Friday, April 30, 2010

There's a Difference Between Having a Point of View and Having a Point

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Exclusive - Ken Blackwell Extended Interview Pt. 3
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

This is a pretty fascinating interview. Jon Stewart interview with Ken Blackwell actually shows how people can have a point of view but no real point. The conclusion of the interview is near brilliant on Stewart's part. He sums it up nicely. You can see the whole interview here.

"Turn Out the Lights..."

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Let's Not be Too Quick to Ignore 'The Fringe'

No serious study of African-Americans in this country can exclude consideration of Malcolm X.

He is at least one of the most complex, controversial, charismatic leaders of the modern day Civil Rights Movement. He evokes the most visceral responses from both black and white people to this day. He was incredibly inspirational and gave voice to the exasperation of black people during a period of time when it was clear that America was defaulting on its promise of equality, justice and protection for people of color.

Whites rarely understand that black people have never felt they had to choose between Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. There are those who said that Malcolm preached violence while Martin preached peace. It's not true. Malcolm didn't believe in a non-violent approach to the race problem and he did not believe in trying to make white people comfortable in an oppressive culture which deprived blacks of liberty, citizenship and safety. Malcolm X preached that in the face of virulent and violent racism, bigotry and oppression, black people had as much right to protect their property and defend their families as anyone else legally had. As one whose father was killed by the Ku Klux Klan, he had no sympathy for whites and as a member and spokesman second only to its leader, Elijah Muhammed, he preached in accordance to his faith, separation from whites - a misguided, totally unrealistic notion which he eventually repudiated.

Martin, on the other had expressed a different type of militancy; a militancy which dramatized the confrontation of good and evil within a segregated system and forced America and the world to see what it produced by not practicing what it preached.

Malcolm used satire, logic, ridicule and explosive rhetoric to get his point across; Martin used the documents which America treasured, the Constitution and the Holy Scriptures, the philosophers, theologians and the cherished classical poets to show that this country had not been as good as its promise to the sons and daughters of slaves, and how it corrupted the souls of the sons and daughters of slave owners.

Malcolm for a time called for separation and ultimately for African-Americans self-realization and self-actualization; Martin called for integration, but gradually was coming around, in some measure to Malcolm's same understanding of the importance of African-American's responsibility for themselves.

King said of Malcolm: "While we did not always see eye to eye on methods to solve the race problem, I always had a deep affection for Malcolm and felt that he had a great ability to put his finger on the existence and root of the problem. He was an eloquent spokesman for his point of view and no one can honestly doubt that Malcolm had a great concern for the problems that we face as a race."

But I digress.

There is a much larger lesson regarding Malcolm that all of us need to heed.

His split from the Nation of Islam, the religious separatist sect for which he served as spokesman for nearly 10 years resulted in terrible assaults and harassment for himself and his family. Malcolm adopted orthodox Islam and sought for ways to empower blacks within their own communities and connect the suffering blacks endured in the United States, with the suffering of other oppressed people throughout the world.

Malcolm was killed at the Audubon Ballroom, in New, York City on February 21, 1965, gunned downed in front of witnesses, including his wife and children, as he made a speech on that fateful day.

The last of the three men convicted of Malcolm's murder was released a few days ago. On parole after nearly 20 of the 44 years to which was sentenced served on work release. My issue is not with his conviction or his release on probation. It is a salient point made by Dr. Boyce Watkins.

It is generally believed that Malcolm X was killed by members of the Nation of Islam on direct orders of its leader Elijah Muhammad or incited by the volatile rhetoric against and caustic criticism of Malcolm when he left the Nation. Hagan, then a 25 year old member of the Nation fell into one of those categories.

Men, whose bitterness and hatred for him found their final expression in his assassination.

There are a number of people today who claim the hate speech, name calling, fear mongering and the careless flinging around of red meat phrases like 'socialist', 'Marxist', 'Communist' mean nothing. They are, they say, the expression of a frustrated 'fringe'. Perhaps. But 'fringe' is exactly how one would describe, Lee Harvey Oswald, James Earl Ray...or Thomas Hagan.

Hagan confesses remorse for killing Malcolm X, ""I've had a lot of time, a heck of a lot of time, to think about it," Hagan told a parole board last month..."

""I understand a lot better the dynamics of movements and what can happen inside movements, and conflicts that can come up, but I have deep regrets about my participation in that," said Hagan..."

In his post, Watkins expresses his confidence in his repentance and his reform. I think that's probably a productive position. Malcolm X has been dead for 45 years. But his life was cut short at the age of 39, as he grew toward something most of us consider to be both mature and eminently useful. He died because the 'fringe' was 'inspired' by words that called for his death in not so subtle ways.

It mustn't happen again...

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Access to Quality Food Is an Economic AND a Justice Issue

23.5 million - The number of Americans don’t have access to a supermarket within a mile of their home

8 - The percent of African Americans who live in a census tract with a supermarket, compared to 31 percent of whites

30 - The number of miles that 70 percent of Mississippi food stamp-eligible families live from the closest large grocery store

32 - The percent increase in fruit and vegetable consumption for African Americans with each new supermarket in their neighborhood

5000 - The number of jobs created by the Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative, which provides grants and loans to help locate supermarkets and farmers markets in low-income communities. The Obama Administration and First Lady are trying to bring this program to national scale.

Two very significant reports that address this issue, an issue that is a significant problem in Dallas as well, can be found here and here.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Citizens Working with Their Government - What a Concept!

This past Sunday afternoon, I attended two meetings which were refreshing and hope inspiring.

The first was a small gathering of about 10-12 people, all people of faith meeting with U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Food and Nutrition Service, Southwest Regional Administrator Bill Ludwig and Max Finberg, Director of the USDA Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships at an Interfaith Forum on Hunger. They shared information about President Obama’s Faith-Based Initiative as well as the Administration’s efforts to End Childhood Hunger by 2015 and reduce obesity.

We talked about an emerging strategy combining local action, advocacy and public policy, to address the issues of 'food deserts' and hunger in Texas. It went beyond information sharing, to include maximizing existing resources and initiatives, ranging from community gardens, food co-ops, economic development to achieve the end of tackling the achievable goal of making certain that poor children and their families don't go hungry.

As always, it was enlightening and encouraging, to get together with church leaders, the Jewish and Islamic communities, business representatives and non-profit leaders to talk about what how to expand our efforts to reach more people.

The next meeting was even more exciting, more than 1500 people (so many people, in fact, that both the synagogue and the church across the street had to be utilized!) , diverse in religious culture, race and ethnicity, who came together to celebrate engaging government to address employment, immigration and health care issues.

Dallas Area Interfaith, sponsored this meeting, after having been awarded nearly $400,000 from the office of the state comptrollers office for long-term, living wage job training. DAI, the group I and group of clergy and church leaders founded almost 20 years ago, does not receive the government funding. The money is allocated through another highly successful, widely recognized job training program in San Antonio, 'Project Quest'. This money will be accessed by the Dallas County Community College District, to allow low income, underemployed and unemployed citizens to achieve stability by being trained for jobs with a career track, benefits and a living wage. It is the model upon which Central Dallas Ministries' program, WorkPaths is based. We were instrumental in helping DAI secure the funding, along with other organizations support, such as the United Way, Worksource of Dallas County and the City of Dallas. Florence Shapiro, Republican State Senator from Collin County was instrumental in helping achieve the funding and to work with the organization in next years' legislative session secure more.

The reason this meeting was hopeful is because it was in such stark contrast to what we've seen across our country today. There were no signs denigrating conservatives, or Republicans. There was no name calling. No one sneered. This was not a 'red meat' rally where politicians were demonized. Moderate to liberal people of faith, had actually met with and worked with a predominately Republican state government in a partnership designed to improve the quality of life for their families and their communities.

There were no television cameras at this event. Not enough vitriol, I guess...

White, as well as African-Americans, joined Hispanics supporting calls for comprehensive immigration reform vs. the enforcement based immigration policies seen in Arizona. And city council members were there, voicing their support for a job training program which will yield $12 for every $1 of public money spent.

No one demanded that they get 'their country back'. Instead, they acted like citizens who decided not to give way to fear, despair and hopelessness. They were engaging their government on behalf of their own future.

And instead of complaints, they had answers and a plan. Not to vote someone out, but to work with the people who were in office - to find common ground, with political and elected officials, with whom they may not agree with in terms of political affiliation or ideology in an effort to make government work for them.

What a concept.

In a day when it is taken for granted that anger, rage, name calling and frustration are the only resort for American people. Its refreshing to know that there are sane people, who are looking for solutions, not motivated by fear, but by the confidence that government can solve problems and address deep need when citizens know that their responsibility doesn't have to wait for or end at the ballot box.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Not Out of the Woods Yet but Better Than We're Hearing

On 1/20/09 the Dow opened at 8279.63. The graph below shows where the Dow closed on April 23, 2010.

General Motors has repaid the U.S. Government five years early - with interest.

New home sales were up in March, as were sales of existing homes.

Unemployment holds steady at 9.7 percent, while 162,000 Americans went back to work. Not great, but better news than we've had in some time. Inside the numbers (those not looking for work; unemployment rates for blacks and Hispanics; underemployment) have not been effectively addressed.

But the facts are, with much work left to do, progress is being made. A recession decades in the making can't be completely turned around in a year. But as things get better, the rage, anger, fear-mongering and bitterness is becoming grossly inappropriate and woefully out of step.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sunday Morning Blessing

A number of years ago, Dr. E.K. Bailey was showing me and a number of other ministers the line-up for his first expository preaching conference. The list was a veritable 'who's who' of preachers, scholars, pastors and church leaders. Almost out of reflex I asked him, 'Bailey, what about Joel Gregory? Why don't you get him?"

"Britt", he said, "I tried. He says he's not ready yet. But don't worry, I'm gonna stay after him until I get him."

Joel Gregory is a former pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas. He is probably one of the most eloquent, erudite, Bible expositors I have ever heard. He possesses this rich, baritone voice and, quite unashamedly, I tell people he is one of my favorite preachers, anywhere!

He was called to the church to serve in a type of 'senior pastor in waiting' in anticipation of the retirement of the legendary pastor preacher, Dr. W.A. Criswell. When it became apparent that Criswell wouldn't be retiring in any time frame in accordance to what he was led to believe when he left Travis Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Gregory resigned. It was a dramatic resignation that took place one Wednesday night as they broadcast their services live! At 44 years of age, Joel Gregory had resigned from what was purported to be the largest protestant church in the world!

Gregory, after leaving the church was soon divorced, lived in a one room apartment and was selling funeral plots door to door. No church would have him preach and he was prepared to live his life in obscurity.

That is, until about a year after E.K. and I had that brief, sidebar conversation.

After Gregory accepted Bailey's invitation to preach at his annual conference, African-American preachers hearing him for the first time, were absolutely blown away. From that time, Gregory has no problem telling anyone that God restored his ministry through E.K. Bailey and the black church. He has standing preaching engagements in African-American houses of worship throughout the country.

Gregory preaches now all over the world and is now the Professor of Preaching at George Truett Seminary on the campus of Baylor University. In addition, Joel taught 34 ministers in two seminars at Regents Park College, Oxford University, UK.

In the years since he has returned to the pulpit, I have had an opportunity to get to spend time with Gregory. After years of watching him on television, both as pastor of Travis Avenue Baptist in Fort, Worth and First Baptist Dallas, listening to him on the radio and reading his books, I'm proud to say he is a delightful man, with a lively intellect and an unparalleled passion for preaching the Gospel.

I hope you enjoy this clip of his preaching at Houston, Texas, 'Church Without Walls', pastored by my friend and former schoolmate, Dr. Ralph West.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Andrew Carnegie
1835 - 1919

Industrialist, Capitalist, Philanthropist

"He that cannot reason is a fool. He that will not is a bigot. He that dare not is a slave."

Friday, April 23, 2010

Community Gardens and Urban Farming - Creative Solutions to Nagging Problems

For the past couple of years at Central Dallas Ministries, I, our CEO and President Larry James, Sonia White, who oversees CDM's food distribution and nutrition programs and what some would consider an improbable group: low-income community residents, young executives from Pepsico-Frito Lay, research physicians, community leaders, church leaders and other CDM staff have been engaged in conversations about the benefits of community gardens in urban centers.

It is a relatively new phenomenon, but one that is catching on across the country.

Our education outreach program at the Roseland Homes public housing development have started one. ARAMARK sent 100 volunteers to work with CDM a few weeks ago and one of their project was a community garden behind Central Dallas Church. Still other churches, non-profit organizations and organizations based in urban neighborhoods are starting to look at the importance of these gardens as an answer to the absence of grocery stores in their communities.

Will Allen, the 2008 winner of the MacArthur Fellows Award, is an agriculturalist, modeling for the entire country the benefits of this movement: access to healthy fruits and vegetables, practical education for youth and children, wholesome community engagement, economic developments and the mitigation, if not reversal in the prevalence of diseases in the urban centers due to high concentrations of fast food businesses and 'mom & pop' grocers and package stores that sell processed, fatty, fried foods.

"Over the last decade, Allen has expanded Growing Power’s initiatives through partnerships with local organizations and activities such as the Farm-City Market Basket Program, which provides a weekly basket of fresh produce grown by members of the Rainbow Farmer’s Cooperative to low-income urban residents at a reduced cost. The internships and workshops hosted by Growing Power engage teenagers and young adults, often minorities and immigrants, in producing healthy foods for their communities and provide intensive, hands-on training to those interested in establishing similar farming initiatives in other urban settings. Through these and other programs still in development, Allen is experimenting with new and creative ways to improve the diet and health of the urban poor."

Read more about community gardens in urban centers here.


You can read my latest column in the Dallas Morning News here.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

In Memoriam: Dorothy Height (1912 - 2010)

Another icon of the Civil Rights Movement passed away on yesterday.

"Dorothy I. Height, 98, a founding matriarch of the American civil rights movement whose crusade for racial justice and gender equality spanned more than six decades, died Tuesday at Howard University Hospital. The cause of death was not disclosed."

"Ms. Height was among the coalition of African American leaders who pushed civil rights to the center of the American political stage after World War II, and she was a key figure in the struggles for school desegregation, voting rights, employment opportunities and public accommodations in the 1950s and 1960s."

"As president of the National Council of Negro Women for 40 years, Ms. Height was arguably the most influential woman at the top levels of civil rights leadership."

"Although she never drew the media attention that conferred celebrity and instant recognition on some of the other civil rights leaders of her time, Ms. Height was often described as the "glue" that held the family of black civil rights leaders together. She did much of her work out of the public spotlight, in quiet meetings and conversations, and she was widely connected at the top levels of power and influence in government and business."

"As a civil rights activist, Ms. Height participated in protests in Harlem during the 1930s. In the 1940s, she lobbied first lady Eleanor Roosevelt on behalf of civil rights causes. And in the 1950s, she prodded President Dwight D. Eisenhower to move more aggressively on school desegregation issues. In 1994, Bill Clinton awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor."

"In a statement issued by the White House, President Obama called Ms. Height "the godmother of the Civil Rights Movement and a hero to so many Americans.""

"She "devoted her life to those struggling for equality . . . witnessing every march and milestone along the way," Obama said."

Ms. Height was an inspiration to countless women and men throughout a long and illustrious life. We honor her memory and mourn her passing. Read more about this well spent life here.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

'Eat Your Spinach' is Not an Effective Message - for Anyone...

The Dallas Morning News' Bridging Dallas' North/South Gap, provides great statistical insight into issues of disparity between areas of the city characterized by relative affluence (the north) and large areas of poverty (the south). I also give my friends on the editorial board credit for their efforts to both champion the progress being made and challenging all of Dallas to understand why southern sector growth is in the interest of the entire city.

There are times, however, when a little context must be given to the whole of the problem. Tod Robberson's Sunday column, for instance, speaks to the importance of parental engagement when it comes to public education. Lack of parental involvement doesn't just contribute to, it exacerbates the failure of schools in low income neighborhoods. But - and I'm not accusing Robberson of doing this - an 'eat your spinach' message isn't going to turn things around.

Tod for instance is spot on when he says, "Here's a vastly oversimplified explanation of why the health and well being of southern Dallas children affect that balance: When our children on the southern side don't get a good breakfast before school or their homework done at night because something at home is distracting them, their grades tend to suffer."

"When kids grow up in single-parent households, they face much stiffer challenges. A single parent has to work longer hours to make sure there's enough money for food and housing. That affects how much time that parent can devote to his or her children. When children don't get proper guidance and attention at home, the first indicators of that imbalance emerge at school, usually through falling grades and attendance."

"If you have high concentrations of students coming from overstressed households, entire schools start showing signs of failure. Look at the levels of poverty and single-parent households in southern Dallas, then compare the numbers of struggling schools in southern Dallas to those in the north, and you'll see where a major part of the problem lies."

But he goes on to point out, "When I think of all the things that have gone wrong in southern Dallas over a long succession of decades, I find myself constantly fighting off a sense of hopelessness. I'm angered by the cynicism I hear from northerners. I'm frustrated by the defeatism among many southern Dallas residents. I know I'm not alone."

"Securing the billions of dollars in expenditures and investments that southern Dallas needs is a long-term endeavor. But of all the things that can be done, finding strategies to increase parental involvement is an entirely realistic goal. What we're seeking really amounts to a change in the entire city's mind-set. It won't cost much, if anything, but imagine the dramatic difference it could make."

Tod's not pointing out an either or situation, he's saying that we shouldn't wait on the 'ultimate' solution at the expense of 'immediate' strategies and remedies we know work. He's correct. But let no one make the mistake: unless we take seriously the need to address 'the ultimate', the 'immediate' strategies will not yield the long term impact necessary to stem the tide of poverty that brings with it frustration, hopelessness, crime and violence.

Incredible and startling statistics regarding sections of the city in which the numbers of adults under the age of 25 don't have high school diplomas (in one area of South Dallas, as high as 59% and in West Dallas as high as 63%), suggest that an overwhelming segment of the population may be incapable of placing the type of value on education necessary to inspire the next generation.

The number of unwed births to mothers without high school diplomas (as high as 38% in South Dallas and 64% in the Pleasant Grove section of the city), suggests families threatened to be locked in cycles of economic despair and dependency of some form for decades. Even if schools and churches in these areas 'reinvent' themselves to their fullest capacity, there is still a situation to be turned around which cannot be addressed by these institutions alone.

There has to be public investment in job training and adult education. There has to be a greater investment in after school programs, day care and early childhood education centers. There has to be economic development in these areas which bring jobs closer to the neighborhoods so that parents have the time to spend with their families, so that work enhances the family infrastructure and doesn't detract from it with long hours and long commutes. There must be a dispersal of liquor related commerce, replaced with businesses that give evidence of opportunity for a future.

Young people who drop out of school, are, by and large, young people who don't have hope. That absence of hope comes, at times from living in an unstable household with irresponsible adults. And it often includes parents with jobs that don't have a future, living in neighborhoods where nothing new has been seen for decades and where, when something new is seen, there are not so subtle messages that its for someone else. They often come from environments where mediocrity is tolerated and success goes uncelebrated, unless its on the gridiron or the hardwood.

We must see immediate strategies, incorporating all the institutions in the communities that encourage and inspire as triage efforts. We must vigorously insist, agitate and organize for the revitalization necessary to turn the surrounding neighborhoods around be pursued with all deliberate speed. Otherwise, city hall and other entities responsible for reversing their decades of neglect are simply being told to eat their spinach.

That doesn't work any better with public and elected officials than it does with the rest of us.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Addressing a Losing Proposition: Low Performing Schools in Poor Community

Tod Robberson's take on a persistently maddening issue low performing schools in Southern Dallas, is interesting, accurate on some levels, challenging at some points and, Pulitzer Prize notwithstanding, (just kidding Tod) missing the point on something that I think is key.

Parental engagement in public education tends to be an issue everywhere and under age pregnancy with its accompanying drop out rate, causes and exacerbates nearly every other issue associated with poverty.

Tod makes a very good point when he says, "This newspaper and others who advocate on behalf of southern Dallas can badger City Hall all we want about inattention to quality-of-life issues like code enforcement and crime. We can keep lamenting the lack of business investment south of the Trinity and Interstate 30. But there's a significant component to the north-south disparity in Dallas that starts right at the doorsteps of southern Dallas residents themselves: the importance of parental involvement in their children's academic lives."

It's a point that I think is inarguable. No public institution: no church, no school, no other entity can take the place of the home. It is important, however, that each of these institutions provide critical support for families which promote and aid the involvement of parents.

Any parent that has done a decent job of rearing children (its safe to say, at our best, we all make mistakes and experience some level of failure), have done so because we been aided by friends, families, other parents, churches and schools which have shared our values and given us the benefit of their wisdom and support. Support doesn't always mean financial. When I was a pastor, I used to counsel parents (single and two parent families), that the selection of 'god-parents', isn't supposed to mean ready baby sitters, or financiers. They are to be people who share the values of the parents and who are trusted and willing to make the commitment to rear those children with those values, should something happen to them. A few parents were insulted, still others got the message: this child is your responsibility.

The real problem is many of these parents are coming from homes that are themselves fractured. Not just divorce and not just out of wedlock births, but many of the psycho social pathologies associated with cycles and generations of poverty. Under educated parents; lack of affordable childcare, the increased cost of rearing children on one income (even if that income is a 'living wage' income), the cost clothing and food - and the immaturity and some levels of irresponsibility of some of the parents, is much more pronounced than when I left the pastorate five years ago. And while no institution is designed to take the place of family, those which have the responsibility of providing the support which help parents by giving them the tools and insight necessary for their job have not adequately re-invented themselves to do so.

Parents whose academic experiences have been less than successful, won't have the ability to help children with new math formulas now taught in school. Parents who have dropped out of high school or dropped out earlier, aren't equipped for 'academic rigor'.

There are parents who want to be engaged in their children's academic life. But I have talked with parents who either work shifts, or work is so far from home, that it makes it virtually impossible for them to make PTA meetings or parent teacher meetings. This is especially difficult if they have more than one child.

In many cases grandparents, neighbors or other relatives have been the answer to these problems - but fractured, unreliable or unavailable extended families make it difficult for this to a contemporary solution.

There is another piece of this which neither Tod, nor very many other critics (or those who offer critiques) don't take into account: schools can be very unfriendly places for parents in poor communities. This has nothing to do with technology. But it has nothing to do with 'customer service' either.

Lucy Hackamack, principal of Spruce Middle School, refers to parents as 'clients'. That really is part of the problem. Dr. Hackamack, whose legitimate hard work at a school that is essentially reconstituted, uses language that undermines the nature of public education. Schools are democratic institutions. Parents are not 'clients' they are stake holding citizens. They deserve more respect and reverence than someone who shows up at the school on 'Career Day'.

Unfortunately, that is not always the case in schools in urban settings.

I have personally seen, and worked with parents of have told me about being berated, disrespected and treated dismissively by school administrators. At CDM, we've sought to intervene with parents who have been treated that way. It begins with the principal (who in this case is, thankfully, no longer there). But these are stories that often don't get told.

In many cases, parents have to be taught what their rights and responsibilities are, as the advocates and responsible parties for their own children. They have to be taught, how to read a report card, the difference between the report cards measure and TAKS scores. How homework is given out. How books are distributed or why their children don't have books to take home. They also need to be communicated with beyond those times when their children get in trouble.

Part of this backdrop has to do with the inordinate emphasis on and pressure placed upon teachers by standardized testing. But its not the only reason. Parents and those who work in local schools tend to approach one another defensively from the outset. The definitions or roles, responsibilities, the setting aside of personal feelings and the dreams and ambitions of parents for their children are things that ought to be clearly understood. The fact is that there are times when teachers do not understand, and when school administrators appear not to want to understand. And parents (and grandparents and great-grandparents) simply do not know.

So what's the solution?

The traditional role of community churches has been to mentor, tutor and provide services (after school programs, for example). The reinvention that can lead to changes in public education in poor communities like South Dallas, could be an intermediary role. Where parents, teachers and administrators can be introduced to one another, before school starts. There can be 'actions' during which principals, school board trustees and administrators can welcome parents to or back to school. Sessions during which returning parents can talk about unresolved issues that have impacted their children's academic performance, and counselors who are available to help parents and teachers deal with personal and community issues that tend to impact effective performance on both sides. In the case of one parent - a father who came to school to discuss his child's poor performance, he tried to explain that the little girl's mother had been killed and it was suspected that she actually might have witnessed the murder. When asked by a school official how long ago that was, he replied that it happened about a year or so ago. The school official told him, 'Well, she should be over that by now'! This is an incident we know about, what about incidents in which teachers don't know about an emotional trauma a child has experienced?

The easiest default position is that poor performing schools are the fault of irresponsible parents. Teachers have unions to defend them against charges of incompetence. The performance of low-income parents is profiled by statistics, test scores and the opinions of people who drive through their communities on their way somewhere else, or the vaunted 'tax payer' who doesn't realize that his or her dollars are being spent in ways that help perpetuate inequity.

Ultimately we have to come to grips with the fact that parents from low income communities and poor performing schools, are not hiding their genius children and sending the worst ones to public schools. They send the only children they have. Churches and schools can for more effective strategic alliances to serve as resources to help those parents do a better job.

Dr. Vashti Murphy McKenzie is a Trustee of the Payne Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, and the International Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia, as well as a Bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME).

Hers are words which ought to give pause and make us reflect on today...

"Wise guys and wise people."

"Who are the wise people and will they please speak up? Why won't the wise guys give it a rest?
Wise guys seem to get the most play in print and broadcast media. Wise guys are the ones who sling words around with unbalanced fierceness instead of using reasoned conviction. Wise guys are those who are more interested in the victory of their opinions rather than the victory of truth. Wise guys are those who consider people of opposing opinion to be an enemy to be annihilated instead of a friend to be convinced or persuaded. Wise guys' ways sell more newspapers and magazine. Wise guys frankly, stir up more interest and response over the airwaves. Wise guys make you want to say something, if you get my drift."

"Wise people tend to blend the right amount of knowledge and experience that appeal to our higher nature. Wise people strive to bring people together rather than drive people apart. They move into the midst of strife bringing peace to disorder. Wise people know the difference between confidence and arrogance while handling the truth as they know and believe it to be with humility in what they do not know."

"Wise people don't sell as well. Wise people don't always get print space or air time. Wise people make you want to say something, if you get my drift."

"In my faith tradition, social justice was a hallmark of the founding and ministry of the African Methodist Episcopal Church 223 years ago. Dr. Dennis Dickerson, historiographer of the AME Church writes in the historical preamble to the mission, vision, purpose and objectives of our vine and fig tree that our "... founders affirmed their humanity in the face of slavery and racism, stands in defense of disadvantaged and oppressed peoples in the 21st century. From the origins in the Free African Society through the involvement of the AME clergy and lay in the Civil War of the 1860's and the Civil Rights movement in the 1960's, the AMEC has preached salvation from sin and bondage. Whether in schools, seminaries, hospitals or social service centers, the AME Church has lived the gospel outside its sanctuaries.""

"Our mission is to minister to the social, spiritual and physical development of all people in a global ministry that seeks out and saves the lost, serves the needy, encouraging economic development, providing training and education, clothing the naked and feeding the hungry among other things."

"But then, this kind of stuff doesn't get much space or play these days."

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Go Mavs!

Say what you want about Dallas Maverick's owner Mark Cuban - and there's lots to say - but outside of the box thinking is something that's nearly second nature to him.

View more news videos at:

This is the type of stimulative investment that can be leveraged in a number of ways to bring economic viability to a portion of Southern Dallas that really needs it.

"Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is planning a massive development of corporate offices, homes, ball fields and an indoor sports facility in a declining area of east Oak Cliff that city officials say needs the spark such a plan could create."

"As envisioned, the development would include the corporate offices for some of Cuban's businesses, although it is unclear whether that includes the Dallas Mavericks."

"In the first step toward making the development happen, the City Council today is set to expand the boundaries of a tax subsidy zone to include Wonderview, the name Cuban has given to the planned 176-acre development around Kiest Boulevard and Southerland Drive."

""Cuban is looking at a significant-size development in southern Dallas, and it would be a terrific boon to that area. It could be one of those catalyst projects that makes a difference in the work we're doing down there," City Manager Mary Suhm said Tuesday night."

"Cuban and his representatives could not be reached for comment, but KXAS-TV (Channel 5) reported that the project would become the headquarters for the Mavericks."
Often we only call on professional athletes and athletic organizations to be good citizens through philanthropy - and that's important. But many of these teams have the capacity to make investments with impacts that ripple throughout an area, providing health and viability in ways that could never be done through charity.
So, no matter what happens in the playoffs, its time for all southern Dallas residents to start yelling, 'Go Mavs!'

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Congratulations to My Other Team!

I've always wondered what it felt like to win a prestigious award like, say...a Pulitzer Prize.

Well, I haven't won one yet. But I am related to a team that has.

The Dallas Morning News Editorial Board has won a Pulitzer Prize. What's my connection? They've won it for their 'Bridging the North/South Gap' project. As this prestigious recognition says, the Pulitzer for Editorial writing is the paper's "relentless editorials deploring the stark social and economic disparity between the city’s better-off northern half and distressed southern half." Sharon Grigsby is the deputy editor of the editorial board and she spearheads the project. She's a passionately committed journalists whose greatest asset is her dedication to understand South Dallas and the people who live there. For the past two years, the columns I've written for the DMN have been in connection with this project. While I enjoy writing (I tell people I enjoy 'having written'), I am really grateful that I get opportunity to make some contribution to the project.

Most people ask whether or not I'm told what to write in this series - almost without exception, I choose the subject - a freedom I'm given that was surprising to me at first and surprises most people. But the concerns and issues raised in 'Bridging the North/South Gap' gibe nicely with the values of Central Dallas Ministries, so there is wonderful synergy to my work and this writing. As VP of Public Policy, its not difficult to merge the two interests.

The actual writers who are being honored with the Pulitzer are outstanding writers: Tod Robberson, Colleen McCain Nelson and Bill McKenzie. They all richly deserve this recognition and I'm proud to have even a limited association with them.

I don't always agree with the conclusions DMN's editorial position, the writing of these three journalists or the conclusions they reach. But the News is to be honored for their commitment to bring legitimate light on an area of town that has been blighted through neglect, poor public policy, crime and underfunded public education. They also highlight champions in the area - residents of South Dallas, West Dallas and Pleasant Grove who are fighting to make life better for their neighbors. More and more, the News is trying to become an agitator and an ally for those who live south of the Trinity River. That in itself is worthy of reward.

Congratulations, Carol, Tod, Bill and Sharon - thanks for letting me come along for the ride!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Thanks For the Memories

I've been to Texas Stadium many times. My first visit was in 1973, there was a special event there with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) and I was part of the group that got to go. My clearest memory of that day? I got to see Franco Harris!

Since that time I've been there many times, for meetings, Dallas Cowboy games (when you preach chapel the honorarium was four tickets to the game), Larry James and I even got a chance to play touch football with Bank of America execs a few years ago!

I didn't like the stadium at first. It looked unfinished. The hole in the roof ( God could watch his favorite team play), was, of course the signature architectural feature, but I had a hard time with the Cowboys leaving the Cotton Bowl. It was not too far from the church my grandfather pastored and I remember my cousin Tom and his friend Donnie would sometimes sneak out of church to walk to the Cotton Bowl and watch the game on Sunday. They had end-zone seats - at that time, I think they cost about $5. I couldn't wait until I was old enough to sneak out with them. By the time I thought I was big enough, the Cowboys had high tailed it to Irving!

I am among millions of fans who have great memories of Texas Stadium. And they are just that now...memories. In the dawns early light, a series of blasts reduced the once state-of-the-art shrine to a twisted mass of steel and mounds of concrete rubble.

I've toured the new Cowboy Stadium in Arlington, Texas. It is one of the most amazing venues for any sport I've ever seen. But Texas Stadium became something special over the years (five Super Bowl championships helped), and it will be sorely missed. Whether for a game, or as the comforting landmark on the way home from DFW Airport, its was a part of Dallas iconography. And while football will be different, and we hold out hope that the Cowboys can be the first home team to ever play a Super Bowl in their own stadium next year, we'll always remember this grand football palace.

Thanks for the memories!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Dr. Miles J. Jones

When I was a student at Bishop College in Dallas, Texas, the highlight of the school year for the young preachers on campus was the L.K. Williams Ministers Institute. For many of us, it was a time when our pastors would come and check on us (I was in the minority in this regard, I was from Dallas and worked while in school) most times providing news from home, some monetary support but always providing encouragement. It was also a time when we would here some of the greatest preaching our church had to offer. We were blessed to hear absolute masters of the pulpit and their examples greatly enhanced the formal training we received.

We fantasized about participating in that week as preachers, presenters and facilitators of workshops on preaching. I'm not sure how any of my classmates felt when that time finally came, but when it happened to me, I was overwhelmed to say the least.

My first time participating in the Ministers' Institute was as a facilitator in a workshop. The instructor was Dr. Miles Jones, the esteemed and highly venerated professor at Richmond, Virginia's Virginia Union Samuel DeWitt School of Theology. He was a teacher, preacher and pastor and as a Bishop College product and a beneficiary of the wisdom and inspiration of past Institutes, this was a wonderful week. I hadn't been a pastor for long when I received this honor and the opportunity to meet and interact with Dr. Jones was a blessing.

The highlight of the week for me was when I got up enough courage to ask him to evaluate one of my sermons. He didn't do it that week, but a couple of weeks later he called me from Virginia, told me how much he appreciated my work, asked me about my ministry and spent time offering me encouragement and much needed counsel. I'll never forget it!

Dr. Jones passed away quite awhile ago, but this clip gives you a glimpse of the energy and sheer joy to be found in his preaching. While it doesn't altogether do justice to the message or the messenger, its a taste of what countless believers thrilled to when we encountered the Good News through him.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Leonardo da Vinci
1452 - 1519

Artist, Scientist, Inventor

"There are three classes of people: those who see, those who see when they are shown, those who do not see."

Friday, April 9, 2010

Are South Dallas Residents Citizens or Not?

I'm not trying to get into the middle of any fight - at least not this time. Nor am I trying to position myself as someone who has simple answers to a complex problem. At least not this time.
But, at best, there's an interesting juxtaposition of points of view. Or at worst, a journalistic food fight in which an important point is being lost.

The Dallas Morning News has run editorials which call for the relocation of metal recycling and rendering plants that are inappropriately close to residential neighborhoods. It is something with which I wholeheartedly agree. I state that agreement in my monthly column in the Morning News today.

For me, it is a clear issue. People who live in low-income neighborhoods should not have to put up with the noise and air pollution, nor the eyesore that heavy industrial businesses impose upon them. In Dallas, it is the result of decades long poor zoning that never took into account that people actually lived, worked or worshipped across the street from businesses that required the transportation of heavy metal on dump trucks and eighteen wheelers, literally seven days a week. In Dallas, along Lamar Street, I clearly remember the old Proctor & Gamble plant which, when fully operational, emitted the most horribly foul odor one could imagine - right across the street from single family and multi-family homes (the plant is shut down now).

There are some non-profits which are valiantly trying to redevelop the area. There are residents who want to leverage highway redesign into a serious economic opportunity and community revitalization. Yet, within less than a mile of these residents are scrap metal yards which keep this area from being an attractive place to live.

DMN editorials have called for the relocation of these businesses to an area near the Inland Port, in the southernmost area of Dallas. When the economy turns around, it will be an area that will include warehouses, commercial traffic and industrial business. It's a good idea to me. I've proposed it (as I say in my column), but the answer I usually get is that the area is zoned light industrial. I am absolutely befuddled at how ordinary citizens, albeit of low-income, can be consigned to live listening to the rumbling of eighteen wheel trucks in the early morning because of the most egregious zoning travesty, but we cannot rezone a light industrial area!

Here's where the differing opinion or the food fight comes in...

Jim Schutze, a journalist for the Dallas Observer (whom I happen to like, by the way), is suggesting that there is some ill motive behind the suggestion. I don't know where that comes from. There seems to be controversy as to whether or not the idea was proposed to a council member by editorial writer Tod Robberson, or whether the council member proposed it to Tod. That's the point at which I confess that I'm not on the inside to know which is which. I've not agreed with the council member or Tod 100% of the time, but I've never known them to be dishonorable. And while I've questioned conclusions that Tod has reached about race, poverty and how to solve the knotty problems that result from those two issues, I believe him to be a sincere and honest journalist. He's just never shown me anything different.

Schutze courts controversy. That's what he does. And while the edge and conspiracy theories he presents about government and the Oberver's nemesis (the DMN) are sometimes far fetched, they are interesting. And, at times, provide a fairly valuable alternative view to that of the city's newspaper of record. But here's the thing...

I could care less about who brought up what solution to whom. I am far more concerned about the fact that good people: some elderly, some church members, some young daily have to deal with a decades old mistake. It is a mistake borne of insensitivity, racism and disregard to the quality of life of people who are low-income. This mistake allowed these businesses to grow and thrive when virtually no other residential neighborhood would have allowed it without a near riot. The very existence of these businesses depress the values of home and has led to their neglect by the city in ways that are unconscionable: vacant houses remain vacant for years; hulled out business structures are never torn down; vacant lots are never mowed; loitering is tolerated and know wholesome commerce, beyond an occasional fast food restaurant has been in the area for years. Not a dry cleaners; not an ice cream shop; not a barber shop; not a bakery. These conditions continue in part, because people grow to accept the environment around them. Its easier to believe that no one cares and that you have no support, when no one shows you they care and no one provides support.

Rendering and recycle plants are not bad businesses. They just don't belong in residential neighborhoods. And these are areas where the neighborhoods were here first. And I'm very tired of the suggestion that any kind of business operating in poor communities is better than no business at all.

Let's be clear: it will take millions of dollars to relocate these businesses. The Inland Port may not be the best idea. Maybe the best idea is to relocate the residents. That will take millions of dollars. But city government made this mistake. In so many ways, its not the fault of metal recyclers and heavy industrial businesses people. They're not evil, they're not mean. They're conducting an honorable business. The city of Dallas allowed them to conduct that business in the wrong place. And whoever moves the city has to bear some fiscal responsibility.

So at the end of the day, no one is well served by who made what suggestion to whom. The question really is - are South Dallas residents citizens or not?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

So...What's Next? Part II

Central Dallas Ministries' growth in the past 5 years I've been here has been nothing short of amazing.

Interestingly enough, when I got here we were committed to feeding the hungry, providing health care and legal services for those who otherwise were unable to afford to access them and providing similar services for those in the Roseland Homes public housing development, as well as services for youth aging out of foster care. We did more, but our growth took place as we 'swam upstream' and looked for ways to address the reasons why people were poor.

We strengthened and expanded our commitment to living wage, jobs driven job training, through a employment strategy called WorkPaths. And we looked for ways to address the issue of homelessness.

It started with Destination Home - our permanent supportive housing program, where the chronically homeless and disabled are provided subsidized housing, in a 'housing first' model. This model deals with homelessness (being without a home) first and then through case management addresses the other needs that result from homelessness.

This led to CityWalk@Akard, a vertical community that includes retail, office space and over 200 mixed income units (50 of which are for the formerly homeless). A $35 million project that is exciting to watch as it develops (we received our permanent certificate of occupancy last, and watching more people move in today was a sight to behold!).

On the drawing board is not only the Center of Hope, a much needed major relocation of our food pantry, health and wellness services and employment training and something else!

Across the street from the Center will be 'The Cottages at Hickory Crossings', a permanent supportive housing project that will house 50 of the most difficult homeless population, whose needs are usually met with costly incarceration, or psychiatric hospitalization.

""These are the most expensive people on the streets in Dallas," said Larry James, president and chief executive officer of Central Dallas Ministries, which would provide caseworkers to assist the tenants."

"The Communities Foundation of Texas and the Meadows Foundation are working with other agencies to raise the $10 million in public and private funds needed to build and operate the housing program over three years."

"Residents would be referred by the Dallas County criminal justice system and the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance, which runs the city's homeless assistance center, The Bridge. The agencies would research jail, mental health and hospital records to determine the homeless people with the highest costs to public systems."

Will it work? It works throughout the country. What doesn't work? Warehousing homeless people in homeless shelters. It's an inefficient use of taxpayer dollars. It doesn't address the needs of the people who are without homes, jobs or consistent health care. And it doesn't say much about a society that says "This is the best we can do, for the least of these among us."

I tell you, my colleagues are great to work with!

Monday, April 5, 2010

So...What's Next?

After the Grand Opening of CityWalk@Akard, the process of filling more than two hundred units of residential apartments, along with retail and leasing office space most people would think Central Dallas Ministries has done enough - at least for now, right?

Let's just say that's not the way we do things at CDM...

For quite some time we've been looking for space in South Dallas, where we could relocate our some of our services, with a view towards doing more than addressing issues of poverty, but helping to bring people out of poverty. Some months before we moved into CityWalk we found just such a property.

Near the northeast corner of Malcolm X Boulevard and I30, the northern most point of South Dallas a tract of land occupied currently by produce warehouses and vacant buildings, Central Dallas Ministries will build its new 'Center of Hope'. We will relocate our food pantry, living wage job training program (along with a teaching kitchens for a culinary arts program), production center (in partnership with PepsiCo) along with our health and wellness center. This will put us in a unique position to bring both robust services to meet the needs of some of the most vulnerable citizens in Dallas, while at the same time bringing employment and the opportunity for training for living wage jobs.

Why South Dallas?

Quite simply because we want to be a part of re-framing the way the city looks at this section of the city.

A number of other non-profits, businesses, even city initiatives, shy away from South Dallas because the politics are too hard; because of the challenge of dealing with existing community leadership; because the needs are too great and the resources to bring change are even greater.
Central Dallas Ministries believes that these challenges are just right for us. We can't do everything, but what we can do is be neighbor and partner with the residents there to bring healing, health and, yes, hope to an area that we believe will flourish if the right investments are made.

Too much for an organization that's in the midst of putting finishing touches on a $35 million project? I think our CEO Larry James, says it best,"We're driving forward full speed ahead to raise money and get this done," says James. "It's characteristic of our style. It's gritty in that we're laying the track and the train's rolling."

Any wonder why I love working at this place?!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Happy Resurrection Day


For Christians all over the world it is a day upon we place special emphasis on the word and upon the profound impact the word and what we believe, the event has had upon our lives.

After forty days of reflection and contemplation upon our personal and corporate commitment to our faith, what is popularly and historically known as Easter, is the day we celebrate the reason for that commitment.

Resurrection means more than a call to live 'better'; resurrection is a call to live 'new'. It is a out of that fundamental 'newness' that life is seen and lived through an entirely different filter, because it is not lived out of our own efforts to reform, but a transformation that is a gift from our Creator through his Son. It is through the gift of the Resurrection that we truly have the opportunity to begin again.

Forgiveness. Grace. Mercy. Peace. All words that have profound, fresh, dynamic meaning, because of another word: Resurrection.

When we look across our political, social and cultural landscape today, we are in desperate need of revisiting those words.

Resurrection means that we can live without hatred. Without fear. Without bitterness. Without anger. Without guilt. Without violence.

It also means that we can live lives of extended love, joy, justice and hope. Because Good has overcome evil. Truth has transcended all falsehood. Faith gloriously triumphs over doubt.

"If any man be in Christ, old things have passed away and behold all things become new" (II Corinthians 5:17).

It's a wonderful promise. A promise that, for those of us who believe, is fulfilled in an old event, an old word, that has power to this day: Resurrection.

Happy Easter!

A Dallas Treasure Restored

Dallas has gotten back a truly unique treasure: The Biblical Arts Museum.

For Christians, this unique repository of collection of artifacts coming at the time of the Holiest day on its calendar is particularly wonderful, but it is a museum that can be enjoyed by people of may faiths - or no faith at all.

The museum was destroyed five years ago by an electrical fire, but has been restored and expanded. I hope to get to visit soon. Do yourself a favor and check it out as soon as possible.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Take THAT!

Mark Davis, a conservative radio talk show host and columnist for the Dallas Morning News, has had it with TEA Party activists being called racist. He says so in this recent offering...

"Don't take my word that the Tea Party critics are full of it. Come to QuikTrip Park on April 15 [a tax day rally to be held in a Dallas suburb]. You will find people looking for leaders who will reduce spending, reduce taxes and obey the Constitution. And they don't care what color those leaders are. If the crowd is overwhelmingly white, it's not because the Tea Party has a problem with people of color. It's because so many people of color have a problem with limited government. Anyone in that crowd will gladly make the case to any skeptic of any color."

"I have no problem with anyone who disagrees with Tea Party politics. Tell me such limited government is too risky. Tell me ObamaCare is a great idea. Tell me taxes need to be raised. We'll have a lively chat."

"But tell me the Tea Party people whom I have come to know and admire are racists, and you are a liar."

Okay Mark, I guess we'll see...