Friday, September 30, 2011

The True Costs of War

I heard excerpts from this speech several years ago. They resonated with contemporary relevance then and more so now. These words demonstrate the lamentable drift in our partisan politics from reasonable, intelligent visionary leadership and a perspective that truly demonstrates a concern for the 'burden' we place on our children and grandchildren... 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Economic Development Should be More than Just Garbage

Meetings.

On the one hand they're necessary. Hardly anything worthwhile has ever gotten done where at least two people didn't get together to talk about it. That's called a meeting.

Sometimes they get in the way, though.

A day full of meetings...scheduled meetings...impromptu meetings...side bar meetings...kept me from attending yesterday's City Council meeting, where the council decided to approve the 'flow control' solution to Dallas' need for revenue. I've written very little about it but here's the upshot:

Dallas has decided to force commercial businesses to use the city's landfill to dump its trash, versus the private dump yards they already own. The problem? Well, from my perspective it expands a municipal dump yard that is already too close to residential neighborhoods. Less than a mile from single and multifamily homes and about a mile and half from Paul Quinn College, Highland Hills and College Park communities in the southern part of Big D.

It was a split decision: 8-7, with newly elected mayor Mike Rawlings casting the deciding vote in favor of 'flow control' - I'm sorry, I still don't get the rationale for calling it that. The Mayor has bought into staff projections that the potential revenue to be brought to city coffers are in the range of $15 - $18 million. Those who have followed this story much more closely than I can argue the numbers. I won't.

However, the reason I wanted to be at City Hall was in support of Paul Quinn students and the residents of the neighborhood. Rawlings, city staff and council members may be right in betting on the come that this will be a boost to the economy. There is a promise on the table that a million dollars a year will be put into a fund for economic development in the area. To which I say...PHOOEEY (to be nice).

Paul Quinn and the residents of the surrounding area were there to say two things: perhaps this may bring some economic development to the area through high tech recycling and the fees associated with more huge dump trucks coming through the area - we want to see the numbers. They were also saying, 'We want more than heavy industrial crap in our neighborhoods, sold to us as economic development; we think we are better than that.'



These are the arguments to which the city needs to pay attention. Most critics of flow control concentrate on how unfair this is to business. Secondarily, there is a nod to the concerns of the neighborhood. And that is the problem with Dallas. Our belief that business will 'save' Dallas is a warped construct. Dallas' idea is currently that business won't save Dallas by serving its citizens; its that business will save Dallas despite its citizenry. Business can't be partners in addressing neighborhood concerns, business concerns trump neighborhood concerns. And the less money you have the more the interests of business supersede whatever concerns neighborhoods may have. McCommas Bluff is located across I45 west of Paul Quinn, in a neighborhood of about 4300 homes. The area is comprised of some low income, but mostly working class, retirees and young families. I lived in the area for 25 years. The nearest grocery store is nearly 10 miles away. The nearest shoe store? Farther still. Restaurant? Much farther. Auto repair supply store, yeah, you need to keep going a little bit. You get my drift...

Every rooftop represents families that buy groceries. They have automobiles. They actually wear clothes. There are homes that have appliances. But the way to bring economic development to the area is to expand the landfill???

Seriously?

A new school has opened up nearby, as well as a new high school. A little further west, is University of North Texas Dallas and next to that a new high school - all across the street from another subdivision of homes by the way. And the best anyone at City Hall is thinking about is a quick $15-$18 million in fees from the city dump?

Let me make something clear: my criticism of business is not of the businesses that will be forced to dump their trash in McCommas Bluff. They don't want this anymore than the residents do. But it is the attitude at 1500 Marilla (address of City Hall). To go for the quick fix, toss the surrounding community a bone and then expect business to make everything better.

Here's a question: has anyone thought about what will happen to property values around McCommas Bluff? There are single family homes and apartment complexes there. Is the potential for depressed housing values offset by the $15-$18 million? What would be the economic benefit of having an expanded dump vs. a serious economic development which attracts a grocery store? A restaurant? A dry cleaners? A movie theater (yes, there really is enough land around that area to put a movie theater!). All of the amenities for which people in that neighborhood drive to the suburbs to enjoy.

Business will 'save the day', but only as a catalyst to keep and attract people. There seems to be a culture, a spirit if you will, at City Hall which keeps decision makers from getting it. Citizens need to be more vigilant - if we're not careful, even $15-$18 million can become garbage in a very short time...

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

In Memoriam: Dr. Robert H. Wilson



When one talks about his or her heroes, its difficult not to slip into hyperbole. If I fall prey to that fault, please forgive me...

About a year after coming to CitySquare (then Central Dallas Ministries), I was asked to serve as interim pastor for the Cornerstone Baptist Church of Christ. I love preaching. And I loved the prospect of being able to keep that gift 'sharp'. I still believe that the preaching ministry makes a difference in the lives of God's people. And I believe, still, that it is the instrument through which God instructs, inspires His people and the means through which He brings them into the Kingdom of God. 


But there was an ulterior motive as well...


The Cornerstone Church was organized by one of my preaching heroes, Dr. Robert H. Wilson, he was retiring and from a purely personal standpoint, I relished the idea of being able to preach behind the pulpit from which he held forth for better than a quarter of a century. Imagine my surprise when, I found out he would still be a member there and would be attending worship when he wasn't preaching elsewhere.


It was my great pride and privilege to experience his generous encouragement, on Sunday mornings and on Wednesday evenings when I would teach. But further, to have someone I had listened to on tapes and the old preaching albums when I began preaching nearly 30 years before, was incredible. He and his wife Elise were absolutely wonderful to my family and I've seldom known such gracious people as those at Cornerstone. 


Dr. Wilson has been a preaching legend in the Black Baptist Church for decades. His scholarship, his erudition, his elegant bearing and remarkable, intelligent, God honoring leadership has been the source of emulation for many preachers and pastors of my generation and before, for years. 


When I entered the ministry at the age of 18, a wonderful older woman, a co-worker of mine, gave me several albums of sermons, of the late Ceasar Clark and of Robert Wilson. To this day, one of the most creative and imaginative sermons I've ever heard is his 'The Jerusalem Watergate, A.D. 30: Uncovering the Cover Up', in which he compared the Watergate scandal with the Roman governments conspiracy to cover up the resurrection of Jesus.  Amazing!


Being with Dr. Wilson actually gave me the opportunity to let him know how much I appreciated the influence of his ministry. I was also able to give him on his birthday a cherished gift of mine, a biography of black preachers in which his biography is included. The book is out of print, but it was one in which I learned about his life. Almost 90 now,  he began preaching when he was 9 and pastoring when he was 16. 


But his most unique influence on me was his ability to write. He was the first black preacher I had ever known to write and to write regularly. Dr. Wilson had a weekly column in one of the minority papers in Dallas, the Post Tribune, entitled 'Thoughts I Think'. I had read that column ever since I was a teen-ager, and yes, he is indeed the inspiration that I have had for the writing that I have done over the past 20 years. 


Wilson came to Dallas from Jacksonville, Florida in the mid-sixties and succeeded another legend, Dr. E.C. Estelle at the St. John Baptist Church. Several years later he left St. John and organized Cornerstone. His was a ministerial career of great achievement. He was a great believer in Foreign Missions and was secretary of that department in the National Baptist Convention of America, Inc. for decades. He was the Executive Director of the Congress of Christian Workers, the Christian Education arm of the National Missionary Baptist Convention. 


Virtually everyone affectionately called him 'Dr. Bob', but getting to know him personally only increased my admiration for him as a person and as a preacher. He, his wife of 66 years Elise, his daughter Roberta and his son Robert, Jr., a friend since college, made us feel a part of the family. 


Several weeks ago, we went to see him and years of illness had left him a shell of his former self. Imagine again my surprise when after having been told that he remembered very few people he remembered me!


Dr. Wilson passed away yesterday, after a long, storied career in ministry and a legacy of boundless love for the church, the people he led, his colleagues in the ministry and his family. 


I used to tell me younger ministers that I felt sorry for them because they missed hearing some of the great preaching I grew up listening to. I was able to help correct that when I would have Dr. Wilson come and preach at New Mount Moriah when I was there. 


There are those of us who knew him, who started out wanting to preach like him. If we are wiser now, I think we only want to serve as well, if not as long. 

Monday, September 26, 2011

Clinton Global Initiatives Proposal Should Spark Innovative Thinking About Education

In an earlier post, I encouraged readers to tune into the annual Clinton Global Initiative. This gathering promotes and profiles the search for innovative and imaginative solutions to problems associated with poverty, education, the environment and economic development throughout the world. The idea that non-governmental organizations (NGO), government and the corporate communities, as well as individuals can and are providing solutions to the challenges we face in this area is refreshing and inspiring in a climate in which the constant drumbeat of 'we can't' is so deafening. And these global solutions could have dramatic implications for U.S. communities as we grapple with these same problems. 

For instance...

Imagine an innovative alternative for business engagement in public education. Usually we call for corporate executives to provide mentors and scholarships for urban youth in failing schools. What if we called for creative 'partnerships' in which businesses and industries would select students with the potential to succeed, with scholarships, loans and employment, based on a commitment to return to those communities, giving service and mentoring to those students following after them?

Or what if instead of 'service learning' projects, we engaged students on group learning activities tackling real time, real life economic, environmental or safety problems on the campus or the community. Businesses and even government could shepherd the project along with teachers, as long as they do not put caps on the students imagination that stifle solutions by adult 'practicality'?

What if we address barriers to academic achievement that prevent students from engaging in the disciplines that we know make for success, like homework. Children who are not healthy, for instance, don't learn well. Why aren't we enrolling every student in public school without private insurance in CHIP or Medicaid?

Impossible?

Commitments to bring similar solutions already in some stage of implementation were sought at this year's CGI. They are doable and these, or variations on their themes need to be brought beyond the stage of experimentation and made the focus of a new thrust in overthrowing a test taking mania that is ill serving our children and our country.

Watch the clip below. I encourage you to watch it all. But the first 10 minutes or so, involve creative education initiatives that address some of the opportunities proposed earlier. Perhaps you can think of even better ways to implement something fresh and challenging. But we really need to get started. Our present and our future is at stake...


Watch live streaming video from cgi_breakout4 at livestream.com

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Yeah It's Worth Celebrating...They did it AGAIN! Texas Rangers AL West Champions, CONGRATULATIONS!!

Food Stamp Encore Showing Next Month

On October 27, at the Angelika Theater, CitySquare's Public Policy Department will have an encore screening of the documentary 'Food Stamped'. This is Shyra and Yoav Potash's delightful but highly enlightening and thought provoking film about the difficulties of maintaining a healthy diet when relying on food stamps (or SNAP - Supplemental Nutrion Assistance Program).

I say its an 'encore' screening, but in fact, it seems as if we haven't stopped showing it. By invitation, we've taken the film to Austin, to show to state officials, their staffs and anti-hunger activists, Watermark Church in Dallas (where it was viewed by more than 1000 people) and this week, we'll be taking it to Baylor University and to San Antonio!


A sub-premise of the film is that it is cheaper to eat unhealthy foods in low income neighborhoods than it is to eat a healthy diet. A recent article in the New York Times seems to challenge that assertion.


"This is just plain wrong. In fact it isn’t cheaper to eat highly processed food: a typical order for a family of four — for example, two Big Macs, a cheeseburger, six chicken McNuggets, two medium and two small fries, and two medium and two small sodas — costs, at the McDonald’s a hundred steps from where I write, about $28. (Judicious ordering of “Happy Meals” can reduce that to about $23 — and you get a few apple slices in addition to the fries!)"
"In general, despite extensive government subsidies, hyperprocessed food remains more expensive than food cooked at home. You can serve a roasted chicken with vegetables along with a simple salad and milk for about $14, and feed four or even six people. If that’s too much money, substitute a meal of rice and canned beans with bacon, green peppers and onions; it’s easily enough for four people and costs about $9. (Omitting the bacon, using dried beans, which are also lower in sodium, or substituting carrots for the peppers reduces the price further, of course.)"
"Another argument runs that junk food is cheaper when measured by the calorie, and that this makes fast food essential for the poor because they need cheap calories. But given that half of the people in this country (and a higher percentage of poor people) consume too many calories rather than too few, measuring food’s value by the calorie makes as much sense as measuring a drink’s value by its alcohol content. (Why not drink 95 percent neutral grain spirit, the cheapest way to get drunk?)"
"Besides, that argument, even if we all needed to gain weight, is not always true. A meal of real food cooked at home can easily contain more calories, most of them of the “healthy” variety. (Olive oil accounts for many of the calories in the roast chicken meal, for example.)In comparing prices of real food and junk food, I used supermarket ingredients, not the pricier organic or local food that many people would consider ideal. But food choices are not black and white; the alternative to fast food is not necessarily organic food, any more than the alternative to soda is Bordeaux."
"The alternative to soda is water, and the alternative to junk food is not grass-fed beef and greens from a trendy farmers’ market, but anything other than junk food: rice, grains, pasta, beans, fresh vegetables, canned vegetables, frozen vegetables, meat, fish, poultry, dairy products, bread, peanut butter, a thousand other things cooked at home — in almost every case a far superior alternative."
After reading the article, I'm probably going to have to admit a sense in which the 'it's expensive to eat healthy' argument is overblown - or at least over sold. So let me put it another way...
We have developed a society (and so allowed our low and working neighborhoods to develop), that the choices between healthy and non-healthy eating difficult not being made on an even playing field of reason or economics. It is indeed cheaper to cook at home than it to eat fast food. It's cheaper to cook at home than it is to eat out period! 
But cloud that reasoning with the prevalence of fast food restraunts, partincularly in low income communities; along with the fact that the small, 'Mom and Pop' grocers (more accessible than any large grocery store) in low communities charge more than twice as much for canned vegetables; and the 'demand' created by marketing and you have among those who can least afford it, a perfect storm of societal circumstances that make fast food the viable alternative to a meal that takes time to prepare. 
And it goes back to something that is interesting about our attitudes toward people who are considered poor; interestingly, we expect them to be 'more' than the rest of us!
With regard to fast food for instance, parents who are middle class, certainly claim to be less likely to cook because of busy schedules, fatigue from the day, or even the demands of their children. Yet when it comes to low income parents, they should be more willing to cook, more often, with less than their more affluent counterparts. Many, if not most poor people work. They travel longer distances, work longer hours and are employed at more physical labor. Yet when they get home, they are expected to cook the meal their middle class counterparts are 'too tired' to cook!
Low income parents and their families should be more impervious to marketing and advertisement because they have less money (a limiter to be sure). But McDonald's or Pizza Hut, should be less a treat - or incentive - for their children than their more well to do citizens. 
In the end, it is true, if you are on food stamps or not,  the cost of a home cooked hamburger will trump the cost of a hamburger bought anywhere else. But most of us who have the money to make such choices constantly don't make such clear minded, strategic choices. It's interesting that we insist that those who have less should...especially when more than money influences such choices for all of us...

Saturday, September 24, 2011

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Jane Addams
1860-1935

Reformer

"Unless our conception of patriotism is progressive, it cannot hope to embody the real affection and the real interest of the nation."

Friday, September 23, 2011

A Rational Discussion of the Public Good

One of the highlights of my year came in April when Elizabeth Warren came to CitySquare to meet with us and religious leaders from across the city to talk about the need for reform of our country's financial institutions. Ms. Warren was, at that time, laying the foundation for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

She was gracious, thoughtful and thought provoking. She was clear about what she believed possible and equally clear about the challenges associated with her mission.

Now Dr. Warren is running for a seat in the U.S. Senate from Massachusetts. Of course I can't vote for her, but whether she wins or not, hers is a voice and a message that needs to be heard and heeded. She also clearly understands that we cannot be lulled or intimidated by ridiculous charges of 'class warfare' when we devise strategies to overcome this crisis.



___________________________________

Subscribers to the Dallas Morning News can read my monthly column in this morning's edition.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

I Don't Hear Mark Complaining...

Mark Cuban, Owner
NBA Champion Dallas Mavericks
The Most Patriotic Thing You Can Do


"So be Patriotic. Go out there and get rich. Get so obnoxiously rich that when that tax bill comes , your first thought will be to choke on how big a check you have to write. Your 2nd thought will be “what a great problem to have”, and your 3rd should be a recognition that in paying your taxes you are helping to support millions of Americans that are not as fortunate as you."

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Clinton Global Initiative Begins this Week


CGI 2010: Answering The "How" Question from Clinton Global Initiative on Vimeo.

I've got friends who will criticize me for this (and some who aren't friends as well), but Bill Clinton is still my favorite President!

What he's doing out of office is as significant as his time in office. This week is the sixth year of the Clinton Global Initiative. I confound my friends and colleagues when I talk about this because it is one of the most impressive laboratories and incubators for leveraging ideas and resources that are inevitably the seedbed from which real solutions to real global problems are solved.

On a global scale, CGI deals with problems similar to those we deal with at CitySquare: poverty, disease, work, economic empowerment, education and justice. 

Since CGI was established in 2005 by President Bill Clinton, its Annual Meetings have brought together nearly 150 current and former heads of state, 18 Nobel Prize laureates, and hundreds of leading CEOs, along with heads of foundations, major philanthropists, directors of the most effective nongovernmental organizations, and prominent members of the media. These CGI members have made nearly 2,000 commitments, which have already improved the lives of 300 million people in more than 180 countries. When fully funded and implemented, these commitments will be valued in excess of $63 billion.


You can see the CGI online this week, any time you take to watch it will be well worth the effort. Like me, I'm sure you'll find yourself wondering 'Why not here...?'

Saturday, September 17, 2011

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Oliver Cromwell 
1599-1658




English Soldier, Politician


"Not only strike while the iron is hot, but make it hot by striking." 

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Danger of the Gap Between the Rich and Poor

Zbignew Brzezinski's view of American poverty is spot on. The widening gap between the rich and poor promises only disasterous consequences. His comments on the increase in the number of poor in our country begin at about 8:30 on this clip...

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Poor with or without the Toys



Perhaps I'm being overly sensitive, or overly aware...

Once again, I'm left shaking my head regarding our country's attitude toward the poor.

On Tuesday, the report came out that revealed that the number of citizens living below poverty has increased from 14.3 to 15.1 percent. I'm think that our capacity to not only tolerate the poor, but to propose and enact policies which by design or by default leave them poorer is absolutely shameful. Equally shameful is the fact that these are the people who, whether one counts the current administration, or the among those who want to be president, are treating poverty as the crisis that it really is. Poverty is both an immediate and long term problem. It must be addressed by both immediate intervention and long term strategies. Our current efforts to relieve poverty are not robust enough and proposals by those who want to be president, at best, call for a 'trickle down' solution with healthy doses of charity.

One response is certain to arm the crowd that cheers at the mention of capital punishment or the hypothetical deaths of comatose victims with fresh cynicism. It is the the analysis of the new poverty figures by the Heritage  Foundation. Here is the abstract of their report...

"For decades, the U.S. Census Bureau has reported that over 30 million Americans were living in “poverty,” but the bureau’s definition of poverty differs widely from that held by most Americans. In fact, other government surveys show that most of the persons whom the government defines as “in poverty” are not poor in any ordinary sense of the term. The overwhelming majority of the poor have air conditioning, cable TV, and a host of other modern amenities. They are well housed, have an adequate and reasonably steady supply of food, and have met their other basic needs, including medical care. Some poor Americans do experience significant hardships, including temporary food shortages or inadequate housing, but these individuals are a minority within the overall poverty population. Poverty remains an issue of serious social concern, but accurate information about that problem is essential in crafting wise public policy. Exaggeration and misinformation about poverty obscure the nature, extent, and causes of real material deprivation, thereby hampering the development of well-targeted, effective programs to reduce the problem."


Of course the inclusion of the unemployed in the poverty statistics doesn't invalidate the numbers. The idea that a person is poor with a car, or a home, doesn't make that person or their family less poor, they are simply poor with more possessions. And, if not considered poor and not numbered with the poor, these  people don't become less poor. What it means is that it takes less to get them out of poverty (a living wage job with benefits, let's say), then it does a person or family in abject poverty. 


Perhaps we need to understand some things that really are still true among the poor.


Poor people experience varying levels of food insecurity

  • 14.5 percent (17.2 million) of U.S. households were food insecure at some time during 2010.
  • Essentially unchanged from 14.7 percent in 2009.


  • 9.1 percent (10.9 million) of U.S. households had low food security in 2010.
  • Essentially unchanged from 9.0 percent in 2009.


  • 5.4 percent (6.4 million) of U.S. households had very low food security at some time during 2010.
  • Down from 5.7 percent in 2009.
    Poverty with 'toys' and appliances is not an accurate picture of what it means to be poor in America...
    • The poverty rate for children was 22.0 percent in 2010, representing 16.4 million kids living in poverty. In 2010, more than one-third (35.5 percent) of all people living in poverty were children.
    • The poverty rate for working-age people (18- to 64- year-olds) hit 13.7 percent in 2010, the highest rate since the series began in 1966. Poverty among the elderly (age 65 and older) poverty was statistically unchanged over the year.
    • The poor are getting even poorer. In 2010, the share of the population below half of the poverty line hit a record high of 6.7 percent.
    • Nearly one in 10 children (9.9 percent) fell below half of the poverty line in 2010, up from 9.3 percent in 2009.
    • Non-Hispanic whites maintained far lower poverty rates than any other racial/ethnic group. Blacks were particularly hard-hit by increases in poverty from 2009 to 2010, increasing 1.6 percentage points to reach a rate of 27.4 percent.
    • In 2010, over one-third of black children (39.1 percent) and Hispanic children (35.0 percent) were living in poverty. The poverty rate for families with children headed by single mothers hit 40.7 percent in 2010. Of the 7.0 million families living in poverty in 2010, 4.1 million of them were headed by a single mom.
    How the poor are faring must be told in more comprehensive terms that how much a person makes on average...
    • Between 2000 and 2010, median income for working-age households fell from $61,574 to $55,276, a decline of roughly $6,300, which is more than 10 percent.
    • Disparities in incomes among racial and ethnic subgroups grew in 2010, as racial and ethnic minorities experienced particularly large declines in income. The  black household earning the median income is now bringing in $5,494 less than the median black household did 10 years ago (a drop of 14.6 percent) and the median Hispanic household is now bringing in $4,235 less than the median Hispanic household did 10 years ago (a drop of 10.1 percent).
    • There were losses across the income distribution in 2010, particularly at the very bottom and the very top. In 2010, incomes of families in the middle fifth of the income distribution fell 0.9 percent, for a total decline of 6.6 percent since 2007. 
    • Families at the low end of the scale were hit harder, with the bottom fifth losing 3.5 percent in 2010 and 11.3 percent from 2007 to 2010. The top fifth lost 2.7 percent in 2010, but since their losses in the prior two years were modest, the total decline from 2007 to 2010 was a relatively modest 4.5 percent.  
    • The median, or typical,  inflation-adjusted earnings of men working full-time year-round fell slightly from $47,905 in 2009 to $47,715 in 2010, while the median earnings of full-time year-round female workers stayed essentially flat, at $36,877 in 2009 and $36,931 in 2010.
    None of likes to feel guilty and there is a growing sentiment among a segment of our countrymen that a new American spirit is 'every man for himself'. But sooner or later we're going to experience a startling realization of what it means for all of us to be in this crisis together. Whatever else that means, it means that it is ludicrous to believe that my quality of life can improve significantly when more than 15% of my fellow citizens are counted as poor...no matter how many televisions they have. 

    Wednesday, September 14, 2011

    A Reason to Serve...

    Dr. Samuel DeWitt Proctor, was one of the premier preachers of our time. His pulpit scholarship and his intellect was admired by countless men and women who thrilled to his messages. His biography, 'The Substance of Things Hoped For: A Memoir of African-American Faith', is one of my favorite books.

    Dr. Proctor was pastor of the legendary Abyssinia Baptist Church in Harlem. He served as President of Virginia Union College, North Carolina A&T University and taught at Rutgers University. His was what can only be described as a generous life. In this video clip, he provides insight into his motivation for a life of such prolific service.


    Tuesday, September 13, 2011

    If Our Children Don't Have Role Models...

    I spent some time over the weekend thinking of role models...

    The reason why, happen to do with the deaths of two people who were very influential in my life. One was a former deacon at the church I pastored. Another was the registrar at Bishop College where I attended.

    The deacon, Arthur Phillips, was a trusted man, always encouraging, an absolutely wonderful sense of humor and a delightful personality. In the car, leaving the cemetery, I mentioned to one of my former staff ministers, 'You know, I can't remember anyone ever saying anything bad about Bro. Phillips, or even saying they disliked him...' Believe me, in a relatively small membership (300-400), over two decades I can say that's a pretty significant feat!

    Bro. Phillips was 87 years old. He and his wife Audrey, were married for 67 years. Together they raised nine children (one preceded them in death). They are absolutely revered by their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. He was a member of New Mount Moriah Baptist Church for 56 years and lived in South Dallas for at least that long. He also owned a farm in East Texas, but he wouldn't be described as man of means.

    He was encouraging. He was supportive. He took care of his family and he helped his neighbors and his church members. In the 22 years I served him as pastor, I can't remember a time I asked him to do something that he didn't do. While neighborhood redevelopment wasn't anywhere in the church's history, he was supportive our efforts to bring housing and new business to the neighborhood. He brought his wife and many of his grown children to the meetings where the plans were made.

    The registrar at the Bishop College was Dr. J.D. Hurd. Dr. Hurd was a jewel of man whose encouragement, inspiration and even confrontation with us as young men and women, as many of us just got out of high school. His encounters with us were not just with us in the line registering in school. But in all of those encounters, whether in chapel, or the student grill, he challenged and inspired us to be our best.

    Dr. Hurd was at Bishop and then Paul Quinn College for 50 years! During World War II he served with the 99th Pursuit Squadron  - the Tuskegee Airmen - and taught Freshman Orientation classes, Social Studies and Education at Bishop. He was a longtime member of New Hope Baptist Church, one of the oldest black churches in Dallas. Dr. Hurd died at the age of 89.

    Now his my point, and I've been making it all weekend: I hear it said, particularly in the black community, that there are no more role models. But what were these men, if not role models?! And these are not figures of the distant past - they lived among us. I knew them. Collectively they were known and loved by thousands. They were not 'celebrities' but they were celebrated as men of accomplishment - modest by some standards - and men who impacted the lives of those whom they inspired and helped.

    But more important, there are more men like this, younger and older, than there are rappers, professional athletes, executives in Fortune 500 companies, actors or any other 'glamorous' profession.

    Aren't these men role models?!

    And if they are - and they are - why aren't we telling boys and girls about men like them? For those of us who are adult men, men like Arthur Phillips or J.D. Hurd, are the men who shaped our lives. Are we telling our sons and daughters about them? Are we telling them what we admired about them and how they inspired us?

    If we aren't and we are complaining that our children - no matter the gender or the color - don't have role models, then its not our children's fault. We are the ones who don't know the real definition of 'role model'.

    Monday, September 12, 2011

    Reflections on 9/11 Lessons...

    Some random reflections and lessons learned on September 11...

    From a sermon by Bryan Carter (pastor of Concord Church): Men need friends - someone ahead of them on life's journey; someone in the same or similar place as you along life's journey; someone to mentor along life's journey. I need to make more time for all three!

    From a sermon by Larry James: When we say to God, 'Here Am I...' (Isaiah 6), God will say to us, 'Here I am...' (Isaiah 58) when we need him.

    From several rememberances, documentaries and recountings of September 11, 2001: the most compelling aspects of this great tragedy are the triumphant struggles of the family members left behind who are gaining perspective and going on with their lives. We need to remember to pray for them!

     

    From Serena Williams: Tough as it is, even champions need to bring their 'A' game every time - even if the next time is the next day! If you don't, you can't blame anyone else...

    From Baltimore Ravens vs. Pittsburgh Steelers: If you focus your resources on one opponent, you can defeat that one opponent. How that translates into continued victory remains to be seen...

    From Dallas Cowboys vs. New York Jets: You just might prove every expert predicting your failure wrong...if you commit to playing the WHOLE GAME!

    Something tells me that at least one or two of these lessons will be useful this week. I'm curious about which...

    Saturday, September 10, 2011

    For Those Who Would Change the Wind

    Walter Payton 
    1954-1999




    Hall of Fame NFL Football Player


    "Most important thought, if you love someone, tell him or her, for you never know what tomorrow may have in store."

    Friday, September 9, 2011

    Thursday, September 8, 2011

    Innovation and Education...Imagine That!

    Here's an absolutely captivating look at what it means to combine innovation with education!

    Our public school system across the country has become ensnared by a lock-step mindset that suggests that the only way we can prove that our children are learning is by standardized testing. Standardized tests are one way and should not be the sole measure of what our children have learned or how well they will do in public school or college. This shows a different way.

    It actually is in line with my thoughts on testing in my latest Dallas Morning News column.




    Can every school be like this? Rather than answering 'yes' or 'no', maybe adults should be asking 'why not?'

    Over the next five years, Texas will spend close to $500 million on standardized testing...can we honestly say we can't do better?

    Wednesday, September 7, 2011

    CitySquare Public Policy's Next Documentary Screening: 'Crime After Crime'

    CitySquare's public policy department is taking a look at wrongful incarceration and it's role in keeping poor neighborhoods poor.

    African-Americans are 13% of our country's population, yet close to 40% of our country's prison population.
    Recent exonerations in Texas show that there are innocent people serving time in our prison. The overwhelming amount of those who have been released because of wrongful arrest, prosecution and imprisonment were poor and black. It's something with which we must come to grips, because these are people who if and when released, return home with little support and with inadequate skills to navigate a world that has left them behind.

    Tomorrow night at the Angelika Theater, CitySquare will be hosting a free public screening of the documentary 'Crime After Crime'. It is the story of Debbie Peagler, a black woman who was eventually freed after being wrongfully imprisoned for 27 years in prison.

    \

    Come join us for the screening and a conversation afterwards with Alan Bean of Friends of Justice, for a look at the problem of wrongful incarceration as well as efforts to make certain that justice is done for both the victims of crime and the victims of this terrible miscarriage of justice.

    Tuesday, September 6, 2011

    John Wesley on Poverty


    "Has poverty nothing worse in it than this, it makes men liable to be laughed at? Is not want of food something worse than this?"
    "God pronounced it as a curse upon man that he should earn it by the sweat of his brow.But how many are there in this Christian country that toil, and labor, and sweat, and have it not at last, but struggle with weariness and hunger together? Is it not worse for one, after a hard days labor, to come back to a poor, cold, dirty, uncomfortable lodging, and to find there not even the food which is needful to repair his wasted strength? You that live at ease on this earth, that want nothing but eyes to see, and ears to hear, and hearts to understand how well God hath dealt with you, is it not worse to seek bread day by day, and find none? Perhaps to find the comfort also of five or six children crying for what he has not to give!"
    "Were it not that he is restrained by an unseen hand, would he not soon acurse God and die? O want of bread! Want of bread! Who can tell what this means, unless he hath felt it himself? I am astonished it occasions no more than heaviness even in them that believe."
    John Wesley

    Monday, September 5, 2011

    The Insanity of Demonizing the Unemployed

    Is this country getting tired of the unemployed?

    It would seem so.

    If fact, that would be aligned with a lack of capacity for most of the public to have a sustained interest, not to mention concern, for any issue that doesn't have an immediate solution, or call for systemic resolution vs. charity.

    Unemployment is such an issue.

    An article in this morning's Dallas Morning News points to the nation's fatigue with the issue of unemployment:


    "As the nation celebrates U.S. workers this Labor Day weekend, many jobless Americans say they sense a growing indifference to their plight, and even a certain level of demonization."
    "For years, people who lost their jobs were the sad, sympathetic faces of the nation’s economic meltdown. But more than two years after the Great Recession officially ended, America’s empathy for the unemployed is showing signs of wear."
    "Many companies now shun the long-term unemployed when filling positions, fearing their skills have eroded or their talents don’t measure up."
    "America’s jobless also face increased hostility from conservative lawmakers, as more states cut the amount and duration of unemployment benefits, while making them harder to get and easier to lose."
    "In South Carolina , where state-funded jobless benefits were cut from 26 to 20 weeks, Republican state Sen. Kevin Bryant blogged in April that “part of the unemployment problem is that our human nature is to take advantage of the ability to get paid to not work. … I’m very sympathetic to those out of work desperately seeking it, but I’m disappointed that we have a significant segment of our society leeching [off] the system.”"
    "Similar comments from a variety of conservatives reflect a sneaking suspicion that 99 weeks of extended benefits have taken the urgency out of job searches."
    "“Two years is a long time. At some point you’ve got to provide more incentives to get people to do things,” said Frederick Tannery, an associate economics professor at Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania."
    "The notable change in tone begs the question: Has America lost patience with the unemployed? And have extended jobless benefits caused some to view the long-term unemployed as the “welfare queens” of the new millennium?"
    The unemployed, as the new 'welfare queens'
    Not only isn't it surprising, unfortunately, but it is also in line with the attitude that suggests that people ought to find it 'easy' to overcome the impact of something as devastating as Katrina, or the Great Recession. If that seems to be an odd comparison, remember that within days of Hurricane Katrina, the cry of many had nothing to do with the Corp of Engineers, or FEMA, or the response of President Bush, it was 'Why didn't they just get out...?'
    Now it's simply 'why don't they just get a job or start their own business?' As if either is something that any or all of us could do on a whim. 
    What's worse, politicians pander to this simplistic reasoning. Mainly because it absolves them of changing a system capable of toppling the economy of whole nations...



    "...During his 2010 campaign, Pennsylvania Republican Gov. Tom Corbett told a reporter, “The jobs are there, but if we keep extending unemployment, people are just going to sit there.”"
    "Corbett’s comments, which he later said weren’t meant to be insensitive, still resonate with Ahniva Williams, who counsels jobless people for the nonprofit Unemployment Information Center in Philadelphia."
    "“It enraged a lot of my members who were actively looking for work, volunteering, going to school, taking classes and going to job fairs,” Williams said."
    "Charlette Pennington, who lives in a women’s shelter, attends Williams’ weekly job-search class. Unemployed for more than two years, Pennington was insulted by Corbett’s comments."
    "“I’d like for him to visit one of these shelters and hear these women’s stories,” Pennington said. “He might change his mind.”"
    Of course the fear is that people on unemployment will become 'addicted' to it.  In fact one Texas government official compared unemployment insurance to crack! Worse, the fear is that they will 'game the system'. Newsflash: the sub prime mortgage crisis which precipitated the Great Recession was the results of a whole industry that 'gamed the system'!
    The issue of extending unemployment benefits for 99 weeks during a recession recovery in which corporations sit on billions of dollars in profits while using 'uncertainty' as an excuse, is for many, problematic. But interestingly enough, there are no equally simplistic solutions for what the unemployed are to do if they are unable to find a job. If we decide that unemployment benefits are unaffordable, that people on food stamps are drains on the economy, that welfare benefits sap human initiative, that health care is a 'privilege' and not a 'right', then what do you do with literally millions of people who are out of work and who have no hope of income?
    If you say, for instance that non-profit organizations are the answer - where do you think the money for such a massive philanthropic response will come?! Foundations are cutting back, as are corporate donors. There is not, nor has there ever been enough in the way of individual donations and volunteerism is, itself, limited - limited in capacity, expertise, knowledge and time. That leaves the federal government, whose money, even if given to non-profits, calls for employees, programming, facilities and equipment. 
    It amazes me that people don't see that our ability to respond to a crisis of our own making, lies with the reform of the institutions upon which we have depended. We have created a new level of poverty that we wish away or of whom we cannot simply grow tired. 
    taxing poor people more, call for asking those who are suffering most from the recession to help pay the country's way out of the recession so that we can lessen 'burden' on those who are doing quite well! 
    Really?!
    “People collecting unemployment aren’t lazy. We all want full employment, but sometimes it’s hard.”



    "Al Antanavage, an unemployed salesman in Alburtis, Pa., knows how hard it can be. Recently, a recruiter told him he’d missed out on a sales job because he’d been jobless for more than 90 days."
    "“I don’t know where they get off thinking that if you’re over 90 days unemployed, that you’re a liability,” said the 53-year-old Antanavage, who was laid off more than a year ago. “We’ll give $20 to a guy begging on the street with a cardboard sign and he’ll run straight to the liquor store, but we’ll bash people because they can’t find a job? It’s insane.”"


    'Insane'...I can't think of a better word. 

    Why Not Working is Not Working in America

    Studs Terkel
    1912 - 2008
    I always liked Studs Terkel. He always seemed to be interesting. One of those writers whose broad curiosity made him one of the most familiar as a 'talking head' on almost any documentary, from baseball, to jazz, to the economy, to politics. Terkel always struck me as a common man, with a common man's perspective, not an 'expert'.

    One of the books Terkel wrote (which I confess I haven't read; it's on the list), is 'Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do'. It's just curious and enlightening to hear 'ordinary' people talk about the work they do and how they feel about it.

    The interviews Terkel conducted and recorded which are the basis of this book, tell us how important work is to the human psyche and soul. It also let's us know what so many of the people who are currently unemployed feel about not working.

    I think you'll find it worth listening to as well...


    Sunday, September 4, 2011

    The Spiritual Side of Sports




    ESPN's acclaimed documentary series '30 for 30' is a must see for just about any sports fan. Each episode gives rarely seen behind the scenes glimpses of personalities and events in the world of sports from the perspectives of film makers and documentarians that are enlightening and engaging.

    Take, for example, Barry Levinson's piece on 'The Band That Wouldn't Die'. If your over 40 and not from Baltimore, you know the lore regarding the Colt's move from Baltimore to Indianapolis: how the irascible and mean spirited owner, Robert Irsay, moved the team in the dead of night when he wasn't given the new stadium he wanted. This same story, focused on the Baltimore Colt Marching Band (who knew there was one?!), is a touching story of a city's love affair with its team - and not just any team - the Colt's 1958 NFL championship game against the New York Giants, was the beginning of professional football's growth into a true television sport. I held a sports grudge against the Colts since the beat the Cowboys in Super Bowl V. I held that grudge until the '80's when Bert Jones, Roosevelt Leaks and Lydell Mitchell brought them back to prominence. Yet, even I was moved at the total dedication of men and women whose love for their team and determination was so total that even after Irsay 'robbed' them of their storied franchise, they kept the Colt Band going as a non-profit, until they got a new team.

    The horror stories of the Cleveland Browns leaving Cleveland for Baltimore, have their edges softened as you see how sensitive Cleveland owner Art Modell was to the Colt's Band and its members and how the Modell family ownership brought on board, former Colt players, like Johnny Unitas, John Mackey, as well as the band.

    It's a truly touching story.

    Probably not the Sunday post you expected, right. Well, here's the reason it feels relevant...

    Modern day sports tend to bring up negative reactions: rich spoiled athletes and equally ego maniacal billionaire owners, who are only interested in themselves and their fortunes. Oh, of course, there are the obligatory charitable donations and public appearances, but in the end these are remote and disinterested figures to the vast majority of us.

    'The Band That Wouldn't Die' harkens back to a day loyalties were forged with sports figures who lived in middle class neighborhoods: they were next door neighbors, fellow church members, they frequented the neighborhood bar or shopped at the neighborhood grocery store. In the off season, they were co-workers in insurance companies (sometimes even factories). They were community champions, as much, or more than they were national sports heroes.

    Levinson's documentary reminds us, as corny as it is, sports actually does have the capacity to bring people together. It actually does have the ability to reinforce identity and civic pride in a city. The lessons of teamwork, of common, rooting interest, of accomplishment is indeed an important...I dare say, spiritual thing.

    Nowadays, professional sports is all about the highlight reel, the endorsement contract and the movie or CD deal. There was a time in which  sports, professional and amateur, was the means by which we all were helped to transcend the mundane, sometimes even tragic circumstances of our daily lives. It was the metaphor of our struggle to overcome obstacles and emerge, eventually victorious, or to come back swinging when we lost. For those of us unable to play, it was enough to cheer. And those who cheered were as significant as those who played.

    So, while somewhat romanticized, I think this is a reminder of what we all should be striving for in every public arena. There ought to be more than a self righteous 'victory at all costs' ethos that governs our politics, our business, our religion. There ought to be an understanding that what we do publically in these arenas are metaphors for our lives, not vice-versa, and that they are reminders of our hopes that as challenging as the problems and obstacles we face, winning and losing is something we do together. The fact that there is almost always another game, another election, another deal, it means that no victory or no defeat is ever final - there is almost always a chance to try again. And it is that process, that cycle, that makes us better - individually and collectively.

    Just like the Baltimore Colts refused to die, we must refuse to give up. Eventually we find out that winning and losing is bigger than us. We win and lose together.

    To me, there really is no better 'spiritual' lesson.

    Saturday, September 3, 2011

    For Those Who Would Change the Wind

    Molly Ivins
    1944-2007

    Journalist, Author, Pundit, Humorist

    "The thing about democracy, beloveds, is that it is not neat, orderly, or quiet. It requires a certain relish for confusion."

    Friday, September 2, 2011

    Favorite Commercials

    I'll lighten up a little bit. After all it's a holiday weekend!

    This is my favorite commercial from this summer....




    Summer's 'bout over Santa!

    Thursday, September 1, 2011

    The GOP Aren't Against All Tax Increases!

    It was only a matter of time.

    Poverty is the fault of...poor people! If they weren't so, well, poor. And in order to fix this economy, they need to pull their weight and pay their taxes!

    Who says? I'll give you a hint...yep, you guessed it.

    When I started working for CitySquare (then Central Dallas Ministries), I expected to have to educate people on the plight of the poor. What has admittedly caught me by surprise is the antipathy toward poor people that I've seen. It's gotten worse since the great recession.

    In fact, initially, there were those who laid the cause of the recession - the one in 2008 that sent Iceland into bankruptcy, at the feet of the poor! If they only weren't buying houses that they couldn't afford, it was said. Hardly a word about the unscrupulous people in the finance industry who were literally targeting minority and poor people with sub-prime loans. Not Wall Street greed (someone actually said, 'Corporations can't be greedy.' How does that square with Mitt Romney's 'Corporations are people my friend'?!).

    It wasn't Bernie Madoff's fault, even though his scam wiped out the personal fortunes of more people than you can shake a stick at and cratered some philanthropic organizations - it was the poor.

    An now, according to GOP candidates, enough with this raise the taxes on the rich business - these poor people need to ante up!

    Rick Perry: “We’re dismayed at the injustice that nearly half of all Americans don’t even pay any income tax.”


    Senator Marco Rubio: "we don't have enough people paying taxes in this country."


    Even John Huntsman, pragmatic by 21st century Republican standards agreed that, "the half of American households no longer paying income tax—mainly working poor families and seniors—should be brought onto the income tax rolls."


    And of course Michelle Bachmann"Part of the problem is today, only 53 percent pay any federal income tax at all; 47 percent pay nothing," said Bachmann. "We need to broaden the base so that everybody pays something, even if it's a dollar. Everyone should pay something, because we all benefit."


    Does anyone play this stuff back for them after these people say this stuff?!


    First of all, its not true that working class people don't pay taxes. 


    This is interesting, because according to Slate Magazine, "Republican politicians didn't make this argument—until the Obama era. What changed?For decades, the "lucky ducky" number, the percentage of Americans that pay no taxes, never rose above 30 percent. The Bush tax cuts pushed it over 30 percent, but not too far over. Then, in 2008 and 2009, the economy collapsed. The government responded with, among other things, new tax deductions."


    "The result: The percentage of people paying no income taxes spiked up to 47 percent and stayed there. When the Tea Party started rallying in 2009, it wasn't protesting higher taxes, because federal income taxes were lower, with more loopholes. It was protesting the perception that productive Americans were shelling out for an ever-expanding class of moochers. And Republicans have taken the Tea Party's lead."

    Still not convinced? Working class and low income Americans do pay taxes. What kind? "The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center estimates that 46.4 percent of households will pay no federal income tax in 2011. This is, for the most part, not because people have chosen to loaf. It’s because they are working but simply don’t earn enough to owe income taxes, based on the progressive structure of the tax code and provisions designed to help the working poor and lower-income seniors.""

    "...Roberton Williams has explained, “a couple with two children earning less than $26,400 will pay no federal income tax this year because their $11,600 standard deduction and four exemptions of $3,700 each reduce their taxable income to zero. The basic structure of the income tax simply exempts subsistence levels of income from tax.”"
    Poor and working class Americans 
    pay — "...state and local sales, income and property taxes — federal gasoline and other excise taxes and, most significantly, payroll taxes on every dollar they earn. These taxes are regressive. Everyone pays the same share, regardless of income, so they hit the poor hardest, and they counterbalance the progressivity of the income tax code."

    "And, of course, they pay other taxes. An analysis by the Congressional Budget Office, taking into account all federal taxes, found that in 2007 even the poorest one-fifth of households, with average income (including government benefits) of $18,400, paid 4 percent of their income in federal taxes. By contrast, the middle fifth (average income $64,500) paid 14 percent of income and the top fifth (average income $264,700) 25 percent."

    Now, Governor Perry, that is an injustice!

    Think for a minute (those of you who get an income tax refund) - what do you do with yours? A few of us save it. But most of us spend it. When we spend it, we pay sales tax. Or we pay a bill, which pays the salary of someone who buys something. Or we pay rent, which helps pay the salaries of several people who eventually buy something who pay sales tax. Even if those dollars are deposited, in a savings account, or buys an IRA, it supports an industry that pays the salary of someone who buys something and pays taxes. There is no such thing as static money. In fact, because the working class and poor tend to be the largest consumers, they pay taxes more often. 

    If this is the vision for America that is going to shape the national conversation that will result in the election of the next President, it represents a frightful picture. It is a picture in which nearly every safety net is shrunk or eliminated. One in which those who are harmed by the greed of 'people Corporations' though they be too poor to own stock, or much property, are to be abandoned to the charitable donations of people who essentially don't think they matter! They are to be governed by people who think government should be 'inconsequential' (of course it will not be inconsequential to them if they were to become President - no one's giving up Air Force One, for instance). 

    So why this hatred of the poor? Why are they being portrayed as drags on the economy? My favorite columnist, Leonard Pitts expresses my own dismay in terms that are at least printable....
    "There are people in this country — working people — who must routinely choose between rent and groceries, prescription drugs and electric lights. But we are encouraged by some on the political right to regard them with contempt and save our empathy for the fabulously wealthy."
    "You’ll have to go some to find a starker example of how morally blinkered this country has become.".

    "Even if you put morality aside, there is still the question of enlightened self interest. If you are white, you may scorn black people and be reasonably certain you will never become one. If you are straight, you may scorn gay people and be reasonably certain you will never become one."

    "But any of us can become poor. Ann Coulter could become poor. How do you scorn what you might someday be?"

    Maybe that's it...the fabulously wealthy hate what they fear becoming. 

    Or maybe its just a new style of patriotism...