Sunday, September 30, 2012

Thirty Years Ago...My How Time Flies

For any number of reasons, I'm feeling more reflective as 2012 seems to hurdle to an end (can you believe it'll be OCTOBER tomorrow?!).

September is particularly meaningful. Five years ago in September, we lost my oldest son in a senseless domestic violence incident. Five years ago in September I was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

But there are more pleasant reasons to be reflective in September...

In September 1982, I was installed as the pastor of New Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church. Suffice it to say my life has never been the same.

In an afternoon service I responded officially to the call of this comparatively small South Dallas congregation to serve as their leader. At 25, I only thought I knew what that meant. I have to confess, that although I've been gone for eight years now, I'm still learning what that means.

A pastorate that started out fairly traditional (what I did that my peers would call 'progressive' were merely baby steps toward the 21st century), would end with pastor and people obtaining a reputation for social engagement, community engagement and transformational worship and fellowship. But that day, was special.

Both my maternal grandparents, Rev. and Mrs. L.J. Batty were there (my grandfather preached the service); my maternal grandmother, Mrs. Fannie Britt was there - the first time I ever remember all three of them being together. The churches which nurtured my all of my life were there, my grandfather's church, Shady Grove Baptist Church, where I'd been a member practically all of my life and my father, Rev. Gerald Britt, Sr.'s church, Memorial Baptist were there. My uncle Clarence Evans, who pastors Hopewell Baptist Church in Dennison, Texas, was also there. Rev. J.R. Allen, founder and moderator of the True Fellowship District Association of which New Mount Moriah was a leading congregation, was there, as was his church, Allen Chapel B.C., as well as the Vice-Moderator, George Jackson, who pastored Zion Baptist Church in Rowlett, Texas.

All these men, except my uncle and Pastor Jackson, who suffers from Alzheimer's, are dead now. And, of course, a number of the members of the church are no longer with us. But in choosing me as pastor, they made a statement of confidence and a willingness to grow with me that I have never taken lightly.

After this investiture, I was now what I had wanted to be all of my life and I could imagine nothing more.

Talk about God having a sense of humor!

But I will forever be grateful for the members of this church who thought enough of me, that they believed that God had called me to serve them in a role of such great responsibility. Especially as the church was still grieving for our previous pastor and my predecessor. No matter the doubts, mixed motives and uncertainty, we learned to respect, appreciate and, most importantly love one another.

And I and my family, love them still.

Had it not been for their confidence in me and the opportunity God gave us all, I would not have had some amazing experiences, met an array of wonderful people and had the chance to be a part of a wonderful team like CitySquare.

I wasn't sure what going to New Mount Moriah as an associate minister would mean in August 1981. I had ideas, but no idea (if you know what I mean). I could not have conceived of being where I am 30 years from that day in 1982 (I didn't even know what a 'non-profit' was in those days). But I believed at each point that I was following God.

Things haven't always been smooth, but they sure have been exciting!

Thanks be to God!

Thanks for a wife and children that have been brave enough to follow, as I followed.

Thanks to the members of New Mount Moriah, for helping to make be what I am today!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Charles Hamilton Houston 

Attorney, Dean of Howard Law School

"We beg you to save young America from the blight of race prejudice. Do not bind the children within the narrow circles of your own lives."

Friday, September 28, 2012

A True Look at the Poor

Among the mountains I wandered and saw blue haze and
    red crag and was amazed;
On the beach where the long push under the endless tide
    maneuvers, I stood silent;
Under the stars on the prairie watching the Dipper slant
    over the horizon's grass, I was full of thoughts.
Great men, pageants of war and labor, soldiers and workers,
    mothers lifting their children—these all I
    touched, and felt the solemn thrill of them.
And then one day I got a true look at the Poor, millions
    of the Poor, patient and toiling; more patient than
    crags, tides, and stars; innumerable, patient as the
    darkness of night—and all broken, humble ruins of nations.

Masses - Carl Sandburg

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Don't Miss PBS' 'Drop Out Nation'

Watch Dropout Nation Preview on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

The number one issue related to public education?


There are a number of people who have the attitude that children from low income neighborhoods and neighborhoods characterized by concentrated poverty are simply less affluent children who need more discipline. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Children from poor families and poor neighborhoods face challenges that many of us have never had to face as adults. Discipline is a part of the solution, money is another part. Caring adults, teachers and administrators, brave enough to emotionally invest themselves in the lives of these young people, is yet another more critical component. Without these, there is a guarantee that young people who drop out of school will face a bleak future and our society will be robbed of invaluable human capital.

PBS Frontline's 'Drop Out Nation'  (check your local station for show times) speaks to the problem and the promise associated with school dropouts and their rescue.

Houston's Sharpstown High School, is one of several schools featured in the film. Last spring, Frontline Productions spent a semester following four Sharpstown students. A five-man crew became a fixture in classrooms and halls of the school for a film that captured the unique, hands-on approach that helps students succeed and stay in school.

""Houston appealed to me because it was a place that historically had a serious dropout problem, but they were taking steps to try and rectify the problem. It was a lot more engaging than filming in a place where they were just watching kids drop off and doing nothing about it," said writer and producer Frank Koughan."

Drop out prevention is challenging to say the least. Dallas and Houston are two districts making progress, but how that progress is achieved is not always clear cut or easily replicable in other areas.

A recent article in the New York Times reports. "Dallas Independent School District, the state’s second largest, has seen its graduation rates increase 14 percentage points during that time, according to the latest numbers released by district officials."
"Policy makers and school leaders attribute the rise to a variety of programs on the state and district level aimed at keeping students in the classroom. But beyond the anecdotal, very little evidence exists as to why or if these programs are the reason for the state’s success."
"“Dropout prevention studies are hard, expensive and rare,” said Lori Taylor, an education professor at Texas A&M University. “And just because there is no proof doesn’t mean school districts are wrong in believing their intervention is working. But it also doesn’t mean that we should instantly go out and advise everyone to do what they just did.”"

That may be true, but all educators and supporters of education have to try. There's too much at stake...

Monday, September 24, 2012

CitySquare Presents "The Revisionaries": Only Texas' Future is at Stake

On October 11, CitySquare's Public Policy Department will host a screening of the documentary, 'The Revisionaries' which depicts the contentious battle between conservatives and moderates on Texas' State Board of Education in establishing textbook standards in science and social studies for the Lone Star State. The results of the hearings and deliberations shown in this film will impact public education in Texas until revisited in 2020.

The controversy first came on my radar when I read about efforts to ignore the contributions of Mexicans in the battle of the Alamo in social studies. The implications, considering the growth of the Hispanic population are alarming. But the apparent attempt to exclude references to the cultural and political contributions of minorities and 'liberals' ought to alarm us all. The attempts to teach science or history in ways which 'affirm' the values of a particular ideological group and to ignore anything that cannot fit through that ideological grid, no matter how historically accurate or scientifically contested means that public education will devolve into the teaching of palatable and convenient dogma and myth, robbing our children of the capacity to think and challenge. 

'The Revisionaries', an award winning documentary, is an important film, as will be our community conversation afterwards, which will involve film participants SMU professor and Texas Freedom Network board member, Dr. Ron Wetherington and State Board of Education member, Mavis Knight. 

Because of redistricting, all 15 seats on Texas' State Board of Education will be voted on in November. It's a down ballot election that is not being talked about, but it is as important as any other vote you will make in the next 40 plus days. The future of our state depends on it!

Make your reservations here...

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Jesus and the 47%: Disabilities, Liabilities or Possibilities

"And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him."
John 9:1-3

Interesting passage of scripture in light of this week's conversations about 'the 47%'. It's interesting in that any consideration of those whose lives appear to impose inconvenience upon the rest of us, are those who represent a wonderful opportunity - to demonstrate what God can do, by what we do when we encounter them. 

To the disciples he clearly represented a theological conundrum. But that presents all kinds of practical considerations: 'Are we obligated to preach to him?', 'Should we use him as an example of God's Judgement upon sinfulness?', 'What type of charity does he deserve?', 'How much charity does he deserve, and for how long?' 

I'm sure you can think of one or two more...

Jesus' answer was one which swept aside such considerations. In saying that this man's malady was an opportunity for God's work to be seen through him, He transformed the person before them as a man of all sorts of possibilities vs. someone with a disability, or someone who is a societal liability. 

This week we heard a statement that implied 47% of our country were fixed in their political preferences, self-appointed victim status and irresponsibility. Sweeping aside the gross inaccuracies and callousness of such statements, it's important for us to remember (especially for those of us who are Christians) that the presence of those who are weaker, who are less fortunate or in any way marginalized are opportunities for us to demonstrate the love, compassion and grace of God in the way that we handle them. 

What's your attitude for the 47%?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Friday, September 21, 2012

Congratulations San Antonio!

San Antonio has joined Dallas and Austin in regulating payday and auto title lenders. It's a great day for the Alamo City and more importantly paves the way for other cities to stop the exploitation of it's citizens.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Invisible 47%

"I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allen Poe; nor am I one of those Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids--and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination--indeed, everything and anything except me."

Ralph Ellison, 'The Invisible Man'

I was trying to sort out how horrible I think Mitt Romney's secretly taped fund raising speech is.

The problem I have is that it is terrible on so many levels.

Polls show he has completely lost the black vote (94-0); losing the Hispanic vote and the women's vote, he is left to try and depend on a narrow base of white voters to propel him to the White House.
I'm not sure it will work, but stranger things have happened - hardly any that I can think of now, but I'm sure there are...

No, the video in which he disparages 47% of the country as dependent, self defined victims who pay no taxes, includes an almost imperceptible, and I think horribly shameful moment.

Watch that video and you will see someone crossing in front of the cellphone camera. I thought it was the person with the camera moving around. Then, when the figure crosses the camera again, it's clear that it was a member of the wait staff. The immediate reaction was this is what Romney said in front of rich donors, but that's not entirely true. The wait staff was serving while making these remarks.

I think that is simply callous.

They would fall in that 47% he was talking about. Hard working people, whose job - even if it not their only one - would bethe Americans that the GOP candidate denigrated as those who aren't taking responsibility for their own lives' and/or 'not paying taxes'. If they were students, they might be on on Pell grants - 'dependent' upon government assistance. Whatever the case, they are the ones that Romney was saying he wouldn't be trying to appeal to.

They're invisible. Romney didn't see him. The people in the room didn't see them. Heck, I didn't even see them until they backed off from the camera. Until then they were an obstruction. For those in the room they were an abstraction.

When you don't see the people who serve us and make us comfortable, and help our evenings be more enjoyable. says quite a bit about us. These were the employees of the country club who set up the room, who served the meals and drinks, picked up the dirty dishes and cleaned up the room. Some working those jobs need government assistance of some sort: free and reduced lunch for their children; CHIP and/or Medicaid; they may have had to go to the emergency room instead of a private doctor because those jobs usually don't pay health benefits. Some may be on food stamps if they are only called to work jobs like this when there's a large enough event or if someone calls in sick. Perhaps they take advantage of the EITC (Earned Income Tax Credit). They may live in a subsidized apartment. Some our teachers working second jobs. And, no, they don't pay income taxes.

My point is, this 47%, stereotyped and comfortably objectified, are easy to talk about so disdainfully because they are invisible. We look through them to see the politician, the celebrity, our children or simply because we are preoccupied by our own lives. And when we talk about 'the poor', it's easy to imagine that the reason why they work as wait staff in hotels, or country clubs, or McDonalds, or the grocery store, is because they can't or won't do any better for themselves. Or, at best, we often believe that they are working there until they become 'successful'.

But these members of the 47% are our fellow citizens. They are not 'problems' or drains on our society. Yet because we are becoming (if we haven't already become) a country of individualists who are now willing to shred what's left of our social compact, these are the jobs that are not worthy of respect. And the people who take those jobs are not worthy of respect or notice. They are the 47% who don't work as hard as the rest of us. If we make the type of money that enables us to avoid paying all of the taxes we owe, we are 'successful'; if they don't make enough money to pay all the taxes we think they ought to pay, they are 'moochers'.

But the 47% are citizens. And if we don't allow barriers to be placed in their pathway to the ballot box, they'll vote for the candidates who actually see them...

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

San Antonio Poised to Curb Abuses by Payday Loan Industry

San Antonio City Council Member
Diego Bernal

This Thursday, San Antonio, Texas' city council is scheduled to vote on ordinances which will regulate payday and auto-title lenders in the Alamo City. They will vote on essentially the same ordinances adopted by Dallas and Austin city councils last year.

It is particularly heartening that SA's council has support by the editorial board of the San Antonio Express...

"The San Antonio City Council will vote on Sept. 20 on an ordinance to regulate payday and auto-title businesses locally. The ordinance merits unanimous support."

"Under the proposed ordinance which would go into effect on Jan. 1, payday loans would be limited to 20 percent of a borrower's gross monthly income and automobile title loans would be limited to 3 percent of a borrower's income or 70 percent of the vehicle's value."

"Similar regulatory action is warranted at the state level to protect consumers across the state. Texas is among 28 states with the least regulation when it comes to these types of business."

"It will be an uphill battle against lobbyists with deep pockets in Austin to get adequate state regulation, but it is a battle that needs to be waged."

"City Councilman Diego Bernal, who has led the local effort on payday and title loan business regulation, plans to pursue state reforms on the issue. He is optimistic the support the San Antonio measure has received will help convince state lawmakers to stop delaying action on the issue.
Predatory lending practices prey on those who can least afford the exorbitant fees and interest rates associated with such loans. There are more than 3,000 payday and auto title business in Texas; about 250 are located in San Antonio."

Particularly impressive is the stance of the editorial board on the prospects of a suit against the city by the short term lending industry (as they have Dallas and Austin)...

"The San Antonio city ordinance, like those passed in other urban Texas municipalities, will likely be met with litigation. It is a legal battle that needs to be fought."

Read the rest of the editorial here.

Congratulations to the San Antonio Express and to city council member Diego Bernal for having the courage to lead this fight against the exploitation of Texas citizens! We'll all be watching...

Monday, September 17, 2012

Bullies at Ballot Box

Texas' Voter ID law has been struck down in federal court. So have significant portions of Florida's voter registration laws. Pennsylvania is currently in court, awaiting a decision on their over-the-top voter ID law (even though the state says it has no proof of, nor will it try and prove any instances of voter fraud in the Keystone State). It is very likely that efforts by predominately Republican state legislatures to roll back voting rights victories in our country, will not have the impact most of us feared a few months ago.

Unfortunately efforts to prevent the young, the elderly and minorities from exercising their franchise won't end here.

Not only will states like Texas will appeal the rulings, but there's more...

A new report by Demos, warns of efforts interference and intimidation at polls throughout the country by watchdog groups who will try to do on election day, what seems to be failing because of successful court challenges.

The report called 'Bullies at the Ballot Box' warns...

"As we approach the 2012 elections, every indication is that we will see an unprecedented use of voter challenges. Organizers of True the Vote claim their goal is to train one million poll watchers to challenge and confront other Americans as they go to the polls in November. They say they want to make the experience of voting “like driving and seeing the police following you.”1 There is a real danger that voters will face overzealous volunteers who take the law into their own hands to target voters they deem suspect. But there is no place for bullies at the ballot box."

"Even in states with clear legal boundaries for challengers and poll watchers, too often these boundaries are crossed. Laws intended to ensure voting integrity are instead used to make it harder for eligible citizens to vote – particularly those in communities of color. Moreover, the laws of many states states fall short when it comes to preventing improper voter caging and challenges. This should concern anyone who wants a fair election with a legitimate result that reflects the choices of all eligible Americans."

"Clear rules that protect voters from improper removal from the rolls by voter caging and challenging, as well as from intimidating behavior at the polls, can help prevent interference with voter rights. This report describes the threat posed by potential voter challenges in the 2012 elections, and assesses the extent to which ten key states — Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia — are prepared to protect the rights of eligible voters to cast a ballot in the face of such challenges. The ten states examined here include states where races are expected to be competitive, which makes voters in those states particularly vulnerable to challenges. We also survey states where a history of aggressive voter challenge programs in recent elections threatened to intimidate voters or interfere with their access to the ballot."

The best way to be prepared is to arm yourself with knowledge of your rights not only to vote, but your rights at the polls as well. 'Bullies at the Ballot Box' provides such information. For instance, in the case of Texas voters...

"Texas law does not allow a person to challenge a person’s registration or ability to vote at a polling place on Election Day."

"In Texas, poll watchers can be appointed to observe the conduct of election.To be eligible
to serve as a watcher, a person must be a qualified voter of the county and political subdivision in
which he or she will serve in a statewide election. Candidates, chairs of political parties, or, in the case
of a write-in candidate, a group of registered voters may appoint two watchers for each voting location."

"The appointment must be in writing, and the appointing officials or voters must issue a certificate of
appointment to the appointee and obtain an affidavit stating that the appointee will not have possession of a device capable of recording images or sound or that the appointee will disable or deactivate the device while serving as a watcher. This provision is good. The watcher must deliver the certificate of appointment to the presiding judge at the polling place and must counter-sign it to verify that the watcher is the same person who signed the certificate."

"A watcher is entitled to be near the election officers at the polls, and members of the counting team
when votes are being counted, inspect the returns, and make written notes while on duty.327An election judge at a central counting station must allow watchers to perform the activities described in the Texas Election Code, but the judge also has the authority to limit excessive or disruptive activity."

With groups like Texas based, 'True the Vote' promising to enlist up to 1 million poll watchers across the country, voters must be prepared to protect themselves. Reading 'Bullies at the Ballot Box'  is an important step towards doing that...

Download a copy of the report here...

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Four Little Girls

On this Sunday, four little girls in Birmingham, Alabama gave their lives in the struggle to help America realize its ideals of equality, justice and freedom. They are now numbered with countless martyrs - known and unknown - whose sacrifice is the reason we all are now closer to dream for which they died. 

We must never forget them...

Saturday, September 15, 2012

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Katharine Graham 

Publisher, President of the Washington Post, Author

"Once, power was considered a masculine attribute. In fact, power has no sex."

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Fewer Uninsured Americans and Other Benefits of the Affordable Care Acts

If you're like me and have a son or a daughter you're able to carry on your insurance past the age of 18 because of the Affordable Care Act, you might be interested to know that impact of that phase of the law is becoming more noticeable. A recent article in the Dallas Business Journal says the rate of uninsured Americans is going down (in Texas, however, not so much!)...

"The number of people without health insurance is ticking down, although the decrease is less than dramatic in Texas, according to U.S. Census Bureau data released Wednesday."

"An estimated 48.6 million people are uninsured for medical care in the United States, representing a 1.4 million decrease from an estimated 50 million uninsured in 2010. The rate dropped from 16.3 percent to 15.7 percent during the same period."

"So, what created this slight decrease?"

"Steve Love, president and CEO of the Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council, said young adults accounted for the largest drop in the uninsured population. People age 19-25 fell 2.2 percentage points."

"The likely explanation is a provision in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requiring insurers to allow parents to keep children on their family coverage until the age of 26. Love said.
In Texas, the uninsured rate decreased a mere 0.8 percent change. The private or employer-based insurance coverage increased 0.8 percent, most likely related to the national trend with 19-25 year olds, Love said."

To find out other ways the ACA is benefiting Americans click here.

Monday, September 10, 2012

CitySquare's Next Documentary Screening: 'The Revisionaries'

CitySquare's next documentary screening is the film 'The Revisionaries', and eye-opening account about the vulnerability of our public school system to politicial ideology in the guise of religion. More about this film and the October 11th screening in the next couple of days. In the meantime, here's the trailer...

Sunday, September 9, 2012

'The Line' - Poverty Up Close, Personal & Inescapable

"He that oppresseth the poor reproacheth his Maker: but he that honoureth him hath mercy on the poor." Psalm 14:31

Poverty is easy to stereotype. As a matter of fact, as long as we limit those in poverty to statistics and federal budget allocations it becomes easier to be indifferent to their plight. 

The documentary 'The Line' profiles families ensnared in poverty across the country. They don't all look alike, but they all face the same dehumanizing circumstances...

"You’ll meet a banker in the suburban Midwest who used to earn six-figures a year and now, after the economic collapse, must go to a food bank to feed his three kids; a fisherman on the Gulf Coast of Louisiana who has watched his livelihood and his culture wash away in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and a devastating off-shore oil spill; a blue collar guy in North Carolina who worked hard his whole life but lost his job, became homeless, and started over as a restaurant busboy; and a single mom in Chicago who battles daily to ensure that her son is safe, healthy, and has the opportunity to go to college."

Looks like a good candidate for one of CitySquare's documentary screenings. We'll be getting back to you on that!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Sam Rayburn

Politiican, United States Congressman, Speaker of the House

"Too many critics mistake the deliberations of the Congress for its decisions."

Thursday, September 6, 2012

We Can End Hunger in America. Shame on Us if We Don't!

A new poll released by Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), reveals that Americans oppose cutting the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. While down somewhat from the first of the year, 59 out of 141 respondents say that cutting SNAP is the wrong way to reduce federal spending. 

This is significant in light of a new USDA report that 1 in 6 U.S. families are struggling with hunger. 

'Share Our Strength' a national organization devoted to eradicating hunger and food insecurity, are partnering with one of my favorite actors, Jeff Bridges, to both get the word out and families struggling with childhood hunger in our country. The Food Network will broadcast a documentary, 'Hunger at Home', focusing on families throughout the U.S. for whom putting food on the table is a significant challenge. Here's the one hour film... (if you can't view the embed, click on the link).

My friend Larry James recently quoted our colleague Dr. Kevin Vicknair who oversees the work of our food programming who says we are observing just how deep the situation is in our pantry:

 "From January to July of 2012, the Food Pantry provided food to 12,901 individuals, of whom 4,478 (34.7%) have never before required our services and 2,283 (17.7%) who have returned after not needing us for at least six months."

"This lets me know that the economy is not only pushing new people below the poverty threshold, but is in fact returning many people to the poverty rolls who had started to be self-sufficient but once again find themselves struggling."

We can do something about hunger in America. 

We have the money. 

We have the programs. 

Do we have the will? Shame on us if we don't. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie & Payday Lending

What's not to like about the Texas Rangers?

As of today, at 80-54, they own the best record in the American League. They are an exciting team that knows how to play offense and defense and are an odds on favorite to return to the World Series for the third consecutive year. There are those of us who have been fans for awhile, who remember what it was like to wait to see how the Rangers would blow whatever challenge for second (or even third place) after the All-Star break! By almost any conceivable measure, this has been a great team for nearly five years.

Now I'm not posing as a diehard baseball fan, but I do watch and have been a Ranger fan from almost the day they moved here from Washington, D.C. My affection for the team grew, when I had the priviledge of preaching chapel services for them and their opposing teams back in the '90's. And it is great to see them really, really good!

So again, what's not to like?
Well, one thing that has nearly driven me to distraction are the payday loan commercials run during broadcasts of Texas Rangers baseball games.
The Texas Rangers have a really good image as a sports organization that is concerned about the community. So, to say the least, I am dismayed by their endorsement of an industry business that relies on exploitation of economically vulnerable consumers.

Last week, I wrote a letter to Ranger President Nolan Ryan, General Manager John Daniels and Team Manager Ron Washington to let them know of my concern. I hope it registers. It's more likely to register if you join me and send your own message to the team and let them know this is not becoming of such a  cherished sports franchise...


Messers Nolan Ryan, John Daniels, Ron Washington,

My name is Rev. Gerald Britt, Jr., and I serve as Vice President of CitySquare, a social justice, social service faith-based organization in Dallas working on issues of poverty through direct service and advocacy.

I and baseball fans throughout Texas am incredibly proud of the management and players of the Texas Rangers baseball team. We are all greatly impressed with the hard work and dedication of everyone involved and are looking forward to another great year and the prospect of a World Series Championship.
There are many of us, however, who are deeply concerned about the club’s promotion of payday lending (specifically Ace Cash Express) by such a beloved and respected manager as Ron Washington.
These are businesses which ensnare people, particularly poor and low income citizens, in a cycle of debt with interest rates of anywhere between 300-900%. Patrons who are unable to repay these short term loans usually end up going to other small dollar lenders to borrow the money to repay the original loan. Statistics tell us that this happens at least four times. The industry counts this type of churn as evidence of ‘the need’ for their product, when in actuality their usurious practices are creating the need.

Our agency, which serves nearly 50,000 people annually, has helped provide financial assistance and counseling to an alarming number of people who have found themselves trapped in debt because they sought assistance from this industry.

One such neighbor (we don’t call the people we serve ‘clients’), got a $300 loan to buy school supplies and uniforms for her three children. Her inability to pay back the loan in the two week period ended up costing her more than $900 – more than her monthly rent! She, and others like her, represented nearly 40% of the people helped by the program which assisted her (a program that has since lost its funding). Similar and even worse stories are told by other non-profit agencies.

CitySquare has fought to regulate this industry for almost two years now. Along with the Anti-Poverty Coalition of Greater Dallas (which includes the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas; Jewish Community Relations Council, AARP, the Urban League of Greater Dallas and about 12 other faith-based and non-profit agencies) we have fought to call attention to and get local ordinances passed which will stop the most egregious predatory practices of these businesses.

A little more than a year ago, working with Dallas City Councilman Jerry Allen, we were successful in getting the toughest regulatory ordinances passed in the country; at the state level, working with Catholic Charities, Texas Appleseed, Christian Life Commission, we were successful in getting legislation passed resulting in rules for greater consumer disclosure, registration and reporting by the industry. These are laws which we will work to strengthen during the next legislative session.

Ron Washington is highly respected throughout the baseball community in Texas, and throughout the general community. His endorsement of ACE Cash Express, one of the most high profile payday lenders, is seen to have legitimacy not simply because of his support, but by implication the support of the legendary Nolan Ryan and the entire Texas Ranger Baseball Club. Yet there those of us, who cringe every time we see these commercials during a game broadcast, who refuse to believe that neither he nor the Texas Ranger organization are aware of their negative impact of these businesses on individuals and whole communities. There are more payday and auto title loan businesses in the state of Texas than there are McDonald’s and Burger King’s combined. In the Oak Cliff section of Dallas, on Camp Wisdom Road, on a 2-3 mile stretch west of Highway 67 going into Duncanville, there are more than 20 payday and auto title lenders. They have, for all intents and purposes choked out economic development in an area that once thrived with commercial diversity.

Neither CitySquare, the Anti-Poverty Coalition of Greater Dallas, or any other organization working with us and counted as allies, are asking for a donation or even a public statement by the organization. We simply ask you to cease the promotion of this business on your broadcasts. Stop giving an air of legitimacy to an industry that takes advantage of your fans, their families, their neighbors and their friends.
Again, we appreciate your hard work and the history of dedication to the community. We are proud to be Ranger fans. Make us even more proud by ending your support of exploitation that masquerades as commerce.

Rev. Gerald Britt, Jr.
Vice-President of Public Policy


If you'd like to write your own letter to the Rangers send it to:
Texas Rangers Baseball Club
1000 Ballpark Way, Ste. 400
Arlington, TX 76011

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Charter School Myth & Challenge

School has started, and a great deal has been said as recently as last week, about 'school choice'. The idea that parents of children attending failing schools should be allowed to attend the schools of their choice has a great deal of resonance with families frustrated with all the maladies of public education. 'School choice' is almost hailed as the magic bullet to fix what ails our public education system. But clearly, it's not...

For instance, what happens when there isn't much 'choice' in what you have to choose from?

This article in 'The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette' tells about an even more frustrating dilemma for parents in Harlem...

"When it came time to pick a Harlem middle school for her daughter, Eula Guest did her research. She inquired with friends, principals and PTA presidents, and talked to students inside art studios and auditoriums. "I got down to the nitty-gritty," she said. "I asked about everything.""

"Eventually, she chose Frederick Douglass Academy II, a middle and high school with a robotics class, a college-readiness program and lots of tutoring for students in need of extra support. The latest grade reported in the city's guidebook said the middle school had earned an "A.""

"It did not say that more recently, it had earned a "C," and the year that Ms. Guest's daughter, Shassee, applied for admission, it was stumbling its way to an "F." Last year, a few months after Shassee entered sixth grade, the Education Department announced it wanted to close the academy's middle school, citing, among other things, low standardized test scores."

""They tell you, be an active partner in your child's education, be active about choosing a school," said Ms. Guest, who owns a video marketing firm with her husband. "You abide by the rules, and then they try to change the rules. I was in shock."" (the rest of the article can be read here).

I am not as harsh a critic of charter schools as I used to be. And although I have visited and read about what appear to be some outstanding charter schools, I also know from the two which my granddaughter has attended that 'school choice' is not always what it's cracked up to be. Teachers who are unable to maintain discipline in their classrooms, who communicate poorly with parents, or incompetent administrators can be found in either public or charter schools.

But I am puzzled by something. Clearly there are successful, creative and innovative charter schools. They attract teachers who are unafraid of demanding schedules and unbelievably heavy workloads. They are able to take students who are unsuccessful in traditional public schools and transform them into scholars.

So why aren't we reinventing our traditional public schools to look more like successful charter schools?

Monday, September 3, 2012

Whatever Happened to Stanley Johnson?

Perhaps you remember this commercial. In some ways it was one of the funniest commercials on the air. In other ways it was one of the most prescient. Stanley Johnson was living the 'American Dream' - on the surface. But he was actually trapped in a nightmare. 

This commercial was aired in the days that led to the Great Recession, around 2007. There are those who would have us forget these days. There are those who would have us believe that the Recession we have experienced was a minor cyclical adjustment that should have been weathered by simply letting market forces run their course. But the Stanley Johnsons of the world were the ones who lost their jobs, their houses, their cars and of course that country club membership. Some of the Stanley Johnsons are still unemployed and depending on their age, are not likely to find work that gives them the hope of returning to the quality of life they experienced before the Recession began. If you weren't quite as 'prosperous' as Stanley, you lost even more. 

By 2009, the Stanley Johnsons of America had a median net worth of $92,000. Stanley's black counterparts median net worth was less than $5000 ($4900) to be exact (some analysts figure it the discrepancy to be much greater). All told the Recession cost Americans nearly $8 trillion in wealth. No matter where you sit it was the economic devastation of our lifetime. No President has faced anything like it almost 90 years. It is so devastating, it's safe to say, that either Stanley Johnson, or some of his neighbors, have been served at CitySquare's food pantry or health clinic. 

How well this country has and is recovering must take this into account. The 'prosperity' so many of us were fooled into celebrating, was a prosperity where those who dealing in exotic loan schemes, credit default swaps, subprime mortgages were deluded into masking stagnant wages with easy credit. Those who were extolling the virtue of America's free market system prior to 2008, were creating millions of Stanley Johnsons. And there are those who are calling for the implementation of policies which will leave the Stanley Johnsons behind. 

It's easy to forget, because nobody wants to remember a nightmare. But nightmares tend to be unforgettable...

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Phyllis Diller

Comedian, Actress

"A smile is a curve that sets everything straight."