Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Ideal City

Over a year after Hurricane Katrina, the disaster is still being talked about...and not in a positive way. So many people recognize the racism that Katrina exposed. I just read a blog about it this morning... (look at the May 24 entry).

I would not want to be in the shoes of the people who are tasked with trying to rebuild the city and figure things out. However, it did occur to me several months ago that the fact that New Orleans was completely wiped out provides us with a perfect opportunity to make a conscious effort toward equality in this country.

We have quite a tainted past in the way people of color have been treated. Slavery. Lynching. Jim Crow. De jure to de facto segregation. What has happened in our past has led up to the way we deal with our present. Because so much of the racism and classism is ingrained in our society, we have often brushed it aside and explained it away, justifying our choices to live in certain neighborhoods and around certain people because that's where we've always lived, that's who we grew up with, or whatever the other reasons might be.

But it seems to me New Orleans provides the ideal opportunity for us to create the ideal city. To me, the fact that Katrina destroyed entire communities that need to be rebuilt provides us (the United States) a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. If a city must be rebuilt, why not rebuild it in a way that mixes low-income and wealthy, single family homes and apartments, people of color and White people? I know it can be done. I had read about other places that have created "ideal communities" defined by their own terms of what they thought an ideal community should look like.

Creating these ideal communities have been met with much resistance across our nation. Middle- and upper-class people do not want poor people moving in beside them. As much as we say we don't mind what color our neighbors are, in doing research, I've found that we are ok with a variety of cultures around us as long as they act and think just like us. I would like to think that the resistance is due to people already being established in environments where they are comfortable and they simply don't want to shake up that feeling of comfort.

However, the fact that New Orleans was predominantly Black before Katrina and seems to be predominantly White now, the fact that larger homes in predominantly White areas are getting rebuilt while the predominantly Black neighborhoods are being restricted, tells me that despite people's arguments to the contrary, Katrina not only exposed the racism that exists, it also exposes the fact that we, in this country, are not ready or willing to do anything about changing the institutionalized racism in our country for the future.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006


I went to visit family and friends in Missouri last week. Overall, it was a pleasant visit. While I was there, though, I was reminded of why I stay in the big city around a diverse group of people.

My best friend from high school was visiting her grandma in a nearby town so I went to see them. Grandma (as I've always called her) took us out to eat lunch at a local cafe. Though I'm not sure how it came up, Grandma began to tell me that although she liked Black people, she hoped I didn't bring one home [to marry]. She did ensure me that if I did, she would learn to love them, though.

The waitress, an older lady who was a friend of Grandma's (both ladies are probably in their 70's or 80's), came to the table to take our order. As she and grandma visited, the lady proceeded to tell her about something she had "nigger rigged." At that point, I looked at my friend and expressed my astonishment and told her I didn't know how much more I could take.

But I didn't say anything to the waitress.

I attempted conversation with Grandma about her prejudiced attitude; it went nowhere. It bothers me that here I am this outspoken, very opinionated, pro anti-racism person, yet I couldn't find the right words to say to make Grandma understand and I sat and said nothing to the waitress.

To be quite honest, I didn't want to write this in my blog. I would hate to hear what my friends who know me are thinking. I'm embarrassed and ashamed. I feel like I've let them down. I've let myself down. Where does that bold and courageous person that I've become go in situations like that?? Though I am usually prepared to deal with racist and prejudiced comments from random people in Dallas who know where I work and what I'm all about, for some reason it's much more difficult to know how to deal with those comments from family and friends from home. It always catches me off guard.

I decided to go ahead and write this because the reality is I'm sure there are others like me who have been in situations where they let something slide that they know wasn't right. I need to hear those stories so that I can think about how to take a different approach next time.

But I also need to know that those same courageous people have made mistakes. I need to know that I'm not the only one who messes up. Maybe if we started talking about those courageous moments as well as the missed opportunities, we might find that there are more of us who want to speak out. There is strength in numbers.

Monday, May 29, 2006


How do we find leaders? Are they born or are they developed?

Although there are born leaders, I believe there are leaders around us that many people do not see as leaders because they haven't discovered their own ability yet. I love watching people blossom. I think that's why I like Central Dallas so much. Most places look for leaders who have already demonstrated the ability to lead and whose skills are already refined. Central Dallas is different. Central Dallas takes us where we are and helps us become something we never knew we could be.

We have a small praise team at church. At church yesterday one of the ladies who normally blends in with the rest of the praise team sung the lead. She seemed to be a little nervous and somewhat timid. But if the past is any predictor of what will happen, I would say with a little time and a few more opportunities to be in the spotlight, her timidity will begin to disappear, her confidence will grow, and being in the lead will become old hat.

Over the last 11 years, I have watched Central Dallas grow...a lot! In the past, we sought out talent wherever we could find it. We each took on roles because we had to. Through that, we discovered a lot of hidden talents. As we get bigger at Central Dallas, it gets easier and easier to find already developed talent. I don't want to fall into that trap, though. I think it is important to have various degrees of talent; however, I hope we don't ever lose our focus of discovering undiscovered leaders.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Afraid of "acting white"...or just not interested??

Several different people have cited research to me that insists that the reasons our Black children are not doing well in school is because they associate reading and school work with "acting White." I really don't think that has a lot to do with it. I mean, sure, I've heard the phrase. I've heard kids and teens tell each other that they're "acting White" (though it's not as frequent as one might think). But, overall, the Black and Hispanic children I know do not struggle in school because it's "cool" or because they are attempting to avoid "acting White." Allow me to pose a different theory.

The urban schools I have been in focus on testing.

They prepare and test the kids for a baseline score in the fall.
They do school-wide simulated practice tests throughout the school year.
Then, in the Spring, they test them on the "real" test.

With all of this testing and test preparation, it is hard to squeeze in time for genuine, interesting, and practical learning. Kids who don't see the connection between rote memorization and life, kids who are drilled on basic, lower-level skills, kids who are taught how to bubble in letters just right don't stay interested. Would you?

We are living in a world that's made up of technology. Learning to use technology takes thinking and problem-solving skills. It takes hands-on application. Though low-income kids in urban environments may not have as much access to creative technology, they are not insulated from the impact it has on their life. They are also not insulated from the knowledge that kids in suburban schools have much more access to new technology--at school and at home. The Black and Hispanic kids I know want that access just as much as other kids. They recognize that they are not learning what other kids are learning and that they don't have the access that other kids do.

So do students jeopardize their learning to avoid "acting White"? I don't think so. Instead, it's a matter of not having on-going access to things that they know are necessary to do well in life...things that are needed to help them be successful in jobs that pay well and provide benefits.

There is a second phenomena at work as well. There are some kids who decide that learning of any kind is important. They decide at an early age that they are moving forward despite how other people label them. Yet, when they get to high school two things happen. First, counselors don't often place students in AP or high-tracked classes unless the student or the parent advocates for that higher-level learning track. When parents aren't astute enough to push for a higher track for their child and when students don't realize how this lower-level tracking affects them once in college, the students are under-prepared for post-high school education. Second, if they are in a school that has even a minority of White kids, the Advanced Placement (AP) classes are made up almost entirely of White students. I have heard from several students (and even adult friends of mine) who were hesitant about entering AP classes because they didn't want to be the only person of color in the class. Being White, I think we don't often appreciate or understand how difficult it can be to be the only person of your ethnicity in different situations.

My personal opinion is that by saying kids are afraid of "acting White," adults avoid responsibility. By putting the blame on the kids for being afraid of "acting White," we (the adults, the administrators, the policy makers) are absolved of the responsibility to make school and learning interesting and practical.

I am very aware of the impact books have on kids. I am aware of the research that says parents need to be involved in their child's education. I am aware that kids to have to take some responsibility in their learning. However, I think it has become too easy for us to put the blame on the kids and the families instead of cleaning up the education system and making it a place kids and parents (and teachers, for that matter) *want* to be.

Maybe if we focused on figuring out how we could make it different for the kids instead of writing them off as uninterested and unwilling, we might see a lot more interested kids and we might tap into a level of intelligence that would surprise us all. I truly believe that could happen. But I think it's going to have to start by taking the blame off of the kids and starting with ourselves.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Great things in my world

The other night I had dinner with a friend. She asked me "What 3 great things have happened in your world since we last talked?"

I could not come up with three neatly packaged events that have happened over the last year or so. Instead, I had to reflect over the last several years. There are great things that have happened to me, but almost all of the amazing things are not one-time occurences, but watching things progress over time. Let me give you some examples:

Don went through a stage in his early teens where he was selling drugs to earn some extra cash. He struggled through school, barely getting his high school diploma. He hung around with older guys and had childhood friends who were not positive influences. After finishing one year of college, he decided to work instead. Although I wanted him to go further, he began a job and has now been at that same job for 3 years.

Kieva is someone I have always known would do ok...but I'm ashamed to say I never expected out of her what I see now. She will be a senior in college in the fall. She will graduate next year with a Political Science degree and wants to work for the FBI. She will be great at it!

Tiffany is an amazing young lady who has been driven and determined to achieve since she was a young girl. She will be a junior in college in the fall. She is majoring in Psychology, but also plans to get a teaching certificate. She has amazing abilities to connect with people and utilize her resources. I love being able to watch her as she grows and matures every year.

Whitney just graduated from high school. She was quite an outspoken child...could I be as bold to say oftentimes disrespectful?? However, as she has grown up she still speaks her mind, but in a way that is appropriate and articulate. She is learning to express her opinion in a way that people will listen.

Those are just a few of the people who have been blessings to me. I'm grateful to have been around long enough to witness their progress. What have been your blessings over the past year?

Friday, May 26, 2006

Reading the Bible with new eyes

I grew up in church.

I went to a Christian university.

I work at a ministry.

Yet, instead of being inspired by Christians, I have become disillusioned by them. What truly bothers me is seeing "Christians" profess hate and intolerance in the name of Christianity! It amazes me that Christians feel the need and the right to profess their loathing irregardless of what anyone else might think or feel. It disturbs me that so many Christians profess these kinds of beliefs *and* it disturbs me that the media picks up on that and publicizes "moral" Christians as the people that are adamantly against certain groups of people.

Though these types of behaviors have made me question Christianity, a friend once told me that I need to remember that Christianity is a good's Religiosity that makes Christianity look bad. Following Christ's example is good. If we really did that exactly the way it is presented in the Bible, Christianity would look much different than the way it is portrayed in the media. However, religiosity and judgment have taken over. We, as Christians, need to reclaim Christianity for what it really is.

Let me reflect for a minute about the Jesus I read about in my Bible. Jesus hung out with tax collectors and sinners. He invited Zaccheus to hang with him despite his reputation. He forgave a woman who had been caught in adultery. He honored the faith of a lady who simply touched his garment. Jesus put himself in situations that caused other "religious" leaders to question him. Although he did not agree with their actions, he formed relationships with them. As a result of his willingness to be in relationships with them, he was also able to influence their behavior...not by preaching *at* them, but by being *with* them and having conversations...challenging conversations.

In response to my frustration with Christianity, a friend of mine told me the other day, "Read the Bible with new eyes." I hadn't thought about that before. She's right. The Bible has the answers. It's just that the "religious" part of Christianity has gotten in my way and blocked my view. I grew up thinking that Christianity was about being in attendance every Sunday, condemning those who are not walking the straight and narrow (as defined by the church I attended), disassociating myself from those who are leading questionable lives, and not playing musical instruments.

Instead, I have learned that Christianity is about building relationships with people, loving people through their issues, and modeling my life after Jesus.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Nothing but the facts

Percent increase in crime that was reported on network TV news from 1990 to 1998: 83
Percent decrease in actual crime in the U.S. from 1990 to 1998: 20

Number of people in the U.S. Army on the eve of World War II: 186,000
Number of people in today’s U.S. regular Army: 480,000
Percent of active-duty U.S. military who are non-white: 37.5
Percent of Americans who are non-white: 22.9
Number of non-U.S. citizens serving in the active-duty U.S. military: 38,000

Rank of Washington, D.C. among U.S. highest incarceration rates: 1
Rank of Washington, D.C. among U.S. highest education spending per capita: 51
Rank of Minnesota among U.S. highest education spending per capita: 1
Rank of Minnesota among U.S. highest incarceration rates: 51

Percent increase in per capita higher education spending from all states’ general tax revenues from 1980 to 2000: 32
Percent increase in prison spending: 189
Percent increase in per capita higher education spending in Minnesota from 1980 to 2000: 131
Percent increase in prison spending: 128
Percent increase in per capita higher education spending in Texas from 1980 to 2000: 37
Percent increase in prison spending: 401

Length of the jail sentence Staff Sergeant Camilo Mejia received for refusing to return to fight in Iraq: 1 year
Length of the jail sentence Specialist Armin J. Cruz received for abusing Abu Ghraib inmates: 8 months

The statistics on spending for education and prison are particularly interesting/troubling to me, but all of these statistics have a pretty strong message to me. What do these statistics say to you???

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Lowering expectations?? Pt. 2

One of the proposals for the South Dallas area is to make one or two of the high schools into a Police Academy and a Nursing Academy. The word "Academy" makes this sound like a very prestigious opportunity...just like the word "magnet school."

Magnet programs were set up in the late '60's and early 70's because of White Flight. As White people scattered to the suburbs to avoid integration, schools attempted forming specialized programs that would make White parents want to transport their kids back into the city to attend the higher quality magnet schools. This was never accomplished. Magnet schools, along with all urban public schools, are more segregated now than in the 70's (Jonathan Kozol, The Shame of the Nation, 2005).

Despite the eloquent ring and the good intentions of "magnets" and "academies," I have always been bothered by the actual concept of these types of schools. Two things bother me. 1) Kids are asked to decide on a career before they have any experience with life. 2) Academy and magnet schools are not necessarily higher level schools, but often glorified trade schools.

Point 1:
In order to get into an "academy" or a "magnet," students receive applications in the 8th grade. At that point, they fill out their application and choose what specialty school they would like to attend. There are several options--performing arts, humanities and communication, law, travel and tourism, etc. At 13 years old they are asked to choose their career! Whatever they choose is what they will focus on for the next four years. Those courses will be their electives. They do not have the options to choose a variety of electives to figure out if they have other interests.

Point 2:
Jay Mathews addresses the negative aspects of magnet schools in his Washington Post article, "In College Admissions, Magnets Are Negative" (November 12, 2001, A1). He points out that magnet programs often result in lower GPA's, less challenging courses, and less of a focus on academics.

So why the focus on magnet and academy schools? The reasoning I have heard for the Police and Nursing Academies are so that more kids in South Dallas will graduate from high school. To me, however, these glorified trade schools are only lowering the expectations for our South Dallas (and other urban area) students. Because we expect that they won't achieve more, we are lowering the expectations and providing more trade schools in hopes that they will have at least minimal skills. That, to me, is unacceptable.

How about instead of lowering the expecations and providing lower-academic trade schools, we provide schools that have interesting curriculum and quality teachers that challenge kids? How about we get them the help that they need to get them up to grade level in their reading, writing, and math skills? How about instead of lowering our expectations for the kids, we raise the expectations for our schools?

I'm an educator. I've seen education done in ways that could engage any child. Unfortunately, interesting education is not the norm in our lower-income schools. Instead, there is a huge focus on testing and passing those tests. There are baseline tests, practice tests, and actual tests year-round. Because the schools are so busy focusing on tests, they don't have time to focus on learning. And then we wonder why kids disengage.

The kids in South Dallas are just as intelligent as kids in the suburbs. Unfortunately for them, they are at the mercy of adults who make the decisions--adults who feel like low-level, low-income students need lower-level skill opportunities to help them get through. I disagree. I think we need to raise the level of expectations for the students, for the teachers, and for the administrators. We need to offer the students high quality, interesting learning opportunities.

Let's not put extra money into forming more academies and magnets. How about, instead, we invest our extra money in providing kids with opportunities, giving them a variety of experiences, and preparing them academically so that if they change their mind they have the option and the skills to do something different?

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Lowering expectations??

Last week a Dallas Independent School District school board member spoke at a meeting I attended.

I have heard him speak before. One thing always bothers me about his speeches to the community and to the wider public. He always talks about how wonderful the South Dallas Area 2 schools are doing. So why am I bothered by their "success?" Because I don't see the progress he is talking about!! Yes, I know Lincoln High School was ranked as the top public high school by Newsweek. I am glad to know that they are giving lots of Advanced Placement tests and that they are "preparing average kids for college." That's good to know.

What frustrates me, though, is that despite these accolades and high rankings, kids are still underperforming.

Lots of kids.

I don't know that we are adequately acknowledging and working on that. When I hear school board or community leaders tell everyone how wonderful we are doing, it always sounds so positive. If I didn't oversee after-school and summer programs for elementary kids where the majority perform below grade level and if I didn't oversee a College Prep Program where high school students still do multiplication on their fingers, don't know basic algebra skills, and can't comprehend a basic reading passage, I would be tempted to pack up and call it a day.

The elementary and high school programs I oversee are not atypical. We don't seek out kids who are behind in their skills. In fact, because of our limited enrollment, along with various other reasons, we probably get more of the "upper level" kids. We have often talked about and lamented that we are leaving out so many that probably need more help than the ones who are currently enrolled.

We can't get too comfortable with reports that tell us kids are doing well. It concerns me that H.S. Thompson Elementary jumped in their TAKS scores (last year to this year) from 62.5% to 86.9% in Reading, 72.9% to 90.3% in Writing, 58.7% to 90.0% in Math and 23.6% to 91.6% in Science. How can one year present such huge gains? I had a 4th grader tell me the other day that the reason he had a 100% in Social Studies on his report card was because they never did it so the teacher just gave them 100's. I'm not sure what led to such high gains at Thompson. I would like to think that it was real-life, practical learning. I have a feeling it has more to do with teaching to the test, which creates little robots that can regurgiate basic facts and have no earthly idea how to translate their learning into real life situations.

I'm glad I've learned not to take statistics at face value. I know we've got a lot further to go in our public schools...especially in our inner cities.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

What is considered "immoral behavior?"

Our morality meter is broken. The actions that constitute immorality disturb me.

What is truly immoral?

Is it immoral for a mother to protest the Dixie Chicks by picketing outside their concert while holding her two-year old child and commanding him to shout an angry chant directed at the Dixie Chicks or for people to call in death threats (serious enough that the FBI became involved) because one of the Dixie Chicks voiced a negative opinion about the current administration and it's decision to go to war?

Apparently not. Those are not the stories in the news. Instead, it is the Dixie Chicks or people like them who are portrayed in such a negative light for not supporting our country and not supporting our troops...when really what they didn't (and don't) support was the decision to go to war.

Is it immoral for protesters to stand outside an abortion clinic and ridicule everyone who walks in and out of the clinic, yelling insults and derogatory statements and carrying despicable signs of dead fetuses in an attempt to belittle the people who walk in and out of the abortion clinic?

Apparently not. Instead, it's the woman who has gotten pregnant and struggled to figure out if having a child is right for her or the baby. It's her decision to have an abortion that is criticized, despite the fact that perhaps she realized that the father of her child might not be a good role model or that she might not be able to financially or educationally provide what the child needs. Maybe she just realized that she is not mature enough to have a child. Maybe she made a bad decision, but maybe she's trying to keep her bad decision from affecting yet another human being.

Is it immoral for people to camp out every weekend at the border with binoculars and guns to ensure that no one crosses--even if it means shooting or even killing people--to make sure people don't cross and invisible line and come into "our" country?

Or is it immoral for the people who hire the undocumented workers and underpay them (in cash) so that they can make bigger profits to keep for themselves?

Apparently not. Instead, it's the people in Mexico who recognize that they might be able to help their family out of poverty if they take a trip that often means leaving their immediate family behind so they can work at physically demanding and underpaying jobs to support their family.

Is it immoral for big corporations and companies to contract overseas with sweatshop labor that often employ small children and work kids and adults 17-20 hours a day for pennies because they say their profit margin is too small, yet the executives of the company are still making million dollar salaries?

Apparently not. We still buy the products. Wal-mart, Nike, and others are not feeling any pain. There is no outrage over this. Whatever other countries do and however they do or don't pay their employees is none of our business. We simply contract with them. We try to stay out of the way other countries run their business, right? (well...unless it negatively affects Iraq...or Iran)

Is it immoral for a big company like ConAgra to pay a meat grinder $6.40/hour in 1977 and 29 years later, the same man at the same company only makes $13.25/hour? Is it immoral for the same company to pay their former chief executive $45 million during his 8 years at the company give him a $20 million retirement package despite the fact that the company's share prices fell, the company missed earnings targets, and underperformed its peers under his watch?

Apparently not. Instead, it's the people who ask for livable wages, adequate healthcare, and better schools and education systems for their children who are said to want something for nothing.

Something is wrong with our society when we focus on one type of immorality (mainly the types that affect the poor and people of color) and ignore the other (mainly the types that affect wealthy, white people).

Thursday, May 18, 2006


We are failing our children.

1, 125 seniors in DISD will not graduate this year because they did not pass the TAKS test, even though many (maybe even most) of them met and passed the required courses set up by the school.

I know at least one of those 1,125. He had already sent out his graduation announcements and senior pictures and then was told he didn't pass the test. He is going to press on and work toward taking his last chance test again this summer. I'm proud of him for continuing. He could have easily decided to give up.

I am not arguing that students should graduate "just because." I have never been in favor of low-expectations for students. What I am arguing and advocating for is that our students are prepared BEFORE they get to their senior year!

I know, I know...I have teacher friends who will tell me that I can't put it all on the teachers. Parents have to be involved, too. Parents have to do some of the work at home--of encouraging children, of helping them with their homework, of visiting the school, etc. Though I whole-heartedly agree with that, I think we've got to face the reality that we're dealing with-especially in our inner-city schools.

Some of the parents I know don't have the skill levels themselves to help their kids with their homework. Some of the parents are absent or on drugs and the kids are raising themselves. Some of the parents go to the school when the school calls (unfortunately, the school usually only calls when their child is in trouble).

I haven't met a parent yet who doesn't want their child to be successful. Even drug addicted parents express a desire to see their kids succeed despite their own failures.

I wonder what would happen if the parents and the schools, maybe even the district, actually got together and communicated. What if schools and/or districts asked the parents what they needed and expected and then what if the school really listened to the parents? I have a feeling parents might have a whole lot to say. If they felt comfortable and if they felt like their statements were truly valued, I would guess that parents might be able to tell the schools some of the obstacles they and their children face on a daily basis:

  • Transportation--buying groceries, taking kids to and from appointments
    during the school day, getting to school functions, visiting the school...all with public transportation (very time consuming!)

  • Trying to work and be at home with a sick kid at the same time.

  • Access to healthcare.

  • Understanding homework assignments that don't give adequate instructions.

  • Preparing their child for a future of technology when they can't afford it at home and the schools don't offer it.

Those are all from conversations that I've had with parents. I'm sure there are many more obstacles parents face...obstacles that could be worked with and solved...if we just asked.

I'm really not trying to offer excuses. I don't want under-prepared kids thinking that graduating from high school means they're prepared when they're not. That is happening a lot these days and it's unfair to the kids as much as it is to our society. But I do think instead of failing them and considering them drop-outs at the last minute, we should be doing something different before it gets to that point. It's not fair to pass a kid through school and tell him/her that they are doing well only to let them get to their senior year and they can't pass a basic skills test.

WE, the people, are failing our kids.

We fail them when we don't provide them with the resources to keep them up with the times.

We fail them when we tell them their parents should be more involved, but their parents aren't sure how.

We fail them when we lower our standards for teachers in order to have warm bodies in the classrooms.

We fail them when we send the least qualified and least experienced teachers to the schools that need the most help.

We can choose to write it off as "not my problem" or we can get involved and be advocates whether our children are in that situation or not.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Skin Again

The skin I’m in
is just a covering. It cannot tell my story.
The skin I’m in
is just a covering. If you want to know who I am
you have got to come inside
and open your heart way wide.
The skin I’m in looks good to me.
It will let you know one small way to trace my identity.
But then again
the skin I’m in will always be just a covering.
It cannot tell my story.
If you want to know who I am you have got to come
Be with me inside the me of me,
all made up of stories present, past, future
some true to life and others all
fun and fantasy, all the way I imagine me.
You can find all about me—coming close and letting go
of who you might think I am
before you come inside and let me be real
and you become real to me.
All real then. In that place where skin again is one small way to see me
but not real enough to be all
the me of me or the you of you. For we are all inside
made up of real history, real dreams,
and the stuff of all we hope for
when we can be all real
together on the inside.

~bell hooks, Skin Again

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Art Showcase

Friday night we had the 3rd annual Art Show for our After-School Academy. I love our Art Showcase.

From about January until May, Mr. Emmanuel Gillespie is loaned to us by the South Dallas Cultural Center. He teaches the kids techniques such as using shapes and shading, then he switches up the mediums from ebony pencil to watercolors.

The Art Showcase is the culminating event for our After-School Academy. We set it up like a professional art show. The kids' pieces are framed and displayed in a gallery. Courtney Rainwater is wonderful enough to cater the event every year so that we can serve typical art show finger foods like "wine" (sparkling cider in the elegant flute glasses), cheese, fruit and finger sandwiches. Visitors bid on the kids' art through a silent auction style with all proceeds benefiting our After-School Academy.

This year our Children's Education Coordinator, Rachel Embry, expanded the Art Show from just an "art show" to an "art showcase." So not only did our painters get to display their talent, but our ballet and hip-hop classes displayed their artistic talent as well. One of my favorite parts of the art showcase is watching the apparent pride on the faces of the children.

One of my favorite parts of the art showcase is watching the apparent pride on the faces of the children.

I watched the ballet class practice in their street clothes before their performance. They did pretty good, though a little distracted and somewhat off-task. I had never seen them perform so I didn't know what to expect. Thirty minutes later I saw some transformed young ladies as they gracefully walked out in their beautiful ballet attire. I watched Jazmine, 5 years old, as she walked out much more composed, with a HUGE grin on her face. She knew she was beautiful and she was ready to perform! I was impressed with Tionna, Daijha, and Kashia's focus and poise. It was a beautiful performance that nearly drew tears.

Meanwhile, back in the gallery, DeMarcus, 9 years old, was soliciting potential bidders for his pieces. I heard several people comment on his very professional behavior as he greeted them, introduced himself, shook their hand, and then proceeded to explain each of the colors how he blended them together to make his landscape watercolor painting. I believe his piece eventually sold for $25 dollars or more, thanks to his presentations. (If you only knew the heartaches that DeMarcus used to give us about 3 years ago, you would be even more impressed with that scenario! :) )

Then, of course, there were the wonderfully supportive parents who were vying for their child's artwork. You know a child has to feel special when his mother is trying to outbid someone else to the tune of $50 for a single piece!

Our kids aren't any different than most, but they have been blessed with opportunities that allow their God-given talents to blossom. I wish our society could recognize that all kids have talent. All we have to do is figure out how to uncover that talent!

Saturday, May 13, 2006

We've still got a ways to go

Though I am not often surprised by racist, prejudiced, ignorant, or clueless statements anymore, I am much more aware of them than I used to be.

The other day I took my film to Walgreens to be processed. Once I had gotten home and finally had time to look at the CD, I realized that the pictures were of people I had never seen before. I took the pictures back the next day in hopes that someone else had returned my pictures as well. When I walked in, the White lady behind the counter very excitedly said she had been waiting on me to return my pictures. She started looking through a couple batches of pictures that had been returned. As she flipped through them, she looked a little disappointed as she said, "Oh, nope. These aren't yours." I wasn't quite sure how she could be so confident that they weren't my pictures if they didn't have my name on them and she didn't know me or the people who might be in my pictures. I asked her if I could look at the pictures myself. She, very confidently, said, "They're not yours. They can't be." I pressed a little more and asked if I could just look. In a much lower voice, she then said, "They can't be yours...unless you know a lot of black people." When I assured her I did, she let me flip through one of the rolls. Unfortunately, they weren't my pictures.

I guess her comment struck me so much because of her assumption that because I am White, the people I know and interact with must be White as well. It wasn't that I was offended. Instead, the comment made me very aware of the fact that our country is still very segregated--to the point that we don't even assume that different ethnicities would mix and mingle. The lady simply voiced the reality: Most people don't interact with people who are ethnically different than them (we could also extend this to economics or any other difference). From what I can tell, we like to stay in our comfort zone. We like to find people who agree with us and see things our way. We value sameness.

Because we are still so segregated and because we value sameness, it takes a big effort on our part. No one...Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, disabled, able-bodied, etc...can wait around or expect the "other person" to make the move. In order for us to move toward an inclusive society, each of us must make the effort to get to know the "other person's" personality, their struggles, their joys, their fears, their goals, etc. on an intimate level.

It takes time.

It takes effort.

It requires openness.

It is sometimes uncomfortable.

If you don't already have these diverse friendships, I challenge you to genuinely seek them out. If your friends are anything like mine, it's so worth it!

Friday, May 12, 2006

The power of love

I attend a Bible study on Thursday nights that is very unique. It is held in a restaurant (Smokey John's Bar-b-que). The man who owns the place (affectionately known as "Smokey") decided quite some years ago to open up his restaurant for a "Bible study" with ex-offenders. He prepares a large buffet that serves the entire 50+ people that are there every Thursday and there is a very non-coercive passing of the hat that allows people to donate money for the meal if they can or want to.

There are a variety of people who attend. The majority are ex-offenders...people who have come out of jail or prison and are trying to get their life back together. Many of them have been caught up in drugs and are working to stay "clean" (free of drugs). Not all are at that point. Each Thursday there are at least a few who are intoxicated or high, but they are welcomed in just like everyone else. In addition, there are others who have been clean for quite some time and are there to support others as well as continue receiving support. Then there are others, like myself who have never been incarcerated or on drugs, but just come to be a "part of."

Though the speakers are usually addressing issues that relate to drugs, crime, doing time, or other similar issues, the messages are always about real life. I have found that I can always apply the message to my life as well, which is why I keep going back.

Cherrece is a teenager who comes every Thursday. Her dad, a wonderful man named James Reed who works with R.O.D. Ministries, coordinates the group. As I was listening to the speaker last night one of the regular men walked in late (I'll call him Israel). I noticed Cherrece get his attention so she could say hi. I see her do this every Thursday when he walks in. From what I can tell, there is a bond between them despite his more than questionable past and her youth. She looks up to him like a big brother; he treats her like a little sister.

Cherrece realizes what some adults don't. It doesn't matter what he has done in his past. She values Israel for who he is at this moment. Israel may or may not continue down a straight and narrow path. It doesn't matter. She knows who he is now and loves him unconditionally for who he is right now.

I love that James and Brenda (her parents) have set such a wonderful example of being around all types of people and loving each and every one of them for who they are (myself included). I can't help but think our world would be a better place if more of us looked at people like James, Brenda, and Cherrece do.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Neighborhood stories

As I sat on my front porch this morning, I saw two police cars drive up and park across the street. I was sad when I saw them go over to my neighbor's house and bring out one of my friends.

He's around 35 years old and has two felonies on his record. He's been out of prison for a while now. I don't know what he did or didn't do for the police to pick him up. Although I know that he makes choices just like the rest of us and is still responsible for his choices, it still made me sad as I watched them bring him outside and lean him against the police car and handcuff him. I know he could see me sitting on my porch and I just thought of how that might feel knowing people in the neighborhood could see everything that was happening.

From talking to him, I don't get the feeling he's proud of his record nor do I think he would be proud of being arrested. He encourages kids not to take the same path he did. Unfortunately, I think he poses a more "do as I say, not as I do" role modeling...which doesn't work real well.

I guess some people might be happy to know that the police are doing their job and getting "bad" people off of the streets. I guess that's true and I suppose I should be glad. I've heard stories about the things he's done. It's always so hard for me to imagine these people who are so kind around me being such menaces to society.

I really have no big message or no big solution. It just makes me sad to see people with such potential making bad choices.

Monday, May 08, 2006


Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.

Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be?

You are a child of God.

Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.

There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.

It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.

And as we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

~Maryanne Williamson

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Homosexuality from a child's perspective

I watched a great documentary on the Sundance channel: Our House: A Very Real Documentary About Kids of Gay and Lesbian Parents.

I know homosexuality is a very controversial issue for many people. I know some people have some very strong beliefs against homosexuality. It's always interesting to me that it's oftentimes Christians who make the snide and rude comments about and to people who are gay or lesbian. Regardless of what how we believe the Bible addresses homosexuality, I do not believe Jesus walked around making snide and rude comments to or about anyone of any sexual orientation, ethnicity, economic level, etc. That was not in his character.

For some reason, people feel it's their right to openly condemn people's decisions. I can't imagine that people who do that consider the feelings of the person they are talking about. I have heard some thoughtless...and hurtful...comments ("That's gay!" or "He's queer." or maybe more direct comments). I know you hear them just like I do.

This documentary was powerful to me because the interviewers talked to the children. They asked the kids how they felt about having homosexual parents. Though there were several different perspectives from several different states, every kid said they loved their parents. Not surprising, huh? They didn't choose their parents any more than I did. We love the people who nurture us and take care of us. It is no different for a family with two moms or two dads.

Whether we feel that homosexuality is right, wrong, or somewhere in between...and whether we say or hear a negative comment made about or to a homosexual, I think it's important to consider the message we send. Is it beneficial to anyone? The Jesus I know would not have openly disparaged and would not have listened to anyone else openly disparage someone.

Maybe we should try to be more like Him.

Saturday, May 06, 2006


I read an article in the New York Times about how Americans are feeling the financial pinch of higher gas prices, insurance rates, adjustable rate mortgages, etc.

Let's be real for a second. Yes, I know costs are rising in many different areas. But, are we really hurting?? Who in our country is really "suffering" because of these higher prices? I just don't see it myself. Although I know there may be a few areas people are cutting back, I don't see it affecting a lot of our choices.

The New York Times article talked about forclosures on houses...over 40,000 in Texas in the first quarter of this year. Are the forclosures a sign of a depressed economy or a sign of people overspending and trying to be better than the Jones's, but now they can't keep up?

Several months ago I read an article in the Dallas Morning News that talked about how the majority of the forclosures were in the wealthiest county...the northern suburbs of Dallas. It talked about people around my age (mid 30's) who had purchased extremely large homes, big name cars, extravagant vacations, and then lost their job due to cutbacks and instability in the market. Some of the people were having to "cut back" and live on much "smaller" (still six figure) incomes. The couple interviewed said they were "embarrassed" to now drive a Volvo and Chrysler instead of a Mercedes and Cadillac.

I'm sorry, but I really don't have a lot of sympathy for that. I don't consider that "suffering" or "struggling."

In our country today, do we know anything about moderation? I'm not saying that I make better choices than the rest. I just subscribed to a two-year contract for satellite. That may not have been the wisest choice for me. Since I'm not bringing home a 6-figure salary, purchasing satellite television could probably compare to the people who bought too big of a home. If my income drops at all, I will still be commited to a 2-year contract and it would be a stretch for me to continue the payments. It's not like I couldn't do without enhanced TV. In my 34 years of life, I have never had any kind of cable service so I really don't "need" it now.

What do you have that you don't really need? And how could you use that money you would save?

I found out the other day that I could save $79,000, by paying more on my mortgage each month and paying my house off in 15 years instead of 30! Can I be disciplined enough to put off my immediate gratification wants? Do you know what I could do with $79,000! The real question is, though, not what could I do, but what will I do with it? Will I just chalk it up to having more money for cable, eating out, movies, and other personal entertainment or will I use it for helping a child get through college, contributing to public radio, or contributing to any other community-focused non-profit?

I know it's ridiculous to ask some top-level executives making up to $150,000 per day to give up their huge salaries in order to offer low-wage earners making $11,000 per year a better opportunity. We all love and can justify our money too much for that. However, for those of us who are a little more socially conscious, I think it's important for us to look at what we make and what we spend and realize how frivolous we can be and then adjust accordingly.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Public School Inequity

I attended our Urban Engagement book club yesterday. It was about Jonathan Kozol's Shame of the Nation. I've always loved the way Jonathan Kozol can present the facts in such a indisputable way.

Yesterday, Don Williams, a businessman and advocate for South Dallas, presented the facts indisputably as well. You can read about it on Larry's blog.

I always hear about the disparities between the suburbs and the inner-cities. Kozol talks about how much more funding suburban schools get per pupil versus inner-city schools. However, what Don presented yesterday shocked me.

The DISD spends an average of $6,300 on each of its high school students annually.

It spends $11,100 on each of the students at Townview [a Talented and Gifted magnet school].

Care to guess what it spends per student at its 16 lowest performing schools? If you guessed $4,300 you would be correct.

Both Townview and the low-performing schools are within the SAME public school district! So how is it that the Talented and Gifted program...which houses a majority of White students (though it is pretty evenly mixed with Black and Hispanic as well)...gets so much funding while the lowest performing schools...which are predominantly Black and/or Hispanic...gets less than half of what Townview gets?

Shouldn't it be the other way around? Shouldn't low performing schools get more money so that their students could begin performing at a higher standard...or at least up to grade well? Ok...even if you don't believe that the funding should be reversed, shouldn't the funding within the same district at least be equal across the board??

How does that happen? I need to do more research. Maybe there's a simple answer that I just don't see. I always thought that the reason suburban schools were getting more money allocated to their kids was because they had a higher tax base and, therefore, were able to draw more money for their public schools. I thought the opposite was true for inner-city schools. Because most of our inner-city schools are in communities that are poor, non-homeowners, I thought that we had a lower tax base and, thus, did not have as much money to put into our children's education.

So who is making the decisions here? Who decides that most of our tax dollars should go to Townview? Who decides that the lowest-income schools deserve less funding? It seems to me that it's more proof of the saying that "the rich get richer while the poor get poorer"--in an educational sense...which ultimately results in an economic sense.

If anyone has any explanations or facts, I would be happy to listen.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Thank you

My friend, Olga Rodriguez, sent me this link. Although I know there are many disagreements about what should be done about immigration, I would think we could at least agree to acknowledge the way immigrants have contributed to our society. No matter what we believe, I think it's important to stop and take notice of what they have done for our society and for us individually.

NPR : Thanking Immigrants for the Myriad Jobs They Do

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Insulated from Injustice

We truly are insulated from injustice.

If we are White, we do not experience the injustice of racism. If we are middle class, we do not experience the injustice of poverty. If we are male, we do not experience the injustice of being female. If we are American citizens, we do not experience the injustice of working in a country that doesn't value you as a person. If we are American, we do not experience the injustice of working conditions in some third world countries. In each of these situations, White, middle class, males, and Americans benefit from their insulation from the injustice the other person experiences.

Here's my theory. Although we may feel bad that injustice happens, we are not concerned enough to do something unless it directly affects us.

White people do not feel the sting of racism like a person of color. Middle class and wealthy people do not experience the effects of being poor like someone who has had to go without health insurance or whose children are enrolled in schools that don't receive the same funding as middle- or upper-class schools. Males do not comprehend their dominance in the workplace like a woman whose opinion is brushed aside until a man makes the same statement or whose salary is less than a man doing the same job. American citizens do not understand the plight of immigrants. Americans do not feel the pain and exhaustion of working in sweatshop conditions 20 hours a day, 7 days a week like someone who works to provide cheap clothing and other products, often without getting paid, for people in the richest nation.

As long as I am comfortable, as long as I am benefiting, as long as I can't see or feel the frustration, pain, and/or misery, as long as it doesn't hurt me, I can ignore the realities.

Think about it. Isn't that the truth? Read the article that's attached by clicking the title of this blog. How many times have you shopped at Wal-mart or Target or Kohl's? Did you know they use sweatshop labor? For me, the lure of cheap clothing is much stronger than worrying about some child in Bangladesh whose face I will never see.

What can change our feelings of not being directly affected by injustice?

In my mind and in my experience, relationships. Until I know and listen to someone who has experienced some of these situations, their pain is not my own. I love this quote:

If you have come to help me, you can go home again. But if you see my struggles as a part of your own survival, then maybe we can work together.

~Lila Watson, Australian aboriginal woman

Helping is one-directional and only lasts for a short time. In a relationship, a friendship, your pain becomes my pain and vice-versa. Though forming a friendship with children in Bangladesh may seem impractical and impossible, there are plenty of people here in the United States who experience injustice. By getting to know them, asking about, and really listening to the injustices they experience, we can learn from them how to fight the battle of injustice. Hopefully hearing and fighting the injustices here will encourage us to also fight the injustices abroad.

Injustice does not have to be a part of our society. But, to make it go away, we have to be courageous enough to get to know others and stand with them in their fight (their "struggle") to make it end.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006


I woke up at 5:30 this morning to a low-flying helicopter going back and forth around my neighborhood. I knew what was going on before I even got up to look out the window. Sure enough, the helicopter was buzzing around shining the spotlight looking for someone who was running from some kind of crime, no doubt.

Thank goodness it's not like that's an every day occurrence around here. I know in some neighborhoods it's probably more common. But, it has happened enough over the last 11 years that I've lived here that I know what's happening. I crawled back in bed and started to go back to sleep. As I laid there I realized how little that incident affected me. I guess you could write it off as me being desensitized. Since I've lived in my neighborhood, though, I've never been scared of things like that--helicopters, gunshots, etc. So many of my friends--kids and adults--have told me that things like that scare them. They talk about locking and re-locking their doors at night and cringing when they hear gunshots or police cars and things like that.

What dawned on me this morning is the fact that when something like that happens around me, it's not as personal to me as it is to someone who grew up here or in a similar, possibly much rougher neighborhood.

I thank God for allowing me to live in this neighborhood so that I can understand what the media sensationalizes versus what is real. There is so much more to my neighborhood than just low-flying helicopters, gun shots, and police raids. I thank God that He has allowed me to be a part of a life that is much different than the way I grew up. However, I realize no matter how long I live here, I may never internalize the fear like someone who has grown up hearing gunshots, someone who has had to deal with strangers who are sometimes high or drunk as they walk home from school or catch the bus (because their parents don't have transportation).

I do thank God that my life hasn't been affected like some people's lives. But as I thank God for protecting me, I am very conscious of the fact that others haven't been so insulated from frightening and unjust incidents.

Monday, May 01, 2006

It's not about money, but money sure helps!

I've never really had to worry about money. I mean, sure, there are times when I've had to cut some corners, but I've never worried about where my next meal will come from, how I can pay my rent, or other basic necessities like that.

I was thinking about that last week as I was planning to take off a couple of days from work. I've been a little overwhelmed lately and I thought a couple of days would do me some good.

Since I bought my house, I have stayed at home during most vacations in order to save money. Although I like staying at my house, I never quite feel like I've had a vacation when I go back because I haven't done anything any different. This time I decided I needed to do something for myself. Something that would make me feel like I actually did something on my vacation. I scheduled a massage and may even get a pedicure. I may go to the movies and have lunch with a friend. I want to relax. I want to be able to go back to work refreshed.

I can do that. I've had a little extra income this year that allows me to justify spending some extra money in order to maintain my sanity.

I think of my friends who can't though. I'm sure some of my friends would like to "escape," too. I'm sure they would like to treat themselves to a little pampering. But they don't have the financial cushion that I have. I know their jobs are often more physically demanding than mine and I know they get worn down probably more than I do. After all, my job is very flexible with a very friendly work environment. I also know that always trying to make ends meet at home adds stress and wears on people mentally as well.

I think about people I've talked to who think that if poor people made better decisions they might not be in tough situations. I would argue, though, that we all need to treat ourselves every once in a while.

As I think about my little splurges this week, I realize that I could put my money toward much better and more practical uses. But I also know that sometimes I just need a little reprieve from always being careful with my spending. And, poor or rich, don't we all deserve a break every once in a while??