroller's discretion. In addition, claimants would also be entitled to 120 hours of state-paid tuition and mandatory fees at a career center, community college, or state university if requested by a claimant before the seventh anniversary of the date the claimant received a pardon or was granted relief."

It would also "...provide reentry and reintegration services for a wrongfully imprisoned person. The bill would include a person who has served wholly or partly a sentence operated by or under contract with TDCJ and has received a pardon for innocence for the crime for which the person was sentenced or otherwise been granted relief because of being innocent of the crime. Also, the bill would require TDCJ to develop a reentry and reintegration plan that would include life-skills, job, and vocational training for a wrongfully imprisoned person following discharge, for as long as the services are beneficial. The bill would require TDCJ to provide the following to the wrongfully imprisoned person: a state identification card and financial assistance to aid in covering living expenses following discharge, not to exceed $10,000."

"This bill cannot make people whole," said Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, the measure's sponsor. "Surely no amount of money can make people whole, but I assure you, members, that we can do better than we're doing now...better benefits are needed because those affected, usually men falsely accused of sex crimes, have huge difficulty finding jobs and readjusting to society."

North Texas can be proud of its House delegation this time. Other sponsors for the bill were Representatives Yvonne Davis, Terri Hodge and Dan Branch; on the Senate side, Royce West and Florence Shapiro co-authored companion bill SB 2014.

Congratulations to the Innocence Project of Texas, to Jaime Page, Clay Graham and the interns from UTA, the Cole family, congratulations to the 81st Legislature, for stepping up and doing the right thing. This legislation hasn't received the publicity it deserverves. Texas now has the most generous exoneree compensation policy in the country.

Congratulations, finally, to one of the greatest groups of guys I've ever had the priviledge of knowing - the exonerees, whose patience, grace and courage made participating in this work one of the most meaningful episodes in my life!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Risk vs. Ambiguity

Interesting article in Inc. magazine, I read while in the doctor's office the other day.

It's a "Q&A" with Jim Collins, author of 'Good to Great' and 'Built to Last'. His insights are quite interesting. 'Good to Great' is quite an interesting book. I encourage you to read it if you haven't.

Collins sees the economic period we're in as ripe for entrepreneurship, comparing it to the beginning of the 20th century, when what we now know as big and successful corporations:

"Around the turn of the last century, for example, we began to see the business corporation emerge as a building block of modern society, but if you'd made that observation to people in 1900, they wouldn't have known what you were talking about. Then, in the period of the 1920s to '40s, we saw the emergence of management as a fundamental function and discipline in society. It was Peter Drucker who best articulated that idea. He saw that we were becoming a society in which management would be one of the central, important professions -- like medicine or law. Then came the third big development, which really flourished after the Second World War: the idea that work can be systematically broken down into pieces and reassembled in ways that dramatically increase both performance and humanity."

I love his quote of Steven Jobs, when describing tech industry, "He said, "We aren't creating computers. We are creating bicycles for the mind." That was his phrase. He said the most efficient locomotive vehicle is a bicycle, and you could create a bicycle for the mind. It just happened to be a personal computer. Now, that way of looking at a business is very different from thinking, We're creating a company so everybody can get rich and retire. If that's how Jobs had seen it, he would have quit a long time ago. Same with Yvon Chouinard at Patagonia. He wanted to make incredible products, but those products would be part of something bigger -- creating a role model for people who wanted to build a sustainable organization. It was a noble vision of entrepreneurship, and a lot of these entrepreneurs shared it."

But my favorite revelation of his in the interview dealt with his concept of risk. Collins described entrepreneurship as a life concept. The difference between a 'paint by numbers' approach to life and a blank canvas approach. Then, when asked by the reporter whether or not that had something to do with risk tolerance Collins said something that was remarkable -

"Not risk. Ambiguity. People confuse the two. My students used to come to me at Stanford and say, "I'd really like to do something on my own, but I'm just not ready to take that much risk. So I took the job with IBM." And I would say, "You're not ready for risk? What's the first thing you learn about investing? Never put all your eggs in one basket. You've just put all your eggs in one basket that is held by somebody else." As an entrepreneur, you know what the risks are. You see them. You understand them. You manage them. If you join someone else's company, you may not know those risks, and not because they don't exist. You just can't see them, and so you can't manage them. That's a much more exposed position than the entrepreneur faces. But there's lower ambiguity on the paint-by-numbers path: very clear but more risky. The entrepreneurial path: very ambiguous but less risk. Of course, the truth is that it's all ambiguous, anyway. If you think you can predict the future, you're crazy."

It reminds me of something I read in a book called 'How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci", which posited seven characteristics of da Vinci that made him a genius, one of which is 'sfumato', meaning 'turned to mist', or 'smoked'. It is a high tolerance for ambiguity, change, paradox and irony. We joke at Central Dallas Ministries, that you won't last long without a high tolerance for change!

Some people need to 'paint by the numbers. They will be awfully disappointed in the days and years to come. The economic model upon which we came to depend. A model that enriched so many and relegated so many to the margins, was broken by materialism and greed.
But in breaking it, the door was opened to new possibilities. Realizing those possibilities will take time, it will take courage, patience, and will be neither cheap or easy. And the lack of certainty may actually be the consequence of painting a future more exciting than we can imagine with all the ambiguity and irony of entrepreneurial genius!

Monday, May 18, 2009

A School AND a President with Class - How 'Bout That?!

I certainly couldn't mention Arizona State's snub of President Barack Obama, without giving attention to Notre Dame's invitation to the president to give their commencement address AND to award him an honorary doctorate.

It was the subject of more than a little controversy.

The president's position on abortion rights was seen as a violation of the sacred teachings and values of the Catholic Church. And one can certainly respect the position of those who have honest disagreement with Mr. Obama and their venerated institution's selection of him as their speaker. There were some indeed who vehemently protested and dissented, as was their right.

But views upon the President's role in this commencement were apparently not unanimous...

"One Catholic leader, Archbishop Raymond Burke, accused Obama of pushing an anti-life, anti-family agenda. Burke, the first American to lead the Vatican supreme court, said Friday it was "a scandal" that Notre Dame had invited Obama to speak..."

"Yet polling and other evidence shows that Catholic voters have a largely positive view of the president, closely tracking other national polling. Obama's standing is more evidence that U.S. Catholics don't always follow the Church hierarchy, whether on issues such as abortion and contraception or political preferences. Also, the president's community service background and his opposition to the Iraq war appeal to some Catholics."

But this post isn't meant to deal with either the pro-choice or anti-abortion agenda.

Colleges and universities truly educate their students by exposing them to a broad range of issues across ideological spectra, and, while in all but the most egregious cases, do so without demonizing those who hold differing points of view. It is the intellectual 'safe haven' in which it is safe to learn something other than what you have always thought or known. To be introduced to, here about, or even hear from those who believe differently, is not to adopt their views or even sanction their perspective.

Real education happens when you learn more about what you believe because through exposure to thoughts different from your own - and from that informed vantage point decide whether your beliefs are worth holding on to.

Notre Dame, in my opinion, violated no standard, theological, ideological or otherwise. They upheld their highest standard as an academic institution of higher learning: to cherish informed debate as a tool of education thereby showing that no one is truly developed intellectually if all they ever hear are confirmations of what they are already predisposed to believe.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Class Counts - Well, Not Everywhere...

A man's gotta know his limitations! Let me confess at least one of mine that I've discovered. There are a few universities where I probably couldn't make the grade...

Harvard
Princeton

Stanford
Yale

Arizona State

Arizona State?! No, don't think I could cut it there. Heck the President of the United States can't even get an honorary doctorate there!

“His body of work is yet to come. That’s why we’re not recognizing him with a degree at the beginning of his presidency,” university spokeswoman Sharon Keeler said after the school’s student newspaper first reported the decision.
At the beginning of his presidency?!

Let's see, at last count in the 239 year history of this country he's one of only 44 presidents. That doesn't count? I mean after all, you do have to convince the majority of eligible voters in this country that you can do the job.

Degrees from Columbia and Harvard Universities don't count? Constitutional law professor doesn't mean anything? Community organizer (don't start, I'm pretty much through trying to convince people predisposed to believe that its not a real job)? State representative? No points for becoming a state senator? In one of arguably, the toughest political state in the union? No? Becoming CEO of a company which generated almost a billion dollars in revenue in less than two years (essentially that's what the campaign for president became - someone said if the campaign had been an actual corporation its advertising budget would have rivaled McDonald's!), whose sole purpose was to get him elected President of the United States - and succeeding? Not enough, huh? Best selling author? No? How about best selling author of two books?! No go? How about the first African-American president in the history of a country in which 45 years ago, his father couldn't vote and indeed his parents would have been arrested or lynched?

No?! Did I mention he did it all by the age of 47?! "His body of work is yet to come..."

REALLY?! Wow!

Do you think our standards are a little high?

The President spoke at ASU's commencement anyway. What did he say? Among other things he said, "...I come here not to dispute the suggestion that I haven’t yet achieved enough in my life. I come here to embrace it; to heartily concur; to affirm that one’s title, even a title like president, says very little about how well one’s life has been led — and that no matter how much you’ve done, or how successful you’ve been, there’s always more to do, more to learn, more to achieve,”"

He went on to say...
"“This is what building a body of work is all about — it’s about the daily labor, the many individual acts, the choices large and small that add up to a lasting legacy. It’s about not being satisfied with the latest achievement, the latest gold star — because one thing I know about a body of work is that it’s never finished,” Obama said. “It’s cumulative; it deepens and expands with each day that you give your best, and give back, and contribute to the life of this nation.”"

Arizona State University is tough I tell you! You can't even get extra credit for having class!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Anne Frank
1929 - 1945

Martyr

"How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world."

Friday, May 15, 2009

Standardized Testing vs. Graduation - You Mean We Can't Have Both?

Melissa Nelson teaches high school at Rockwall High School, a Dallas suburb.

She's not a big fan as of our state's standardized test (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills or TAKS) as a prerequisite for graduation. Neither am I. Of course I have issues with the emphasis we've placed on it anyway.

But Ms. Nelson's op-ed in the Dallas Morning News makes an interesting assessment and suggestion regarding testing for 'college readiness':

"Senate Education Committee chair Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, said, "The overarching goal is to raise the bar so that Texas students are prepared for success in life." I couldn't agree more, but I don't think denying a student a high school diploma because he can't perform Algebra II on a college-ready level is the best way to prepare him for success. In fact, if he gets discouraged and drops out, we are almost assured he will have less success in life."

"The fact is we already have tests in place that tell us how our students are doing when it comes to college readiness. They are the SAT and the ACT. Make every high school student take the ACT or SAT and see how we're doing."

Now I also have an issue with assuming which children are 'college ready' and which aren't. I don't think you know until they get there. But it is true. And the test that shows which one's are ready and which aren't - the one's that are actually recognized by colleges and universities, are the SAT and the ACT exams.

Maybe we ought to use the tests that actually mean something.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Big Churches May Have Something to Think About

"...we have many political opportunities to work for justice, peace, democratic process, and freedom. The fact that Jesus could not use radio and television does not mean that we should not. Similarly, the fact that his political options were fewer than ours does not mean we should not use the political process to work for structural change whenever that is possible."


There's a pretty interesting recent study of American 'mega-churches' conducted jointly by the Hartford Institute and the Leadership Network in Dallas, Texas.

Together they researched a number of different areas regarding the character of churches whose attendance (not merely membership), numbered at or more than 2000 people. Included in the study were things as varied as the nature or character of their worship (traditional vs. contemporary, the role of small groups, probably one of the newest phenomenon - satellite campuses and the like.

What I found interesting was what the study revealed about mega-churches' how the respondents replied when asked about worship, social justice and politics.

For instance, when asked to describe their worship, in 2005 an equal number of respondents (90%), described the worship experience as 'joyful' and 'thought-provoking'. By 2008, 94% of the respondents described worship as 'joyful' while the number who described worship as 'thought-provoking' fell to 88%!

I don't know about you, but to me that's more than a little disturbing!

At the same time the number of mega-church attendees who described themselves as politically 'conservative' fell from 55% to 33%, those who described themselves as moderate or 'right in the middle' rose by 6% (11% - 17%).

Yet with all of this, only 30% took the initiative to get out the vote and only 21% provided announcements regarding opportunities for political engagement. However, 51% of the churches studied described themselves as 'working for social justice. Emphasis in these churches was placed on social service programs, while 90% declared themselves to be a 'force for good in the community'.

I don't mean to ridicule or criticize by citing this report. The mega-church is probably undergoing a sense of change and reformation with the rest of the country. Pastors with multiple services have a great deal of challenge in presenting 'thought provoking' messages hurrying to get one audience out and another in. And the socioeconomic make up of predominantly suburban mega-churches can make it very difficult to turn such audiences into an army.

All of this being understood, there is going to have to be a reckoning: a point at which maintaining numbers and technological dazzle will have to yield to a decision as to what must be done when social service becomes a poor substitute for social justice and there comes a demand for systemic change.

I heard that, going in to the presidential race that just concluded, there was a group that wanted Martin Sheen, who played President Jed Bartlett on 'The West Wing', to run for the nation's highest office. Sheen said of his would be supporters, "They've confused celebrity with significance."

Our world doesn't necessarily have to have big celebrated churches. It does need churches that are determined to be significant, whether they are big or not. That will require a great deal of prayer - and thoughtfulness...

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Prophetic Film



I've always considered Paddy Cheyevski's 1976 movie classic "Network" a prophetic work!

It's all there: broadcast news drifting into 'infotainment'

Reality TV

Corporate Corruption and greed on massive scales

The numbing of civic culture

This scene is particularly engaging! It is a near perfect explanation of what our country is trying to extricate itself from.

Watching this recently made me think: suppose the torrent of ideological blather we've been hearing as been a clever distraction from the real issue - the 'ownership' of our country and the devaluation of our individual significance and our communal existence?

I'm not a conspiracy theorist. But watch the clip and see what you think.

Either way, its a great movie!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Politicians with Faith Can Make a Difference

Does it matter that a politician is a person of faith?

It may sound blasphemous for a Baptist preacher to say this, but: Not always...

Some of our greatest political leaders were nominally religious, some of the worst, very religious.

But it does warm my heart when an elected official is unafraid about such an ultimate commitment. While we don't elect men and women to be substitutes or even extensions of our personal faith convictions, when their public concerns are informed by those deep convictions, significant, meaningful things can happen.

Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert is such a politician. At the Metrocrest Mayors' Prayer Breakfast, Mr. Leppert spoke of his convictions movingly and convincingly, "Our real goal in life is not to satisfy ourselves. Our real goal is to prepare ourselves to be with Him in eternity," Leppert told the crowd. "The message of Christ, I think, is really simple: It is to forgive us for our past, to give meaning to the present and to give us a promise for the truth."

Have I not heard those words before? Of course I have. I've also known several Dallas mayors. So far Mr. Leppert's sensitivity, responsiveness and willingness to listen and engage make him stand out in ways that very few who preceded him have. And while it should not matter, by the way, he is a Republican (and please don't get me started on that!).

Authentic Christian politicians, don't have to proselytize or make their colleagues of different beliefs or no belief feel inferior or wrong. The fact that we live in a pluralistic society means that there is room in the public square for all of us. Politicians who know what they believe, who don't use what they believe to troll for favor, and for whom conviction doesn't mean an absence of compassion, have much to offer our cities and our country. Leppert, has so far, shown himself to be one of those politicians.

Leppert's Christianity also makes him sensitive toward the needs of the poorest sections of our city, "We neglected the southern and western parts of our city. That imbalance has cost us over time," Leppert said Thursday to a crowd of more than 200 people gathered for the annual Metrocrest Mayors' Prayer Breakfast ..."If you're a Christian, you have to evoke an understanding and an empathy ... to address the challenges, the needs in these areas."

But social justice will also be found in economic success.

"The city is not going to be successful unless we capitalize on that great asset in the south in terms of land, in terms of human resources," the mayor said. "We're not going to move forward if we don't have everyone feeling engaged or feel ownership."

There will be time to begin to translate the rhetoric of Christian concern for equality, justice and opportunity for all into concrete public policy and sustained action. But no one I know expects this mayor, or any politician, to do it all themselves. That happens as they work with engaged citizens: believers and unbelievers.

Believing citizens, working with believing elected officials, joining unbelivers and people of different different faith backgrounds to bring progress, prosperity and real change to their city.

Imagine that! What a concept!

Joe Bagby (1938-2009), Gospel Radio Icon Passes

Long before gospel music had broad, even secular popular appeal; before there were gospel music T.V. channels and when the best gospel talent still reached their audiences through record albums, convention halls and comparatively small church sanctuaries; back before satellite radio, there was the gospel AM radio station - and Joe Bagby.

Many a church member's household (ours included), began their Sunday morning ritual by listening to Bro. Joe on the radio while 'getting ready' for church and on the drive to church.

Later, when Joe was on daily, he was still a staple for most African-American Christian listeners. But no more. Joe Bagby died this past Friday morning at the age of 70.

"It was a day of mourning at KHVN-AM (970), where news director Robert Ashley hit the airwaves to pay tribute to his friend and colleague who had been on Dallas radio for more than 50 years.

"Brother Joe was considered to be the godfather of gospel music," Ashley said."

"Bagby died at a hospital after a long fight with pulmonary disease, an illness that hadn't stopped him from reaching his listeners. His last broadcast was less than 24 hours before he died."

"He had a commitment and a love for God that was just beyond reproach," Ashley said."

"Many listeners called in Friday to pay their respects to Bagby, 70, who had remarked that age wouldn't keep him away from the microphone."

""I know that I am going to die sooner or later, so I am going to be faithful until death," he said in 2006."

There was probably a Joe Bagby in every major city. A gospel DJ whose infectious love of God and the music that extolled His praises, before any gospel song could be termed a "hit" or any gospel artist be referred to as a 'star'. You grow up with such people. They become kind of the 'wallpaper' of your life and when they're gone there's a different kind of mourning that you experience. A mourning that denotes the passage of time. Or as the gospel song says, 'Time is Windin' Up'.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Ann Richards
1933 - 2006

45th Governor of Texas

1991-1995

"Teaching was the hardest work I had ever done, and it remains the hardest work I have done to date."

Friday, May 8, 2009

Class or Race? Both Are Problems

Larry James, Central Dallas Ministries' President and CEO, will probably also reference author bell hooks, in his blog sometime soon. If so, he'll join my other colleague, Janet Morrison, as I think we were all similarly impacted by our review of her book, Where We Stand Class Matters, in our monthly Urban Engagement Book Club.

To be honest, I've never been fully persuaded that class trumps race when it comes to social inequality in America. But I cannot be dismissive of its role in the dominant culture. Ms. hooks work is important and helps drive home the fact that we ignore the issue of class to our peril.

It is one explanation for the political phenomenon in America where people who make $35,000 a year fight vigorously for the interests of people who make $35 million!

Quotes from the book that peaked my interest?

"Everywhere we turn in our daily lives in this nation we are confronted with the widening gap between rich and poor..Yet there is no organized class struggle, no daily in-your-face critique of capitalistic greed that stimulates thought an action - critique, reform, and revolution. As a nation we have become passive, refusing to act responsibly toward the more than thirty-eight million citizens who live in poverty here and the working masses who labor long and hard but still have difficulty making ends meet. The rich are are getting richer. And the poor are falling by the wayside. At times it seems no one cares. Citizens in the middle who live comfortable lives, luxurious lives in ration to the rest of the world, often fear that challenging classism will be their downfall, that simply by expressing concern for the poor they will end up like them, lacking the basic necessities of life. Defensively, they turn their backs on the poor and look to the rich for answers, convinced that the good life can exist only when there is material affluence."

Also...

"The notion that everyone can be wealthy ha supplanted the idea of the United States as a classless society. Indeed, the fantasy that cuts across class is the dream of a world where everyone can be wanton and wasteful as they consume the world's riches."

And finally...

"I can give money. But rarely is money enough. I cannot give instant psychological makeovers. The imprints of a consumer capitalist socialization that teaches us all to spend much and value little, to get as much as we can and give as little as possible, (its, known as scamming), cannot be erased at will. It should be g=evident that we cannot change class oppression and exploitation without changing the way everyone thinks about getting and giving. Class is much more than money."

The issue of class is political. It is social. It is ethical. It is economic. It is spiritual.

The issue of class impacts the way we see and engage one another. It shoots through race, gender, religious dogma and political ideology. It goes to the heart of who we will be as citizens of the world, and how we see ourselves in the world.

To do something about it, we'll have to admit that we've been viewing ourselves and others through dirty and defective lenses...

Thursday, May 7, 2009

A Signing Day We Can Celebrate!

I know I'm critical of Dallas Independent School District and public education in general. That's basically because I believe we've allowed politics to become the driving force behind what ultimately will either secure our future or signal our downfall. Education impacts every level of society but it is also vulnerable to the tired ideologies of electioneers. Much of what is wrong with our schools can be laid at these elected officials, from the halls of local administration buildings, to the corridors of power in our nation's capitol, we are not far from ruining our greatest contribution to civilization - the concept of a guaranteed education for all citizens.

So their is much to criticize.

But there is much to celebrate, as well and none of us should forget that.

Most of us think of 'signing day' as the day early in the year when high school jocks, sign letters of intent with colleges and universities around the country. We know most of them won't make it to the pros (many of them won't make the teams with which they sign), but a good many will thrill us on Saturdays and will hopefully get a good education.
May 6, however, a new signing day was recognized and I hope it too becomes a tradition.

Nearly 300 students who've excelled in academics signed their scholarship letters to colleges and universities on Sunday and they got recognized! It was even on television!!!

The amount of the scholarships was over $75 million, and were to such powerhouses as Johns Hopkins, Harvard, the University of Texas Austin and everywhere in between.

These are talented kids who worked hard. They had some good teachers, most had great family support and nurturing communities. They are the products of that village we keep talking about.

We won't necessarily see these kids on Saturdays and Sundays on the gridiron, hardwood or between the lines. But we'll see them in doctors offices, court rooms, labs, classrooms, city halls, courts, floors of congress and the like, every day of the week. Some will be mothers and fathers, and have jobs that may seem kind of ordinary, but they will make our communities and advance our culture.

Now the job is to increase that number. I just met with someone today who told me that a Dallas area high school that started with a 9th grade class of nearly 300, has a graduating class of 70!

Unfortunately, we can't celebrate too long...

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The New Mayor of Motown

Detroit is not my favorite city, and the Pistons were never my favorite NBA team, but years ago, Dave Bing was one of my favorite basketball superstars.

Dave Bing is now mayor of Detroit!

"Detroit Pistons great and political newcomer Dave Bing made a dramatic political debut Tuesday, riding a platform as a change agent to a come-from-behind upset of Mayor Kenneth Cockrel Jr."

"With light turnout, Bing outlasted Cockrel, the son of a political icon, by 52-48 percent. Bing serves until year's end and should take office in about a week once the results are certified by the Board of Canvassers. Cockrel returns to lead the council, a post he held before becoming mayor in September when Kwame Kilpatrick resigned and went to jail."
""The real work starts now," said Bing, 65, an NBA Hall of Famer and owner of the Bing Group, to loud cheers at the Doubletree Suites Fort Shelby Hotel."

""What we will bring ... is efficiency, transparency, honesty and integrity back to the mayor's office.""

Detroit is not one of the healthiest cities in America, to put it mildly. With a family median income of under $35,000 and per capita income of under $15,000, plummeting housing values, a totally decimated auto industry and an unemployment rate hovering near 15%, one would wonder why anyone would want the job!

But Detroit is still Detroit. Its the city that gave us Motown (the Supremes, the Temptations, Marvin Gaye), Aretha Franklin. The Tigers, the Red Wings, the Lions and yes, the Pistons - not to mention Henry Ford. My personal feelings about the city aside, Detroit is legendary and important.

And Dave Bing, NBA Hall of Famer and one of the first African-American professional basketball players to transition from the hardcourt to the boardroom, is Mayor.

Bing completes the term of Kwame Kilpatrick who left office after being convicted of two charges of obstruction of justice in a corruption scandal in September of last year.
The new Mayor is used to challenges, but this is big! But you have to say congratulations. Its another reason to be a fan!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Oh No! Here We Go Again!



I wondered how long it would take. Although I was hoping against hope that it wouldn't happen, I should have started setting an over/under on it.

I mean blaming Mexican immigrants for the swine flu!

It happened during Hurricane Katrina, it took about two days before people started blaming the poor for not getting out fast enough. You knew it would happen.

And now this!

"...Thursday, Boston talk radio host Jay Severin was suspended after calling Mexican immigrants "criminalians" during a discussion of swine flu and saying that emergency rooms had become "essentially condos for Mexicans."

“Our people are calling us and they are concerned,” said Florencia Velasco Fortner, chief executive officer of Dallas Consilio of Hispanic Organizations, an umbrella of affiliated service groups. “Even our staff members are starting to get a little discouraged. There was anti-immigrant sentiment prior to this and this adds fuel to the fire.”

Its unfortunate, but there are people who wait to exploit any crisis as a reason why 'they' shouldn't be there (insert any group who happens to vulnerable or exploitable).

Its something that doesn't happen when the economy hums along, when we are at peace and when 'they' (whoever they may be), are willing to endure exploitation in silence.

But then again, real bigotry doesn't need an excuse. Just a microphone!

Visit msnbc.com for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

Monday, May 4, 2009

I Wish This was a Practical Joke!

Can you fix the process of public education and not fix the politics of public education? I don't think so.

In any case, it appears in Dallas we've got to get serious about both!

The Dallas Independent School District decided (over the objection of two of its members), that after presiding over a budgetary debacle that left the district some $64-$84 million in the red and having to lay off hundreds of teachers and support staff as a result (some of whom had to be rehired); after facing the closure of several schools because of the inability to improve test scores and tanking morale among employees that they should extend their terms of office - quite arbitrarily, I might add. No vote, no poll, not even a questionnaire.

School Board Trustee Carla Ranger tried in vain to get them to hold off until they got an opinion from the state's chief legal expert also the Texas Education Agency), voted into office by the citizens of Texas, Greg Abbott the State Attorney General. No, said the majority, we pay lawyers and they say, 'Full steam ahead!'

Oh but wait! April 30, 2009 the Attorney General sends back his opinion which says what?

"Under the plain meaning of section 11.059(e) of the Education ode the board of trustees of the DISD was officially authorized to change the length of their terms, so long as they did so by December 31, 2007. No statutory authorization exists for changes in lengths after that date."

Oh, that's not all:

"A 18 special law naming article 2783d established the term of a member of the DISD board to three years...Altogether the DISD board was authorized by seciton 11.065(d) to change the length of its members' terms prior to December 31, 2007, the enactment of section 11.059(e) removed the option of doing so after that date."

Uh, this is embarrassing. Or in the words of one trustee, 'disappoining', "I'm disappointed," [School Board President Jack] Lowe said of the ruling. "That's not how our lawyers interpreted it."

How many interpretations could there be?!

Edwin Flores, another 'disappointed' school board members said, "...he supported the extension because trustees are not as effective when they are trying to avoid controversy while running for office." Avoiding what 'controversy'? Budget shortfalls? Failing schools? Accountability?!

Adam Medrano, who, along with Dr. Ranger, knew what time it was both politically and by the calendar, drew back the curtain and said, "...trustees discussed changing the terms at length and knew that they had missed the deadline to change it "by almost a year.""

So now what? A late election? Probably, had they followed the law, the election would have been held May 9th. Or there could be a lawsuit, so that the same lawyers who misread the law the first time could insist in court that the Attorney General can't read. After all according to Mr. Flores, "It's really just an opinion of the attorney general, and that's fine. It's not the law."

Huh?! Seriously?!

Will someone please get these adults under control, so we can at least TRY to educate the children?!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

A Troubling Unity

A recent Pew Research Study, found out that Americans are divided on the issue of torture...

"Amid intense debate over the use of torture against suspected terrorists, public opinion about this issue remains fairly stable. Currently, nearly half say the use of torture under such circumstances is often (15%) or sometimes (34%) justified; about the same proportion believes that the torture of suspected terrorists is rarely (22%) or never (25%) justified."

I'm partial to Elie Wiesel's opinion:

"Torture is always wrong, because the tortured person dies more than once."

Saturday, May 2, 2009

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Ida B. Wells-Barnett
1862-1931

Activist, Journalist, Author

"If this work can contribute in any way toward proving this, and at the same time arouse the conscience of the American people to a demand for justice to every citizen, and punishment by law for the lawless, I shall feel I have done my race a service."

Friday, May 1, 2009

Out of Line and Out of Bounds

No matter how you feel about gay marriage. No matter what you think about gay rights. By any stretch of the imagination, this is insulting and ignorant.

Congresswoman Virginia Foxx from Virginia, should be ashamed.

Perhaps you're not even a proponent of hate crime laws. There is an intelligent (although, in my view, not totally) reasonable argument to be made against it. But the dismissive distortion of facts in order to make such a case is thoughtless and careless.

Matthew Shepherd was a young man from Wyoming was brutally murdered. He was indeed, targeted because he was gay. His assailants, as do all of those who commit hate crimes, found it easy to do so because as a homosexual, it was easy to regard him as less than human. In the same way as African-Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, Jews, Catholics and others have been targeted. It is senseless and it is the result of hate.

Of course one can make the argument that all murders stem from insanity or hatred. I make the argument that when one murders has dehumanized someone to the extent that they no longer respect that person's right to live, it is indeed a special category of offense. If you don't believe that, then we have a basis for a healthy, even vigorous debate. But foolish and extraneous contortions of the facts and history disqualify you from participating in the conversation. Sorry!

Should women be included in hate crime statutes? Should the disabled? Should other minorities be singled out? That is a legitimate subject for public debate. But those who engage in that debate, should know the facts.

What's worse is that this is yet another sign that there are some Republican politicians who really don't understand how tired America is of this type of rhetoric. Again, it is one thing to oppose proposed legislation as extreme, or unnecessary. Its yet another to disparage and demean an incident that represents a sea change in the way our country views crimes against persons. And to do so in a way that is so clearly out of touch with what has been shown to be the truth simply gives credence to what Democratic pollster Peter Hart said, "Republicans have been tone deaf to the results of the 2008 election... They never heard the message. They continue to preach the old-time religion."

Its a message that most Americans rejected as not good enough in 2006 and last year. It doesn't sound any better today.