Monday, July 31, 2006

The if it really mattered

As I was watching Meet the Press, something caught my ear. Tom Friedman, a New York Times reporter, wrote a book (From Beruit to Jerusalem) after spending time in the Middle East. He explained, "These are people who hate others more than they love their own kids; more than they love their own future." I wonder if this couldn't be applied to some of the kids in our inner cities. Kids and teenagers are in such dire situations (some self-inflicted, but others that have been created for them before they were even born) that I believe their sense of resentment and hatred may be stronger than their love for their future. Resentment and hatred is much more tangible that believing in the future.

Friedman went on to say, "The role of America is to be the guiding light there."

My question is:

How do we expect the United States to take care of another country's business when we can't handle our own?

A while back I read a book by James Garbarino, Children in Danger. The book compares our inner city war zones to those in Beruit, Belfast, and Mozambique. There isn't much difference.

Characteristics Garbarino mentions of war-torn foreign countries:

  • malnourishment
  • witnessing/knowing about violent deaths
  • lack of emotion
  • anger

In Mozambique, 42% of adolescents (out of 119 surveyed) had witnessed a murder. In some housing projects in the United States, up to 33% had witnessed a murder. Many more knew someone who had been killed, even if they hadn't witnessed it.

Though Tom Friedman continued to talk about our conflict overseas, we might could learn something from his theory:

"We've got to find another way...Listening is a sign of respect...If you just go over and listen to people and what they have to say, it's amazing... But when you just say we're not gonna go to Damascus, we're not going to listen to the Syrians, you're never going to get anywhere that way. I'm not guaranteeing you you're going to get somewhere the other way, but all I know, you sure increase the odds if you sit down and just listen."

Has anyone ever thought about listening to people in the inner city?? Friedman made the comment that what we're doing in the Middle East isn't working, so it can't hurt to try something different. I would argue that it's the same for our inner cities right here in the United States.

"Listening is a sign of respect."

Allow me to reiterate what Friedman said and apply it to our inner cities.

"I'm not guaranteeing you you're going to get somewhere the other way, but all I know, you sure increase the odds if you sit down and just listen."

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Stand for Children

"We stood at the Lincoln Memorial as American families and as an American community to commit ourselves to putting you, our children, first, to building a just America that leaves no child behind, and to ensuring all of you a healthy and safe passage to adulthood.

"We stood together as an American people--red, white, brown, black, and yellow; young and old; rich, middle class, and poor; female and male; physically and mentally challenged; Jew and Gentile; Christian and Moslem; Hindu, Buddhist, and Baha'i; believers and nonbelievers--each an inextricable part of the amazing sacred mosaic of God's universe and of America's democracy.

"We came with many concerns and by many means for you, our children. Some of us walked and some came by wheelchair. Some came by rail, air, and bus. Some came alone and some in groups. Some came with family and some had no famimly. Some of us had one or more homes to protect our children from the cold, heat, and storms of life. Some of us had no home or place to call our own. No one was excluded.

"Everyone agreed on one crucial thing: that no one in America should harm children and that everyone can do more to ensure that you grow up safe, healthy, and educated, in nurturing families and in caring communities. You are entitled to your childhood, safety, and hope.

"In this nation, the poorest baby born in the Mississippi delta, Montana plains, Texas barrios, Arizona reservations, and inner-city ghettos has the same God-given and America-promised birthright of fair opportunity, respect, and protection as the middle-class child born in the suburbs of Shaker Heights, and as the most privileged child born on Park Avenue.

"Each and every American child adds or subtracts, multiplies or divides America's problems and potential, and fulfills America's nightmares or dreams.

"President Lincoln warned that "a house divided against itself cannot stand." That's why we remember his words and are acting to renovate our divided and battered national house to make sure it has room and justice enough for all.

"When Jesus Christ invited little children to come unto Him, He did not invite only rich or middle-class, male, white children without mental or physical challenges, from two-parent families, to come. He invited all children to come, as do all the great faiths, to renew America's and God's sacred covenant with every child.

"It is always the right time to do right for children, who are being born and formed in mind, body, and spirit every minute as life goes on.

"Young people, families, child advocates, citizens: keep standing together for children every day until all America stands with us. Take at least one step for just one child, and you will make a difference.

"Be confident that you do not stand alone: we all stand together. We will do our very best for you, and in doing so, leave our seeds of service to God. He will make of them twoering oak trees of hope in whose shade you can play and laugh and live and grow again all over America.

"Whoever you are, wherever you are anywhere in America--stand up and commit to leave no child behind. If you cannot stand, raise your hands. If you cannot raise your hands, then lift your eyes or open your ears and hearts. If you do, you, our children, and this great nation will do God proud when He comes.

"Trust in God's love. God lifted up Abraham Lincoln--a poor, rural Kentucky boy--to the presidency of the United States to save our Union from slavery and sectionalism. God used a courageous slave woman named Harriet Tubman to lead slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad just as God can use you to heal our communities.

"Let us end with a prayer."

O God, forive our rich nation where small babies die of cold quite legally.
O God, forgive our rich nation where small children suffer from hunger quite legally.
O God, forgive our rich nation where toddlers and school children die from guns sold quite legally.
O God, forgive our rich nation that lets children be the poorest group of citizens quite legally.
O God, forgive our rich nation that lets the rich continue to get more at the expense of the poor quite legally.
O God, forgive our rich nation that thinks security rests in missiles rather than in mothers, and in bombs rather than in babies.
O God, forgive our rich nation for not giving You sufficient thanks by giving to others thier daily bread.
O God, help us never to confuse what is quite legal with what is just and right in Your sight.

Marian Wright Edelman, Stand for Children rally, June 1, 1996

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Way to go, Chicago!

At least one city is doing something about Congress's lack of compassion and response to raising the minimum wage (while granting themselves a higher salary). Chicago's city council has passed an ordinance that requires big retailers (like Wal-mart and Home Depot) to ultimately pay a minimum of $10/hour plus $3/hour worth of beneifts to their employees by 2010 and then it would be indexed for inflation after that (it would start out with $9.25 per hour and $1.50 per hour in benefits by 2007). It still only amounts to $20,800 before taxes, but it's much better than $5.25/hour. Of course, all of this depends on if the mayor vetoes or not...and he hasn't decided just yet.

What makes no sense to me is why these large businesses get so upset about things like this. I gather it is because raising someone's less-than-poverty wage might shave a little off of their billions of dollars of profit each year. How can we, who are making so much more money, be so offended by taking a couple of thousand dollars off of our much larger salaries? We aren't talking about people who are sitting around sponging off the "system." We are talking about people who are working 40 hours a week (and sometimes holding down second jobs) just to make ends meet. Yet, because they don't make enough money, they are having to utilize the system! no fault of their own!! It refutes the age-old "poor people are lazy" mantra so many like to profess.

I say AMEN to Chicago's big company policy. I hope others (including Congress) follow suit! Other research (Florida just raised their minimum wage) shows that raising the minimum wage does not hurt people like everyone claims. In fact, it helps the economy because it gives people more money to spend!

Please think about this as you talk to your friends, neighbors, and legislators today.

Note to the above graphic: Currently, it would take $9.28/hour for a family of four to break even with the poverty line. Even then, the family of four would only be making $19,307 per year.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Struggles of minimum wage

Have you ever thought about trying to raise your family on $10,712 per year...or $21,424 if there are two adults in the home and both are working? That's what minimum wage ($5.15/hour) would get someone if they were working a full 40 hours a week with absolutely no vacation days for the whole 52 weeks out of the year! Granted, many jobs pay a whopping $6 or $7 per hour so that would up that number a little. Of course, those are gross numbers...before taxes have been taken out.

As a single person with no dependents, I can't imagine living on $10, 712 per year! Although I wouldn't claim to be the most frugal person when it comes to spending money, I'm not overly extravagant either. Minimum wage amounts to $892.67/mo. When I was living in my very cheap (comparatively speaking) apartment complex that offered "all bills paid" and where many people I know didn't want visit, let alone live (I would argue that I enjoyed my neighbors and loved where I lived...but that is beside the point.), my rent was $575 for a 2-bedroom apartment. That's 64% of a person's minimum wage income! And that was three years ago! I am almost sure rent in my old apartments has gone up since then. Unfortunately, though, while rent and other prices increase, minimum wage has not. Deducting rent from what someone on minimum wage would make leaves $317.67 for the whole month to buy groceries, household items, personal hygeine items, clothes, gas or bus passes, car payment (if you have a car), pay tithes, child care...forget the entertainment or any kind of luxuries!!

Check out this website to gain an understanding of the difficult choices people are forced to make because of these low wages.

The laws that are being made (or, in the case of the Congress, the laws that aren't being passed) at the expense of someone else make me think a little differently when I begin putting myself in that position and wonder how I would live...knowing I'm working hard just like the rest of the population!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Responding to Racist Comments

So many comments that we, Whites, make are offensive. Not only do we often not realize it, we get upset when a person of color tells us our comment was offensive. It requires a lot of willingness and openness to listen and learn from people.

Click here to listen to a radio report on people's perspectives of responding to racist comments.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Who is college for?

In California, Proposition 209 banned using race as a decision-making factor in college enrollment. I know some people would cheer and say that it's about time we stopped using race as a factor. The people that I've talked to want to be colorblind and take people based on merit alone. But is it their own personal merit that reserves them a spot at a prestigious university? And who defines merit?

Out of 10,000 African-American students who graduated in Los Angeles County this year, only 96 of them will be attending the prestigious UCLA. Why is that? The University and Proposition 209 would say that it's simply because those are the only students who have the skills to work up to the standards UCLA sets. I would guess they would say they don't see color. It's all about the academics.

However, I would say that money and privileges also play a large part in who gets in to UCLA. How many of those who did get in could afford and actually did utilize privately paid tutors and SAT classes to help them raise their scores and get the help they needed. Though I think it is important to look at basic skill levels and though I am not arguing that many of our kids are even at the level where they simply need a little push. No. Many of them need a LOT of help! A LOT!

However, I would think that as a part of a student's merit, it would be important to look at determination and perseverance as well. If a student does not have the skills, but has the ability and is willing to persevere through the frustration of attending a school that will challenge him/her academically, I think that should be given credit when looking at their application. It may take a little more work on the college's part because that student will need some individual attention to get to a comfortable level with college and be academically successful. That may sound like an undue burden on the college, but at what point do we stand up, take notice that there are students falling through the cracks, and begin to do something about it. Right now I see and hear of students being written off. They are suspended so they don't have to take the TAKS (state mandated) test, which would ultimately count against the schools pretty numbers. At what point do we say that "Kids Matter!" Are we going to sit back and watch the enrollment numbers dwindle, raising our hands in exasperation or are we going to do something about that all kids are granted the same opportunity?

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Murder...on whose terms?

The President believes murder is wrong. Tony Snow, the Press Secretary, said it in a press conference. The conversation was referring to the President's disagreement with embryonic stem cell research. He claims he "doesn't want to see human life destroyed."

I'm not sure I can understand that. How can he say that and continue a pointless war that is killing an average of 100 civilians per day in Iraq?! How can he be so concerned about unborn children, but not care about quality of life once they are born?

He contradicts himself.

Help me understand the rationale.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Neighborhoods get a bad rap--is it justified?

I absolutely love the neighborhood where I live as well as the one where I work. But some days, being a part of these neighborhoods frustrate me.

Both are low-income neighborhoods. There are good people in both neighborhoods. Unfortunately, some of the negatives of our community are much more visible and get much more publicity than the positives.

Just this week, Wyshina, my friend and the Assistant Coordinator for our After-School Academy in Turner Courts, witnessed a break in. As she was bringing things in off of her back porch, she saw three teenage boys run out of her neigbhor's back door. She knew her neighbor was at work so she called the police. When the police car arrived, Wyshina explained to him what had happened. One of the three boys was still standing right beside the apartment casually drinking the Gatorade he had stolen from the lady's home! Wyshina pointed him out to the police officer and explained that he was one of the boys who had broken in. Instead of getting out and investigating, the officer said there was nothing he could do and explained that when the lady came back home she should call the police.

Being good neighbors, Wyshina went across the street and got another friend to help her go into the house and move the washer and dryer unit in front of the back door so no one else could go in and then proceeded to sit on the front porch and wait until the lady arrived.

Needless to say, Wyshina was frustrated at the lack of response from the police.

Evidently, the teenager knew nothing would happen or he wouldn't have been so casually sitting outside the apartment drinking the evidence!

What do we need to do?! I realize that not everyone is as bold as Wyshina was. Most of the time in our communities people will witness everything that happened and then refuse to tell the police anything for fear of retaliation or rejection in the community. I know that must be frustrating for the police. So many of the negative activities are connected to family members and friends. No one wants to be the one who accuses a family member or friend. But by denying we know anything, we hurt ourselves and keep our communities from being protected. It all becomes a vicious cycle.

We don't trust the police --> The police can't do their job --> Our communities remain unhealthy with negative activity --> The police wrongly accuse people and harass people because of the neighborhood and its assumed activities --> We don't trust the police.

I realize we have a long way to go in cleaning up our communities. I realize that the police probably don't want to waste their time on people who deny they saw anything. But why can't the police value people like Wyshina...a person who takes the risk to boldly point out the person...and at least look into what she witnessed?

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Minimum Wage

I'm in the middle of Urban Experience this week and don't have much time. But I think Larry James' post yesterday is an amazing post that should be read and taken to heart by all of us.

Click here to read Larry's blog on the benefits of raising minimum wage.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Not even on the map

Our Urban Experience (UE) program started today (see the link at right for more info). I had asked several of the teenagers that I've known for a while to help me out. I had asked them to be on a panel and talk about some of their experiences at school and such. They always amaze me with their wisdom and insight.

In the packet I gave each UE participant, I had included a map of the city, provided by our local tourism office. When it came time for Lewanna to talk about her neighborhood, she pointed out that the map we had passed out didn't have Southwest Center Mall on it--the mall in her neighborhood (a mall known to be in a predominantly Black neighborhood and frequented by Black customers). She questioned the neglect of putting the mall on the tourism map, yet the city claims that the mall isn't frequented and needs to be torn down. She wondered aloud how a mall could attract customers without any kind of publicity.

It was interesting to hear her musings. I hadn't even looked at the map. I had, however, noticed the same thing when I was in Atlanta last year. Their tourist map had four days worth of sight-seeing options listed in the margin; yet, though Atlanta was one of the hubs of the Civil Rights movement, and though Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Ebenezer Baptist Church and his birthplace is there, nothing related to Martin Luther King, Jr. or the Civil Rights movement was listed as something worth seeing.

When people are left out, they notice. If we're perceptive enough, we'll notice, too.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Alternative Certification

Alternative Certification is something that we've resorted to in our education system because our public schools were losing teachers faster than we could replace them. So, we made it easier. Now, anyone wishing to be a teacher needs to go through a short program. In DISD, it's two-months. In other places, it's simply an online course that can be done in about a month. During that time (even before they have completed the short program), the person is placed in a full classroom of educational background or experience with children necessary. DISD offers $39,150 to start. And that's only with a bachelor's degree and the basic 183 days of school (summers and holidays off). If you teach summer school or teach at a Learning Center, your pay increases. Not bad for someone who isn't degreed in the field they enter.

Am I against Alternative Certification (AC) teachers? Absolutely not. Some of my friends who are very intelligent and very good with kids have gone through the AC program. I'm sure they are wonderful in their classrooms.

However, after going through a masters and a doctoral program in Elementary Education, I realize how much there is to learn...about reading strategies, learning styles, discipline, cultural differences, parental involvement. There is so much research out there and so much to know! We're dealing with the same things now as they did back in the 1800's and don't even realize it because teacher's don't have to be educated in education!

When was the last time you chose a doctor who didn't have a medical degree, but decided mid-life that he/she wanted to practice medicine so they got online, looked at some of the self-diagnosing websites, then opened up their practice? What about lawyers? If you needed a lawyer, would you pick the one who has had no courtroom experience and no negotiation experience, but simply decided that the legal field paid well and was easy to get into? I would guess the answer would be no.

Then why do we do that to our children? Did we forget that education is what prepares those lawyers, doctors, dentists, teachers, business people? I've heard people say that teaching isn't rocket science. Try to teach a group of kids. In my mind, it ranks pretty close. Just like any other, more "credible" and "respected" field, if you're doing a good job, I guarantee you there is much more to teaching than punching a clock from 7:30-3:30 every day and getting a paycheck at the end of every month...IF you're doing a good job.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Expecting an A

Everyone wants an A. Especially in grad school.

The problem is not necessarily that everyone wants an's that everyone expects an A when they don't necessarily earn an A.

It can be tough being a professor. It's like being a parent. Parents have to maintain a balance between being their child's friend and their disciplinarian. Though I'm not a parent, my understanding is that parents do this so that their child will have some healthy guidelines when they grow up. For the sake of our children, I wish more professors would grasp this concept.

The more we "give" out A's, the more our education system loses it's integrity (like we need any help doing that these days!). Giving A's doesn't do anyone any favors. If teachers aren't ready and equipped to teach our children, we need to ensure we help them get ready, not inflate their grades and make them think they are more prepared to teach than they really are.

Same for the children. We are setting them up for failure when we pat them on the back and tell them how good they are doing when their work is less than adequate.

Let's be honest with ourselves and with others. We aren't going to improve anything by letting people slide by.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Crayolas to Band-aids to Sephora

I hear a lot of people say that race isn't an issue these days. My question is, "Race isn't an issue to who??" Most likely I would guess that race isn't an issue to White people. Why?? Because everything in our society is catered to us! This fact becomes apparent to me every once in a while. It hit me this last weekend when I was clipping coupons out of the Sunday paper.

As I was looking through the coupons, I noticed an ad for Band-aids. There are now three colors of band-aids: light, medium, and deep. They are clear bandaids (so that everyone's own skintone can come through), but the patch in the middle now has a variety of shades. I commend Band-Aid for doing this...even though it is the year 2006!! The slogan on the ad is, "After all, you should be the one being noticed not your bandage." It seems like that was the slogan several years ago as well. It's about time someone started realizing that the light tan color only caters to one segment of society.

The band-aid ad made me think about crayons. Did you know that up until 1962, Crayola had a crayon called "flesh." Whose "flesh" color? See the approximate color below (the Crayola crayon was actually quite a bit lighter than this):

It has since changed the name of the color to be called "peach."

It seems like these days we would be a little more aware and that the companies would have already changed their products to reflect the diversity our world offers. Unfortunately, that isn't so. As I was looking up "flesh colored crayon" in hopes of finding the old crayon to display on this blog, I was rather shocked to find that several companies still recognize that light peach color as "flesh."

The squiggle above is Sephora's make-up line. That color is called "flesh." The light, pinkish-colored material to the right is also called "flesh."

In this bathing suit ad, the caption below it read: resort ready liquid gold, flesh color, to white push-up bra bikini and one-piece

What about everyone else's "flesh color" in that picture?

I'm glad Crayola made their change. I'm glad that Band-Aid (45 years later) made their change. I would guess some people will probably tell me how ridiculous and miniscule this is in the big scheme of things. From observing kids of various shades of brown for the past several years and from doing research for my degree with Hispanic and African-American people, I would argue that these subtle differences do affect people--whether we would like to acknowledge it or not.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

370 Teachers Dismissed

Allow me to give my standing ovation for the Washington D.C. school system!

They have dismissed 370 teachers for failure to complete their certification as promised. Of course, because of their dramatic action, along with the usual retirements and such, they are now looking at trying to fill around 750 vacancies. Vacancies that could potentially (and probably will) leave some of their classrooms with permanent substitutes throughout the school year (I know that's possible and probable because I've seen it here in Dallas). So why am I so excited over this move?

I am hoping this move is about higher expectations for the teachers of our most precious commodities...the children...our future.

Here's the way I see it. The fact that they "dismissed" 370 teachers for not obtaining their certification shows that they are looking for certified (and hopefully, qualified) teachers. Though there may be quite a few certified teachers out there, they do not want to teach. Therefore, the burden is placed on the school to attract certified teachers into the teaching field.

Here's what I think could be good: Because the pool is so small, maybe they will have to increase teachers' salaries to attract more people. As word gets out that education is a valued field--demonstrated by the quality of educators they seek out and the amount of salary they offer--other people may be willing to choose education as a field of study. As the pool of educators increase, it creates competition. The employer no longer has to accept whatever he/she is given. They can ask for higher qualifications. For the potential educator, knowing that there are others who will be competing for the same job causes them to work harder and ensure they meet a higher standard of excellence.

Law firms don't take just anyone off the street because they have to. People who go into law know that it is a rigorous field with high expectations. They know they will have to compete for jobs against other lawyers. They know their degree, along with their abilities in the courtroom or at the negotiating table, will be what determines whether or not they get the job. Why do we not have these same expectations for the teachers of our future leaders?

It's going to take more than just Washington D.C. to change the face of teaching. It's going to take other cities as well. It's also going to take "we, the people." In order for dramatic change to occur, we must be willing to pay for the increases. We must be willing to seek out the good for all children...not just the children in our own child's school. Maybe if we sought out this change we could create a system where people wouldn't feel the need to spend thousands of dollars on private schools. Their money could then be put back into neighborhood schools where all children attended...together. Maybe it's a pipe dream. But my hope is that Washington D.C. is starting something that will get other cities and school districts thinking about expecting more from their teachers as well.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Friendly communities

I'm not often home when the trash trucks come by for pick up, but the times that I have been, there's something I notice. The people in my neighborhood always speak to the people dumping the trash. I know that shouldn't be something so amazing to have to write about, but I think it is. Perhaps the friendly behavior is common in other neighborhoods as well. Maybe people are perfectly friendly and speak to the trash collectors, the maids, the yard workers, the nannies, the mail delivery person. Who am I to make assumptions! But, that's not what I hear. The Barbara Ehrenreich book, Nickel and Dimed, talks about her experience as a blue collar worker. People often didn't give her the time of day.

My next door neighbor seems to always make a point to be outside when the trash collection comes...I guess in order to retrieve her trash can and put it back in their yard when they're finished. I always notice her hollering out to them, "Good morning! How y'all doin' this morning?" with a big smile on her face. They always smile back and wave with an acknowledgement. If her husband is out there, he might take extra trash to them halfway...instead of waiting at the curb expecting them to come back and get his extra load.

I don't think my neighbors personally know the men that walk our route other than on the Tuesdays and Fridays they come through the neighborhood. It is possible, though. Most people in our neighborhood are blue collar workers. Other than the fact that my neighbors are just friendly people, I would guess that their friendship and relationship to other blue collar workers on a daily basis affects the way they approach people. My neighbors make an effort to acknowledge and speak to people who are often "invisible" in our society. I find that when I do the same, the people I talk to are always very friendly.

Although some services we receive are paid for through our taxes or paid for out of our pocket as we attempt to make more time in our schedule, the people doing the "service" jobs deserve to be acknowledged just like any lawyer, doctor, or other professional. The services they provide are just as important.

Everyone deserves to have their humanity acknowledged. Besides, it makes for a rather pleasant neighborhood when we recognize that everyone in the community is connected to each other and plays a meaningful role in our lives.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Remembering our tainted past

Anything to do with racism always catches my eye. This morning I noticed a video with the old-fashioned, stereotypical images of Black people on my New York Times email. Interesting video. Evidently, Black people are now beginning to collect memorabilia of the Jim Crow era in order to remember the past and to start the conversation about racism. Up until now, the main people with this kind of memorabilia were White people (I'm not sure why...maybe because it had been passed down and then kept as "antiques"...maybe Black people couldn't bear to remember the pain and suffering of their relatives...I don't know).

NY Times Article

I like the idea of collecting it, though. I had never thought about it like that before. I am one of those White people who are repulsed by the idea of having those symbols in my home. I don't want to be associated with Jim Crow or lead anyone to think that I might be happy about our past. But after listening to this video and reading the article, wouldn't it be a great way to open up the conversation on racism--past and present!

I think it would be interesting to gather the signs, symbols, dolls, etc. from the Jim Crow era and display them, but also to gather items that are still displayed point out how racism has continued (and still continues) over the years.

I can remember going home to Missouri a few years ago. I had taken some [Black] teenagers with me. As we visited an older lady's home, she pointed out a mammy doll of hers. I remember feeling embarrassment sweep over me that she would have it in her house, for one, but it also bothered me that she had no shame in pointing it out and talking about it like it she was proud to have it. Though I usually talk about that stuff with the teenagers afterward, I don't remember saying anything to them that day. I couldn't believe she had done that! I wondered how that made them feel. The lady was probably in her 70's or 80's. The doll was one she had as a child. That fact didn't make me any less uncomfortable...probably because I don't think she kept the doll to be a constant reminder of the ugliness of the past. But, still, I can write that off as her time period.

Moving into a more current example, however, I am reminded of my own childhood. Sometime after 4th grade (sometime in the 80's), I remember getting a doll from my aunt. It was a type of "rag doll"...made out of black material, complete with little braids sticking out of the top of her head. My aunt gave it to me for my birthday and called it my "nigger baby" or my "pickaninny doll." She thought it was the cutest thing and so did I. It wasn't until I was talking to a Black friend of mine in college that it hit me how horrible it was. (Side note: It is important to note here that I did not grow up with any people of color. My first real interactions were in college. In fact, the first time I ever remember seeing a Black person was when I was in the 7th grade and we were staying in a hotel in Kansas City). As I started to proudly claim to my friend that I did own something other than White items, my jaw dropped when I started to tell him about my "ni. . ." I remember stopping mid-word and realizing how derogatory that word was.

Still today, when I drive through Arkansas to get to Missouri, I see confederate flags being sold in stores. I did not know the significance of a confederate flag until fairly recently--over the last 11 years. As I educate myself and the listen to conversations and feelings from people of color, the more I learn and begin to understand.

It would do us good to have conversation pieces that could open the race dialogue. For White people like me, it would be good for us to have the conversations and realize racism is not a thing of the past. For all of us, I think it's always important to know and understand our past...the good and the we can learn from it and recognize when we begin repeating the same mistakes.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

4th of July fellowship

Despite the tragic incidents that have happened in my neighborhood over the last six months, for some reason I still love living in my neighborhood. My neighbor, Brenda, agrees. I think I know the reason. We know each other.

Mrs. Brown had called the other day and I had never gotten back with her. So, after grading papers this morning, I decided to go by my old apartments and visit her and Mr. Brown. As I walked up, I saw three bar-b-que grills going strong. Mr. Brown was sitting outside watching the grill, as was Ray (another former neighbor), his wife, and their friends and family. Kids were running around, playing. Older people were standing in their doorways. Disabled people were riding on their electric scooters. Everyone was enjoying a relaxing holiday.

I talked to Mrs. Brown for a while then heard that there was a grill with hot coals available. I quickly ran back to the house and grabbed the thawed chicken out of my fridge. When I took it back, Mrs. Brown seasoned it for me and Mr. Brown took it to his smoker. While it rained and my chicken cooked, Mr. Brown and I sat under the awning and chatted. About the war. About the weather. About the neighborhood. As their family came in for their 4th of July bar-b-que, I met new friends.

I then went to visit with my long-time friend, Brenda. I always enjoy talking to her. Her mom, who we fondly refer to as "Mama," is always happy to see me, which always makes the visit even more enjoyable.

That's what I like about East Dallas. It's like it's own small community where I know I always have friends around me. I don't stop by to see them enough. But no matter when I do stop by, I am always welcomed with open arms.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Welfare checks for wealthy people???

"Nationwide, the federal government has paid at least $1.3 billion in subsidies for rice and other crops since 2000 to individuals who do no farming at all..."

Does this sound absurd to anyone but me and the Washington Post (click on the blog title to link to the article)?

Now I know there may be two sides to the story. My dad's a farmer. As far as I know, he doesn't rake in thousands of dollars every year because he no longer farms, but he may have a different opinion than I do about this article. Maybe there's good reason to give away billions of dollars to people who are doctors, large business owners, and other wealthy people who have never farmed a day in their life. On a less cynical note, I would guess that there are actually some people in this program who do need and deserve the subsidies. My problem is with those who don't yet still reap the benefits because of the plot of land they chose to buy.

In the days of cutting miniscule social services for poor people while cutting taxes for those in the upper tax brackets. In the days of voting not to raise minimum wage while voting to increase the salary of Congress, I shake my head. I do not understand why the low-income group is disparaged about taking government money, while the high-income group is graciously given money for doing less than nothing. The farm subsidies, from what I read, will not allow them to develop their land. So they are getting free money to play with and develop other interests. Why isn't anyone complaining about the wealthy, non-farmer's "welfare" checks?

Jon Stewart had a great segment about the minimum wage. Go to this link and click on the video entitled "Minimum Wage."

Our current administration is adamant about Christianity and having good values and morals. Perhaps they're overlooking all of the scriptures on how to treat the poor. Read below and see what you think.

But the Master said to him, "I know you Pharisees burnish the surface of your cups and plates so they sparkle in the sun, but I also know your insides are maggoty with greed and secret evil. Stupid Pharisees! Didn't the One who made the outside also make the inside? Turn both your pockets and your hearts inside out and give generously to the poor; then your lives will be clean, not just your dishes and your hands."
Lk. 11:39-41 The Message

My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favouritism.
Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in.
If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
James 2:1-4

"Among my people are wicked men who lie in wait like men who snare birds and like those who set traps to catch men. Like cages full of birds, their houses are full of deceit; they have become rich and powerful and have grown fat and sleek. Their evil deeds have no limit; they do not plead the case of the fatherless to win it, they do not defend the rights of the poor. Should I not punish them for this?” declares the LORD. “Should I not avenge myself on such a nation as this?"
Jeremiah 5:26-29

Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.
Isaiah 10:1-3

The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.
Proverbs 29:7

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Afraid of what we don't know

Those who don't know any better come into our neighborhood scared. They think we're dangerous. They think we will attack them with shiny knives. They are stupid people who are lost and got here by mistake.

But we aren't afraid. We know they guy with the crooked eye is Davey the Baby's brother, and the tall one next to him in the straw brim, that's Rosa's Eddie V., and the big one that looks like a dumb grown man, he's Fat Boy, though he's not fat anymore nor a boy.

All brown all around, we are safe. But watch us drive into a neighborhood of another color and our knees go shakity-shake and our car windows get rolled up tight and our eyes look straight. Yeah. that is how it goes and goes.

~Sandra Cisneros, The House on Mango Street, p. 28

I can relate. People are scared of my neighborhood, too. I think once they come and visit me, they realize it's not so scary. I think. Who knows...maybe they still think it's scary.

But I'm not afraid.

I know that Gino, next door, is a deacon in the church. Roy and Lupe and their family, across the street, marched in the Immigration March not because they're illegal, but because they believe in rights for all people. Mr. and Mrs. Brown are an older couple that are very active in their church and do what they can to protect, make change in, and love their neighborhood. Mrs. Brown works at a healthcare place and Mr. Brown is a crossing guard for Richardson schools. Ray, J.J., and some other older men who I can never remember their names, love to stand outside, shoot the breeze and bar-b-que every chance they get. Miss Dorothy, across the street, gave me potted flowers when I first moved in to my house. Twin brought me mums from the nursery up the street when he found out the potted plants I had on my front porch had been stolen. Main and Tiffany are college students and are constantly talking to their friends in the neighborhood, encouraging them when they are discouraged, talking to them about college, and trying to help them to be on a path that is productive. Zabrina has "adopted" (without the paper work) a girl in the neighborhood and treats her just like her other two daughters because the girl's family isn't always around. Mr. Vidal is very well-read and teaches his children to read and learn about Mexican history and other stuff that the schools don't teach. Brenda has raised her grandson while his mom was in jail, along with taking care of her own mother, and now takes care of her daughter's other baby because her daughter is back in jail again. Chris has worked at Baylor faithfully for about 8 years or more, getting up to be there by 5:00 a.m.

I could go on and on. I just wish people knew the things that I know about my neighborhood. Then maybe they wouldn't be so scared of it.