Friday, December 31, 2010
That's what more than a few of us need. Whether it is failure in school, in a chosen profession, in a marriage, as a parent or as a son or daughter, nearly everyone of us has needed a second chance...at least.
CitySquare has helped thousands of people get second chances. The great thing about working at CityWalk is getting a chance to hear (or overhear), in elevators or the garden deck, residents talk about how this place is helping them start over. Some are formerly incarcerated citizens who, before CityWalk@Akard, we're unable to lease an apartment. Some are taking advantage of a decent low-income apartment to return to school and finish their education. There are great stories around here about starting over.
At Destination Home, our permanent supportive housing program, men and women who heretofore thought themselves consigned to life on the street, have gotten a second chance. Like the guy, who, when not putting in applications for work, volunteers as a receptionist for one of our programs and in our development department. Or the one resident who amazes me: after a life on the streets, gets his own apartment and decorates it with very simple things, but with a flair that makes me want to bring him to my house and decorate a room or two.
Or Sam, a graduate of our WorkPaths job training program. Sam spent 17 years in prison and although not quite 35, he had the maturity level of a teen-ager. What Sam knew, is that he wanted to start over. 'Mr. Britt, I know I've done wrong. I deserved to be punished for what I did. But, all I want is a chance to start over'.
Sam made it through our 12 week long construction training program (getting in isn't easy). And got a living wage job, with benefits. The WorkPaths staff, later found Sam a better job, making a little more money, required fewer hours, with greater opportunity to move up in the company. The day before Sam was to start his new job, he was carjacked and shot in the eye. CitySquare staff worked with Sam to make sure he got the medical care necessary, helped him get an apartment away from the element that was stifling his growth. And Sam is volunteering with WorkPaths, doing whatever needs to be done - including talking to incoming candidates to the program, letting them know what its done for him and the importance of taking advantage of the opportunity the program represents.
Oh, I forgot to mention...Sam recently graduated from another WorkPaths' program - our technology based, soft-skills program, designed to participants enhance their employability through computer literacy. Sam's preparing to take full advantage of his 'second chance'.
There are people who don't squander an opportunity to overcome the mistakes they've made in the past. They take advantage of them and, in turn, make just about everyone who knows them, or even of them, proud...
At the beginning of the decade, nearly 8000 formerly incarcerated prisoners, 15% of those released from prison returned to Dallas County. In the city of Dallas, most of them returned to three zip codes 75215, 75210, 75216. Some of them will need 'second chances'...
That's why I'm finding it hard to understand the offense some have taken at President Obama's call to Philadelphia Eagle's owner Jeff Laurie to congratulate him for signing Michael Vick.
Vick's season, which has been nothing short of outstanding, has been overshadowed only by his outstanding attempts to demonstrate his remorse and his desire to redeem himself.
Yet there are those who think that Obama was out of line for expressing his appreciation to the Philadelphia Eagles owner for giving Vick what all returning prisoners are going to have to have - a second chance.
"President Obama's public support for Michael Vick was not a statement of approval. The president was not saying that he empathizes with the desire to commit crime or that he wants to free every prison inmate in America. Obama's statement was a bold vision for the pursuit of equity and liberty that reminds us of what our country can be. His words also present elected officials with the opportunity to help our nation return to reality: rather than simply believing that we serve as a beacon of light for free and Democratic societies, we can actually fulfill that lofty expectation with bold and intelligent reform of the prison industrial complex."
This is obviously not the view held by people like FOX pundent Tucker Carlson, who, while professing his Christian faith has decided Vick 'should have been executed'.
Guess Tucker missed the lessons on forgiveness and redemption in Sunday School...
Look, nobody denies that what Michael Vick's dog fighting was a cruel heinous act. It was bad enough to spend time in Leavenworth! But his debt to society is paid. Those who employed him in his chosen profession considered him valuable enough to let him work for them. And Vick's living up to his agreement with them, both on the field and off. And the President thanked the owner for the example he set by giving him a 'second chance'.
I'm sorry, I think I missed the reason for the outrage - unless it's that we no longer believe that the only acceptable punishment for some crimes is lifelong post prison release humiliation.
Thursday, December 30, 2010
Ok, let me start out with a nod to the obvious: those of us in Dallas know nothing about snow...not really. Occasionally we'll have what amounts in other areas of the country, a mild dusting of the white stuff. But we don't know snow. Earlier in February, we were blanketed by about 3 feet of snow, and it lasted for about a week or so. But, for the most part our contact with snowstorms are limited to our favorite TV shows and movies.
So when we see what's happening in the northeast, I'm particularly sympathetic. To everyone. The people who are stranded in airports. The people who are trapped. Those who are trying to dig out the people who are trapped. The poor, the elderly. Heck, even the rich have problems in weather like this!
My sympathies even extend to the politicians. What on earth do you do?! You don't control weather. Under the best of circumstances you can't reach people in a time frame that satisfies everyone. At the same time, this is a basic city service. So people expect you to deliver.
So what do you do?
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
An uncommon confluence of computer problems (which still exist) and holiday bug (which still persists), along with all of the other yuletide festivities prevented me from posting for the past few days, but here's hoping you all had a Merry Christmas.
Here are a few holiday lessons I learned along the way:
1. If you're feeling bad before Christmas Eve, no amount of holiday cheer helps you overcome the effects of shopping in a pouring cold rain ON Christmas Eve!
2. One of the best things about giving presents is the expressions on the faces of your loved ones when you've been able to give the exactly what they want...especially if they hadn't told you beforehand!
3. Faith, familyand friends make the holidays warmer...
4. For some of us, the experience of grief can be less painful if we focus on those whom we love who are still with us.
5. No matter how difficult the year has been, there is still something exciting about the prospects of being around to see another one!
Hope you're looking forward to a very Happy New Year!
Friday, December 24, 2010
Thursday, December 23, 2010
For all the ups and downs I've encountered..."It Has Been a Wonderful Life"
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
"Here’s what it got right:
"As correspondent Steve Kroft put it, “The ‘great recession’ wrecked [states’] economies and shriveled their income.” State revenues are about 12 percent below pre-recession levels, after adjusting for inflation, yet the cost of basic services like education and health care — the two largest areas of state and local spending — is rising."
"The real pain from states’ current fiscal problems has been visited on the most vulnerable people, from low-income families needing medical care in Arizona to recipients of mental-health assistance in Illinois. That’s because states are required to balance their budgets — they cannot borrow to cover operating expenses. States have responded to the loss of revenues, in part, by cutting health care services and payments to nonprofits that serve the needy."
"Fiscal year 2012 (which will begin next July 1 in most states) will be the most challenging year yet for state budgets. States have largely drawn down their reserves, revenues are still depressed, and emergency aid from the federal government (hardly the “bailout” CBS suggested, but rather a way to keep more people working and protect a fragile economic recovery) is expiring."
"Here’s what “60 Minutes” got wrong:
"Contrary to Kroft’s claim, states aren’t guilty of “reckless spending.” Total state and local spending, not including federal grants, is no larger now as a share of the economy than it was 20 years ago, according to U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis data. (Federal grants to states have grown over this period to cover rising state Medicaid costs that result from health care inflation and a rising number of families without private health insurance.) State general fund spending in 2011 will be 6 percent lower than it was in 2008, without adjusting for inflation, according to data from the National Association of State Budget Officers."
"Underfunding of state and local pension funds did not cause states’ current fiscal problems and is not an immediate crisis. To be sure, some states have failed to make required pension contributions, including New Jersey (which in past years chose instead to cut taxes) and Illinois (which has a chronic revenue shortage due to political gridlock over modernizing its tax system). Nevertheless, the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College estimates that states and localities could restore pension systems to health by raising their contributions moderately once their revenues recover from the recession and/or by adjusting benefits, retirement ages, and similar policies. Many states are already starting to do both."
Read the entire post here.
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Monday, December 20, 2010
If you've been to school (high school or college), and you've had a good relationship with them, you always want to see them do well. No matter how well you've done personally, the success of former classmates and peers serves as a type of validation of your generations worth.
So for me, Rev. James Meeks, Chicago pastor and state legislator, has always been someone in whose success I've reveled from afar. He and I were not close friends at Bishop College, but we were friends, and anyone can tell you the bond of Bishopites is a strong one. Meeks is now a candidate for mayor of the Windy City and its hard not to be proud that he has the credibility to be taken seriously as a candidate.
But Rev. Senator Meeks has made some troubling statements on the campaign trail and has not been very successful in walking them back, so to speak. In a radio interview, Meeks, who pastors Salem Baptist Church on the Southside of Chicago, recently said, in effect, that only African-Americans should be considered 'minorities'.
The context in which the statement was made, has to do with minority set-asides for municipal and other government contracts. I get his ultimate point: the expansion of affirmative action programs to necessarily include women and other minorities has diluted to participation of blacks in those very programs. But I also understand that reaction to this cannot lead someone running for public office to say that such a program can only be for black people. You increase access for blacks by helping them become more qualified for the partticipation in the program...indeed you work to increase their capacity, as well as that of other minority business owners to help them compete...period, set-aside or no.
I don't pretend to know Chicago politics. I get the impression that its a different animal up there altogether. But I know that Rev. Senator Meeks' statement can't possibly play well to most Chicagoans, no matter what their color or ethnicity. And journalist David Love provides better and even broader context in which to view Rev. Meeks' statement than I...
"James Meeks, the state legislator and pastor who is running for Chicago mayor, said some things he probably wishes he could take back. In an interview on radio station WVON, the mayoral hopeful said that only African-Americans should be eligible for city contracts set aside for women and minorities."
""The word 'minority' from our standpoint should mean African-American. I don't think women, Asians and Hispanics should be able to use that title," he said. "That's why our numbers cannot improve -- because we use women, Asians and Hispanics who are not people of color, who are not people who have been discriminated against." Later in the day, he tried to backtrack, saying that white women should be excluded: "I don't believe white women should be considered in that count ....You have white women in the category. They receive contracts. Then, white men receive contracts. Where does that leave everybody else?" he said."
"On Thursday, Meeks tried to clarify himself yet again in a written statement, asserting that "all minority -and women-owned businesses" deserve their "fair share" of city contracts. He also pointed to "systemic corruption" in the form of white-owned "fronts" posing as minorities and women who defraud the city program, making blacks the "most under-represented among city contractors.""
"Meeks is dead wrong to think that blacks are the only minorities, and the only people facing discrimination. But with that said, he does speak some truths."
"The numbers don't lie. According to the U.S. Census, Chicago's population is 42 percent white, 36.8 percent black, 26 percent Latino and 4.3 percent Asian. Women are 51.5 percent of the city's population. Meanwhile, Chicago's set-aside program reserves 25 percent of municipal contracts for minorities--who make up 58 percent of the population--and 5 percent of city contracts for women--who are over half of the population. Meanwhile, black-owned businesses take a paltry 7 percent cut of the $1 billion city contractor market, down a percentage point from the previous year, which is what prompted Meeks to weigh in on the issue..."
"...as people of color, other minority groups are victims of systemic discrimination as well, and it is hard for them to catch a break. For example, as Wall Street used the U.S. mortgage market as its casino, the home mortgage crisis hit blacks and Latinos twice as hard, with 17 percent of Latino homeowners and 11 percent of blacks losing their homes to foreclosures."
"People of color were often steered into fraudulent predatory loans. In recent years, thanks to the subprime loans, both groups witnessed the largest loss of black and Latino wealth in U.S. history, as black borrowers have lost between $72 billion and $93 billion, and Latino borrowers between $76 billion and $98 billion. In addition, with anti-immigrant and anti-Latino sentiment on the rise in America, the nation has experienced an increase in anti-Latino hate crimes. Latino immigrants face a climate of fear in northern states such as New York and Pennsylvania, and hostility and Jim Crow-style exploitation in the South."
"Asian-Americans have long been the victims of violence, racism and stereotypes up to the present, and they suffer from discrimination in college admissions and employment in federal agencies. Since 9/11, Muslim-Americans, people of Arab descent and South Asians have endured bias-related harassment and violence, and discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations."
"And still, women only earn 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. But at the same time, we must acknowledge the ways in which gender and race work together in this society. White women have benefited indirectly from policies that have shown a preference for white men. "I have friends, plenty of white gals, who are doing very well," said State Rep. Monique Davis (D-Chicago). "White women don't need affirmative action."
"At the same time, white women still face gender discrimination. "Sen. Meeks is wrong. White women, like other women, do face discrimination: the same discrimination facing racial minorities," said Hedy Ratner of the Women's Business Development Center. Ratner concluded that any recent progress was "a direct result of affirmative action programs by business and government." In fact, in numerical terms, white women have been the biggest beneficiaries of affirmative action, even though some have opposed such programs against their self-interests..."
"...If James Meeks wants to wage a serious campaign for mayor of Chicago, he must realize that he cannot win by alienating the 63 percent of the city's population that is not black. Claiming that African-Americans are the only minorities who face discrimination is factually wrong and bad politics. People of color and women in Chicago and elsewhere deserve a much larger slice of the pie, and should not have to fight over the crumbs. Expand the pie, but don't pit groups against each other."
Read the full post here.
I'm proud of Meeks for challenging stereotypes and the status quo for black clergy inside and out of church. His foray into politics shows a capacity that few of us have. But I don't know that in Chicago - or anywhere else, for that matter - you can continue to be a viable candidate for an office like mayor, with such a narrow focus. That is, unless yours is only a 'symbolic candidacy' voicing the frustration, fears and angst of many, with no true intention of being elected. If that's the case, this campaign seems to be a monumental waste of time for one who has shown the ability to effectively serve multiple thousands of his congregation, in his community and beyond.
In short, Meeks is much better than he's showing.
Sunday, December 19, 2010
Saturday, December 18, 2010
Friday, December 17, 2010
The report by UNICEF which ranks our country abysmally low among other countries should serve as a wake up call. But then again, its among a number of things that should serve as a wake up call - but don't.
Here's a copy of the UNICEF report.
Thursday, December 16, 2010
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Randy is also a blogger and in a recent post he writes a reflection on the book we reviewed earlier this month this month.
"...I speak twice a month, at two different locations, for the Urban Engagement Book Club hosted by CitySquare (formerly Central Dallas Ministries). I present the same types of presentations that I present at the First Friday Book Synopsis, but I choose books dealing with issues of social justice and poverty."
"...I presented my synopsis of Social Justice Handbook: Small Steps for a Better World by Mae Elise Cannon (foreword by John Perkins) (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Books – An imprint of InterVarsity Press. 2009). Here are a couple of key quotes:
"Social justice is complicated. People have strong ideas about it! Say “social justice” to one person, and he or she will think you are a saint following in the footsteps of Mother Theresa. But someone else may throw a fit and declare that you are a liberal activist who has abandoned the true fundamentals of Scripture."
"People can spend eternity stuck in the process of becoming aware. (emphasis added). It is tempting to be theoretically involved, seeking to know more, philosophizing and waiting to figure things out before beginning down the road of action and advocacy. We must be willing to pursue awareness without being immobilized by the process."
"It’s part of that last quote that gets to me: “People can spend eternity stuck in the process of becoming aware.” Yes, we can. I know that I can. And there is so much action to take – now. And this is true in every setting; in the nonprofit world, in the business world, in the education world. There is so much to be done, and it is needed now."
"This reminded me of a great speech from for the movie The Great Debaters. The movie is based on the true story of the Wiley College Debate Team from the 1930s. From the debate between Wiley College and Oklahoma City College..."
"When is the time to get to work, to bring about social justice, to make the changes needed at work, to make the changes needed in your own life? The answer is always the same – the time is (always!) now. And that is the message of all good books. There is work to be done. Let us to the task. There is not an hour to lose."
As usual, thanks Randy!
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Texas bill targets excessive fees by pay-day lenders
By Dave Montgomery
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
AUSTIN -- Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, reviving one of her top legislative priorities, introduced legislation Friday to crack down on storefront lenders that she said prey on vulnerable Texans by charging usurious fees and interest rates.
Former House Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, and Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, introduced companion measures in the House.
The bipartisan legislation, which targets payday loans, car title loans and tax refund anticipation loans, has the backing of a broad-based coalition that includes AARP, the Christian Life Commission of the Baptist General Convention of Texas and Catholic Charities Diocese of Fort Worth.
Supporters said the measures are designed to close a loophole that has spawned more than 2,800 short-term lending outlets that are not subject to the same oversight as banks and credit unions. Borrowers often refinance the original loan multiple times, with interest and fees often exceeding 500 percent of the original loan amount, said Davis and other supporters.
"We must put an end to these egregious fees and debt collection practices that are destroying the lives of people seeking a short-term remedy to financial challenges," said Davis, who pre-filed the bill in advance of the legislative session that starts Jan. 11. She introduced similar legislation during the 2009 session, but it died in committee.
Craddick said in a statement that payday and auto title loan companies are exploiting the Credit Service Organization Act, which was designed to monitor credit repair services. Companies operating as credit service organizations pay a $100 statewide registration fee that covers an unlimited number of storefront locations and are not subject to licensing, regulatory examinations or oversight, Craddick said.
"When the law was written, lawmakers did not intend the Credit Service Organization Act to become a business model for payday and auto title loan companies to operate," he said.
The head of a statewide association representing credit service organizations strongly opposed Davis' legislation.
"CSOs that facilitate small, short-term loans in Texas are not opposed to future discussions about additional oversight," said Alex Vaughn, president of the Consumer Service Alliance of Texas. "However, we strongly oppose this measure and any other bill that effectively eliminates consumer access to short-term credit."
The trade organization includes Fort Worth-based Cash America International, which operates more than 260 pawnshops in Texas. Vaughn, who is also vice president of state relations for the company, said Cash America and similar companies are subject to regulatory oversight by "numerous federal and state agencies" and perform a valuable service for Texas consumers.
"Our products have been out there for years," he said. "We're meeting Texas consumers' financial needs."
Davis' legislation would place the short-term lenders under the same regulatory oversight as traditional lenders and halt practices leading to excessive fees and interest rates.
Davis filed a separate measure providing protections for service members and dependents seeking short-term loans. That bill would limit the interest rate they are charged to 36 percent, the same ceiling in federal legislation signed by former President George W. Bush.
Find out more about what you can do to support this effort here.
Also, please join us Thursday at First United Methodist Church at CitySquare's Urban Engagement Book Club to learn more about predatory lending practices as we review the book, "Broke USA: From Pawnshops to Poverty, Inc. - How the Working Poor Became Big Business." by Gary Rivlin".
Monday, December 13, 2010
The Center for Responsible Lending has produced this video to warn consumers about the dangers of falling prey to the temptation of financing one's Christmas by taking out one of these loans. It may seem simple and the airwaves are full of ads this time of year, enticing people to take advantage of a 'quick and easy' solution to an immediate problem. The end result can be a cycle of debt that is neither quick, easy or short term.
Make an informed decision! You can find helpful information here. Have a Merry Christmas by avoiding this holiday disaster...
Sunday, December 12, 2010
And still to those of us with the Black Church in our background, Aretha is more familiar still. Hers is a voice that calls to mind those Sundays spent in worship when we grew up, a voice so familiar to us all that we would inevitably say about someone who sung in some church choir somewhere, 'She sounds just like Aretha...'
The news that Aretha Franklin has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer is sobering and saddening. Not just because so many of us have loved and admired her from afar, but because she has been such an iconic figure across nearly every genre of music to which we've listened and by which we've been entertained.
It's seems incredibly trite to say it during times like this. But during times like this (and any time, for that matter), it's the very best we can do and say...
We're praying for you, Aretha...
Saturday, December 11, 2010
"History and experience tell us that moral progress comes not in comfortable and complacent times, but out of trial and confusion."
Friday, December 10, 2010
But I have to confess: there's something in me that wants to see something like this!
Thursday, December 9, 2010
Operation Family Fresh Start - A Strategy for Strengthening Families, Improving Education and Building Community
The success of our work can be counted on a number of levels. Obviously there are the big dramatic successes, like the completion of CityWalk. There are those programs which are quantifiably 'successful', at least in clear and unambiguous statistical terms - the number of food distributed at our food pantry, or patients seen at the clinic, or participants in our job training or permanent supportive housing programs.
But, then there are other successes that often are not so clear - even within the CitySquare family!
Our work in the Roseland Homes public housnig community, is one of those successes. The story of our work there is a story of what happens when we engage one another as neighbors, programmatically for sure, but in ways that respect the capacity of our neighbors and seeks to work with them as partners and collaborators.
Rosaland Homes is the oldest public housing development west of the Mississippi River. It's comprised of more than 1100 residents. The average income at Roseland is under $7500 per year. CitySquare works in an area of Roseland that has a population of more than 350 people.
In 2008 we began to employ a strategy to enhance the academic performance of elementary school children (nearly all of whom attend J.W. Ray Elementary School), by strengthening the household infrastructure, as well as education support. Families dealing with unemployment or underemployment would receive attention from our WorkPaths program; those with legal problems would have those problems addressed by CitySquare L.A.W. (Legal Action Works); health issues would be handled by Dr. Rhonda Walton, our pediatrician who works in our Community Health Services clinic, and so on. The question we had was: if we address these issues, with the intention of providing children with a more stable home, how far could we move the needle on children's academic performance? We call the strategy Operation Family Fresh Start.
Frankly, the results has always been a mixed bag. Yes we have seen improvement in academic performance. In our more traditional after school program, operated in the Roseland Community Center, 72% of 40 kids surveyed showed an increase in at least one core subject area (math, reading, science, language arts). In our enrichment, experiential learning after school program (our After School Academy), we surveyed 19 of 30 participants - 95% showed improvement in at least one of these subjects. Sixty percent of those who attended after school at the Community Center had an average grade of 80 or above; while it was 90% at our ASA. But these are figures very early in our strategy (the first year) and it was a small sampling. We're still trying to work out the statistical impact on the academic performance, which will change due to a new (read: very positive), working relationship with the school and its new principal.
As staff worked through the challenges of working together as collaborating programs, one thing appears to have emerged beyond doubt: an impact is being made in the lives of residents that is building communities in ways that we hadn't quite anticipated.
At an end of the year meeting with program directors working with the OFFS strategy, stories were told about new capacity and new engagement among the parents and in the community:
Weekends at the community center are becoming bustling affairs, with parents volunteering during basketball tournaments to man the concession stand to raise money for our programs. More and more residents taking part in activities offered there and producing a greater feeling of community.
An Operation Family Fresh Start household, a husband and wife, are employing new parenting skills learned in the parent academy, and who, because of training offered in financial planning, are saving money to own their own home. The mother in the household, once suspicious and untrusting, is now the Vice-President of the Roseland Residents' Council. She told the story of how the council received complaints of structural problems in the some of the homes in the community. She took leadership to address the Dallas Housing Authority Board of Managers, advocating on behalf of her neighbors and the problems they were having in their homes. I wish you could have seen the satisfaction on her face when she reported to the program directors how responsive DHA was to her appearance and how quickly the repairs were made.
Still another program director, spoke of increased parent involvement in other After School Academy activities, more than 40 parents. And increasingly, more fathers volunteering and participating.
Dr. Walton has taken a dynamic lead in helping to address the issues of the mothers participating in OFFS, starting a monthly luncheon in which they talk about their issues, share solutions and provide support. This isn't an 'eat your spinich' luncheon, in which they are told how to be better. They share their stories and their stresses and build camaraderie. But recently, they took an innovative step and held the luncheon at J.W. Ray. There they were joined by teachers and some of the staff! Teachers were able to see parents in a new light and parents were able to begin building deeper relationships with their children's teachers.
Dr. Walton has also been invaluable in helping parents get the necessary treatment for students who have had behavioral problems that need to be addressed with medication; or who need medical treatment that all too often goes neglected in poor communities. We heard the story of one child who had been in special education nearly the entire time he was in school. Dr. Rhonda's work with the child has revealed a child who didn't need to be in special education, but one who thrives academically!
The one story however that moved me the most, was how part of the programming over the past two summers (when OFFS is more in planning mode), children in the ASA were volunteering with Meals on Wheels to serve seniors and other shut-ins, not in Roseland, but in South Dallas! They were learning community service to others who were not in their neighborhood and who, in some cases were in more dire straits than the households from which they come.
I'm not sure how to quantify all of this. In fact, I'm not sure we should. It's an awfully difficult story to tell, because its one that isn't finished. It doesn't guarantee the kind of results that make us feel as if the good we are doing has the tangible results of 'getting people out of poverty' (something I'm all for!). But its something that I think is so much different: people without much money - people we call poor - being provided the venues necessary to experience community. Community: the space where we encounter one another, recreate with one another, laugh and play and celebrate with one another. Community is the space in which we support one another as we grapple with loneliness and the pain of our failures, and strive to achieve better for ourselves and for our children; it's the context in which we grow to understand the spiritual as church, but learn that its more than church - its deeply rooted need each of us have to know that we are known and that we are cared for and about.
I heard that when Lyndon Johnson left the White House, he told someone that he was going 'back to Texas, where people know when you're sick and care when you die'.
That, in a nutshell, is community.
In a way, its not what we envisioned when we started Operation Family Fresh Start. But I have confidence the academic success will come. I have confidence that participating families will indeed be stronger. I have confidence that our staff will continue to create innovative ways to engage with those families and provide opportunities for them to engage one another.
I don't know if what we are doing in Roseland is classic non-profit programming. I'm constantly being told that it is not 'fundable'; that it's too small and not dramatic enough to raise money for - not profitable. And perhaps that's an accurate and fair critique. But I know this: the intentional creation of an atmosphere in which community can be experienced is something none of us can do without these days. For most of us, it doesn't happen organically very often anymore. I'm proud of the CitySquare staff, supporters and volunteers who are committed to it. And for as long as we can, we're going to keep it up. But I believe it's worth doing...
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Liz Cedillo-Pereira, an ally of mine in support of the DREAM Act wrote this op-ed that recently appeared in the Dallas Morning News. The children who will be provided a pathway to citizenship by this legislation are those in whom our country has already invested and who only desire to be able to fully to contribute to the only home they've ever known...read the full column here.
"I am calling on our Texas senators to join many of us who support the Dream Act."
"This legislative measure would enable young people reared in this country and residing in the United States five years immediately preceding the date of the bill's enactment to use their college degrees to work in their chosen professions or to serve in the U.S. military."
"This compromise version, aimed at attracting bipartisan support, requires good character and payment of taxes, and it creates conditional nonimmigrant status for 10 years, followed by three years of legal permanent residency status prior to application for naturalization. Usually, I speak to students who might benefit from the Dream Act's passage after they reach milestones in their lives. For instance, when they apply for a driver's license or complete college applications. Without a Social Security number, these applications cannot be fully completed. Usually their question is, "Ms. Liz, how do I obtain a Social Security number so I can contribute?"'
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
I did have the pleasure of learning pro football by watching him, Howard Cosell and Frank Gifford on Monday Night Football.
Meredith was a great entertainer and he saw pro football for what it was - entertainment. He enjoyed life and the stories told about him as a Dallas Cowboy (and they were told for years after he retired), were not just about how good a player he was, but how much his teammates loved and respected him - for making the game enjoyable.
Dallas fans never really respected him the way they should have. He was selfless and fierce competitor. But as he acheived national prominence as a broadcaster and an actor, we all grew more and more proud of Mt. Pleasant's favorite son.
Don really was a Dandy. We've missed him for a time, we'll miss him longer still.
Sunday, December 5, 2010
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Saturday, December 4, 2010
College football bowl season is upon us and aside from the usual controversy (BCS vs college playoffs - yes, I vote for a playoff system!), the Heisman Trophy winner will be announced next week.
Normally I look forward to the announcement - although its been several years since I've really been excited about the choice - but this year there's something else I'm anticipating.
Tod Robberson, editorial writer for the Dallas Morning News, mentioned in his post on yesterday, that ESPN has a new 2 hour documentary on SMU and the 'death penalty' it received as 25 years ago, as punishment for its recruitment transgressions. Entitled 'Pony Excess', the team led by backfield phenoms Eric Dickerson and Craig James, was one of the best collection of gridiron talent in Southern Methodist University history. They were champions of the old Southwest Conference and NCAA championships in 1981 and 1982.
Tod's review of the theater premier as 'eye-popping' and 'fast paced', is enough to make me interested...
"I attended the theater premier last night of ESPN's new documentary, Pony Excess, which will be shown on the sports network next week immediately after it concludes coverage of the Heisman Trophy announcement. Having been out of the country and completely disengaged with the U.S. sports scene in the early to mid-1980s, I only knew snippets about the SMU football scandal that led to imposition of the NCAA's infamous "death penalty.""
"Wow. This roughly two-hour documentary is an eye-popping, fast-paced, multi-sourced look at how SMU boosters, coaches and senior administrators colluded to bribe top high school players into signing with SMU. Even if you think you know all about it, this film will give you new perspectives. Director Thad Matula even finds ways to connect the scandal to the JFK assassination and the demise of the Southwest Conference. Interestingly, the NCAA investigator who brought down the hammer on SMU -- Dan Beebe -- and contributed to the Southwest Conference's collapse emerged recently as the commissioner who saved the Big 12 from collapse. Clearly a man who has learned from history."
"This is a film, ultimately, about people learning their lessons. Or not. Former Gov. Bill Clements, for one, comes off looking like a Nixonian crook."
Read the rest of Tod's post here.
If you're a college football fan, an SMU football fan, or like an interesting sports story, this documentary will be right up you're alley. And it's something to look forward to while I'm waiting for the winner of the Heisman (**yawn**)...
Friday, December 3, 2010
"Fear not, the people may be deluded for a moment, but cannot be corrupted."
But I also know that there are scores of people who don't know about the work we do here at CitySquare, so we for them it may seem that we fly under the radar.
Let's just say 2010 has been eventful...
We started off the year with the move of our administrative offices, public interest law firm, HR, finance, IT and Community Development Department into 511 Akard. As soon as we moved in, we realized not only did we bring work with us, new work was waiting for us!
Along with everyone getting set up, there was a flurry of tours, taking place while renovation was continuing, apartments to be leased - solidifying our relationship and roles with the management company, security issues and parking issues.
We worried that neighbors who needed CitySquare LAW would have a difficult time finding us.
Boy were we ever WRONG. The year-to-date total of cases closed by October of 198 nearly equalled the total number of cases closed for all of 2009!
Our food pantry has served more than 47,000 people nearly 2 million pounds of food, as of the third quarter.
The summer program served 701,000 to 16,000 children in collaboration with Pepsico, in an innovative program called Food on the Move, in addition to the 50,000 kids served by our Nurture Knowledge & Nutrition (NKN).
Our Permanent Supportive Housing Program Destination Home has now gotten more than 100 homeless citizens off of the street and into their own apartment. The program will expand in 2011.
WorkPaths, our job training program, has graduated more than 75 people from soft skills and hard skills living wage employment training. More than 70% of the program participants going on to living wage employment.
Our Education Outreach has expanded its reach to provide technology based enrichment to not only traditional age after school students, but now includes programming for mid-teens and youth preparing for college.
And this year, in formalizing our public policy work, we've made our monthly Urban Engagement Book Club a tool for advocacy and public awareness. We've sponsored two documentary screenings, focused on public education and immigration (Waiting for Superman and 9500 Liberty, respectively). We've also had public awareness education initiatives, both within the organization and the community around for profit schools. We've led voter education, voter registration and GOTV efforts in our community of focus, Roseland Homes...including getting gubenatorial candidate Bill White to come visit with the residents there.
All of this, while at the same time, we continued preparations for our Opportunity Center, which will house our employment, health care, food programs and economic development initiatives, along with the rebranding of our organization.
We've done more and program directors around here might be upset because I'm not including some other great things that have happened across this organization. But believe me, I've only scratched the surface!
What does all this mean (aside from the fact that there are some tired soldiers at CitySquare)? It means that CitySquare is a great investment for those who believe that as community, we can actually do something about poverty and injustice. It means that money invested in CitySquare changes the trajectory of the lives of people and gives hope to those who simply need the resources and the relationships that will make their lives better.
It means its been a great year!
Thursday, December 2, 2010
What a year it's been!
Those first few months were heady and exciting. The opening of our downtown 'vertical community' was met with both congratulations and trepidation. We were either the greatest social innovators on earth, or we represented the end of Western civilization as the world has come to know it.
Alright, the last clause in that sentence was a bit of an exaggeration, but you get my point.
What's been the difference?
It's very interesting to contrast those first few months when there were barely people in the building, to these days when, on any given day, there are people in the lobby, customers in the 7-11 on the first floor, groups meeting in our community and board rooms and the hustle and bustle of staff working on various projects.
It's always interesting talking to the residents and hearing their stories. The parents with children in the elevator after having picked them up from school; the guy who works at a downtown hotel talking about what he's going to do on his day off; or the tenant talking about the quality of the paper he turned in for his class at El Centro. It's gratifying seeing the our neighbors on the garden deck talking about their problems, gossiping about other tenants or their families.
Volunteers are starting to que up to provide holiday meals for some residents. We've just opened up a clinic that will see residents in the building. There are dance classes for the children, music lessons being planned for residents and a whole host of activities that are being planned for the coming year. The activities are designed to help tenants access benefits, job search or job training or address any one of the many issues that will help them achieve self sufficiency or simply get accustomed to downtown living. Not all of the residents are homeless, most are low income and nearly all of them are doing well. Like apartment life anywhere else in Dallas, some of our neighbors will move on, but the most important thing I remember nearly everytime I come to work, is that there are people here, some for the first time in years, have a decent place to call home.
This year has been challenging because there was no 'vacuum' in which all this has taken place. CitySquare's work continues! I'll write more about what's happened this year in the next post.
But CityWalk@Akard is a signature, iconic project that is a testimony to what it means to have a place where people who are different in nearly every way that you can define 'different', are living together, working together and forging wonderful relationships together.
It's called 'community'...
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Today is World's AIDS Day.
It has also been nearly 20 years since Ervin 'Magic' Johnson announced to the world his retirement from the NBA because he had been infected with the HIV virus.
Those of us who are basketball fans to whatever degree remember what a shock that day was! It came during a time when we knew little about HIV or AIDS, and what we knew was mostly derived from ignorance and fear. It was a 'gay disease'. You might get it from a toilet seat. Or by touching an infected person.
I was a pastor at the time and the Dallas Morning News asked if I was going to make some statement to the congregation regarding Johnson's announcement that Sunday. I hadn't planned on it, but since they asked, I said I would. I'm don't remember what I said that Sunday morning, but they ran the article the next day, along with a picture of me making the statement and a headline something to the effect of 'Local Pastor Reacts to Magic Johnson's Announcement'. A couple of days later, I had phone calls from former college classmates saying that they had heard that I had contracted AIDS and it was in 'all the papers'!
Over time I began to see the devastating impact of AIDS in my congregation, among some friends and even family members. To date I know of at least six AIDS related deaths and the shame of families as they either were total denial or, even in the church I led, whispered admissions that 'someone died of AIDS'.
The hysteria then, as now, mirrors our society's penchant for reaction as opposed to studied and educated reflection leading to action. As is usually the case, time, education and reason wins out. But such victories are never 'finally' won. We need to continue to educate ourselves and every succeeding generation of the dangers posed by this dreaded disease.
The African-American community disproportionately is impacted by HIV/AIDS. According to the Kaiser Foundation, "one in two of those infected with HIV today are Black Americans far surpassing any other racial or ethnic group. Men who have sex with men (MSM) of all races represent the most heavily affected group, and the only population for which HIV rates are on the rise again. HIV/AIDS is a deeply personal issue with 43 percent of all Americans today -- and nearly 60 percent of Black Americans -- now knowing someone who is living with or has died from the disease, for many a family member or close friend..."
“A lot of people can’t afford to buy their drugs or leave their community to go get tested or get the proper health care,” [Magic] Johnson said. “We have to educate people, especially in the black and brown community. That’s been my focus through the last 10 years, through the churches, through the schools and through the colleges as well. The numbers are too high...We’ve got to bring those numbers down and work on the stigma as well, (plus) the it-can’t-happen-to-me (perception).” Read more here.
It's important to keep this conversation going. Magic Johnson is an example of what it means to be able to live with HIV. It's a matter of helping people understand the cause, the prevention and help available, and making access to treatment available to everyone. It's a matter of personal responsibility and public awareness. And its a matter of challenging the hysteria and providing hope.
It's a winnable fight and those are the best kind.
Here's an interesting perspective on today's economy vs. a more prosperous (and recent) time when things weren't much 'better' than they are now.
How much sacrifice is needed to bring this country out of recession? In taxes? In spending cuts? In standard of living and quality of life?
"Life did not seem so terrible for most people back in 2006 or 2007, did it? So why are so many people glum now? Why are so many actually suffering, losing their houses or their jobs? Why are there so many stories like the one on the front page of The Washington Post on Nov. 19 about a woman who used to be a nursing-home executive with a six-figure income and this year will clear $11,000 selling chicken dinners? Changes in GDP are not a perfect reflection of changes in the average citizen’s prosperity at any given time. But it’s not a bad one. Why does $13 trillion feel poor today, although as recently as 2007, it felt rich?"
"There are all sorts of reasons. Among them, the relation between making or having money and feeling prosperous is far from linear. America’s GDP in 1985 dollars back in 1985 itself was $6.8 trillion — barely half what it is today. Yet 1985 was the apogee of President Ronald Reagan’s “morning in America” boom, when you were far more likely to find stories in the media about chicken-dinner sellers who became nursing-home executives than the other way around. In judging our own prosperity, we don’t compare it with long ago — or even 20 years ago. We compare it with how other people are doing and how we ourselves have been doing recently. It’s no comfort to be told that you’re a thousand times richer than a caveman. If a caveman killed a wildebeest, he felt rich and actually was rich by the standards of his time."
"A more important reason that $13 trillion doesn’t feel as rich this time as the last time we passed through it is the increasing inequality of wealth and income. In 1984, a family income of $81,365 (2009 dollars this time) put you in the top fifth of all American families. In 2009, it took 23 percent more, an even $100,000. To make the top 5 percent required income of $180,000 in 2009, compared with $68,500 (in 2009 dollars) back in 1984..."
Read the rest of the column by Michael Kinsley here.