Monday, May 31, 2010

With Deep Gratitude to Our Vets on Memorial Day

When our country goes to war, we ask of our fellow citizens an awful and awesome commitment. When we factor in the cost of war, far too few factor in the cost of caring for these men and women after the conflict is over.

Honoring them today should remind us that even after war is over - war doesn't end.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

1998-2010: What Kind of 21st Century is Dallas Becoming?

Thanks to Jim Mitchell of the Dallas Morning News, for digging through the papers archives and bringing out this 12 year old piece. A roundtable discussion of city leaders in which I was included, giving our views on what it would take to make Dallas a 21st century.

I know my perspective hasn't changed - what's interesting is, it is arguable as to whether or not the views of a different generation of leaders has changed that much. Here's a brief excerpt.

"It's always interesting to dig into the DMN archives. Never sure what's there, but when I find a gem, I want to share it."

"Here's one circa Oct. 18, 1998 -- a roundtable discussion of the future of Dallas in the 21st Century moderated by former Morning News Editorial Page Editor and vice president Rena Pederson. It's a huge and impressive group of participants such as: Ron Kirk, Stanley Marcus, Gerald Britt, Jan Pruitt, Kern Wildenthal, Lee Jackson and many others."

"And the subjects covered -- education, economic development, poverty, housing -- provide insight into how far the city has -- and hasn't -- come."

"The full transcript follows:

"Publication Date: October 18, 1998 Page: 1J Section: SUNDAY READER Edition: HOME FINAL"

"What kind of city should Dallas be in the 21st century?"

"The Dallas Morning News recently brought together a group of
civic leaders - politicians, educators, ministers, arts supporters,
pollution experts and so on - to talk about what it will take to
make Dallas a better place to live in the new millennium."

"They discussed how to make Dallas a city that both nurtures and
inspires, that meets the basic needs of its citizens while giving
them cultural opportunities of the highest order."

"The discussion was moderated by Morning News Editorial Page
Editor and vice president Rena Pederson. Following are excerpts:

"Stanley Marcus, chairman emeritus of Neiman Marcus and Morning
News columnist: For a long time, I have been interested in the
history of cities. And I have always had a great interest in
culture, culture in the broadest sense of the word. It seemed to me
very early in my college career that culture didn't come from
country towns. You can have a great violinist from [a small town],
but you can't afford a symphony there. You can have a great
basketball team in Dallas, but you couldn't have one in Ennis. It
just comes with the size."

"I know when we were raising money for the symphony, somebody kept
telling people that this would be good for business. But that
really wasn't our objective. Our objective was to make this place
more enjoyable so people wanted to live here, so young people could
look at Dallas with the feeling that this would be a city where
they could grow intellectually, as well as economically."

"I think that Dallas has its faults, and it will have them in the
next millennium, too. I would hope in the next millennium we'll do
less talking about racial relations and more doing. A city cannot
achieve greatness if it is going to be a lopsided city."

Read the rest of Jim's post here...

Saturday, May 29, 2010

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

General Daniel 'Chappie' James
1920 - 1958

Four Star General, United States Air Force

''The power of excellence is overwhelming. It is always in demand and nobody cares about its color."

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Ceremonies are Over; the Joy Continues!

We've concluded the services for my father today.

Because he wanted to be buried in the DFW Veteran's Cemetery, we had to have his Home-going services on Thursday and his burial services this morning.

There was great encouragement and great expressions of sympathy from friends, family and colleagues throughout his illness and at the time of his death. We are appreciative of everyone who took the time in joining us in honoring him and thanking God for his life and influence.

My father had a great sense of humor! One of the wonderful stories that came at one of the services was told by a friend of his. I just have to share it...

It seems that the friend, a fellow pastor, was visiting him at home some years ago. Unlike me, my father loved dogs. At the time of the visit he had a white German Shepherd named Misty.

Misty had gotten in the house, gone to the bedroom and gotten in the bed and fallen asleep. My father took his friend to the bedroom, saying, 'I want to show you something.' He took him in the bedroom, showed him Misty in the bed. Evidently, Misty had knocked the phone off of the hook when she got in the bed for her nap. My father said, 'I'm gonna beat that dog. Not because she was on the phone, but she didn't hang it up after she finished!'

That was my father. I've said it before, but please indulge the repeat: We'll miss him!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Reasonable Point of View - Go Figure!

Believe it or not, I do read conservative writers like Thomas Sowell and Cal Thomas. Often with great interest, more often in great disagreement.

In this particular case, on the subject of the recent scandal regarding the Texas State Board of Education's mishandling of social studies textbooks and curriculum (and yes, I do mean scandal!); Thomas makes a number of sensible points that deserve to be considered.

"This war has been going on since 1961 when a Texas couple, Norma and Mel Gabler, launched their textbook crusade. According to the Washington Post the Gablers, “guarded the schoolhouse door against factual errors and what they perceived as left-wing bias. Usually one and the same in their view, the transgressions they spotted were often enough to knock the offending book from the running for statewide adoption.”"

"The firestorm they helped ignite has been burning ever since and flares up each time textbooks are to be revised."

"At the heart of it all is a dispute over what kind of nation America was and is. Some conservatives claim it was — and is — a “Christian nation.” But what does that mean? What would a Christian nation look like? Would individuals love their enemies, instead of denouncing them? Would people live within their means? Would individuals, rather than government, be doing more to feed the hungry, visit prisoners and care for widows and orphans? Would there be fewer abortions, less sex outside of marriage, not as many divorces and less cohabitation? Would more of us hunger after truth instead of watered-down syncretism? Would there be harmony among the races in a Christian nation?"

"None of these describe modern America and so defenders of the “Christian nation” belief cling to references by the Founders to “Divine Providence” and similar euphemisms for the Almighty and want them in textbooks. To prove what?"

"The left started this war by attacking what was for years taken for granted about America, most especially that we are an exceptional country. The proof is the number of people who want to come here and the selflessness displayed by our citizens in the treasure we’ve spent and the blood we’ve spilled on behalf of others."

"Too many on the left seem embarrassed by America’s prosperity and standing in the world. The right seems just as committed to tearing the country down, literally and figuratively."

I agree with some points, I disagree with others.

What about you?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

SEED(s) of Greatness

What if we have an education system that not only says it believes at high levels, but provides an atmosphere that makes it possible? And what if that system actually succeeds?!

What if 'We're here for the children' was more than a platitude and we decided to do whatever it takes for children to reach their full potential?

What a great future we all would have!

This is a wonderful and hopeful segment. Enjoy!

Monday, May 24, 2010

It's Official...

"We have allowed ideology to drive and define the standards of our Texas curriculum and it has swung from liberal to conservative depending on the members of state board. What students are taught should not be the handmaiden of political ideology."

Rod Paige
Former U.S. Secretary of Education 2001-2005
Former Houston ISD Superintendent 1994-2001

And of course the Texas State Board of Education ignored this advice.

"In a landmark vote that will shape the future education of millions of Texas schoolchildren, the State Board of Education on Friday approved new curriculum standards for U.S. history and other social studies courses that reflect a more conservative tone than in the past."

"Split along party lines, the board voted 9-5 to adopt the new standards, which will dictate what is taught in all Texas schools and provide the basis for future textbooks and student achievement tests over the next decade."

"Regarding the complaint that Republicans and conservative ideology have been given more prominence, board member Don McLeroy, R-College Station, said the panel was trying to make up for the liberal-slanted curriculum now being used in schools."

"“I think we’ve corrected the imbalance we’ve had in the past and now have our curriculum headed straight down the middle,” said McLeroy, one of seven social conservatives on the board. “I’m very pleased with what we’ve accomplished.""

"Board Democrats accused the Republicans of a “cut-and-paste” job on the standards that included a flurry of late amendments undoing much of the work of teachers and academics who were appointed to review teams to draft the curriculum requirements last year."

"“Here we are trying to approve standards for our children that will be used for years and we are being asked to approve all these last-minute cut-and-paste proposals,” said Mary Helen Berlanga, D-Corpus Christi."

"“I don’t think any teacher would accept work like this,” she said. “They would have thrown this paper in the trash. We’ve done an injustice to the children of this state.”"

"Board member Mavis Knight, D-Dallas, called the proposal a “travesty""

The real lesson for adults in Texas? Every election is important!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Rev. Gerald L. Britt, Sr. (April 11, 1934 - May 22, 2010)

When Dr. George Truett, the late pastor of First Baptist Church, Dallas died, his longtime aide, Robert H. Coleman is said to have uttered words that I best express my feelings at this moment:

"Goodnight, Great Heart!"

We'll miss you Dad...

Saturday, May 22, 2010

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Johnnie Cochran
1937 - 2005


"I'm a big believer in the fact that life is about preparation, preparation, preparation."

Friday, May 21, 2010

Ready for Prime Time? Maybe Not...

I'm a little bit late to this party. I missed it when I first heard that Rand Paul, the son of Ron Paul, Republican Senator and former presidential candidate had won the GOP primary in Kentucky.

Ron Paul is somewhat interesting. Rand Paul is somewhat troublesome. I'm beginning to get more and more troubled when I hear someone talk about 'taking our country back'. It leads me to ask what 'country' has been taken from whom? Who 'took' it? And What did this country look like before it was 'taken' that was so wonderful that needs to be 'taken back'?

Be that as it may, Rand Paul continues to be a troublesome prospective U.S. Senator - at least for me. As a Tea Party candidate/supporter or whatever we are supposed to call it, exposes reasons why this movement is not simply a benign channel for Americans who are 'angry'.

Warning: this is pretty painful to watch...

It gets worse...

Here's the answer Dr. Paul...

"It's regrettable; indeed, its reprehensible that federal legislation was necessary to remove abhorrent racist practices from our society. And not just overt institutional racism, but racism in private business as well. But during those volatile days, when racism was expressed in ways that humiliated, threatened and denied the humanity of American citizens, such legislation was necessary and I would have supported it."

"As a U.S.Senator I will work to not only improve the climate of inclusion that the Civil Rights Act sought to bring about. But also a climate in which such laws are no longer necessary. It is best when the free market operates in such a way that such intense federal intervention is not necessary."

Now that would be a palatable answer. It would allow him to move on. And if there are substantive issues which a Tea Party candidate has with the current philosophy of government, it provides a foundation for such a discussion.

But if you were born post 1960, and seeking a position as responsible as that of United States Senator, you cannot come off as someone who believes that U.S. history and its consequences began after you graduated high school.

This is not a responsible position for a serious candidate.

Congratulations to the Class of 2010!

I've lived all of my adult life in southern Dallas. But I grew up in far north Dallas and graduated from L.V. Berkner High School in Richardson, Texas.

I always have my eye out for great stories from my alma mater. Here's one that appeared in the Dallas Morning News. Its a story of opportunity and determination that can be found all over and more often than people think. Congratulations to this young man and to the class of 2010!

"Was Dewan Woods' story the most remarkable in a room filled with remarkable stories?"

"He never knew his father, was separated from his mother and brother, and dismissed as a future fast-food cook by his fifth-grade teacher."

"That may have seemed like a reasonable prediction, since nobody in Woods' family had ever graduated from high school."

"But the Berkner High School senior looks forward to a far different future. He's got scholarships from the Dell and Gates foundations that will pay for his college, room and board through graduate school. In physics."

"He had a message Thursday for that teacher who treated him with such disdain years before:

"Just because I learned how to cook at a young age doesn't mean I want to be a burger flipper.""

"Woods, headed for Boston College in the fall, was one of the students honored Thursday at the annual Richardson school district AVID luncheon. AVID stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination. It's a national program that started in 1980 in San Diego. It is aimed at helping students in groups that are underrepresented at colleges – and who show a spark of potential that hasn't shown up in their grades."

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Texas State Board of Mis-Education

4.8 million.

That's the number of children in public schools in Texas.

One day they will become parents. Some will own businesses. Others will be CEO's of major corporations. They will be blue collar workers, nurses, doctors, musicians, pastors and teachers. From those platforms, some of them will be our mayors, council members, state legislators, congress members, senators, governors and presidents.

And what they know about the history of their country, if the majority of the Texas State Board of Education has its way, will be less substantive than if they had watched an entire season of 'Who Wants to Be a Millionaire'!

Have these people lost their minds?!

Our children will learn about the Declaration of Independence, but they will do an academic 'drive by' on the significance of Thomas Jefferson. The will have the words of Jefferson Davis, placed on par with Abraham Lincoln (seriously?!). They will learn a sanitized version of Joseph McCarthy, the meglomaniacal chairman of the House on Un-American Activities (HUAC), who ruined careers as he ran rough shod over the Constitution in search of 'Reds' (communists). Justifiable, because, of course, there actually were communists!

When 1-3 graders are taught about good citizenship, they will no longer have a definition that includes the words 'justice' or the phrase 'responsibility for the common good'.

And should any of these 4.8 million young people be able to escape the intellectual travesty foisted upon them by this institutionalized ideology run amok, they will have to have remediation should they take a real world history course. You see, in real world history courses they no longer use B.C. or A.D. to refer to periods 'Before Christ' (B.C.) or After Christ (Anno Domini, or AD). It is B.C.E. (Before the Common Era) or CE (the Common Era).

You can browse the list of other ridiculous proposals here.

This is not just a matter of Texas becoming a laughing stock (again, I say, our Governor has intimated a willingness on the part of Texans to secede from the union again; it may be a moot point, we may get kicked out before too long!). No, this is about the absolute pitifulness of a state board entrusted with determining the material which will serve as the foundation upon which our children are educated, 'researching' on the Internet as opposed to consulting historians, academics or experts on historical facts. Its about substituting opinion and ideology for objective fact, and forcing that 'world view' on young minds that ultimately will shape the world.

To put it another way, "The problem isn’t simply that many changes were wrong factually. Teachers will surely despair as they read through the numerous names, dates and events board members added willy-nilly to the standards with little consideration of how in the world to cram all of those facts into the limited instructional time available for classes."

Even for Bush Secretary of Education and former Houston School District Superintendent Rod Paige says this has gone too far, voicing concerns about the teaching of slavery and civil rights
""In Texas, we've allowed the pendulum to swing backwards and forward," said Paige, a former Houston schools superintendent. "I'm asking that that swing be narrower and let history speak for itself.""

In Dallas, there is a question of whether or not the City Council should draft a resolution opposing Arizona's recent immigration legislation. I suggest that it would be the height of folly to address such an issue without strongly speaking out against this nonsense.

There was a time when the chief complaint was that we do not provide our children with enough knowledge about other countries and cultures. Now we are intentionally providing them with misleading and inaccurate information about their own.

What a way to prepare our children for the future.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Arizona 1070; Mississippi 2178

I'm curious about Arizona's most recent legislative controversy, Senate Bill 1070 which bans ethnic studies programs which, "promote the overthrow of the U.S. government," "resentment toward a race or class of people", "appear to be designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group," or "advocate ethnic solidarity instead of treating pupils as individuals."

I guess, if that is the upshot and the effect of the law, it may be something substantial - especially if there really is a curriculum that that 'promotes the overthrow of the U.S. government'. It's been a long time since I was a student in a public school, but if that's what's being taught then there really is a problem!

According to an Arizona Republic editorial, "...the ethnic-studies ban "targets" minorities only in the sense that it seeks to defend a vulnerable, largely immigrant population in Tucson against a band of politically radical opportunists that blatantly seeks to convert students into activists for their far-left cause."

Apparently there have been speakers and/or literature used without being given context by trained teachers - or the teachers or the context not trusted by public and elected officials. If, in Arizona, teachers, guest speakers are recruiting youth to political movements of any political ideology then it is indeed a problem, no matter if that ideology is espoused by 'La Raza' or the John Birch Society.

But I also have a problem if the idea of 'ethnic studies is merely feared to promote 'resentment of a race'. There's something wrong indeed if the reason why Arizona enacted such a law is because the dominant culture doesn't want to be made uncomfortable or guilty, that's something else altogether.

It's at this point I have to hail the bravery of Mississippi state public schools whose Civil Rights curriculum for grades k-12, which appears to be inclusive and progressive.

"Advocacy groups such as the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation and Washington-based Teaching for Change are preparing to train Mississippi teachers to tell the "untold story" of the civil rights struggle to the nearly half million students in the state's public schools."

""Now more than ever we are engaged in national debates about race and so much of those debates are impoverished in their understanding of history," said Susan Glissen of the Winter Institute. "We want to emphasize the grass-roots nature of civil rights and the institution of racism.""

"The program is the outgrowth of a law passed in 2006 by the Legislature. The state moves forward with statewide implementation in the 2010-2011 school year, despite an unsuccessful legislative effort to eliminate the plan this year."

For Mississippi to mandate such a course throughout its system is pretty courageous. It has to explore historically significant and fresh events such as the murders of Emmitt Till, Medgar Evers and the three SNCC workers, Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner.

It can also be intensely personal for some students. In many families in the south, black and white, issues of the segregation, violence and hatred of that era are simply not discussed.

In an elective course of study similar to what has been mandated by the Mississippi legislature has mandated there is a poignant incident in which one student confronts the complicity and contradictions within her own family:

"For Sarah Rowley, 17, the class has been a watershed. Initially she saw it as "an easy grade," but quickly realized she was wrong. Much of the class centers on gathering oral narratives from residents who grew up in a radically different McComb, a place where inequality and violence was a part of life. In the middle of one interview at the home of Lillie Mae Cartstarphen, Sarah asked an innocent question about the role of law enforcement during that time."

"Sarah's grandfather had been a McComb policeman and, later, chief of police during the 1960s. In her family's eyes, he was a hero. But, says Sarah, her voice trembling as she recounts the answer: "[Ms. Cartstarphen] said you couldn't trust policemen, that they were just as involved as the KKK. Even now, it makes me want to cry. I thought, 'I have to regain my composure. I can't let this interfere with what I'm here to do.' But I felt like I was in a tug of war. Here is this woman telling me this, but my family … they're such good people. What do I do?""

"She talked to Malone and to her father. She prayed. Eventually, Sarah says, she made peace with the legacy of a man struggling to keep his job, feed his family, and survive in a troubled era. She's certain he'd make different choices if he were alive today."

Difficult as this is, it is bravery of Mississippi to own its history in ways that are educational, healing and redemptive is laudatory. It would have been much easier for legislators and educators to allow public policy and academics to get subsumed in standardized testing and arcane data management.

Like every other state, its not always the unwillingness of teachers to teach something fresh and relevant, "It's not that teachers haven't wanted to teach civil rights, though he [curriculum specialist Chauncy Spears] admits that's probably the case in some places. It's more a symptom of a nationwide problem, an educational stricture some say is an unwelcome byproduct of the No Child Left Behind Act: Teaching to the test. As the stakes become higher, the curriculum narrows."

"In some schools, Spears says, there's such intense pressure to rectify faltering math and reading scores that everything else is "pretty much ignored.""

Teachers won't just be winging the program, the law "...mandates all kindergartners to 12th-graders to be exposed to civil rights education. In the younger grades, students will read books such as "I Love My Hair!" as a way to discuss concepts like racial differences in skin complexion and hair texture. Later grades will delve more deeply into how ordinary citizens shaped the civil rights movement and the long-term effects those changes had upon the nation."

"Mr. Spears says the new curriculum is being taught this year in 10 pilot programs. Teacher workshops [will be] taught by the state Department of Education in conjunction with the Fannie Lou Hamer National Institute on Citizenship and Democracy at Jackson State University, Teaching for Change in Washington, and the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation at the University of Mississippi."

There appear to be stark contrasts between Mississippi Bill 2178 and the ethnic studies curriculum (or at least what they are purported to have become) and what Arizona Bill 1070 is supposed to correct. But what the controversy in both states show, is that we need to figure out how to educate our children and one another about the rich diversity of the contributions that have made America great.

Failure to do so creates extremists on either end of the spectrum.

Monday, May 17, 2010

No Harm No Foul Neighborhood Deconstruction?

The Dallas Morning News' article in yesterday's paper highlighted the controversy regarding S.M. Wright Freeway.

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), has proposed a that a new graded boulevard like transportation artery of six lanes, which would carry some 40,000 vehicles through the middle of South Dallas at a proposed 35 mph, is significant a project enough.

Unify South Dallas proposes a four lane high at the same speed (TxDOT, at this point has actually incorporated a suggestion of USD), but is challenging that this plan be more than a road project. The opportunity exists to leverage this change into a real economic development plan which will include the correction of environmental injustice inflicted by the highway and the heavy industrial companies less than a mile west of S.M. Wright.

"Unify South Dallas wants the new S.M. Wright to be just four lanes wide. And rather than using right of way for trees and a park-like setting, they want TxDOT to give that property to the city."

"In turn, the group wants Dallas to create a community land trust that would give neighborhoods a role in selecting tenants lured to open shops or restaurants with low-cost or even free long-term leases."

""Build us a beautiful four-lane road and give the rest of the land to us to do something with it," Lawson said. "The current plan does not do justice to the potential for economic development along S.M. Wright. We need to correct that now.""

"But to TxDOT engineers, the neighbors' demands are unsettling. After all, Texas already plans to spend $40 million to lower the freeway to ground level and transform it into a scenic boulevard.

"TxDOT is not in the development business," said engineer-in-charge Tim Nesbitt. "We feel we are striking a healthy balance with our current plan. ... Any way you look at it, there is going to be a lot less concrete and asphalt in the future with this particular design.""

"Dallas City Council member Carolyn Davis, who represents this area of South Dallas, supports the department's plan to build six lanes and concentrate development to a couple of segments along the road."

"She said expecting redress for past harms is unrealistic."

Aside from being a tremendous struggle, it's an interesting question: is there a public responsibility to correct past unfairness and injustice caused by public policy? S.M. Wright Freeway was built before it was named for the former longtime Dallas pastor and civic leader.
It split a neighborhood in two leading to unfair zoning, depressed property values, the destruction of neighborhood cohesion and the diaspora of young, working class families and the businesses that accompany them.

Often when people talk about redeveloping poor neighborhoods, their conversation conveys a misguided and naive notion that it is all a matter of 'personal responsibility'. They posit the idea that suggest that people living in these areas decided to be poor and after making that decision, businesses, dollars for education, code enforcement, public safety and the like left as a consequence of a momentous decision on the part of people to resort to poverty as a way of life. There can be no such thing as decisions made by public and elected officials which consequentially led to disinvestment and deterioration. No policy decisions that were made which could have detrimentally impacted the quality of life for people who did not have the capacity to fight back. Highways that bifurcated neighborhoods, the devaluation of the tax base, and the lack of responsiveness to the very things which people in communities more affluent, if only by comparison, take for granted.

But for those of us who believe public decisions do have a part in impoverishing neighborhoods, we have to ask whether or not correcting the devastating impact of those decisions is the responsibility of those public bodies? Or are we absolved of those decisions because of 'fiscal realities'? What happened to the money made on those 'mistakes' when times were good? What of the financial benefits received by those who scarred the land and filled the air with pollution? Are they in no way culpable simply because the decisions were made before they were born, even though the damage exists in their lifetimes?

Or do we allow officials to simply terminate the discussion with statements like "TxDOT is not in the development business..."

The plan that Unify South Dallas is supporting and promoting is called 'The South Dallas Plan". Victoria Loe Hicks, made it available last week to DMN in a tremendous apologetic regarding the redevelopment effort focusing on the scrap metal industries located near S.M. Wright. You can check out the plan below.

SDAP Visual Exec Summary v1 2

Sunday, May 16, 2010

My Father and The Leader of the Band

I have always loved the late Dan Fogleberg's music. Especially 'The Leader of the Band'. In a beautiful song about his relationship with his father and in a different discipline altogether, he sums up the feelings I have toward mine.

Over the past several months, the faith challenge for me and my family has been the progression of my father's illness.

He was taken to the hospital last Sunday for what turned out to be an ulcer. But this is in addition to his battle with prostate cancer. He's putting up quite a fight. But it's clear this combined with several other illnessess, are taking their toll.

Revs. Gerald Britt, Sr. and Jr. share have quite a bit in common: the name; relatively long pastorates (34 years and 22 years respectively); we're both PK's (preachers kids); we both have a love of books, history and politics; an often irreverant sense of humor (which is sometimes unsettling for others!); prostate cancer.

And while I don't have all of the memories I wish I had of our lives together, as I watch his strong body grow smaller and weaker, I remember with tremendous gratitude his willingness to release his namesake and Christian ministry colleague to find his own path.

I remember when he told me (a couple of years before I knew I would go into the ministry), that if I ever decided to become a minister, I should major in history, sociology, or English, rather than religion, so that I would have a profession to fall back on, if I didn't become a pastor immediately. He had graduated from the same school (Bishop College), with a major in history, with a minor in sociology and taught history for a time, in the Dallas Independent School District.
It was sound, practical advice - a pattern followed by many of my college schoolmates. The day I registered for class, I registered with a religion major with a philosophy minor. When I went to his house, papers in tow, he asked me what my major was. I told him. He heaved a slight sigh, said, 'Alright'. And supported me all the way!

After seven years in the ministry, I decided to move my church membership from my grandfather's church (my parents were divorced when my brother and I were very young and we were members of the church pastored by my maternal grandfather). But I also decided that I wouldn't be joining his church. I would become a member of a larger church, pastored by a former classmate and friend of his. Armed with every logical, scriptural and rationale I could come up with, I went to break the news to him. He immediately sanctioned and supported it as a good move! Nine months later, when the pastor of the church I joined was killed in a car accident, and I was called to succeed him, my father celebrated the church's choice and my independence spirit.

Several years after that, it was clear that my ministry was going in a direction unfamiliar in my families 'traditional' view of ministry (I'm the third generation of preachers and pastors on both sides of my family). I was becoming a preacher/community leader.

A picture of me, surrounded by other protesters and police, pouring out the contents of a can of African coffee into the City Hall Plaza pool, appeared on the front page of the Dallas Times Herald (the city's afternoon paper at the time). We were protesting Dallas City Council's appeal of a federal courts' ruling of a single member district configuration for the city council. He was asked by his peers and colleagues "What is young Britt, Jr. doing?!" He replied, "He's doing what I would be doing if I were young enough and had the same opportunity".

Ours has been a solid, father-son relationship. We love one another. We respect one another. We support one another. We learn from one another.

My 'step-father' (I hardly ever use that term), taught me quiet expressions of dignity and self worth, like when, during the hey-day of the Civil Rights Movement, he made it a point to take us places where, prior to our showing up, only white people went. Sometimes a department store; sometimes a cafeteria, but he demonstrated a confidence that suggested that he expected that he and his family to be served and treated with respect. But my birth father, taught me why that was important and put it in context for me so that I understood the broader significance of such acts.

Almost in spite of myself, I have found myself always trying to make him proud. And I've always found out that the extra effort wasn't necessary. He was proud already.

Not long before I left New Mount Moriah Baptist Church as pastor, to join Central Dallas Ministries, I was talking to my associate ministers. I told them that if I could do anything all over again, I would have spent much less time trying to impress my father and grandfather and more time trying to learn from them. I learned that they had both seen far too much to be impressed by me and I had learned far too little from two very wise men.

My blessing, however, has been to know and love them both.

Before these last days, my father, brother and I, have tried to make more time for one another. All three of us are wishing for more time. All three of us are grateful for the time we've had and, have. Even now...

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Friday, May 14, 2010

Stand Up!

No doubt many of you will be attending a commencement celebration, or two (or more). You'll hear a commencement speech at most if not all. Take the time to watch this. It's one of the best. I'm happy to share it!

On May 11, Corey Booker was re-elected as Mayor of Newark, New Jersey. He's a wonderful example and an inspirational figure! Congratulations Mayor Booker...

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Should Immigration Reform Concern African-Americans?

That's a picture of me and Domingo Garcia, in the recent Mega March in Dallas, in support of immigration reform and against the recent immigration laws passed by the Arizona legislature.
Domingo is a local prominent attorney, former state legislator and city council member.
In his positions as an elected official, we have worked on education, job training and quality of life issues that benefited his community and mine.

We're also former high school classmates. In fact, we've known one another since we were probably 14-15 years old.

The issue of a reasonable, humane, comprehensive solution to immigration reform is something that concerns both of us. And it should be a concern of every African-American.

For too long, far too many blacks in our country have viewed this issue with either indifference, or prejudice, allowing themselves to be blinded or deafened by bigoted arguments that have no basis in fact. Far too many black people have allowed themselves to be sucked into someone else's argument, forgetting the fact that the Civil Rights Movement had, at its core, a call for the just and fair treatment of all citizens and the recognition of the dignity and worth of all people.
Black people are the last people in this country who should allow themselves to be even emotionally allied with those who would disrespect and dishonor any people. Undocumented or not.

I realize that the undocumented immigrants are here illegally (I don't believe in calling people 'illegal'. Actions are illegal, not people. Their presence here may be illegal, but no one's existence constitutes a crime). But they are here for a reason. They are here because there is work here and there have been people who have been happy to have them here to do that work. Whether that work is landscaping, waiting tables, washing dishes, caring for children, construction or cleaning houses, picking our vegetables and fruits. A bad economy and a terrorist attack has suddenly made their presence here for the very work we were glad to have them do, 'undesirable'.

So they are here. Some 11-15, some say 20 million of them. They are not all Hispanic. Some are African, others are Europeans who have overstayed their visas, or whose green cards have expired. But the popular 'face' of the 'illegal' immigrant is brown?
Too many African Americans have bought into the fallacy, that 'they' (undocumented immigrants) take black jobs. But as Monique Morris ably points out,"...there is no "black job." While immigration trends have led to immigrants filling low wage jobs that were historically filled by African-American workers, no low-wage job was ever exclusively black; so, the foundation upon which the assertion that someone is taking away "black jobs" is flawed on its premise. Undocumented immigrants have participated in the American workforce; however, a greater percentage of American jobs are being hidden by a heavy bureaucracy that denies to the American labor force an opportunity to work."

"In other words, in most states, it's not undocumented immigrants who are keeping jobs from U.S. citizens. Access to appropriate education and training, employer bias, incorrect background checks, inappropriate credit checks and other structural barriers also serve as barriers to employment. However, in some cases, particularly in states where residential segregation is most acute, it's our own state governments that are preventing folks from working."

"Instead of pointing a half-informed finger at undocumented immigrants, we should fix the structures that are actually denying Americans employment. Immigration, particularly the need for comprehensive immigration reform, will undoubtedly continue to dominate the public discourse about our changing nation--especially if these ten states are successful in their efforts to copy the Arizona legislation. But armed with information about what's real, and what's propaganda, we shouldn't fall for the proverbial "banana in the tail pipe." We should recognize that the threat to our employment is not the coming of new immigrants--documented or undocumented. It's the lack of transparency and continued segregation of opportunity that threatens the integrity of our quest for employment."

And again from Earl Hutchinson, "...there is no concrete evidence that the majority of employers hire Latinos at low-end jobs and exclude blacks from them solely because of their race. The sea of state and federal anti-discrimination laws and labor code sections explicitly ban employment discrimination. Despite a handful of lawsuits and settlements by blacks against and with major employers for alleged racial favoritism toward Hispanic workers, employers vehemently deny that they shun blacks, and maintain that blacks don't apply for these jobs."

"These aren't just flimsy covers for discrimination. Many blacks will no longer work the low skilled, menial factory, restaurant, and custodial jobs which in decades past they filled. The pay is too low, the work too hard, and the indignities too great. On the other hand, those blacks that seek these jobs are often given a quick brush off by employers. The subtle message is that blacks won't be hired, even if they do apply. An entire category of jobs at the bottom rung of American industry has been clearly marked as "Latino only" jobs. That further deepens suspicion and resentment among blacks that illegal immigration is to blame for the economic misery of poor blacks."

"A Pew Hispanic Center survey in 2008 found that tens of thousands of blacks were employed in the top occupational categories of illegal workers (farming, maintenance, construction, food service, production and material moving). The survey also found that a significant percentage of meat-processing workers and janitors were black. Even more surprising, more than 10 percent of blacks were still involved in agriculture - an area which is often perceived to be is to be the province of illegal immigrants."

Arizona's law, is ultimately the result of the failure of those in power in Washington, now and in the past to have the courage to do their jobs. Republicans have not wanted to alienate a potentially powerful bloc of votes; Democrats have feared losing what, before 2008, was a tenuous grip on a sizable interest group. And they both know that the quality of life that we have enjoyed, has come at the hands of off shored jobs and the cheap labor of immigrants at home. Both parties know that something needs to be done and both parties know what has to be done.

The real danger of this unresolved immigration issue for black Americans, is that by falling into the cesspool of bigotry and prejudice that characterizes the extremists and the alarmists, is that we forget our own struggle in this country. When times are tough there are Americans who cannot weather the storm without identifying scapegoats. Black people, no American really, should never get so comfortable as to believe that the scapegoating of another people is acceptable.

Immigration reform that includes a guest worker program, pathways to citizenship, the DREAM Act, as an interim measure, increased and well funded border security, as well as the deportation of undocumented immigrants involved in illegal activity, makes more sense than misguided and ill informed rhetoric that suggests we ship more than 11 million people 'back where they came from'.

Arizona's state law, gives law enforcement powers that eerily reflect a period not so long ago when one could be stopped, questioned, even detained, because of the color of one's skin.

And to ignore those similarities will lead to further indignities and atrocities. Those indignities and atrocities will, on their face, sound 'reasonable'. They will sound as if they are recognitions of an arrival to a post racial period in our country, where the corrections of extreme unfairness and injustices are no longer 'in vogue', or necessary.

Oh wait, its already happening...

"Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has signed a bill targeting a school district's ethnic studies program, hours after a report by United Nations human rights experts condemned the measure."

"State schools chief Tom Horne, who has pushed the bill for years, said he believes the Tucson school district's Mexican-American studies program teaches Latino students that they are oppressed by white people."

"Public schools should not be encouraging students to resent a particular race, he said."

""It's just like the old South, and it's long past time that we prohibited it," Horne said."

Inarguable...or at Least I Thought So


There are facts and truths which are sometimes so obvious it is amazing that people would try and argue against it. Those facts and truths seem 'inarguable'. But the longer I live, the more I am becoming aware that people will argue...anything.

Take, for instance, the issue of scrap metal recycling yards.

A legitimate business. A necessary business. A business that contributes to the 'greening' of our culture and is an economic positive, all things being equal.

The problem is, in Dallas all things aren't equal.

Ask yourself a question - would you want to live near one?

Would you want the noise, the pollution, the traffic? The businesses that are attracted to such an area the types of businesses that you would want next to your home? Bars, liquor stores, other heavy industrial types of businesses?

Then ask yourself another question: if you live on a fixed income; if you are poor or disabled, or young - if you've lived in the area and haven't had effective political representation that aggressively seeks to repeal the zoning that erroneously, if not malevolently allowed the businesses to move into the area mean that you 'deserve' to live there?

Or another question: you live in an area of town in which you pay significant property taxes. In fact you live in the 20% of the city in which property taxes are high because 80% of the city is underdeveloped or poorly developed - i.e. improper zoning which depresses property values of the surrounding neighborhood. Potential residents who could afford to more expensive homes have gone to the suburbs. The schools are better. The neighborhoods are better. No scrap metal recycling yards. No package stores that sell liquor. No bars or clubs.

Wouldn't you want to see the area redeveloped? Better housing, equals more property taxes, equals better schools, equals more economic development, equals more sales taxes. You get the drift.

The city could be creative and allow businesses - wholesome, productive business to stay; it could get creative and allow existing homeowners to stay - but the overall net effect would be the city would benefit from redevelopment and revitalization of any and every portion of the city that is underdeveloped or poorly developed.

Doesn't that make some sense at least?

So, why is it that the Dallas Morning News' editorial stance on moving scrap metal recyclers out of residential neighborhoods is so fraught with controversy?!

I write a column for the Morning News, but I don't shill for them. Anyone on the editorial board will tell you that I have no problem at all telling them - or writing - when I think they are wrong.
And there are times when they have been wrong.

But not this time.

Why is it that championing the interests of people who don't make a $75,000 a year a bad thing?
Why is it conspiratorial to say that people who have invested money in their homes, churches and businesses shouldn't have to live with these urban nuisances simply because the owners are making millions of dollars. Or because representatives of these areas don't have the fortitude to fight granting special use permits for businesses which saturate the area?

When the residents cry out against these nuisances they are lazy n'er-do-wells; when clergy cry out against them, they are imposing their religious views on everyone; when the newspaper cries out against them its because billionaire interests secretly covet land that no one else has professed to want. When politicians do cry out, they must be up to something shady.

What constitutes a legitimate voice on this issue qualified to say 'no' to business interests that are not so quietly killing these low income neighborhoods?

I understand that some people need to sell papers.

I understand that some people have a different point of view and have something to say.

But I also understand that some people just have to say something - whether they actually have something to say or not.

Why is it so hard to see that even low income people don't want to live with traffic noise, air pollution, visible blight - even by legitimate businesses? Just because you don't make as much money as someone else means that you don't deserve healthy living environments?

Elected and public officials at Dallas' City Hall have to face a truth: you cannot claim to want to redevelop and revitalize poorer sections of our city and protect the interests of incompatible business uses which prevent the redevelopment and revitalization of those same sections of the city. You cannot have it both ways.

It's...well inarguable.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Overblown and Overboard

Almost every clergyman and clergywoman is familiar with the argument over whether or not Scripture is 'inerrant' or 'infallible'. Continual (and in come cases trivial) arguments have been made for either case.

For laypersons not given to such wrangling, to say the Bible is 'inerrant' means that it contains no mistakes. That in the form we currently possess the Bible it is 'without error'. Whether you believe that or not depends on what you count as 'error'. Language and phraseology, gender roles, cultural values, etc.

To say that the Bible, in the form we currently possess is 'infallible', is to say that the truths found therein are, essentially timeless truths and eternal principles expressed in its stories, parables, commands and teachings.

If one views the Bible as a supremely significant book, these are questions worth debating. Although the Bible was written by human beings, we Christians claim it to be Divinely inspired. If so, it has to be at least 'inerrant' or 'infallible'.

We can't have the same argument about documents written by humans that have no claim of Divine Authority.

Unless you are Republican National Chairman Michael Steele.

His remarks regarding a speech made recent Supreme Court justice nominee Elena Kagan, shows he either believes the Constitution to be an inerrant or infallible document or that he simply hasn't read Kagan's or the speech of Thurgood Marshall she cites.

Soliciter General Kagan's nomination is not quite warm, but the Republican National Committee has already fired a preemptory shot across the bow.

Fair deal. They represent the opposition party. No one expects the GOP to roll over.

But this particular criticism falls in the category of, 'Oh, come on, really?!'

Kagan was a clerk for Justice Thurgood Marshall, the NAACP attorney who won the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education landmark decision responsible for striking down segregation in public education and by extension, society. Marshall was, himself, appointed Solicitor General by President Lyndon Johnson, before he nominated him to the Supreme Court, the first black person to receive such an appointment.

In tribute to Marshall after his death, Elena Kagan quoted from a speech in which Marshall said that the mission of the Court was to show "...a special solicitude for the dispised and disadvantaged."

"RNC Chairman Michael Steele targeted her praise for the jurisprudence of Marshall, a liberal icon, and a speech in which Marshall called the Constitution “defective.”"

"By the end of the day, the RNC was defending its statement, responding to criticism from bloggers that Steele had overlooked the stain of slavery on the nation’s history."

Perhaps it might have helped if someone at the RNC had given Steele the entire speech to read, instead of the 'cliff notes' version.

Thurgood Marshall, the grandson of a slave, and one of the greatest lawyers of his day, questioned the 'inerrancy' and the 'infallibility' of the Constitution. It is a document which, like the Bible, has to be interpreted; but unlike the Bible, must be amended, to include freedoms for citizens intentionally left out by the Framers . The Constitution is a 'living' document - not a 'perfect' document. The question of whose role it is to interpret and what amendments are appropriate to the Constitution, is a legitimate subject of public debate. It is, however, an unworthy subject for bumper sticker partisanship lacking intellectual integrity and which ignores the sweep and breadth of history.

Monday, May 10, 2010

In Memoriam: Lena Horne (1917- 2010)

Lena Horne...

She rates as one of Hollywood's timeless beauties and an ageless talent who charmed generations of fans.

In my parents home and in my house, there were always 'ohhs and ahhs' when she was on television, simply because she maintained a grace and sophistication that belied her years.

Lena Horne died today at the age of 92. Her story is as legendary as was her career.

"Born in Brooklyn in 1917, Lena Horne became one of the most popular African American performers of the 1940s and 1950s. At the age of sixteen she was hired as a dancer in the chorus of Harlem’s famous Cotton Club. There she was introduced to the growing community of jazz performers, including Billie Holiday, Cab Calloway, and Duke Ellington. She also met Harold Arlen, who would write her biggest hit, “Stormy Weather.” For the next five years she performed in New York nightclubs, on Broadway, and touring with the Charlie Barnet Orchestra. Singing with Barnet’s primarily white swing band, Horne was one of the first black women to successfully work on both sides of the color line."

"Within a few years, Horne moved to Hollywood, where she played small parts in the movies. At this time, most black actors were kept from more serious roles, and though she was beginning to achieve a high level of notoriety, the color barrier was still strong. “In every other film I just sang a song or two; the scenes could be cut out when they were sent to local distributors in the South. Unfortunately, I didn’t get much of a chance to act,” she said. “CABIN IN THE SKY and STORMY WEATHER were the only movies in which I played a character who was involved in the plot.” Her elegant style and powerful voice were unlike any that had come before, and both the public and the executives in the entertainment industry began to take note. By the mid-’40s, Horne was the highest paid black actor in the country. Her renditions of “Deed I Do” and “As Long as I Live,” and Cole Porter’s “Just One Of Those Things” became instant classics. For the thousands of black soldiers abroad during World War II, Horne was the premier pin-up girl."

"Much like her good friend Paul Robeson, Horne’s great fame could not prevent the wheels of the anti-Communist machine from bearing down on her. Her civil rights activism and friendship with Robeson and others marked her as a Communist sympathizer. Like many politically active artists of the time, Horne found herself blacklisted and unable to perform on television or in the movies. For seven years the attacks on her person and political beliefs continued. During this time, however, Horne worked as a singer, appearing in nightclubs and making some of her best recordings. LENA HORNE AT THE WALDORF ASTORIA, recorded in 1957, is still considered to be one of her best. Though the conservative atmosphere of the 1950s took their toll on Horne, by the 1960s she had returned to the public eye and was again a major cultural figure."

Although she's not been seen performing in years, to say she'll be missed is a woeful understatement!

Community Gardens - The Uncontroversial Becomes Controversial

The community gardens idea is something that has really taken some convincing to get me to support. Several years ago, when I first heard about it from an enterprising and cutting edge city planner friend of mine, I gave the idea a wry smile and changed the subject.

I did the same thing when other friends suggested that cassette tapes would replace 8 tracks. Don't worry, I'm becoming more open...I promise!

Community gardens are not only a good idea, they're good ideas in a number of ways: they address the issue of accessible healthy fruits and vegetables; they help facilitate the education of children; they are great at fostering a sense of community in neighborhoods; they are a positive use of vacant lands - prominent in low-income neighborhoods; they can also generate wholesome economic activity in communities where economic development has resulted in a proliferation of fast food joints and alcohol related businesses.

So, of course, a city, say like Dallas, would look to make vacant non-tax producing lots in low-income communities available to residents who would like to participate in an alternative 'highest and best use', like community gardens...right?

Maybe not so much. Check out this article in the Dallas Observers' 'Unfair Park'...

"Back on March 8 Kris Sweckard, director of the Office of Environmental Quality, put before the council's Transportation and Environment Committee three options that would allow Dallas citizens to plant community gardens -- one of which involved shelling out an are-you-effing-kidding $1,170 for a specific use permit. To which most of the council members said, "Uh ... no." And so off they went to try, try again."

"And here's what Sweckard's come up with: a fourth option known as "Gardens By Right with Neighbor Input." It's spelled out in the briefing docs for Monday's meeting, but long story short ..."

"First the city needs a letter from the owner of a property that says, yes, it's fine for someone to garden on his or her land. Then the city wants a site plan from the operator of said garden. Then the city wants "a list of names and addresses of all property owners located within 200 feet of the proposed location of the community garden with signatures of the owners of at least 50% of the number of lots evidencing support of the operation of a community garden." Then, if the city gets all that, the city wants $215 for a certificate of occupancy."

"But, if the operator of can't get the required number of signatures, then the city will notify everyone living within 500 feet of the proposed garden and call a public hearing. Then the city will want $500 for holding a hearing."

"On top of this, if I read the document correctly, under this fourth option, the operators of the garden wouldn't be able to harvest and sell their goods, which was allowable at least twice a year under all three of the original three proposals."

Read the proposals here and the council committee's response here.

For the moment, one word comes to mind...'unbelievable'!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

"Mother to Son" - Happy Mothers' Day

Well, son, I'll tell you:
Life for me ain't been no crystal stair.
It's had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
But all the time
I'se been a-climbin' on,
And reachin' landin's,
And turnin' corners,
And sometimes goin' in the dark
Where there ain't been no light.
So, boy, don't you turn back.
Don't you set down on the steps.
'Cause you finds it's kinder hard.
Don't you fall now—
For I'se still goin', honey,
I'se still climbin',
And life for me ain't been no crystal stair.

Langston Hughes

Saturday, May 8, 2010

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Lorraine Hansberry
1930 - 1965

Author, Essayist, Playwrite

"There is always something left to love. And if you ain't learned that, you ain't learned nothing."

Friday, May 7, 2010

Keep CHIP Safe from Budget Cuts

Recent controversy surrounding reforming health care (to put it mildly), begs the question what opponents plan to do with the millions of children whose parents cannot afford the high cost of health insurance?

It is possible, as some propose, that we simply deny that as citizens, we have limited responsibility to the welfare of one another. The problem is that leads to sick children who underperform as students and consequently have limited futures as adults. Its also possible to say that people shouldn't have children for whom they cannot afford basics like health care - that horse, has already left the barn. And how many people can (or could) foresee issues like the loss of jobs, divorce, dramatic downturns in the economy or health issues more drastic than possibly imagined?

An article in yesterday's Dallas Morning News tells us how important it is...and how vulnerable it remains.

CHIP (or SCHIP, 'State Childrens Health Insurance Program'), has been a blessing to parents throughout the years.

"Under CHIP, state and federal governments heavily subsidize private insurance coverage for children whose parents make too much to qualify for Medicaid but too little to afford private health plans."

"Washington supplies about 72 cents of every $1 spent on CHIP. Texas, which has more uninsured children than any other state at about 1.2 million, pays the other 28 cents."

"The state started signing up children for the program in 2000. At its peak, nearly 530,000 participants were enrolled."

"But CHIP enrollment sank to fewer than 300,000 youths four years ago as a variety of factors conspired to drive families out. In the 2003 cuts, state leaders instituted new rules making parents submit paycheck stubs and reapply for benefits every six months, and there were tight limits on how nice a car the parents could drive."

"There also was a failed experiment that had families trying in vain to apply, or reapply, for help through privately operated call centers."

"Lawmakers restored dental and vision benefits in 2005 and relaxed most of the tougher eligibility rules two years later. This month, CHIP has nearly 512,000 enrollees, the first time rolls have exceeded 507,000 since 2003."

"But researchers say the program remains behind where it was before the cuts. Enrollment should have been about 565,000 as of last July because of the state's growth, said health demographer Karl Eschbach of the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston."

""And we know that other factors have changed, including a pretty deep recession and declines in private market insurance," Eschbach said. "So there's an even larger need.""

When I was a pastor, I spent the better part of two decades without health care for me and my family. It was simply too expensive. At the same time, simply hoping and praying that no one got drastically ill was stressful! It's unreasonable to thoughtlessly suggest that parents today go through anything like that.

People who support a healthy future for our state and our country should support CHIP and support easing any restrictions that make it difficult for parents to get and maintain this vital support.

Profiled in the article, by the way, is Central Dallas Ministries' Jessica Davila, my colleague who works with me in public policy.

"CHIP coverage has meant peace of mind for Dallas residents Jessica Davila and Homero Salas. Their son, 5-year-old Alejandro, has asthma, and the program provides a nebulizer, inhalers and education for the parents, said Davila, an administrative worker at Central Dallas Ministries. Her husband is an office furniture installer."

"Another son, Damian, 4, has suffered from fluid build up in the brain. He had to have two surgeries in the past two years, both fully covered by the program, she said."

"Davila recalled a $500 visit to the emergency room at Children's Medical Center Dallas when Damian, then uninsured, suffered a high fever as a baby. His subsequent problems would've bankrupted the family had it not been for CHIP, she said."

""To this day, I'd still be paying off medical bills," Davila said. "I love CHIP. ... It benefits a lot of families out there.""

"Another couple, Joan and Greg Kimber of East Dallas, said they had each of their five daughters on CHIP for several years. They said it helped them survive a rough patch as the family's moving business struggled."

""We've had three kids break their wrists roller-skating. That was a great burden financially," Joan said. "It was a big deal to have regular health care.""

'We Band of Brothers..."

For any number of reasons this has been a hard week for me, personally and professionally. You know how it is, sometimes you need inspiration and it can come from the most unlikely places - scripture, of course. Music. Great literature.

This is a scene from one of my favorite movies, 'Henry V'. When I saw it for the first time 20 years ago, I was inspired then and every time I see it, it inspires me still. I started to save this for a Sunday post, but it picked me up today and thought it might do the same for someone else.

Oh, by the way, you'll get a couple of quick glimpses of a young boy among the soldiers in the early part of the clip. It's Christian Bale - the latest 'Batman'.

Just a little bit of trivia to go with the pick-me-up.


Thursday, May 6, 2010

In Memorium: Former Dallas City Manager John Ware

John Ware was Dallas' City Manager from 1993 - 1998. He was the second African-American to serve in that position. Those were five interesting years. Ware served during the same period as Dallas' first black mayor, Ron Kirk. They were two men who understood the power of their office, new how to use it and appeared to relish that power.

This doesn't mean that they were necessarily unpleasant or unkind. The black community was proud of them, loved the idea that two men who looked like them were in authority. But they also bemoaned the fact that they were not overtly black politicians with a 'black agenda'. At the same time, they operated as men who knew the reach of their positions, not as those encumbered by the limitations of them.
John Ware died of cancer last Sunday night at the age of 62.

I liked John Ware. As a pastor involved in community organizing efforts I had the chance to do some negotiating with him. I saw how tough he could be. I saw how, at times, insensitive he could appear. There was no way I could agree with some of the things he did. The one thing that immediately comes to mind was his 'mortgaging' future Community Block Development Grant funds, using the money as subsidies for developers of downtown 'affordable housing'. The housing that was built wasn't 'affordable' to anyone I knew in need of housing. But John's creative use of pubic funds is actually opened the door for downtown dwellers and, ironically, its arguable that Central Dallas Ministries could have made the case for CityWalk@Akard, had John not made that move.

Ware was also largely responsible for getting the bond package passed that resulted in the American Airlines arena. I remember passing by his office one day and he invited me in. As I walked in he pointed on his desk to a really thick binder that dealt with the highly anticipated and controversial project. "You know what that is, Rev. Britt?", knowing that he was going somewhere else besides the yet to be named basketball and hockey stadium, I asked what it was. "A gymnasium; plans for a gymnasium", he said with near disdain. But no one worked harder to sell the city council and the city on the bond harder than he and Ron Kirk. Shortly after the passage of the bond, John went to work for Tom Hicks, the developer of the AAC and owner of the Dallas Stars, the team that would play there.


In another meeting, when Dallas Area Interfaith was after the city to invest money in mortgage subsidy for the neighborhood surrounding the church I served, Ware seemed unmoved by our arguments. We explained how more houses had been demolished in the neighborhood than any other area in the city, and none of that housing stock had been replaced. We talked about the need for economic development. His position was that business should come first; ours was that housing and the new homeowners should come first.

Finally, in an effort to try and get a rise out of him, so that he could see what I thought was the illogical nature of his position, I said, "Mr. Ware, I understand the city spends $200,000 a year to clean the cows in front of the Convention Center". I referred to the now nearly iconic statues of a cattle drive that attract tourists and visitors downtown. Impassively, John replied, "$250,000".


John was heard at some point to have said, "As long as I am city manager, the city of Dallas will not spend one dime of general revenue money on any housing project". But it was Ware who ultimately set aside $450,000 from the city's contingency fund for the mortgage subsidy we were proposing.

Again, the irony was that the reason we had the 'space' to conceive of such an idea was because of John Ware. He initiated Neighborhood Service Teams - representatives from virtually every department of the city to address the needs of communities throughout Dallas, primarily in low-income areas. They were incredibly responsive in areas of code enforcement, neighborhood safety, minor home repair to name a few areas. He generously funded neighborhood policing efforts which resulted in a noticeable decrease in crime. The 'yin and yang' of Ware's personality was interesting, to say the least.

When Ware was recovering from his first known bout with cancer, I invited him to come speak at my church. He immediately accepted. What became obvious during his talk, was that John knew next to nothing about the Bible. But he was a wonderful example of resilience, perseverance, accomplishment and, yes, faith. We all thoroughly enjoyed him. And he apparently enjoyed himself. For months after that, he told me how much he appreciated being invited.

John Ware was a formidable figure. He transcended the designation that many others might have coveted, that of African-American City Manager of a large American City. He did so without shunning the designation, but by simply being competent and effective, whether you agreed with him or not. This may sound strange, but he was someone I enjoyed respecting.

Ware's career in public life was interesting, but even more interesting was the apparent respect of others he continued to enjoy after city hall. It was a couple of years ago that I heard that John was to be the next President of the Dallas Citizen's Council. This is the legendary oligarchical group that, at one time, ran Dallas. In its early years, of course it was made up of all white males. They are the one's the freeways in Dallas are named after - R.L. Thornton, John Carpenter and the like. It's make-up was that of the major business leaders in Dallas. It still is.

Most of black Dallas didn't know that John was the president of the Citizen's Council. It is evidence that his leadership prowess was not limited to a niche of public service, it was significant.

Again, just amazing.

Dallas misses John Ware, whether it knows it or not. He could be awe inspiring in some respects, aggravating in others. He could leave you inspired by his capacity to get things done and appalled by the lack of apparent energy he put in getting other things done. But John Ware was a major player on the field of Dallas' history. I have a special affinity for those who know how to use their office to get things done. John Ware was such a public servant and private citizen. I won't say 'we won't see the likes of him again in this city', because we desperately need to.

Read more about John Ware here.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Paul Quinn's Answer to the Challenge of Food Deserts

I've got a scheduling conflict today, so I'll miss something that I think is pretty meaningful: the celebration of Paul Quinn College's urban garden.

The post in the Dallas Morning News' Southern Dallas blog says, "Perhaps the largest one I've come across is the one that will be officially inaugurated at noon tomorrow at Paul Quinn College, 3837 Simpson Stuart Road. The school has partnered with PepsiCo to transform its former football field not just into a garden, but into an urban farm. PQC President Michael Sorrell says the effort includes teaching "the principles of biology, botany and social enterprise.""

"President Sorrell is using the first planting tomorrow to emphasize the fact that the campus -- like many neighborhoods in southern Dallas -- sits in a "food desert," where finding a grocery store that carries decent basic produce means a long drive. This, despite the fact that the campus is only eight minutes from downtown."

"Urban farms and community gardens may sound like do-gooder "happy talk," but the momentum building around them shows that these simple projects are having a variety of payoffs -- from better nutrition to cross-generational and cross-racial bridge-building."

Michael Sorrell is to be commended for this innovative use of campus property. I like football as much as the next guy - maybe more. But I lived in that area for several years. The one food mart (I hesitate to call it a grocery store) that was in the immediate area closed a couple of years ago. The nearest full grocer is better than five miles away. Not a great distance, but it is the only one within more than another 5 miles or more. When you have that kind of lack of competition you know what you get? Limited choices. And while there are a number of low income residents in the area, it is not low income by definition. There are any number of middle income, middle class residents in that area and Paul Quinn is just a few miles from the University of North Texas Dallas campus. An entire area literally served by essentially one grocery store. The fresh fruits and vegetables will be welcome by students, parents and homeowners from miles around.

Sorry to miss tomorrow Michael, but still another reason to be proud of you and PQC! Keep up the good work!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Sunday Morning Blessing - Dr. E.K. Bailey

One of the most celebrated preacher/pastors of my generation was Dr. E.K. Bailey, the late pastor of the Concord Baptist Church, here in Dallas.
I met E.K. when I was a student at Bishop College. It was during the annual L.K. Williams Ministers' Institute and while I knew who he was, I had no idea he knew who I was. He came behind me as I made my way down the steps of the Carr P. Collins Chapel after worship and he placed his hand on my shoulder, introduced himself and said, 'When I was a student here your father was a friend to me, and I want to be a friend to you.'
He was as good as his word. In fact I tell his widow, Dr. Sheila Bailey, who is a cherished friend of our family, the only reason E.K. never did more for me, is because I never asked him.
When I was a college freshman, for my 19th birthday, I treated myself to the opportunity to go hear Dr. Manuel Scott preach at the newly organized Concord Baptist Church. From that time on, Concord became almost a homiletics class for me, because Bailey invited the best from all over the country to preach there: Drs. Bernie Lee Faison, William Shaw, Scott, Ceasar Clark, Lloyd C. Blue, just to mention a few.
E.K. freely shared his successes and his failures; his triumphs and his mistakes. He was charismatic, humorous, fiercely curious and devoted to his family and his church.
When he discovered principles that helped cause Concord to grow into one of the largest churches in the country, he started the Church Growth Institute to share those principles with other pastors. As challenges and difficulties of black male responsibility began to reveal themselves he started workshops to address that issue.
His crowning achievement, however, was the E.K. Bailey Expository Preaching Conference. He loved teaching preachers how to preach and bringing the best expositors from wherever he could find them, to share their expertise with his colleagues in ministry.
E.K. Bailey died in 2004. He prepared the church in a marvelously selfless way for a future without him, selecting Bryan Carter as his successor as Senior Pastor. Bryan is a wonderful man, doing an excellent job. Concord's growth trajectory, even after Bailey has been phenomenal. But it is because he had great foresight and because he prepared the church to move forward.
There is a huge hole in the church world since E.K. left us. The sermon here, was his courageous way of sharing his struggle with cancer with his congregation. In doing so, we have a glimpse into the mind, heart and soul of the man...and what made the rest of us better for having known him.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Gordon Parks
1912 - 2006

Photojournalist, Author, Director, Song writer, Actor

"I suffered evils, but without allowing them to rob me of the freedom to expand."