Wednesday, July 31, 2013

'With All Deliberate Speed'...Richardson ISD and Brown v. Board




From the second until the seventh grade, my brother and I walked to school. We were never bothered. No adults ever approached us. We sometimes walked with our friends, sometimes it was just us. We were in the same class until about the fourth grade. My brother's teacher lived around the corner from our house and it wasn't unusual for the teacher, Mr. Lewis, to give my brother or another of his classmates the keys to his house to pick up his lunch, or something else he may have forgotten. On that same block that Mr. Lewis lived, were two other teachers. Their children were our classmates, our friends and teammates on our school's basketball and football teams when we got to the seventh grade. We were in and out of their houses. Although my family still attended my grandfather's church in East Dallas, we were frequent visitors to the churches in our neighborhood for some Sunday services, for Vacation Bible Schools and revivals. There, some of those teachers in our school were Sunday School teachers, choir members, deacons and ushers. 

Much of that ended by the time we were promoted to the eighth grade...

We went to Hamilton Park Junior High and we were among those first grades that were bused as Richardson ISD came under court order to end segregation. 

Busing did more than get us to 'better' schools. It broke up community and camaraderie. Hamilton Park School contained first through 12 grades. We looked forward to graduating from that school as did the big brothers and sisters of our classmates. But when Hamilton Park School was desegregated, it tore a social framework that had been developed by many of us from the time we were in the first grade on. 

If your family lived south of the school, you were bused to Lake Highlands Junior High. If you lived behind the school, you went to either Richardson Jr. High School (where my brother and I went) or in a few cases, you went to Pearce Jr. High School. When we went to high school, we were split even more, either going to Berkner, Richardson, Pearce or Lake Highland high schools. 

I remember that first day, pretty clearly. A mistake was made and we were sent to the wrong junior high. The only thing worse than the tears shed on the bus on the way to our new school, were the tears that flowed when several weeks later they corrected the mistake by sending us to our actual assigned school!

There was a consequence to breaking up our school like that. The major consequence was that many of us lost touch with one another. Unless your family had lived in Hamilton Park a long time, or unless you went to the same church, kids who went to Lake Highlands lost touch with those who went to Richardson Jr. High  or Pearce. From there those who went to Richardson, lost touch with those who went to Berkner or Pearce high schools. 

I think its safe to say that we got a good education. A very good one. But were getting a very good education at Hamilton Park. With a few exception, we had caring teachers. But we had caring teachers at Hamilton Park.They were men and women who knew our parents...those teachers were our neighbors and church members and took special interest in our academic success. At our reunions now, we reconnect and, as with all other class reunions, those of us who haven't seen one another, will often stare hard to try and find the boys or girls we knew in our youth. I don't know that any of us regret anything other than the opportunity to grow up really knowing one another during those formative years. As I said, we got a very good public education. 

There is one thing that I think is even worse than the break-up of Hamilton Park School...

Richardson ISD began implementing a strategy to desegregate Hamilton Park in 1970. It achieved 'unitary status this week. 

The Supreme Court ruling, Brown v. Board of Education, which declared 'separate but equal' schools unconstitutional, was handed down in 1954 (about the same time Hamilton Park was built as a solution to substandard housing for blacks in Dallas - another story). The ruling called for integration 'with all deliberate speed'. 

It took Richardson ISD, 14 years to obey the ruling. It took 59 years for a federal judge to decide that it was in full compliance with Brown v. Board

Richardson ISD, is now a 'majority-minority' school district. It has been for a long time. 

The next time someone tells you that race relations have 'come a long way' maybe this needs to be pointed out.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Surprise - Texas Out of Step with Healthcare


I'm posting this because Maryland is an example of the benefits of the Affordable Care Act (read the rest of the article here). And to remind us that Texas continues to fiddle with an expansion of Medicaid that would help some of the 6 million citizens of our state - including 600,000 residents in Dallas County - who are without healthcare insurance. 
The 'disaster' we hear critics warning about is of our own making...

Maryland issues insurance rates that are among lowest in U.S.

Maryland insurance officials approved final rates Friday for health plans to be sold in the state’s new online marketplace that are among the lowest in the country. The plans, which are for individuals, will be sold beginning Oct. 1.
The Maryland Insurance Administration approved premiums at levels as much as 33 percent below what had been requested by insurance carriers. For a 21-year-old non-smoker, for example, options start as low as $93 a month. Insurance Commissioner Therese Goldsmith reduced the premium rates proposed by every insurance carrier in the individual market, including some by more than 50 percent, according to an analysis by Maryland officials who will be operating the marketplace.
The rates offered by nine carriers are among the lowest of the 12 states that have proposed or approved rates for comparison to date, and among the lowest in the D.C. area.
“We are pleased that Maryland is among the lowest in the country,” said the state’s health secretary, Joshua Sharfstein. He said the rates were an important step for the launch of the online marketplace, the Maryland Health Connection.
According to the analysis, a 25-year-old buying the cheapest “bronze” plan — with the lowest premium but higher out-of-pocket costs — would pay $119 to $129 a month in Maryland, compared with $151 in Washington and $134 in Virginia. A 50-year-old could buy a “silver” plan and pay $260 to $269 a month in Maryland, compared with $319 in New York and $329 in Virginia.
Officials said the state’s analysis also showed that a majority of Marylanders expected to purchase health insurance through the marketplace will be eligible for tax subsidies to reduce the cost of coverage under the federal health-care law, known as the Affordable Care Act. Subsidies would be available for Americans who earn less than 400 percent of the poverty line, about $45,000 for an individual.
Dan Mendelson, chief executive of Avalere Health, a health-care consulting firm tracking implementation of the health-care overhaul, said Maryland’s low rates are consistent with states where there is strong competition among insurance carriers and among hospitals and other provider networks. Nationally, the rates approved or proposed so far have been below analysts’ expectations, Mendelson said.
“In some ways, these are ideal circumstances because rates are so low, but we still have to see whether people will actually go out and buy this product,” he said.
A spokeswoman for the Health and Human Services Department cited Maryland’s news as another example of how the federal law was “providing families with affordable and new choices.”
Under the law, insurers in all states must provide health insurance for individuals that includes a basic package of benefits, including maternity, preventive and mental-health services. In the past, insurance carriers have been allowed to deny applicants based on pre-existing conditions. Starting next year, they will no longer be able to do so.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Foreign Mission vs. Domestic Mission - Why Choose?

After preaching at a church where a long-time friend of mine served as pastor, I had yet another encounter similar to one I've had for several months now: church members who, after finding out about CitySquare, want to become involved in social justice work and advocacy, and who want to make a meaningful difference in the lives of the poor. Some want to enhance the work their church is already doing. Some don't believe their church is doing enough...or anything at all. 
This article, cited by Sharon Grigsby of the Dallas Morning News, originally appeared in the Christianity Today, suggests that what I am seeing and hearing in Dallas may be a trend among more churches than I've even realized. And I think that's a good thing. 
Doug Banister, a pastor in Knoxville, Tennessee, is beginning to rethink the priority that foreign missions receive in his church. Rightly, I believe Banister isn't seeing this as an 'either/or' dilemma, but that the church he serves should be reaching the world...and the poor and underserved in his own city. 
"Some well-meaning Christians have a theology of mission that seeks to alleviate the spiritual and physical suffering of people far away, but pays little attention to needs here at home."
"I know because I was one of them. I spent many years taking mission trips to Tulcea, Romania. We shared the gospel, cared for orphans, and started a medical clinic. It seemed that God moved in powerful ways. Then my friends Jon and Toni moved into one of Knoxville's marginalized neighborhoods. Jon invited me to go on prayer walks with him on Wednesday mornings. I saw syringes on playgrounds, prostitutes turning tricks, hustlers selling drugs. Our walks led me to volunteer at the elementary school in Jon's neighborhood. I'd assumed all the schools in our city were pretty much the same. They aren't. Kids with B averages in Jon's school score in the 30th percentile on standardized tests. Kids with B averages in my neighborhood score in the 90th percentile."
"In his book When Helping HurtsBrian Fikkert observes that short-term missions have become a $1.6 billion annual enterprise in America. Every year, thousands of Christians in our city take short-term trips that cost anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000 per person..."
"I believe in missions. I also believe in short-term mission trips. Yet the longer I work in the resource-poor inner city, the more frustrated I become with the amount of money God's people spend on these brief trips. We seem so eager to spend thousands of dollars sending our people overseas for one week without stopping to ask, "Would some of this money be better invested in my own community?""
"Every time I hear of another $3,000 short-term mission trip, I think about Dan and Mary, whose ministry to Knoxville's refugee community is chronically underfunded. I think about the 1,600 meals that the same sum would pay for at our rescue mission. I think about the inner city schoolteacher who dips into her $34,000 salary to pay for pencils and treats. I think of the 83-year-old widow with the $700 winter heating bill, waiting for a new roof she can't afford. I think about the 50 children of prisoners on the waiting list for the underfunded Amachi mentoring program. I think about the 30 children who have never seen a deer who could go to a Bible camp in the mountains for the same amount of money it takes to send one person overseas for a week. And I think about the starving boy on my swim team."
"I do believe we are changing. Churches in Knoxville with strong foreign mission programs are beginning to invest considerable resources in meeting the spiritual and physical needs of the weakest members of our community" (read the rest of the article here).
That's good news!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Nikola Tesla
1856-1943


Inventor

"Our virtues and our failings are inseparable, like force and matter. When they separate, man is no more."

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Prerequisite for Social Justice




Helen Keller




"Until the great mass of the people shall be filled with the sense of responsibility for each other's welfare, social justice can never be attained."

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The State of the Voting Rights in the State of Texas



"...today I am announcing that the Justice Department will ask a federal court in Texas to subject the State of Texas to a preclearance regime similar to the one required by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. This request to “bail in” the state – and require it to obtain “pre-approval” from either the Department or a federal court before implementing future voting changes – is available under the Voting Rights Act when intentional voting discrimination is found.  Based on the evidence of intentional racial discrimination that was presented last year in the redistricting case, Texas v. Holder – as well as the history of pervasive voting-related discrimination against racial minorities that the Supreme Court itself has recognized – we believe that the State of Texas should be required to go through a preclearance process whenever it changes its voting laws and practices."

"This is the Department’s first action to protect voting rights following the Shelby County decision, but it will not be our last.  Even as Congress considers updates to the Voting Rights Act in light of the Court’s ruling, we plan, in the meantime, to fully utilize the law’s remaining sections to ensure that the voting rights of all American citizens are protected." 


Attorney General Eric Holder, 
Remarks at the National Urban League Annual Conference
July 25, 2013

Full speech can be found here

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

My Column in Today's Dallas Morning News

Gerald Britt: Constructively seeking justice, post-Zimmerman acquittal
Trayvon Martin’s murder and the acquittal of George Zimmerman have transfixed and traumatized our nation. In black communities, Trayvon’s death evoked memories of the heinous, brutal murder of Emmett Till, whose killers were also acquitted, only to admit later, in an interview for which they were paid $4,000, that they actually murdered the 14-year-old Chicagoan.
The Martin case appears to have been traumatic for some Zimmerman sympathizers as well — so traumatic, in fact, that for some, the only way of dealing with the tragedy has been through torturously distorted logic, defaming the teenager as a pot-smoking homophob whom Zimmerman mercifully killed before he grew into the thug he aspired to be.
The only way some people can make peace with living in a country in which innocent youth can be murdered with impunity is by visiting a gruesome illogic upon the memory of this young man. Reality must be violently contorted to deal with the absence of justice when senseless acts of violence are deemed legal.
The stand-your-ground laws, while not a direct claim of Zimmerman’s defense team at trial, were nonetheless the toxic soup in which his claim of self-defense was boiled. Such laws, peddled throughout the country by the NRA and the American Legislative Exchange Council, a nonprofit, conservative policy think tank, have been adopted by 33 states. ALEC also wrote the template for and promoted the voter-ID laws that are threatening to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of elderly, poor and minority citizens throughout this country.
Such legislation embeds in our legal system and politics a dangerous ideology that further marginalizes a large swath of vulnerable Americans by categorizing them as threatening.
So what can be done in the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin tragedy?
The murder of our Trayvon Martins is possible because of legislators who willingly capitulate to groups such as ALEC. That can be changed at the ballot box. Voting is also the way we ensure that we have competent prosecutors and judges who apply just laws with reasonableness and fairness.
Next, registered voters must stop dodging jury duty. A large pool of potential jurors must be available for there to be deliberations by a more diverse population.
And should Texas’ voter-ID law actually stand, religious leaders, nonprofit organizations and civic leaders must work vigorously to register and get out the vote among our most vulnerable citizens and assist them in obtaining all necessary documentation to vote. We should also insist that, in the 2015 legislative session, lawmakers allocate funding to increase the number of places where acceptable ID can be obtained. That means more Department of Public Safety centers, particularly in rural areas, on state-funded university campuses and even in banks, post offices and Social Security offices if possible.
We also should call on the federal government to enact a uniform policy for early voting in federal elections.
There’s a story about a minister who had scheduled a lunch with a judge. The preacher decided to come to court early and watch the judge in action. In proceeding after proceeding, he watched the judge hand down severe sentences to first-time offenders. Barely able to contain himself at lunch, the preacher said: “Judge, I sat in your court all morning expecting to see justice done. … I didn’t see it. Where was the justice?” The judge replied, “Reverend, mine is not a court of justice, it’s a court of law. If you want justice, change the law!”
The Trayvon Martin story is as much about justice as it is about the law.
We must be committed to affecting both.
Gerald Britt is vice president of public policy at City Square. His email address is gbritt@citysquare.org. He blogs at changethewind.org.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Things ARE Better - But We've Got to Keep Our Eyes on the Prize!


Over the past several days, we've heard the phrase 'Things are better...' regarding race relations. It's an undeniable fact. But its usually spoken in such a way as to project the idea that there should be a type of 'satisfaction' and patience when it comes to progress. Indeed, it sometimes seems to imply that there is ingratitude for how far we've come in the struggle for equality. 

The video is a portion of the 1986 documentary 'Eyes On the Prize'. Is NOT a depiction of racism and Jim Crow 100 years ago. In fact, the first episode shown here ends the year I was born. By that time Jim Crow segregation had been a fact of American life for almost 100 years

Yes things are better...but frankly, that doesn't take much based on this recent history. If there's anyone who thinks that simply because America doesn't look like this anymore we shouldn't be fighting for more, they're...well they're just not right!

Monday, July 22, 2013

'Go You Dallas Cowboys, GO!' - My FAVORITE Time of Year!


At CitySquare I think its safe to say the sport of choice is baseball. I'm conversant enough ( I actually do like baseball and a couple of weeks after the All-Star Break I pay more attention), but to be honest baseball is something I put up with until the REAL sports year starts...FOOTBALL!

Training camp started yesterday and I'm looking forward to all the drama which is Dallas Cowboy football! I can't wait till the start of College football as well. This is a great time of year!

And no...no predictions (it's the Cowboys, remember?)...

Saturday, July 20, 2013

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Helen Thomas
1920-2013


Pioneer Journalist, White House Press Corp Corresspondent

"I don't think a tough question is disrespectful."

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Trayvon Martin, Marley Lion and Racial Resentment

It's happening...you can usually count on it...

Someone who is resentful, begins to raise questions that really have nothing to do with an issue and then others who are resentful begins to raise those same questions and by the sheer volume of resentful voices people actually think there's something to it.

It's called false equivalence. And its born out of resentfulness...or something worse.

Take for instance the Paula Deene imbroglio. She confessed to using the 'N' word (worse - at least to me - she wanted black men dressed as antebellum era 'slaves' to serve at her brothers wedding). Then there is the chorus of voices saying, 'If black people use the 'N' word among one another why can't everybody? If whites can't use say it then no one should.' The latter point being true, the fact is, it makes no difference what blacks call one another, it doesn't give anyone else the excuse for using it. But, go ahead if you're that resentful, you have my permission to walk up randomly to any black person you want and use the word. I would suggest you first try it with your co-worker, or boss, or maybe the next black police officer you come in contact with. Or maybe your child's playmate's parents. Or your customer who happens to be black. Be my guest...

And then there's the Trayvon Martin killing. What about the number of black on black shootings about which we never hear? What about the number of black youth being killed in, say Chicago? Why is no one protesting those?

Of course, there has been attention called to those murders before and, clearly the ones who are claiming no attention is being paid to those killings weren't paying attention then!

And the resentful are also comparing the Trayvon Martin murder to that of other murders committed by black perpetrators with white victims. The one going viral now is the brutal murder of a young man in Charlston, South Carolina, named Marley Lion. Marley, a 16 year old white teenager was killed in a robbery by four black men. And the resentful are saying that it is 'hypocrisy' and 'racist' that this tragedy is not attracting the same moral, national outrage as the Trayvon Martin tragedy.They seem not to notice the difference.

I'll try and help them here...

It took 45 days and national protests to get an arrest in the Trayvon Martin murder...when authorities KNEW who killed the teenager.

While it took 6 weeks to make an arrest in the case of Marley Lion, that was a six week investigation and the alleged killers were promptly arrested.

Marley was killed during the commission of a crime. Trayvon was killed after he was confronted by George Zimmerman because he 'looked suspicious'. Zimmerman, of course says he shot Trayvon in 'self-defense', but we have no alternative account of the conflict...security cameras in the gated community where the incident took place weren't working. In Marley's case, the police used surveillance camera's to aid in the identification of the perpetrators.

There are also complaints that the crime in which Marley's life was wrongfully taken never made past the local news. MOST murders never make it past the local news. Frankly, the majority of murders don't make the local news! Had Zimmerman been arrested at the scene of Trayvon Martin's shooting it probably wouldn't have made it past whatever Sanford news outlet there is. It made national news because of how the case was handled.

As a matter of fact, statements by the respective law enforcement authorities provide my final example of the difference between the two cases.

First this was the public statement of the Sanford police chief after Trayvon's case...“In this case Mr. Zimmerman has made the statement of self-defense [italics mine],” [Sanford Police Chief Bill]Lee said. “Until we can establish probable cause to dispute that, we don’t have the grounds to arrest him.”

After the arrests of the four suspects in Marley Lion's death, Police Chief Gregory Mullen said"Unfortunately, sometimes I don't think the community or maybe even the media understands that this is not just a job for us. I take this personally. These people take it personally. We spend a lot of sleepless nights worrying about what's going to happen next, and you never want to get the call that there's a murder, but you certainly never want to get the call that it's a juvenile and it's for absolutely no reason at all."

I think that's a huge difference...

Race is very difficult subject. There are people who severely afflicted with guilt, shame, insensitivity and, yes, resentment over the issue. It's an inconvenient aspect of our history in this country that we don't want to look at because of what it says about us...all of us. The reaction to incidents that involve race, for far too many white Americans, is resentment. Resentment is not easy to admit and is no more positive an emotion than guilt or shame, in the minds of many. 

Trayvon Martin is dead. Marley Lion is dead. They are both tragedies. As a parent who has lost a child to gun violence, I know first hand the horrible feeling. I hate, absolutely hate, that any other parent has to experience it. 

Trayvon Martin is dead. Marley Lion is dead. The killers of these two men are white and black respectively. Statistics say that those involved in Marley's murder will most likely spend the rest of their lives in prison. And if they are found guilty by a jury of their peers in a fair trial, that's as it should be. 

George Zimmerman is a free man...


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

University of North Texas, Habitat for Humanity, Study Spotlights Dallas' Blighted Areas




Dallas Morning News' excellent editorial on blight in the southern part of the city is a must read for those who want to know just how much work needs to be done to redevelop key areas of Dallas.

For decades now, those of us who have advocated for such redevelopment have seen timid responses to those calls, with both city council members, neighborhood association and civic organizations sponsoring neighborhood clean-ups and work days. However, the largest causes for blight: abandoned buildings, debris, vacant lots owned by people outside the community, accumulating liens through fees and unpaid taxes, call for the response of the city of Dallas. But they cost money in lost revenue. According to the editorial, based on a study by the University of North Texas commissioned by Habitat for Humanity of Greater Dallas, "...the city lost approximately $142.7 million in uncollected tax revenue between 1994 and 2010 because of blight." 

The study and the editorial presents a picture that most city leaders and citizens would like to ignore. They have encouraged DMN and others to focus on 'the good things' going on in South Dallas. I think there should be a focus on those good things. But the editorial has it right...


"The value in studies such as the one by UNT and Habitat is that they present city leaders with undeniable proof of the costs associated with neglect. Littered, vacant lots might not seem like such a big priority over the short term. Or when a property owner earns a little extra cash by turning his yard into a storage space for junk cars, it’s easy for code enforcers to let that infraction slide, especially if no one complains about it."
"But if such factors are allowed to accumulate for years at a time, they tend to combine and multiply. A once vibrant neighborhood becomes an ugly, unlivable mess."
It's expensive, but we can clean up the blight. Then we can have many more 'good things' to focus on...

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Thoughts on the Verdict of the George Zimmerman Trial

If you notice that black people are particularly solemn these days, it's not your imagination.

And yes...it is directly related to the trial of George Zimmerman. On July 13, a jury of six women acquitted him of the murder of Trayvon Martin. The verdict, while technically the correct one under Florida law, was affirmation of the deepest and most depressing suspicions of a great many African-Americans...that the even the lives of our children are not worthy of regard. Not even by the criminal justice system.

I wanted to document the thoughts I've had as our community has gone through this emotionally tumultuous weekend...

My initial reaction to the verdict was sadness. This, to me and for me, was a curious reaction and I tried to put my finger on the reason for my sadness. Then I realized why...I wasn't shocked.

_________________________

I have no problem with an attorney vigorously defending his or her client. If I were on trial for my freedom or my life, I'd want my lawyer to pull out all the stops. The Constitution says that such is my right as an American. But I get the impression that George Zimmerman's attorney's believed more in their client's innocence than the prosecution believed in his guilt. In many instances, they made the defense's job easy. 

_________________________

The verdict leaves us to draw two conclusions: 1) an unarmed boy, with no discernible history of violent behavior, quickly turned 'killer' within about four minutes, deciding to attack a man with gun. Or 2) Trayvon Martin committed suicide. 

_________________________

Robert Zimmerman says his brother George, had nothing to do with Trayvon Martin's death...does this now mean that George was acquitted because he wasn't there?

_________________________

One of Zimmerman's attorney's raised a question: 'Why wasn't Trayvon at home?' Trayvon didn't have to be at home. He had a Constitutional right to be where his parents gave him permission to go, to stay as long as they allowed him to stay and to come home when they expected him to come home. Does being 'at home' mean a black people have places where they 'don't belong'? Trayvon doesn't belong on the yard of a complex headed back to his father? A tenured Harvard Professor doesn't belong in his own house. The leader of the free world doesn't belong in the White House.

_________________________


The 'Stand Your Ground' defense used by the Zimmerman's attorneys suggested that he was defending himself out of fear of his life; is it 'reasonable' to assume that any 'harm' done to Zimmerman were the result of his standing his ground out of fear for his life?

_________________________


Marissa Alexander, a young black domestic violence victim who fired a warning shot to ward off her batterer...she got a 20 year sentence. Coupling this with the Zimmerman verdict, does this mean that black people can't defend themselves...even when their attacker is not harmed?

_________________________


We make historical comparisons all of the time: The Iraq War vs. the Viet Nam War; the Boston Bombing vs. the Oklahoma City Bombing; the Great Recession vs. the Great Depression. But when black people compare the murder of Trayvon Martin with the murder of Emmett Till, they are 'shushed'! Do whites consider racism dead because it is no longer publicly acceptable to wear hooded robes, burn crosses or block the doorways of universities? Do they really believe that racism is now relegated to impoliteness? Is it possible that they believe that some 350 years of chattel slavery, followed by 100 years of state sanctioned oppression and injustice has been wiped clean by 50-60 years of legislation and court ruling that they have spent at least 20 years trying to undo? How much longer will whites tell blacks that their comparisons don't matter? That their memories are to unpleasant to be visited on our more 'progressive' era. How long will blacks be told, 'Of course racism exists...it's just that nobody is racist. Only those who mention racism.'

How long will blacks be told that your cries for justice and equity, are too inconvenient? That calls for justice mean are the equivalent to calls for 'preference' or 'predetermined outcomes'? In other words, how can we reach a point of racial reconciliation, if whites don't even want to listen, unless the language and reflects only what makes them feel comfortable? Why is the history of racial injustice the only part of American history that we don't want to remember?

_________________________


The gun lobby and second amendment advocates who brought us the 'Stand Your Ground Laws' which are rippling throughout the states in our country, forget (or don't know), that rationale for the right to carry arms to defend themselves, is the exact same rationale that the original Black Panthers used to arm themselves, even to the point of providing citizen 'supervision' of police arrests. The response of the dominant culture then? Cries for gun control...

_________________________


I could go on. These are some of the thoughts I've had over the weekend. They're not new thoughts. Many I've expressed before. A year and half ago the cries among protesters was for an arrest, an investigation and, if warranted, a trial. Was the verdict reached in Sanford on July 13 the 'correct' one? Did the jury 'get it right'? Whites cling desperately to the need for 'law', 'order' and 'respect for authority', even to the point of tacitly investing some semblance of 'authority' in someone possessing absolutely no legal authority...if it keeps them 'safe'. Blacks are more suspicious of most of those, because within the memory of far too many of us, the systems which purportedly were meant to 'protect' us and our children, all too often left us more vulnerable and wounded. A 'correct' verdict in the Zimmerman trial may have been the right according to the letter of the law, but it may have done incalculable damage to the spirit of our nation. That's a sobering thought...



Monday, July 15, 2013

'Strange Fruit' INDEED!


This weekend has been a tough one. On Saturday night we had a reminder of the expendable nature of  black life, particularly the life of our children and more specifically, those of our young black men. The sad thing is this isn't new. This mournful lament by the late Billie Holiday, more than expresses the cloud that hangs over many black communities across the country as we start the week. Make no mistake - the killing of Trayvon Martin in any previous age, would be classified as a 'lynching' - the 'Strange Fruit' about which Billie sings...

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Friday, July 12, 2013

A New Appreciation for 'The Voice'


I'm a fan of the late Studs Terkel. Ironically one of the things I loved about author, broadcaster and historian, was the sound of his voice! I also loved his insight - profound in its simplicity - calling attention to things we see everyday and causing us to take a deeper look. 

This video in which he wonders 'What's happened to the sound of the human voice', is a call to have a deeper appreciation of the 'noise' of our neighbors. To rediscover the appreciation of the crowd's chatter and the gossip of those with whom we stand in line. 


Our smart phones, tablets and ipods, all conspire to isolate us from life 'live' and help reinforce the idea that we can live in this world untouched by the joy and sorrows of others. The automated voices of our elevators, of our trams and buses and cars and 'Siris', are poor technological imitations of the human voice; incapable of interruption, rudeness or the expression of love. That's what Terkel is getting at here. 

I'm was a big fan of Studs Terkel...I still am!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

"Two American Families" - They Could be Us


Watch Two American Families on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

I know it might be taxing to watch an hour and a half TV show, but please take the time to watch this episode of Frontline - it's worth it. 
"Two American Families", is the story of two families from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, one black (the Stanleys), one white (the Nuemans), followed for 20 years, watching their struggles to achieve the American Dream. It is a near perfect picture of how politics and government policy intersect with everyday life. And it reveals what many of us already know...for far too many people, the hopes of prosperity and the dreams of a better life for their children are far too elusive. 
In order to evade any sense of concern for people who may have fallen into poverty, these tales are often brushed aside with speculations about what they might have done 'wrong' and how they are to blame for their circumstances. These families actually did almost everything right. In the case of one household, it includes everyone working and two parents who stay together despite their difficulties. Yet they are no better off in 2012 than they were in 1990...indeed they are arguably worse off. And they don't go away simply because they confront us with an inconvenient reality.
It's easy to look back over someone else's life and determine how they 'should have lived'. It's far more difficult to come to grips with the fact that there are too many middle-class, hard working families who fall into poverty and that there is a playing field that needs to be leveled. 
Let me put it another way: maybe we turn away from really looking at families like these, because we fear it could one day be us...

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

A Thriving American Industry: Fleecing the Poor

What do Wal-mart, Walgreens and McDonald's have in common?

Eric T. Schneiderman, New York State's Attorney General is investigating them, among other companies in the Empire State, regarding their use of payroll cards - ATM-like cards that some of these businesses are issuing instead of regular paper paychecks. The problem? These cards, usually the form of payment to low-wage workers can incur fees (50 cents for balance inquiry or up to $2.25 to use in an out of network ATM).  If you work at McDonald's for instance, this can pretty much eat up your paycheck!

But this isn't all. According to a recent New York Times article, this can be even more vicious trap...

"...one provider, for example, charges $1.75 to make a withdrawal from most A.T.M.’s, $2.95 for a paper statement and $6 to replace a card. Some users even have to pay $7 inactivity fees for not using their cards...“It’s pretty bad there’s a fee for literally everything you do.”

"...many employees say that they have no alternative. Even at companies where there is a choice, it is often elusive. Worried about imperiling their jobs, some employees say they are terrified of requesting another option, according to interviews with consumer advocates. Other employees say that they are automatically enrolled in the payroll-card programs and forced to navigate a bureaucratic maze if they want to opt out."



How prevalent (read: lucrative) is the practice? In 2012 $34 billion was loaded onto almost 5 million cards. By 2017 projections are that the number will reach $70 billion on 10.8 million cards. The issuer of these cards? Netspend, headquartered in....wait for it...Austin, Texas.

Like most strategies that target low-income people, this has been flying under the radar for sometime. At least as early as 10 years ago, Coca-Cola began marketing this 'benefit' to its customers across the country, ''Coca-Cola has built incredible relationships with its customers by being more than just a beverage provider,'' said Ken Plunk, innovation leader for the food service sales group of Coca-Cola North America. ''We have an obligation to help them solve their business problems, and a very serious problem is the cost of labor in the food service industry.''

So how many market driven ways can we find to make poor people poorer? We can't be innovative in energy, healthcare delivery, manufacturing or the elimination of food deserts, but when it comes to getting the poor to part with their money, we've discovered a new industry...'fleecing'. 




Sunday, July 7, 2013

Testing Limits; Launching Out into the Deep

This year is CitySquare's 25th anniversary. The growth that we've experienced has been phenomenal, almost frightening. More than I could have imagined when I came aboard almost 9 years ago.

From a small food pantry 25 years ago, we've become a $15 million poverty fighting agency, with 14 different programs, 120 employees and a rapidly growing reputation as one of the most effective organizations in partnering with our neighbors as they overcome the impact of poverty in their lives and in their communities. What a ride!

And now, this fall we will enter into a $16 million facility housing on the outskirts of South Dallas, which will house most of our direct service programming, along with new offices for Workforce Solutions Dallas County and Operation L.I.F.T. (Literacy Instruction for Texas), that, along with 20 kiosks for other non-profits to help us serve our neighbors.

Our President and CEO, Larry James in front of our new Opportunity Center
It seems fitting that I repost this blog from October 13, 2010, written when we were still Central Dallas Ministries and when the Opportunity Center was just a gleam in our eye. Hope you find it inspiration for wherever you need to see God's Wonders in the Deep!

_________________________________________________

It seems I've always been attracted to work that has taken me beyond the boundaries of tradition. As a pastor, very few of my local colleagues took advantage of opportunities that would lead to ministries that included housing, or after school programs, or job training. The opportunity was there - so was the opportunity to join hands with many talented, passionately committed white, Hispanic, as well as African-American men and women of faith (and some who professed no faith) in attempts to make their communities better.

At Central Dallas Ministries, this work often stretches the boundaries of the 'ordinary' non-profit. It challenges many of us to think seriously about what it means to be 'faith-based'. The most dangerous question to ask in this organization is 'What if...?'

That question led to CityWalk@Akard; jobs-driven job training; permanent supportive housing programs; Food on the Move; the Opportunity Center in South Dallas and myriad other programs that have helped address issues of housing, employment, education and hunger.

It admittedly takes us to the very edge of security. And, without exception, whenever we've reached that brink, we find out how God responds to those who have faith enough to test the limits. We find out what the old members of the church my grandfather served meant when they would say, 'God makes a way out of no way'.



Several years ago, I found a passage of scripture that helped me find security when I tested boundaries - as a matter of fact, it has encouraged me to look for boundaries to cross...

"They that go down to the sea in ship, that do business in great waters; these see the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep." (Psalm 107:23, 24).

I've found out over the years, that no matter how great we think the works of God are on shore, He's doing greater things in the deep! It's not always safe...some even question whether its sane.

But it's never dull!
Central Dallas Ministries is a great place where wonderful leaders and neighbors regularly cross boundaries and launch out into the deep. We're always looking for partners. Hope there are those of you out there who will join those of us who just can't resist testing limits in service...

Saturday, July 6, 2013

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Jack Johnson
1878-1946


First Black Heavy Weight Champion

"If it seems like you are playing around and not practicing, that's when you know you really love it."

Friday, July 5, 2013

We Can't Afford to Forget About Those Who Hunger



I recently participated on a panel at the Watermark Church in Dallas, after a screening of 'A Place at the Table', a documentary about hunger and food insecurity in America. It's was an important time of helping some treasured friends of CitySquare (and mine), become more aware of the plight of many of our neighbors in our city who work hard, but simply don't make enough to eat. 

This is a subject we need to keep in front of everyone: in a country as rich as ours, no one should go hungry the fight against hunger and food insecurity must go beyond charitable responses!

Bill Moyers has picked up on this issue and made it the subject of a recent broadcast. Take the time to watch it...and try to do so without squirming around the impulse to explain away this gross inequity in our nation. We should all be ashamed that we allow this to exist...the implications go far beyond the need for something to eat...

"The story of American families facing food insecurity is as frustrating as it is heartbreaking, because the truth is as avoidable as it is tragic. Here in the richest country on earth, 50 million of us — one in six Americans — go hungry. More than a third of them are children. And yet Congress can’t pass a Farm Bill because our representatives continue to fight over how many billions to slash from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps. The debate is filled with tired clich├ęs about freeloaders undeserving of government help, living large at the expense of honest, hardworking taxpayers. But a new documentary,A Place at the Table, paints a truer picture of America’s poor."
"“The cost of food insecurity, obesity and malnutrition is way larger than it is to feed kids nutritious food,” Kristi Jacobson, one of the film’s directors and producers, tells Bill. She and Mariana Chilton, director of the Center for Hunger-Free Communities, explain to Bill how hunger hits hard at people from every walk of life."
"“There’s no opportunity for people who are low-income to really engage in our democracy,” says Chilton. “I think they’re actively shut out.”"

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Independence Day: A Democratic Celebration of Honesty and Hope

If I were given the opportunity to hear one great American orator from our country's past speak it would be Frederick Douglass. His eloquent, profound logic and the sheer courage of his words, are awe inspiring. And it's seen in the words of his 1852 Independence Day speech. In it Douglass honors the legacy of the Founding Father, but honestly offers prophetic critique of the young nation's hypocrisy in its tolerance of slavery...


"Fellow Citizens, I am not wanting in respect for the fathers of this republic. The signers of the Declaration of Independence were brave men. They were great men too — great enough to give fame to a great age. It does not often happen to a nation to raise, at one time, such a number of truly great men. The point from which I am compelled to view them is not, certainly, the most favorable; and yet I cannot contemplate their great deeds with less than admiration. They were statesmen, patriots and heroes, and for the good they did, and the principles they contended for, I will unite with you to honor their memory..."

"...What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelly to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour..."

"...Allow me to say, in conclusion, notwithstanding the dark picture I have this day presented of the state of the nation, I do not despair of this country. There are forces in operation, which must inevitably work the downfall of slavery. "The arm of the Lord is not shortened," and the doom of slavery is certain. I, therefore, leave off where I began, with hope. While drawing encouragement from the Declaration of Independence, the great principles it contains, and the genius of American Institutions, my spirit is also cheered by the obvious tendencies of the age. Nations do not now stand in the same relation to each other that they did ages ago. No nation can now shut itself up from the surrounding world, and trot round in the same old path of its fathers without interference. The time was when such could be done. Long established customs of hurtful character could formerly fence themselves in, and do their evil work with social impunity. Knowledge was then confined and enjoyed by the privileged few, and the multitude walked on in mental darkness. But a change has now come over the affairs of mankind. Walled cities and empires have become unfashionable. The arm of commerce has borne away the gates of the strong city. Intelligence is penetrating the darkest corners of the globe. It makes its pathway over and under the sea, as well as on the earth. Wind, steam, and lightning are its chartered agents. Oceans no longer divide, but link nations together. From Boston to London is now a holiday excursion. Space is comparatively annihilated. Thoughts expressed on one side of the Atlantic are, distinctly heard on the other."

"The far-off and almost fabulous Pacific rolls in grandeur at our feet. The Celestial Empire, the mystery of ages, is being solved. The fiat of the Almighty, "Let there be Light," has not yet spent its force. No abuse, no outrage whether in taste, sport or avarice, can now hide itself from the all-pervading light. The iron shoe, and crippled foot of China must be seen, in contrast with nature. Africa must rise and put on her yet unwoven garment. "Ethiopia shall stretch out her hand unto God." In the fervent aspirations of William Lloyd Garrison, I say, and let every heart join in saying it."

?God speed the year of jubilee The wide world o’er When from their galling chains set free, Th’ oppress’d shall vilely bend the knee, And wear the yoke of tyranny Like brutes no more. That year will come, and freedom’s reign, To man his plundered fights again Restore."

"God speed the day when human blood Shall cease to flow! In every clime be understood, The claims of human brotherhood, And each return for evil, good, Not blow for blow; That day will come all feuds to end. And change into a faithful friend Each foe."

"God speed the hour, the glorious hour, When none on earth Shall exercise a lordly power, Nor in a tyrant’s presence cower; But all to manhood’s stature tower, By equal birth! That hour will com, to each, to all, And from his prison-house, the thrall Go forth."

"Until that year, day, hour, arrive, With head, and heart, and hand I’ll strive, To break the rod, and rend the gyve, The spoiler of his prey deprive- So witness Heaven! And never from my chosen post, Whate’er the peril or the cost, Be driven."


We don't truly celebrate 'Independence' if we cannot honestly look at the deficits in our practice of democracy. Any greatness America has achieved, it has achieved as we looked at where we have fallen short of those democratic ideals and made every effort to overcome those deficits. Frederick Douglass saw those deficits, more acutely than we do, yet he maintained hope. 

I continue to hope as well...

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Honorable Rev. Dr. William Gray III (1941-2013)


The former U.S. Congressman from Pennsylvania, Rev. Dr. William Gray III died, this past Monday. He was 71 years old. 

Gray, a towering figure in Philadelphia politics, pastor and businessman,was in London, attending Wimbledon with his son. 

There are towering figures in our nation's black community, men and women who's influence and wisdom is so pervasive that they fill leadership voids so varied that in the process they become legendary. William Gray III is such a figure

He was not only a United States Representative, and while serving in Congress, he also served as pastor of Bright Hope Baptist Church in Philadelphia, where he succeeded his father. Gray was also became President of the United Negro College Fund. 

"In a statement issued Tuesday morning, President Obama called Mr. Gray "a trailblazer" and said, "Bill's extraordinary leadership, on issues from housing to transportation to supporting efforts that ended apartheid in South Africa, made our communities, our country and our world a more just place." In Harrisburg, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives stood and paused in a moment of silence. Friends struggled to grasp the news that he was gone - to them he seemed strong, an avid tennis player. Others who knew Mr. Gray for decades - colleagues, political allies, and church members - recalled him as a respected Philadelphia pastor, a visionary congressman, a fighter for justice, and a man of keen political sense who put his charisma to good use. "He could walk down the hallway, and everybody knew him, he knew everyone," said U.S. Rep. Bob Brady (D., Pa). "I'm absolutely positively shocked. It's a major, major loss to the city, to the area, and to the nation." Mayor Nutter said he was "stunned, saddened and hurt" by the death of Mr. Gray, whom he called "a transformative leader among leaders." "He knew guys on the corner, and he knew Nelson Mandela and everyone in between," Nutter said. "In the chess match of politics, he knew how to get things done." At the time of his death, Mr. Gray was chairman emeritus of Gray Global Advisors, a business and government consultancy based in Washington. Before founding the firm, he was president and chief executive of the United Negro College Fund, for which he raised more than $2.3 billion for minority institutions."

This video clip from 1992 could have been spoken yesterday. It not only shows how little things have changed, it is one of the clearest prophetic pronouncements on why such little progress has been made.
In watching it I could only think, "If only we had listened." 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Nature of the United States Constitution

Alexander Hamilton
1755-1804
First United States Secretary of Treasury
1789-1795

   





"Constitutions should consist only of general provisions; the reason is that they must necessarily be permanent, and that they cannot calculate for the possible change of things."



Monday, July 1, 2013

'Casablanca' - Sometimes You Just Sing Louder!


For the longest time, I've gone along with conventional evaluation that labels 'Citizen Kane' as the greatest movie of all time. Perhaps that's still true, but I was watching 'Casablanca' for the 9 millionth time the other night and I think I might switch my vote!

Aside from a killer cast of characters, from Humphrey Bogart, to Ingrid Bergman, to Paul Henreid, to Claude Rains, it is a powerful cast with a gripping story from beginning to end.

This is definitely one of my favorite scenes. As the German officers sing an anthem, these members of the French Resistance, full of passion and prize raise their voices as they sing their country's national anthem "La Marseillaise", first outsinging, then drowning out the Nazis. The look on the faces of the French patrons is absolutely priceless, as it reflects the pride, power and transcendent hope of the French patrons' will. 

Sometimes you just have to sing louder...