Many of us who have fought to make a difference in our community for any length of time have bemoaned the lack of engagement on the part of young people in our communities and our country.
We can stop complaining...
Recently the 'Occupy Wall Street' movement littered with broad swaths of young people, worried about their present and their future, have captured the nation's attention. And locally still another organized effort, led by young people appears to be taking hold.
Yesterday, a march protesting the Dallas City Council's decision to expand the landfill near Paul Quinn College and fueled by the energy of youth, restores my faith that young people are capable of enlightened self interest.
Michael Sorrell, the president of Paul Quinn College, has rightly expressed his concern and, yes, anger, that a working class area of our city has no grocery store to service at least 4300 homes in the surrounding area. None of the elected representatives of this area have been able to interest major retail grocers to the area. A grocery store is not necessary to address starvation in this community (only to the degree that college students usually starve!). I was a student on this campus when it was Bishop College. I lived in the area for 25 years. I can assure you, everyone in this area eats. They travel to WalMart stores outside of the city of Dallas to shop for the foods they need. This is more than an inconvenience for the residents who live here. This is revenue going to the southern suburbs of Lancaster, DeSoto or even Cedar Hill.
But also being missed is the economic development that comes collaterally with a grocery store that can be located in proximity to the homes, the schools and the higher ed institutions in the area (the University of North Texas at Dallas is located just a few miles west of Paul Quinn's campus).
While promises of state of the art recycling at the McCommas Landfill are important, the fact is, this sends the wrong message to the schools (including Paul Quinn) and community 2-3 miles west of this location. As Dallas officials cogitate on the economic development of its southern communities, it is showing an appalling, and insulting lack of vision. Mayor Rawlings, whom I believe wants to do the right thing, is committing to a $1 million throw off of revenue from the expanded landfill operations.
Too little money that will take too long to produce results that hardly any of us will see.
These young people have a right to be upset. And they have the responsibility to express their displeasure in a way that is non-violent and productive. These young people have been to the city council. They have talked with their council representative. They are now gathering allies and taking to the streets in a lawful protest.
It is inspirational....
And it is also important to know that they know what they want. In a recent op-ed column in the Dallas Morning News, freshmen David Bowens and Celia Soto, sophomore Valette Reese, junior Dexter Evans and senior Patrick Hillard eloquently expressed the position of Paul Quinn students...
"We are the students of Paul Quinn College and the organizers of “We Are Not Trash: A March for the Future of Dallas.” Given the amount of discussion our actions have generated, we thought it would be a good idea to explain why we have decided to stand up — not only for ourselves, our school and our community, but for all of the people in Dallas who have given up because they believe no one is listening to them."
"For the past six months, we have had a front-row seat in what could serve as a blueprint for an advanced seminar called “Politics and Policy-Making in Dallas.” Our syllabus has given us the assignment of watching people we once looked up to make decisions we do not understand or agree with. We have hosted meetings and have listened to city officials who attended those sessions offer answers to the same question in two completely different ways. We have sat in meetings where our school president, Michael Sorrell, has been pressured to make us stop protesting. We have stood in City Council meetings and watched leaders ignore a simple request to study an issue before voting on it."
"In short, for the past six months we have had our faith challenged and our idealism destroyed."
"All we want is a neighborhood we can be proud of. We want a quality grocery store. We want a pharmacy. We want to be listened to by the people we elect. We want simple things that most other citizens of Dallas take for granted."
"What we have heard thus far from our elected officials is that we are not worth more than trash. What they appear not to have heard from us is that we are a new generation of Quinnites and that we are servant-leaders dedicated to creating a better environment for ourselves and our neighbors. Most of us are not natives of the Dallas area, but we have found home and haven in the Paul Quinn College-Highland Hills community, a community that we have grown to love and will fight to protect."
(If you subscribe to the Dallas Morning News, you can read the rest of the column here)
Now its not enough for adults in Dallas to admire the spirit of these young people. It's not enough to laud their engagement and speak wistfully of how this reassures us of a future in 'good hands'. These young people are doing what they can do. Its time for the adults who 'run things' to do what they can do...
Put more grocery stores in the southern part of our city!