Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Permanent Supportive Housing Really Does Work - It REALLY Does!

I've had a number of conversations regarding permanent supportive housing since the townhall meeting at Methodist Central Hospital two weeks ago. In nearly all of them,

I've tried to explain that this is a concept and a strategy that works. It works because most of what we fear regarding the homeless disappears when people have a place to live.

If we can just get past the stereotypes.

If politicians can learn how to serve stir up community instead of red meat.

If people would realize that our common humanity is worth more than our property values.

If we just stopped to think that we cannot have it both ways: you cannot keep people on the streets AND eliminate homelessness - you just can't.

If people would just come to check out the programs that work. Like Steve Blow of the Dallas Morning News did...

"We have certain images in our heads when the word "homeless" is mentioned. None of them are pretty."

"But that building I watched – CityWalk@Akard – is working hard to give us some new mental images to go with the phrase "formerly homeless.""

""Quiet," "orderly," "inviting" – those are some of the words to describe what I found when I visited inside CityWalk the next day."

"CityWalk is a project of Central Dallas Ministries. The 200-unit apartment building opened in April. It has 50 apartments set aside for the formerly homeless. The other 150 are for low-income tenants."

"It's a home, but it's also a demonstration project."

""We could have done this much more easily and much more inexpensively in other places around town," said executive director John Greenan. "But we thought it was important to have one high-profile location to show that it can be done.""

"He said, "We want people to come and walk through the building and say, ‘This is OK.' ""

"I hope the neighbors of Cliff Manor will take him up on that offer."

You can read the rest of Steve's column here. But what's interesting is, nearly everyone Steve interviewed (not personally, but the institutions they represent), initially expressed apprehension, if not fear or dread at the prospect of 'those people' living downtown. When we moved in, I conducted no less than three tours so that people could see it wasn't a 'shelter'.

By the way: the original design for CityWalk@Akard was for 100 PSH units. We compromised at fifty, because of those images in people's head that Steve mentions. We had confidence from the beginning, however, that this was the right thing to do.

But the proof isn't in the architecture or the empty building. It's in the expressions of hope and purpose of the residents coming and going. Not all of their problems have been solved.

Just one major one: they have a home. That's not a bad start.

If only people would realize that...

Finding Common Ground on Race

Angela Glover Blackwell founder of PolicyLink, Stewart Kwoh, Executive Director of Asian Pacific American Legal Center and University of Southern California professor Manuel Pastor, discuss their new book, "Uncommon Common Ground: Race and America's Future".

America's attitude toward race is complex and contridictory. This conversation shows the ironies and inconsistencies which make understanding one a challenge to say the least!

Uncommon Common Ground at Busboys & Poets from PolicyLink on Vimeo.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Injustice in the Criminal Justice System

Miami Herald columnist, Leonard Pitts, reviewed a book mentioned here in CTW a few months ago: 'The New Jim Crow'. Author Michelle Alexander does extremely important work in bringing to light the inequities of the criminal justice system in its incarceration of minorities, more specifically African-American men and its devastating impact on black communities and our country. It's an issue about which a number of whites (and not a few blacks) feel all too comfortable moralizing about, because it is far easier to believe that everyone behind bars is 'criminal' vs. the prospect that there is something 'criminal' in the system itself.

"...Others have written of the racial bias of the criminal injustice system. In The New Jim Crow, Alexander goes a provocative step further. She contends that the mass incarceration of black men for nonviolent drug offenses, combined with sentencing disparities and laws making it legal to discriminate against felons in housing, employment, education and voting, constitute nothing less than a new racial caste system. A new segregation."

"She has a point. Yes, the war on drugs is officially race-neutral. So were the grandfather clause and other Jim Crow laws whose intention and effect were nevertheless to restrict black freedom."

"The war on drugs is a war on African-American people, and we countenance it because we implicitly accept certain assumptions sold to us by the news and entertainment media, chief among them that drug use is rampant in the black community. But. The. Assumption. Is. WRONG."

"According to federal figures, blacks and whites use drugs at a roughly equal rate in percentage terms. In terms of raw numbers, whites are far and away the biggest users – and dealers – of illegal drugs."

"So why aren't cops kicking their doors in? Why aren't their sons pulled over a dozen times in nine months? Why are black men 12 times as likely to be jailed for drugs as white ones? Why aren't white communities robbed of their fathers, brothers, sons?"

Look for this one at future Urban Engagement Book Club...

Monday, June 28, 2010

Our Budget, Our Economy - America Has Spoken...

So what happens when 300-400 regular citizens join another few thousand others to come up with solutions to close the federal deficit by 2025? I'm trying to come up with something clever, but I have to agree with what Dallas Morning News reporter, Todd Gilliam says most of us found out: it ain't easy.

America Speaks: Our Budget, Our Economy was just such an effort. Linked to 18 other cities by a rather remarkable set of technological gizmos, we were able to join people in Philadelphia, Detroit and other cities, in learning about and making critical decisions about what taxes, if any, should be raised and what categories, if any, should be cut. A crash course in what the federal budget includes, the experts there at resource and the knowledge around the table all helped make this a pretty productive and interesting way to spend a Saturday. It was bi-partisan (although not as bi-partisan as some might have liked), and the people who took the time to participate appeared to take this opportunity seriously.

I was at table 17. Ours was one of those tables that could have used a little more diversity. There were 10 of us. I was the only African-American. There was one youth who was one of two conservatives at the table. Although I classify myself as liberal to moderate, the eight of us were probably looking at this through a more moderate lens together than if you had caught us individually.

And I think DMN has it right, the intimidating challenge of the day was not lost on very many of us.

""This was a sort of reality check," said lawyer Mike Holloway, one of about 400 Dallas-area residents who devoted their day to learning about the debt problem and trying their hand at solving it."

"And Holloway's table only had to find consensus among eight people."

""We only got halfway there," said the table's volunteer facilitator, Michael Higgins. "Nobody's willing to give anything up.""

"A management consultant, Higgins admitted to strong feelings about the debt problem, all of which he studiously kept to himself."

"This was Murphy's take: "We're trying to get $1.2 trillion," he said. "Can you imagine a bunch of partisan politicians sitting around, with 100 lobbyists tapping them on the shoulder, trying this? Daunting!""

At our table, we actually got to the $1.2 trillion mark. As a matter of fact, we got to $1.24 trillion. We did it with, among other things a 20% on people in the top two tax brackets, along with an extra 5% tax on people making over $1 million a year. We also supported a 15% cut in military spending. We suggested something else (which we were able to 'write in', support for): a substitute for a proposed value added tax (VAT) which would have generated $399 billion in revenue; a 'luxury tax' of about $200 billion. We voted on raising the limit on taxable earnings to cover 90% of total earnings. We didn't touch Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security. Nor did we repeal or reduce health care reform.

Obviously these weren't the only areas we chose and equally as obvious is the fact that the two conservatives at the table weren't satisfied with the choices. Their basic objections were voiced philosophically, if not ideologically: 'taxing the rich, was punishing success; we were discouraging investments which would lead to job creation; it isn't right to tax the wealthy, who have worked hard to achieve their prosperity'. Those are generalizations, but you get the picture. The rationale around the table: nearly 10 years of tax cuts for the wealthy and there haven't been any jobs produced. Long before the crash of 2008, job growth and wages had been stagnant with the tax cuts. Even with the proposed 15% military cuts, we have the largest best equipped military in the world (one objection was that we had to be prepared to go to war with China...really? Why would China want to go to war with the country whose debt it holds? And whose trade helps keep their economy afloat? Seriously?!)

In the end, I think they (the conservatives) would have been more strident, had they not been outnumbered. Which is why I wish the table would have been more diverse in its political representation. I'm sure there were some more creative conservative arguments available. As it was, we shut down the military budget discussion, by saying that we could still had more than enough money to go to war with Micronesia if necessary.

However there were other tables that had more rigorous conversations around these subjects than we did: "Frank Reister, at Table 3, felt that the choices subtly steered people toward protecting entitlement programs and that liberals were over-represented."

""We are overtaxing and overspending. We spend money stupidly," Reister said. "Obamacare is a huge spending bomb.""

"Far more participants – all of whom, regardless of age, race or political bent, shared a concern about the nation's fiscal health – lauded the program as an eye-opener and a way to pressure decision-makers in Washington."

""You can't do it without cutting the big expensive stuff – Social Security and Medicare – but you can't leave people out on the street," said recent Collin College graduate Alex Hirsch, an IT specialist who, at 19, was far younger than most participants. "We're at a crossroads.""

""Eventually, somebody's got to bite the bullet," said Nathan Miller, 17, a prep-school student from Coppell."

"With only 15 minutes left, a frantic air began to take hold. With eight minutes, the volunteer facilitator, Steven Fearing, prodded them again to focus."

""We're less than half the way to $1.2 trillion," said Fearing, who runs workplace discussions for a living."

""I got a real sense of how hard it is for our leaders to make these choices," Holloway said."

For me, however, I got a sense of how people were really concerned about the country's future. Whether or not they supported Obama. Whether or not they were Republican or Democrat. We all recognized the untenable nature of the way we are currently doing business.

I also got a glimpse at how our perspectives are colored. Everyone at our table was genuinely concerned. The conservatives were not really blindly ideological (although the rest of us genuinely disagreed with them). Their point of view was colored by age, life experience and personal ambition. The rest of us, middle age and older, thought more about the social impact of skyrocketing deficits.
The results of the exercise by 3500 participants will be forwarded to fiscal commission appointed by President Obama. The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, who, in turn will issue its own report late this year.

How seriously will they take our work? What does taking the input of citizens who have taken their time to come together and voice their perspective? I have to confess one Saturday won't transform anything. It's the consistent engagement of citizens that makes a real difference. It's voting and conversation. It's learning to understand your own convictions beyond rhetoric and communicating those convictions to those who make decisions.

Saturday won't change everything. But it's a good beginning. Where it goes from here isn't up to politicians in Washingtion - its up to us.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Social Justice or Personal Salvation - or Do We Have to Choose?

I had a wonderful time this past Wednesday, sharing with Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Plano, Texas during their series on social justice. It was an honor to be selected as one of the speakers for their series. While many were kind enough to regard my presentation as 'thought provoking', I assure you that I was provoked to thought as much, if not more than they.

One question was particularly thought provoking. It had to do with whether or not Christianity in general, and the church in particular would be better served by giving attention to one's personal salvation and eternal destiny, as opposed to 'social justice'. I've answered that question before, dealing with it as a pastor and preacher in any number of settings.

My standard answer is essentially this: when Jesus found someone who needed an advocate (the woman caught in adultery, for instance, in John 8:1-11), He was an Advocate; when people needed healing, as in Mark 3:1-5, He healed them; and when they needed to know about salvation as with the 'rich young ruler' as in Matthew 19:16-19 or with John 3:1-21, He shared with them the pathway to eternal life. Jesus didn't have to choose, He did whatever was in front of Him. If that's true for Him and the Church is His Body, then we don't have to choose either.

But, in rummaging through the files on my computer, I ran across this video of a sermon by my friend and brother, George Mason, pastor of the Wilshire Baptist Church here in Dallas. George, as usual is spot on in dealing with this and other divisions that tend to be, shall we say, less than helpful as we seek to live out our faith convictions.

I'd love to learn your thoughts on this subject and your reactions to Rev. Mason's message. It's a great word for our time...

Sunday Morning Blessing

Saturday, June 26, 2010

How Would YOU Cut the Federal Deficit?

In case you're not joining us at the America Speaks: Our Budget, Our Economy, national town hall meeting, here's a pretty interesting exercise which can help you see what it would take to stabilize the national debt.

First, I suggest you read this Newsweek article on the complex choices involved in deficit reduction.
I'd like to know how you fare. You can find this tool sponsored by The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, here.

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Walter Cronkite

Television News Anchor, Journalist

"I can't imagine a person becoming a success who doesn't give this game of life everything he's got."

Friday, June 25, 2010

It's Not Too Late! Register for America Speaks: Our Budget, Our Economy

If you haven't already registered for America Speaks, the electronic town hall meeting on our country's fiscal challenges, I want to encourage you to please do so!

Unfortunately the opportunities to enter into civil civic dialogue with one another are increasingly rare. Here is one which connects those of us who will participate with citizens in 20 different cities. Those who share in this conversation will be diverse in ethnicity, class and political affiliation and our perspectives will be heard by elected and public officials who will take us seriously.

It's easy to foment and complain. It's much more challenging to engage with fellow citizens who may have a different perspective, respectfully and constructively.

I, my colleagues and neighbors at Central Dallas Ministries, as well as other sponsors throughout Dallas, urge you to come out and be a part of this significant event!

The Controversy Continues...

The issue of whether or not a permanent supportive housing program should be located in north Oak Cliff, continues to be a hot issue, that is not going away any time soon.

Larry James, our CEO wrote an op-ed piece dealing with the issue a few days ago. In it he addresses what appears to be the common backdrop against which the opposition is framed, and in doing so, he points out the solution that those of us who have studied and employed such a model as a solution to homelessness have found out across the country and here in Dallas as well.
"North Oak Cliff, I get your fears."

"I also have the solution to each and every one of them: permanent supportive housing, which wipes out the actions you are most concerned about today. At Central Dallas Ministries, we've placed more than 100 chronically homeless people in permanent housing with wrap-around services. Our results line up with reports from New York City, Seattle , Chicago, Los Angeles , San Diego and elsewhere. Once in housing, homeless people don't act homeless – because they're not."

"Give homeless people homes – permanent homes with accessible services administered by cordial, respectful, non-intrusive, concierge-like case managers – and the change you desire will be realized, but without all of the negatives you fear so much."

Read the rest of what Larry has to say here.

Jerry Herrington, co-founder of the Fort Worth Avenue Development Group, seeks to clarify the position of those who are against the project.

"The anger in north Oak Cliff has little to do with the homeless or supportive housing; it has a lot to do with the attitude behind words such as those James used and the reluctance by the Dallas Housing Authority and Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance to communicate directly and transparently."

"Fact: Most people in North Oak Cliff favor permanent supportive housing for the homeless. And before you retort, "Yes, but not in your back yard," please note that those of us who created the Fort Worth Avenue Development Group always envisioned such housing as part of the corridor's mix."

"It's not the concept, but the process that's ignited the outrage, a process that took place without our knowledge, our input or any effort to meld the project into our overall Fort Worth Avenue strategy."

"Fact: The people of north Oak Cliff don't fear the homeless. As happens in any neighborhood dispute, some have sent e-mails with inaccurate information. Yet others of us have relatives who either need homeless-related services or have in the past. We do not appreciate our loved ones being used as political pawns, trotted out at council meetings like circus bears asked to perform for the crowd. They and their circumstance deserve more dignity than that."

You can read the rest of his column here.

I believe, sifting through the information that I've heard and read, that the residents should have been better informed and educated on this (although, I don't think that this would have changed any minds). But at what point is the council person representing this district responsible for providing the forum for such information to come to his district. Especially if he's known about it a year in advance.

Although I believe Mr. Herrington to be wrong about the motives of presenting the prospective residents of Cliff Manor before opponents of a project which would give them an the chance to reset their lives. I also believe that there is more than one way to be a political pawn.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

We Need to Talk About the Successes...

Larry James, Central Dallas Ministries' CEO had a couple of encounters that help prove the effectiveness of permanent supportive housing yesterday. He relates the tale in his Urban Daily blog.

"Yesterday, I enjoyed the honor of speaking to a senior adult luncheon at Wilshire Baptist Church here in Dallas. My dear friend, Dr. George Mason serves the church as pastor, a position he has held for over two decades. I really respect the church and George. Wilshire is a great place and I always enjoy being there."

"At the end of my presentation, during a short Q & A period, a woman stood up and, with tears in her voice..."

Read what this woman has to say that shows a side of the story that has trouble breaking through the noise of the fear filled rhetorical assault to which we are becoming all too familiar. At CDM and elsewhere, those of us doing this work need to start making much more noise about our successes...

Lonesome Dove's 25 Anniversary

A lighter note today.

I found out today that the miniseries 'Lonesome Dove' is my favorite western. Oh, don't get me wrong, there are a few other series and movies I like. But when I talk about 'Lonesome Dove' I tell people its my favorite because it was the first western I ever saw that had grit and dirt. The characters are not neat. They are dimensional. They have courage, strength, weaknesses, failings and secrets.

The book is 25 years old this year, the miniseries is 21.

Of the book and the miniseries, Texas Monthly magazine's John Spong says, "It is the great hero myth of Texas, the state’s favorite depiction of itself and the world’s favorite depiction of Texas. Since its publication, on June 13, 1985, more than 2.5 million copies have been printed in the United States; the 1989 miniseries, which is the way most fans first came to the story, is the best-selling western DVD of all time. But the better measure of Lonesome Dove’s import is anecdotal. If you know a Texan named Gus under the age of twenty, odds are he was named after McCrae. I know two such kids—and one is a girl."

There's nothing like the friendship between Woodrow Call and Gus McCrae. Gus' death scene is, for me, the most touching scene in the whole series. Just thought I'd share it...

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

On Being Less Than Human in North Oak Cliff

Monday night at 6:30 p.m., there was a meeting in the Hitt Conference room at Methodist Central Hospital, in Dallas. It was disturbing...

Ostensibly, it was a meeting in which Mike Faenza (the Executive Director of Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance); Mary Russ (CEO of Dallas Housing Authority) and Mike Rawlings (Dallas' Homeless Czar) were to explain to residents of North Oak Cliff the decision to move 100 people, recovering from homelessness, addiction and/or dealing with mental illness into Cliff Manor (a DHA facility). Amid fears that housing these citizens in an apartment building owned and operated by the Housing Authority for almost 40 years, and already essentially being used for the same purpose - these three executives sought to interject some reason into the heated public debate.

Let's just say it was no one's finest hour.

Certainly not for the residents of North Oak Cliff. The cat calls, insults, incivility, unreasonableness and rudeness was a signal that none of the residents (none who spoke anyway) came for dialogue or education regarding permanent supportive housing. It was clear, that there was spleen venting and political posturing.

I have a great deal of respect for Faenza and Rawlings. They have done an admirable job for a number of years, identifying resources and dealing with an issue that other politicians and other public officials have kicked down the road as it simply got worse. It has been an energy and time consuming task that few people wanted to tackle and almost no one who tried tackled well.

Yet, with a shade more or less than 6000 homeless people in Dallas, and at approximately 10% of these residents of the streets, experiencing chronic homelessness (while the city spends nearly $50 million jailing and hospitalizing them vs. the much less expensive alternative of housing them), North Oak Cliff residents, professing their 'compassion' insisted that these homeless people not be near them.

They did so by stereotyping homeless people. They did so by objectifying them; equating their homelessness with crime and immorality. They did so by conflating and confusing permanent supportive housing with low income housing and suggesting that they had their 'share'. A local pastor spoke passionately about the interests of the homeowners - interestingly enough missing the opportunity to ask how he and his church could minister to the people in Cliff Manor in a way that might make the project as successful as possible.

They did so by deciding to be publicly indifferent to any facts or truth that conflicted with their opinion. When one speaker, informed that his comparison between the plans for Cliff Manor would result in it becoming a Cabrini Green project (a violent, poverty riddled public housing high rise for families in Chicago. Cabrini Green, grew so bad it was eventually torn down), was inaccurate (Ms. Russ worked in public housing in Chicago, during the time that Cabrini Green was at its worst), his retort was to reply 'You're wrong!'.

When a woman came to the mike and accused the Housing Authority of evicting the elderly from Cliff Manor in an effort make room for the 100 homeless people to be moved into their apartments, Ms. Russ said that it was untrue. Such action, she said, would be illegal. The senior residents had taken advantage of an opportunity move into newly constructed housing in West Dallas. Obviously taken aback by having her opinion invalidated by a reasonable explanation, she shot back, 'Can we have their names so we can talk with them and see if you're telling the truth?'

When Faenza, as he had at an earlier city council meeting offered to have some people who would be candidates for tenants in the apartments brought in so that they meet them and see they had nothing to fear, just like the city council meeting, the catcalls and insults rang out. 'Don't turn this into a circus!'

Because up until now this meeting had been a model of civil public discourse...

Well, actually its because people who have at least a shred of human decency left within them, have difficulty referring to others as the dregs of society, unfit for shelter or opportunity, when those same people are actually in the same room with them.

Actually this is what the entire controversy boils down to: whom in our society, in Dallas, do we consider human? Whom do we consider to be worthy of opportunity? What are the requirements for citizenship in Dallas, Texas? Only homeowners? Only those who owe more taxes than they've had taken out of their paychecks every April 15th? How do you 'prove' you've earned the chance to begin again?

As long as we are able to stereotype and objectify people; as long as we are able to simply define people by the actions of the worst of 'their kind', we can feel comfortable relegating them to an occasional donation to a local charity. Or providing hot holiday meals, used clothes and spare change.

Attitudes like those exhibited on Monday night, are attitudes of people who don't believe the homeless are really human. And if they are less than human, they don't have the right to a roof over their head and the key to a room, because 'they' don't deserve it.

But, if they, the residents and the elected representative of North Oak Cliff are right; if the homeless are less than human as a 'class', if they can be railed against and their criminality and lack of morality can be held up and they can be ridiculed with impunity and without shame, then one has to wonder: are they that way, because that's who they are?

Or are they that way because that's the way we treat them...?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Fiscal Chickens Coming Home to Roost?

The cost of deciding that we can have the quality of life we desire without paying for it is to eventually discover that we cannot maintain the quality of life we desire without paying for it.

That's what Dallas faces currently.

While facing the prospect of a $135 million budget shortfall, we have to deal with crumbling roads and aging infrastructure. All of which have been ignored, while we have decided that we could have a relatively affordable economy in Big D, without generating sufficient income to do basic maintenance.

At some point the answer to much needed expenses is more revenue. It's not a pleasant truth when that revenue is taxes, but its the truth we need to hear - in Dallas and in the country.

The 'starve the beast' mentality of people who allow themselves to be tricked into the idea that we can all 'keep our hard earned money' while everyone else should be equally 'responsible', fails to take into account the fundamental ways in which we've become 'responsible' for one another.

In Dallas, its becoming as basic as the roads we all travel and the water we all need.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

For Those Who Would Change the Wind


Political Philosopher

"I'm not interested in preserving the status quo; I want to overthrow it."

Juneteenth: To Celebrate or Not to Celebrate

"The people are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property, between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them, become that between employer and hired labor. The freed are advised to remain at their present homes, and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts; and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere."

General Order #3 (Read by General Gordon Granger, "19th of June", 1865 Galveston, TX)

Attitudes toward 'Juneteenth' continue to be mixed. There are those who wholeheartedly accept the idea of a day celebration commemorating the announcement of slavery's end as entirely appropriate. Conversely, there are those who believe it to be ridiculous to celebrate the fact that Texas slaves remained so until they received news of their emancipation two years later than the rest of the country. They also take issue with the idea that a celebration in which the roots and rationale for the holiday's very existence are not well remembered, let alone barely mentioned as the height of folly.

Count me among those who believe that not only should the day be celebrated, but maybe African-Americans ought to find ways to lead the rest of the country in the joining us.

Before you dismiss this post altogether, hear me out...

For those who condemn the celebration of the late receipt of this critical news, we have to remember a few important facts. One fact is, that the Emancipation Proclamation, an executive order given on January 1, 1863, is an important political and moral document, but didn't have the effect of setting all slaves free immediately. The Proclamation declared free those slaves living in states not under Union control. The Proclamation did not apply to the border states (Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri or Delaware) which had not seceded. Tennessee was exempt as were certain counties in Virginia, the city of New Orleans and 13 parishes in Louisiana.

In all, about 20,000 slaves were free immediately in Union occupied Confederate states (except for Texas and Tennessee.

But it the Emancipation Proclamation did set the legal framework for freeing 4 million slaves as the Union Army advanced inexorably throughout the south, until virtually all were free in July 1865. However, slavery didn't legally come to an end until the passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in December 1865.

The point is, Juneteenth is more than a celebration of Texas slaves getting the news of their freedom late. Texas slaves became free as the Union Army defeated the Confederacy.

It is true, that most of us aren't aware of this history. I'm not sure that not knowing all of this is a reason for not celebrating Juneteenth. Most Americans know precious little about the battle for American Independence - it hardly keeps us from celebrating July 4th! What would add value to many of our celebrations would be remembrances of the cost of freedom, the value of freedom AND the responsibilities of freedom.

Today, our country is suffering from an unhealthy and inaccurate revision of our history designed to tamp down the awful dark legacy of the brutality and inhumanity of one man enslaving another and nearly 100 years of seeking to justify that brutality and inhumanity through laws, traditions and customs which perpetuated the inhumanity and brutality. We are in need of a retelling of this history which not only reminds us of where we've been, but tells us of America's great capacity for correcting wrong courses and willingness to struggle to be true to its august ideals.

Which brings me to the reason why African-Americans should lead the country in celebrating this day. The freeing of slaves in our country didn't just liberate black people - it liberated all people. Like the Emancipation Proclamation, this freedom did not take place in its totality immediately. Some blacks had come to love being slaves; some slaveholders had come to love being masters. But in the main, what the Proclamation did was make possible the discovery of what it meant to become just and responsible for all people.

We are not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but ultimately we are all free to discover a citizenship free from the hatred, bigotry and victimization which characterized some of our forefathers. The fact is, in Texas, and in every other slave holding state, when slavery came to an end, we were all, black and white, set free. It's up to us to discover the full limits of our freedom.

There's an old refrain in the black church that says, 'I may not be what I ought to be; I may not be what I'm gonna be; but thank God, I ain't what I used to be!' That's the truth of Juneteenth, and that's something we all can celebrate!

Friday, June 18, 2010

How A Theologian 'Discovered' God

Stanley Hauerwas, Duke seminary professor, is a theologian who may be a little disturbing to some. To most he's challenging. I met him several years ago and found his capacity to challenge Christians to a more authentic worldview and commitment refreshing. Apparently so are his memoirs. "Hannah's Child: A Theologian's Memoir"- its on my 'to read' list (when will I get to them all?!).

The rest of his article about his book is found here.

"I became a theologian because I could not "get saved." I was raised in an evangelical Methodist church. Evangelical meant that though you had been baptized and made a member of the church on Sunday morning, you still had to be "saved" on Sunday night. I wanted to be saved but I did not think you should fake it. So finally sometime in my middle teens, while we were singing during the altar call "I Surrender All" for the twenty-fifth time, I surrendered. That is, I dedicated my life to the Lord assuming that if God was not going to save me, I could put God in my debt by going into the ministry. That has never happened, but it did put me on the road to college."

"By the time I had got to college, I had begun to read and had decided that most of what Christians believed could not be credible. So I became a philosophy major at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas. It was by reading philosophy that I discovered that I did not know enough about Christianity to know if it was true or not. So I went to Yale Divinity School not to study for the ministry but to find out if the stuff was true. God help me, I fell in love with theology, and in particular the theology of Karl Barth. I have now spent a lifetime thinking about God."

"That I have spent my life thinking about God, moreover, has gotten me into a lot of trouble. I did not expect to discover that being a Christian might put one crossways with the assumptions that shape "normality" -- assumptions that make war unproblematic -- but like it or not, I became convinced that Christians cannot kill. I even think that Christians must tell the truth -- even to those they love. As a result, I have never found being a Christian easy."

"I observe in Hannah's Child that most people do not have to become theologians to be a Christian, but I probably did. I still find it surprising that I am a Christian. God is just not there for me the way God is there for some people. I am not complaining. I assume that that is the way God works to make some of us have to think hard about what it means to worship God. I use the language of worship rather than belief because I am never sure if I believe in God. I do not trust myself enough to take what I believe seriously. But I do worship God, and I do so with joy."

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Dallas City Councilmember Jerry Allen Responds in a Mature Manner to Permanent Supportive Housing

So let's see...

There really is more than one way to respond to the prospect of poor people moving into your neighborhood (if you're a resident), or your district (if you're a city council member).

You can act rude and unkind, pandering to the more base instincts and fears of your constituency. You can reflect the negative stereotypes held by your constituency...

Or you can be measured, civil, willing to withhold judgement - even welcoming about the prospect of people starting life anew in your area. You can actually lead by demonstrating the most mature attitudes within your district.

What a notion!

"The Dallas Housing Authority has plans for five new initiatives that would provide homes for 160 chronically homeless and formerly incarcerated people."

"The residents would receive rent subsidies and treatment services at existing privately run apartment complexes in Lake Highlands , Vickery Meadow, Far East Dallas and Plano."

"The news follows controversial plans to move 100 chronically homeless people into a north Oak Cliff public housing tower, which neighboring residents have opposed."

"The Oak Cliff residents have complained of a lack of public notice about the housing for the homeless at Cliff Manor. The city has scheduled a meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday at Methodist Dallas Medical Center to discuss the project with the community."

"MaryAnn Russ, president and chief executive of the housing authority, said last week that her agency would open up to 600 homes for the homeless, including the ones at Cliff Manor. She would not release the locations. On Sunday, the agency published a legal notice in The News announcing 160 additional units spread among the five area complexes..."

"One of the complexes sits in northeast Dallas' Vickery Meadow area, which has struggled with crime over the years."

"Frank Nuchereno, board chairman of the Vickery Meadow Improvement District, said he had heard about the plan and added that a similar permanent supportive housing development in the area, Pebbles Apartments, has not caused any problems and has been maintained well. He expects the same from the new project, but he said he hopes the housing will be spread throughout the city and not just in Vickery Meadow."

""I would hope the neighborhoods in Dallas give these people a chance," he said."

"Dallas City Council member Jerry Allen, who represents Lake Highlands, said he was not aware of plans for two in his district."

""It does not come as a surprise that I was not aware of them because that's not the history," he said. "There's no history of making us aware of these.""

"Allen said his district already has one of the city's largest concentrations of permanent supportive housing. But he said he did not plan to oppose the new units. He said he was pleased that residents would get the support they need to move forward with their lives."

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

We've Seen a Movie Like this Before...Haven't We?

A scam 'politician' comes from out of nowhere. Campaigns very little. Has a well funded opponent. And wins?

Just an improbable story?

"Vic Rawl, the South Carolina Senate candidate who was stunningly upset by the widely unknown Alvin Greene in last week's Democratic primary, will announce Monday morning whether he will file an official protest with the party over the outcome..."

"Greene, a 32-year-old unemployed political novice who did little campaigning, handily defeated Rawl, 59 percent to 41 percent, perplexing party observers and triggering Rep. James Clyburn to muse that the obscure victor could be a Republican plant."

Or is life imitating art?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Can Black Candidates Win in the GOP?

There were about 30 black Republican candidates running for congressional office going into this year's primary season. Of course all of them won't win. But the Republican Party is having its opportunity to demonstrate that their's really is the party of inclusion.

It's pretty easy to argue that its not happening - not really...

And its a shame. While there are those who consider the Obama Administration a failure, or those who consider his record mixed at best, one would consider this a grand time to demonstrate that the GOP is the party of ideas and access for all Americans.

This isn't all about party officials' unwllingness to support black candidates; its about whether white (as well as black) Republican voters can accept the idea of being represented by a person of color.

"In Alabama, Les Phillip, who made waves with ads saying President Obama ''played with terrorists,'' got crushed by both his white opponents. Even white incumbent Parker Griffith, a former Democrat who switched parties last year, beat Phillip by 17 points. Baptist minister Jerry Grimes lost in North Carolina's 1st district, and Lou Huddleston, who won a Cumberland County North Carolina Republican Party straw poll in February, got walloped in the 8th district. Despite his years of service as an aide to Colin Powell, Huddleston proved no match for Tim D'Annunzio, a businessman who raised money with ''machine gun socials.'' (For $25, supporters got a plate of barbecue and the opportunity to shoot an Uzi.) In Mississippi, Fox News analyst Angela McGlowan, endorsed by none other than the Sarah Palin, lost to both her competitors, catching only 15 percent of the vote."

"There are still dozens more primary elections to come, but, so far, it seems voters in the South are less excited than the news media about 2010's crop of black conservative candidates."

"''It's not surprising that voters didn't support them,'' says Valeria Sinclair-Chapman, a professor at the Center for the Study of African American Politics at the University of Rochester. ''Historically, for white and black Southerners, they've been groomed to see a racial difference, particularly in party politics. Perhaps those lines have been so starkly drawn because of the Southern strategy that came out of the 1960s and was really put into full swing in the 1980s.''"

If it is true that a decades old GOP strategy of triangulating the national electorate around race has aliented black voters and rendered white voters unable to transcend color as a consideration in the the voting booth what is the solution?

Can the 'Grand Old Party' ever give evidence of a 'Brand New Party' tag?

Probably not while it continues to play 'spin the bottle' with the Tea Party and probably not while continues to tout a 'trickle down' economics theory as the key to all of America's economic woes. Nor can it continue to play obstructionist on every issue of significance from health care reform to reform of America's financial industry. And it should be easy for nearly any novice to tell what a 'ship 'em all back' ideology on immigration will do for the Repubs at the ballot box.

Demonizing Obama, will eventually make him a more sympathetic figure in 2012 and an 'I'm agin' it' Republican voting block, should the Party make significant gains in November, will cast Obama as a Truman figure, instead of a reminder of Roosevelt.

If African-American Republicans are to win at the expense of Democrats, they are going to have to be bold enough to be Republican enough to appeal to a predominantly white constituency; but creative and thoughtful enough to attract other black and independent voters.

They need to be really good candidates - not just candidates who know how to parrot the party line. Take Princella Smith, for example, "...A 26-year-old Hill staffer, Smith lost by more than 50 points in Arkansas' 1st district on May 18. In the months before the primary, she'd drawn national hype, even earning an endorsement from her old boss, Newt Gingrich...I came out of a job in D.C. and gave myself three months to run for office. Unless you're extremely well-funded and have a great organization, that's hard.''" Candidates will not only have to have support from Republican officials, they will have to run good smart campaigns and the electorate will have to be willing to view them as viable, smart representatives, not just symbols and not anamolies.

"''I think we obviously have a way to go before we're really competitive,'' says Timothy F. Johnson, chairman of the Frederick Douglass Foundation, a black conservative group. ''With a lot of these candidates, their hearts are in the right place, but they really don't understand what it takes to run a successful campaign.''"

They must have a real message. They have to seriously address poverty. They're going to have to talk about what can be done on a public policy level (even if its conservative) as well as preaching to the electorate about what must be done through personal responsibility. It's pretty offensive to listen to someone who has benefitted from public policy initiatives designed to promote equality, either directly or indirectly, talking about how they've pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps! There has to be a real conversation and possiblities proposed for urban neighborhoods: jobs, housing, economic development and education.

They should have a take on the environment that understands that there must be a mix of free market and regulatory solutions. And they must be willing to break ranks with a economic philosophy that suggests that we can avoid a 2008-like economic meltdown by simply tweaking the same system that nearly drove our country (and the rest of the world's economy) off a cliff.

Will these things in and of themselves guarantee victory? Of course not. There's a whole alignment of constallations that include race that will prevent some from winning. Will they pass the test of some GOP purists? Of course not. Just as there are some liberals that have a problem rethinking their politics, there are conservatives that will not admit that this is the 21st century and their old ideas have had their day - and haven't worked.

But if there are enough of them, there will be a group of candidates who will engage the center, help reshape the public debate, and provide enough of an alternative for Democrats to really think about what they are doing.

America's deserve so much better than what they have received so far - from both parties!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Imagine Kirk Franklin at the Meyerson for CDM's A Night to Remember

Central Dallas Ministries' 2010 'A Night to Remember' concert at the Morton Meyerson Symphony will feature internationally renown gospel artist Kirk Franklin.

Franklin is a revolutionary influence in Gospel music, especially in the African-American church. His appearance this year is guaranteed to not just entertain, but encourage and inspire. I hope you're looking forward to it as much as I am.

This video clip is from a few years ago and is one of my favorite songs of his. It's just a hint of what we are in for on October 25th.

If I were you, I'd mark my calendar!

An Inspirational Introduction

One of the great joys of my life has been the opportunities to meet fascinating people. J. Don Williams introduced me to Harold Dean Trulear, pastor, scholar and a man passionately committed to social justice.

When I was a pastor, it was an honor and a pleasure to have him come by my office to get my 'take' on issues of race and poverty. He would not only confirm some of my observations, but strongly challenge others. Our dialogue and his perspective was invaluable.

This interview gives us a glimpse into his work and his heart.

You can gain more insight into his compassionate and challenging perspective here.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Friday, June 11, 2010

Dave Neumann Should be Ashamed!

This is shameful!

I don't agree with the community's stance on permanent supportive housing in their neighborhood. I believe it to be based on unfounded fears and stereotypes about homeless people that are unfair and unkind. But they have a right to object and voice their objections.

What I have a problem with is Dallas City Councilman Dave Neumann's uncharitable characterization of the appearance of two homeless women before the council. It infers that people have a right to voice their opposition, however vociferously or viturperously, without being 'inconvenienced' by having the objects of their derision present among them.

Was the council, or Mr. Neumann to be 'warned' that Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance's Mike Faenza was going to have the temerity to actually bring two women as representatives of the type of residents who would occupy Oak Cliff Manor to the city council meeting? Was he concerned that residents in his district would not have the freedom to bash the homeless without being embarrassed by their presence among them? Did he really consider their presence an 'ambush'?

An ambush of whom? Don't these women have the right to speak before the council and talk about their need for shelter and services to enable them to get on their feet and have another opportunity for a life of productivity? For a public official to treat citizens like this is unconscionable and frankly Dave Nuemann should be ashamed of himself for treating these women so discourteously.

There are people in Dallas, and elsewhere, who are very comfortable with the poor and homeless being the objects of charity. Such an objectification makes it very easy to disregard them as human beings, much less citizens. Were they dressed in business suits, wearing make-up, with 'respectable' jobs, already living in the area, they would be lauded for their courage and determination for 'overcoming' their mental illness. These are women who, for whatever reason, have lost the network of relationships which have helped some of the rest of us avoid or overcome such obstacles; obstacles which many, in a fit of self delusion, believe they have overcome or avoided on their own. The Dallas Housing Authority and MDHA, are trying to help give them the chance to begin again and because they have no money, no job (as far as we know) and don't look as nice as some of the rest of us, it is assumed that they and others like them will be detrimental to the economic viability of a neighborhood.

Of course, a couple of miles down the street, are motels that are serving as little more than flop houses for homeless people who have no supervision or services to help them get on their feet. Flop houses about which Mr. Nuemann is doing very little, if anything. And there's the rub.

It's so easy, too easy, for politicians to 'make their bones' stoking the flames of suspicion, feeding the fears and enhancing the stereotypes of the poor, of minorities, the homeless in order to score points with a constituency that pays very little attention to what little they are doing elsewhere. The emerge from this battle against people vulnerable people who only want an opportunity, as 'champions' of the 'community' because they have 'stood up' for the neighborhood.

It's easier to do that, than it is to point out to those same constituents, that the loss of a job; a wrongful arrest; an expensive, extended illness or injury; a natural disaster or a wrong headed choice could place them, a child, a brother or sister in the same position as the people against whom they now protest.

It's far easier to feign indignation and insult and talk about an 'ambush', than it is to call for reasonableness, calm rational discussion, need and negotiation. If, indeed, Mr. Neumann was told about this a year ago, why couldn't he have prepared this community through information and education. If he didn't do that, then he's guilty of ambushing his own district!

Near the end of the clip, Dr. Vociel Hill and Mayor Tom Leppert, are seen speaking to these women, apparently, respectfully. Grand standing? Playing to the camera? You can accuse them of that if you want. But a prefer a theater of feigned respect than one of actual meaness and disregard.

The last time I checked, there were no residency rules to be considered a citizen of Dallas. There are no quotas in terms of income for communities. There requirements that one pay income and property tax, as well as sales tax, in order to be able to attend a city council meeting and be treated as a citizen. The assumption by a public servant that all people are worthy of such treatment and regard, should be a rule of thumb, rather than a qualified posture.

I do, however, agree, that Mike Faenza made a mistake in bringing these two women to the council meeting...

He should have brought 30 of them.

Hey! No One's Proposed This...

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Ahhh! The Good Ol' Summer Time...

Among the many things that keep you going in this work, is the fact that every now and then you get to see months of planning result in the good work for which you've been hoping and praying!

Our blossoming partnership with Pepsico has resulted in the 'Food on the Move' Summer program that provides meals for kids who, otherwise might not have a nutritious breakfast or lunch.

In two days Food on the Move, has served more than 5700 meals!

"Of the 250 AmeriCorps and AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) inductees, 200 will be directly involved in the ministry's Food on the Move Summer Feeding Initiative, which aims to provide 500,000 meals to Texas children over the next 12 weeks."

But, as this video clip shows, it goes beyond food for children. It feeds the spirits of those who are running the program.

That's usually what happens when people get involved in something meaningful.

CDM's Pepsico partners are absolutely great to work with. And our staff, Sonia White who directs our food service program and Keven Vicknair, who runs our Americorp program, have done yoman's work in getting this off the ground.

Just another reason the summer's my favorite time of year!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Black Flight: Race and Economics Pt. 2

I think Dallas Morning News' brief series on 'black flight' is reports on a significant problem decades in the making; a problem rooted in a number is societal issues and ills that are a mixed bag of race, economics and opportunity (or the lack thereof).

Part of the problem is found in the mobility of young African-Americans, college educated or simply with good jobs, who want a nicer, larger home. Some of them simply like living in proximity to the places they shop, go to church or work. Others simply want their neighborhood and dwelling to reflect the economic progress they are making. A number of them will tell you that what they look for simply cannot be found in south/southern Dallas. Many of them are young parents, some are young people whose plans include starting their own families.

And, yes, there are others who are taking advantage of section 8 vouchers to move into apartments and rental homes.

It's important to point out that all of these families don't come from south or southern Dallas. But according to this important piece by Tawnell Hobbs and Holly Hacker, the loss of 20,000 black students from the school district is a pretty significant migration. They went somewhere. Some of those destination points were some of the southern and southernmost suburbs in Dallas and even Ellis county.

But equally troubling is the apparent nonchalance, if not resignation of DISD's top educator.

"Superintendent Michael Hinojosa did not voice concern with the drop in black students, saying the shift is part of a national trend."

That's probably true, and it is both important and fair to point out that it is a trend that didn't begin with Hinojosa's tenure.

But he hasn't done a lot to help stem the tide either.

Proposals such as the no homework, multiple attempts to take tests; the $84 million shortfall in the district's budget; the loss of learning centers in schools in predominantly black communities, are things which have helped a number of parents lose confidence in the ability of Dallas' public school system to effectively educate their children.

And then there is the issue of race.

There is an undeniable tension between black and Hispanics in Dallas. It has been there for years.

When I worked closely with Dallas Area Interfaith, our efforts to get district funding for after school programs was stymied time and time again by what was called 'the Slam Dunk gang'. This was a voting block, manipulated by the president of the school board to get Hispanics to vote with whites against nearly whatever was proposed by African-American board members.

I spoke with African-American board member Dr. Yvonne Ewell (for whom the Town View Magnet School is named), about the insensitivity and intransigence of administrators in addressing the needs of black students. And this was when black students were in the minority!

Dr. Ewell, Ms. Kathlyn Gilliam were among those whose efforts resulted in federal court mandates to get DISD to address the needs of African-American students through learning centers. Those mandates were to get the district to comply with the 1954 Brown v Board of Education decision...nearly 40 years after the ruling! Hinojosa's recent dismantling of those schools in the name of 'fairness' for all students, essentially undid that compliance.

For some this is moot because 'white flight' long ago left DISD 'majority minority' district. White flight took place because whites wanted to avoid the prospects of having their children going to school with black children. Some of it, did indeed have something to do with upward mobility, but its folly to pretend that racism had nothing to do with it. You have to have been born since 1980 to believe otherwise.

Does black flight represent the same thing? Not to the same extent. African-Americans are, at times, astonishingly resentful of Hispanics 'encroachment' into their neighborhoods and schools.
It is amazing to listen to blacks mouth the same prejudices and bigotries against Hispanics that were spoken about us 40 years ago (and even today). We've allowed ourselves to be co-opted into sentiments about integration that ignore our own history in this country. And have forgotten that in places like South Dallas and the Oak Cliff communities, white people left, when we started moving in. At first blush, lawyer and long time activist Adelfa Callejo seems to have a point when she says, "They're [black people] doing exactly what the whites are doing, abandoning the school district," Callejo said. "That will leave us with a lack of black leadership. You need leaders of all races to make it happen."

African-Americans have to remember that Latinos are now the minority in the district and just as we looked to improve the educational progress of our children when we represented the majority, Hispanics are understandably going to do the same.

But that doesn't mean we have to have 'winners' and 'losers' in this process.

Black flight has to do with more than bigoted attitudes toward Hispanics. But to the extent that it does it is not only wrong, it is detrimental to the future of all of our children.

We can neither forget, nor ignore race. We have to find a way to make it work for us. That means we have to be allies. We cannot afford the fractious nature of internal politics or political enmity between these two communities. Nor can we afford to commit to the naive notion that there are no unique academic challenges imposed by race, culture, ethnicity or economic status. Education is not a generic discipline. It is contextual. It is what we learn, the context in which we learn, from whom we learn and how we learn that determines if we learn.

Blithely mouthing the 'we must teach all of our children' while ignoring the needs of children who don't look like us (whoever 'us' is), is to commit to education policies which will destroy public education. And it only plays into the hands of those who don't care if African-Americans or Hispanics succeed.

Black Flight: Race and Economics

Tawnell Hobbs and Holly Hacker, education reporters for the Dallas Morning News, have brought to readers a phenomenon that I've been telling people for years: the emergence of Hispanics as the majority of students in Dallas schools, is not only a result of a growing population - its also a sign of black middle class families leaving southern Dallas.

Or, as their article puts it: black flight.

"Black students formed a majority in Dallas schools through the 1980s and '90s. Over the last 10 years, though, the number of black children has fallen by nearly 20,000, or about a third. Meanwhile, Hispanic children have filled their seats as the district's overall enrollment remains fairly flat at about 157,000."

"Today, about 41,000 black students attend DISD schools. They make up 26 percent of the district compared with 106,000 Hispanic children, or 68 percent. White students are 5 percent of the district."

"The trend seen in Dallas schools is part of a larger national move away from inner cities for many black families, but the plunge is steeper in Dallas ISD than other urban districts in Texas and is among the biggest declines nationally."

I've been saying it for years, because it's been happening for years. And it should be troubling to everyone. It's troubling because as African-Americans leave Dallas for the southern suburbs of Lancaster, DeSoto, Cedar Hill and Duncanville (in the same way their white counterparts to the north left for Richardson, Plano, McKinney and Frisco), they leave low income neighborhoods poorer and the schools grow less and less effective. Even moreso, as DISD invests less and less in the technology in these schools, facilities, more experienced teachers and so on. The schools in these areas become less desirable.

But its more troublesome in another way.

As the children of some of the families in low income communities have grown up, gone to college started their own families or gotten good jobs, they have sought what other young people have wanted: better housing, proximity to shopping, better schools, closer commutes to work. In the 70's and 80's it was Lancaster and Duncanville. Over time it was Duncanville and DeSoto and eventually Cedar Hill. In some cases, it was Mesquite and Garland. More recently, it has even spread further south (Red Oak, Ovilla and Waxahachie).

It has also happened as section 8 vouchers have allowed even some of moderate income, the flexibility to move to the suburbs, instead of having their options limited to 'class B' apartments throughout Dallas. Again, it cuts down on commute times to work, shopping (grocery stores for example) and access to some of the 'amenities' that some of us take for granted and consent to drive relatively long distances for.

More about this later, but its easy to simply think of this as simply about race - indeed some of it is. Unfortunately quite a bit of it is about black resentment of the growing presence of Hispanics.

But its also about economics.

If we allow our urban areas to decay. If issues of crime, urban nuisances, unemployment and a lack of economic development continue to be ineffectively addressed, those who gain any significant amount of financial wherewithal, will not stay.

It ultimately impacts public education. What tends to be left in poorer neighborhoods are the families of children who can't leave. Go into those schools and the lack of options for those students become apparent. Talk with teachers, volunteers, parents, students and tutors and they will tell you where those lack of options are reflected: worksheets, instead of textbooks; disciplinary problems among children who come to school hungry or without rest; teachers who 'teach down' to the 'level' of their students and a lack of parental involvement.

There are teachers and principals who are making heroic progress in teaching these children. You may indeed see rising test scores. But in far too many cases its progress in spite of, rather than because of.

The fact is, as I say in my column this month, academic progress doesn't take place in a vacuum. The social, economic and civic environment must be addressed if failing schools in low income communities are to be attractive alternatives to families fleeing the suburbs.

It's not just about race...

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Sunday Morning Blessing

When it comes to worship music, I love songs with great lyrics! This is one.

Wonderful voice. Beautiful music. But absolutely great lyrics!

And here's another one...

Saturday, June 5, 2010

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Hugo Black

United States Supreme Court Justice

1937 - 1971

"It is the paradox of life that the way to miss pleasure is to seek it first. The very first condition of lasting happiness is that a life should be full of purpose, aiming at something outside self."

Friday, June 4, 2010

Time for Grownups to Come to the Table

'A place at the table'.

It's a phrase that I and others have used often. What does it mean? If you participate in 'America Speaks: Our Budget, Our Economy' a national town hall meeting in which ordinary citizens will get a chance to engage one another around our country's persistent, threatening fiscal conundrum, you'll find out.

Funded by the Peter J. Peterson Foundation, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and sponsored in Dallas by several local organizations (including Central Dallas Ministries), America Speaks will host 20 '21st century town hall meetings, in which those concerned about government spending and the deficit will give their opinions on what should be done to solve the nation's seemingly intractable financial challenges.

When first presented with the opportunity to help sponsor the event, some of the invitees meeting at Dallas' KERA-PBS studios, mentioned the fact that we've all been a part of similar 'forums' and 'conferences' seeking our 'input' on public policy and social issues. What usually happens is our perspectives were dutifully recorded and summarily dismissed. What's supposed to be different this time?

First of all, the make-up of the group. This will be an opportunity for those across a broad, bi-partisan, economic spectrum, who will have the chance to voice their perspectives and their priorities, face to face and, with the aid of technology, from city to city. Five hundred people in each of 20 major cities throughout the U.S. in a true national dialogue about the economy.

Secondly, Washington has committed to listen. "When the town halls are over, [America Speaks founder and president Carolyn] Lukensmeyer said, AmericaSpeaks has meetings planned with the White House Fiscal Responsibility Commission and the staffs of the congressional budget committees."

Last year the federal deficit was $1.4 trillion. We have two wars, tax cuts, prescription drug benefit plan that haven't been paid for. Health care reform that will add to the deficit (anyone who thought otherwise should probably have his or her head examined - if they have insurance; note of self disclosure - I support the health care reform legislation that was passed. In fact, I don't think it went far enough. But you still have to find a way to pay for it.). We have to make decisions on what expenditures are going to be a part of our social compact with one another; which entitlements will be cut or trimmed and whose taxes are going to be raised.

President Obama, talking about the work of his bi-partisan commission on the deficit, says 'everything must be on the table'. But what is 'everything'? Can some consensus be reached among everyday citizens most impacted by prospects of mounting government debt? What is the alternative in the face of the daunting challenge of climbing out of the deep money pit into which the country fell in the fall of 2008? Its a public conversation in which the public needs to be involved - not simply as catharsis, but as responsible citizens in dialogue with one another and their elected representatives.

The thick curtain of the blogesphere allows people to an opportunity to vent (all too often discourteously). But making a difference means coming from behind the curtain, being willing to talk with one another without 'rage' that leaves vulnerable groups prey to self serving politicians, pundents, radio ring masters and entertainers, but meaningfully, substantively and respectfully.

What does it mean to 'reign in spending'? What cherished entitlements need to be 'modified'? And whose taxes should be raised (no, you cannot simply cut your way out of $1.4 trillion dollars of debt. At some point you've got to have revenue).

It's time for the grown-ups to come to the table and talk reasonably to one another and their government.

America Speaks and Central Dallas Ministries believes that includes you.

Register in your city here.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

A Friend's Memories of His Father

Jeff Weiss is a reporter with the Dallas Morning News whom I've known for years. Occasionally (far too occasionally) one of us will call the other, ostensibly for information or some request. There are a few people from whom such calls may be tiresome or predictable, but Jeff is one of those for whom its always a pleasure to take time and do what I can.

Recently Jeff's father, Shurbert Sheldon Weiss, passed at the age of 92. During my father's illness and subsequent death, he dropped me a couple of lines of concern and comfort that were really helpful. I appreciate them, as I have all the other words of condolence and offered prayers.

He posted a beautiful remembrance of his Dad on Politico, soon after his passing. I thought I'd share a portion of it and encourage you all to read the rest.

"I read a quote not long ago about dog ownership. Dogs, it said, "live just long enough to break your heart." But isn't that true about whomever we love and loves us, no matter how many years they live? Isn't that love the point of living at all, even with the certainty that our hearts will eventually break?"

"My dad had lots of sayings. My favorite was an idiom about indecision: "I don't know whether to [defecate] or go blind." But another of his favorites was "You do for people while they're alive." Funerals and other memorials, he always said, were mostly a waste. So in lieu of flowers or other funereal remembrances, please go to someone you care for and tell them that Shurby Weiss's son, Jeff, told you to do something nice for them."

"Dad would like that."

I think my father would have agreed...

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Judging on the Basis of Meaning vs. Measurement

"The Constitution is a pantheon of values, and a lot of hard cases are hard because the Constitution gives no simple rule of decision for the cases in which one of the values is truly at odds with another. Not even its most uncompromising and unconditional language can resolve every potential tension of one provision with another, tension the Constitution’s Framers left to be resolved another day; and another day after that, for our cases can give no answers that fit all conflicts, and no resolutions immune to rethinking when the significance of old facts may have changed in the changing world. These are reasons enough to show how egregiously it misses the point to think of judges in constitutional cases as just sitting there reading constitutional phrases fairly and looking at reported facts objectively to produce their judgments. Judges have to choose between the good things that the Constitution approves, and when they do, they have to choose, not on the basis of measurement, but of meaning."

Supreme Court Justice David Souter