Thursday, December 28, 2006

Amazing children

I know I've talked about Kashia before, but her passion for life inspires me so much I have to keep going back to her.

Central Dallas is launching a postcard campaign and Kashia was chosen to be one of the kids featured on a postcard. I fell in love with the pictures as soon as I saw them. The photographer captured her so well!

This is a typical picture of Kashia. Offer her a challenge and her finger will go up to her chin in thinking mode. Her wheels will start turning and she will meet your challenge head on...usually surfacing with the answer.
I love this picture with Kashia and her mom, Chanel. Though Chanel really dislikes pictures, I think this offers a great side of Chanel that shows you what kind of mom she is. When I asked Chanel if Kashia could be involved in our postcard campaign, Chanel was afraid they might interview her (she doesn't like talking much either) and take pictures of her, too. Instead of saying no, Chanel told me that she would do whatever she needed to for Kashia's sake.
Kashia is an inquisitive and precocious child. I wonder how many more inquisitive and precocious children we might have...and I wonder how much more Kashia could aspire to... if we offered the most vulnerable and dependent of our society a high quality education, good healthcare, a safe place to live, and the resources they need.

I know there are many more Kashia's out there waiting to be discovered. What Kashia's do you know?

Sunday, December 17, 2006

My Christmas wish...year-round justice

Call me a bah humbug, but I'm not a big fan of Christmas.

I was in the toy department of Target the other day and overheard a couple of White families talking to each other about purchasing gifts for the "less fortunate." The children were pointing out games and toys they liked and their father eagerly encouraged them to get several of each one enthusiastically claiming, "There will be over a thousand kids there!" A few people walked by and inquisitively asked what they were which they eagerly told them of their efforts to purchase items for "less fortunate" children who would be coming to their event.

As the kids perused through the toy aisles looking for toys to purchase and give away, I heard their mom say, "These kids are going to be 'dark-skinned' kids so we need to find some 'dark-skinned' dolls." Something about the whole thing didn't set right with me. I suppose I should give them credit and even commend them for taking into account the "darker skin" of the kids they would be giving toys to. Some people don't even do that much. I know that their intentions were probably good. It still struck a nerve with me. I wondered what their conversation sounded like to the other possibly "less fortunate" or "dark-skinned" people who might have been shopping around them.

After thinking about this scenario a while, I finally realized why all of this hype and giving to the "less fortunate" bothers me.

The people giving the gifts don't know the people they are giving to.

They don't know them before the event, nor do they seek to build a relationship with them after the event.

What happens the other 364 days of the year after Christmas is over?

Are these same people who are "getting into the Christmas spirit" by giving gifts and encouraging their children to "have fun" purchasing the gifts for "less fortunate people" putting the same efforts forth the rest of the year to help raise the minimum wage, hire under-skilled people and train them to have marketable job skills, tutor a child to help him/her grasp necessary concepts, work with someone on a part of the GED they can't seem to pass, or help someone fill out the paperwork and forms needed for them to go to college so that when future Christmas's roll around more families can afford to provide Christmas gifts for their own children?

If Christmas is about Christ, shouldn't we be working toward Christmas (being Christ-like) year-round? What would that look like? Is being Christ-like about charity...or justice?

"Let justice roll down like waters..." Amos 5:24

Saturday, December 16, 2006

It's ok for your children, but not for mine

Inner city Dallas is just like every other inner city across America. Liquor, wine, and beer stores are everywhere! I remember when I went to San Francisco a few years ago how amazed I was that there were so many Starbucks...often located directly across the street from each other. If you've been to San Francisco, imagine that times 10. In South Dallas, there are certain pockets where there are probably 10 or more liquor stores in a one block area. Many of us who live in South Dallas don't want the concentration of these stores in our neighborhood any more than someone in a wealthier part of Dallas would.

Several years ago a law was passed (the article attached to this blog explains more). The law stated that no beer/wine/liquor stores could be built within a 1000 feet of a school. The law, however, grandfathered in the already established stores. Knowing that children walk by these stores every day on their way to/from school and knowing that the more concentrated alcohol establishments in an area can be directly related to the increase in crime in an area, South Dallas leaders have worked and continue to work hard to do what they can to move these establishments out. It is not an easy battle.

Yesterday I attended a court hearing protesting one of the beer and wine stores by the school. What struck me as I was sitting there was the argument of the beer and wine store's lawyer. As the witnesses gave their testimony about what the beer and wine stores do to the community, the lawyer kept refocusing their statements to ask if this particular store could be proven to create the unsafe atmosphere in the area. I could see where he was going. He was trying to keep the heat off of his client by saying that their one liquor store does nothing bad in the community. They are perfectly legal in what they are selling and, he even went on to argue that they are a "good neighbor" in the community because the owners actually keep crime off of their property.

I realize he's a lawyer and lawyer's are supposed to defend their clients whether they believe them to be innocent or not. But I would be interested to know where his children go to school and whether he would want them walking by liquor stores and the people that frequent them every day. Actually, as he argued that Buy and Save was actually a "good neighbor" that keeps crime away, I wanted to challenge him to walk from Pearl C. Anderson to any one of these kids' homes. I would almost bet my last dollar that he, a grown man, would probably be scared and would refuse.

So why is it ok for our South Dallas children to have to deal with that? Don't our children in South Dallas deserve the same healthy environment as any other kid? Or do we pay no attention to it because it because if we don't live there it doesn't affect us and our children?

It's a frustrating battle. I agree that Buy and Save Discount Beer and Wine is not the sole reason there are drugs, crime, and prostitution in South Dallas. However, it is a contributor. We're working to get those "contributors" out one by one.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

After Bible study is over...

Most Thursday nights I end up taking "home" a lady who attends the same Bible study I do. I put "home" in quotes because she is technically homeless. I usually take her to a round-the-clock diner where she gets a cup of coffee and hangs out until someone takes her to the "24 hour Club," a place that provides mats (or a bunk, if you're lucky) to sleep on. She seems to have a male friend or two who she stays with periodically.

Our ride downtown is nearly always the same. We begin by chatting about how much she loves red soda and how she gets her fill of that at Smokey's (the restaurant where our Bible study is held). The conversation then turns to lottery tickets and how much she loves the lottery. Then she always turns to tell me she wants to have "pretty things" like I do. The conversation switches back and forth between lottery tickets and my "pretty things" until we arrive at her destination.

I can handle chit-chatty conversation about red soda. It's a safe topic. However, every time she starts talking about lottery tickets and her enamour with my "things," I get uncomfortable.

First of all, I don't like lottery tickets. They irritate me because I think they're a trap that provides false hope to those who are poor. The promise of possibly being a multi-millionaire, despite the odds, keeps people going back day after day.

I have finally given up trying to convince my friend that she has probably spent way more money on lottery tickets than she has won (or ever will win). I can't decide if she actually spends the money on the lottery tickets or just fantasizes about them. Either way, she knows which ticket plays on what day of the week and she has even informed me about seasonal lottery tickets (I didn't know there was such a thing!). Her obsession with lottery tickets drives me crazy. I never quite know how to respond.

I am thrown off even more when she explains to me (after I try to convince her that lottery tickets are a waste of money) that she plays the lottery so she can have nice things like me. She likes my car. She thinks my earrings are pretty ("and expensive," she is quick to add), even though they are the one of the only two pair I own. She likes the way I dress.

I always try to come up with some good reason for why I have what I do..."I work hard. I saved my money. I didn't buy lottery tickets. I went to college," I tell her. The words seem ridiculous as they come out of my mouth. So much of what I have is because of what grandparents and parents saved for me and what friends have given me. And despite my justification about why I have certain "things," the things I have are a little audacious when I think of what she and many of my other limited income friends have.

I want to justify myself. I mean, come on! Comparatively speaking, I live more modestly than most of the Dallasites.

I tell her it's not about "things." "Things" don't make you happy. But who am I kidding?? If there weren't some type of gratification or ease in having "things," I wouldn't have them! I'm not the one having to beg for rides home from Bible study or having to try to figure out where to stay each night.

I try to explain I have a good job because I went to college. To which she wistfully replies that getting a good education is important, as if knowing that is a good thing, but what good will that do her now that she doesn't have it?

The fact of the matter is that she can't afford even a roof over her head.

I don't know if my friend has ever worked. I'm guessing she may have some type of slight mental illness, though I don't know that for a fact. I really don't know if she is capable of working. My guess is probably not.

So I'm left every Thursday night grappling with the guilt, helplessness, and realization that some people are really struggling in this world with no chance or opportunity to get ahead, even if they want to.

Monday, December 04, 2006

For the benefit of all

Where do our selfish motives and our fears come from?

I read an article in the Washington Post about the current attempts White parents are making to sway desegregation orders so that their children can get put into the best schools and avoid the worst. The "best" schools have AP classes available, multiple opportunities, challenging coursework...and are made up of primarily White children. The "worst" schools have few, if any college-prep, rigorous classes, fewer extracurricular opportunities, and lower expectations for the kids...oh yeah...and are made up of primarily Black and Hispanic children.

Here's what I don't get. These parents who are working so hard to keep their children out of the "worst" schools...why don't they go ahead and put their child in the school and then work just as diligently to fight for the same quality of education and classes at that "bad" school so that all of the children involved can benefit?? Instead, they work overtime to make sure their child avoids the "bad" school...even to the point of enrolling their child illegally in a suburban district and lying to the school about their child's enrollment until their child gets moved up on the waiting list in their own district and is able to attend the school of their (or their parent's) choice.

I suppose I'd be naive to say that I don't know why urban schools don't have more rigor, more AP classes, and other programs that middle and upper-middle class parents want for their children. On the surface, kids in those schools appear to not care...about themselves, their community, or their academic achievements. However, I know that many of these kids, with the right expectations and the right challenge, can far exceed what the schools are currently expecting of them (I've witnessed it!). Think about it, though, that's exactly why many White, middle class parents are working so hard to get their kids in other schools. They recognize that if you put a child in a situation where there is little or no opportunity to grow, they won't! The difference in these White, middle class parents than many of the parents in the area around these "bad" schools is that the White, middle class parents have the money, time, resources, connections, and knowledge of the system to make sure their child gets what they want/need.

If parents who ultimately end up with successful, academically prepared students are making sure they secure those opportunities for their own children, shouldn't we think about what they are seeking out and figure out how to offer it in all of our schools for all of our children?? I have been around kids and "systems" long enough to know that putting a few AP classes into a school is not going to draw the masses of our urban kids. It's going to take time and it's going to take an effort by everyone involved to make sure the kids know about the wealth of opportunities available, can access them (financially and physically), and are prepared for them. This cannot be done by making the opportunities available and then lowering expectations. Our kids deserve so much better than that. We need to make the opportunities available and then work to make sure our kids are prepared for the intensity of those higher expectations.

Look below the surface of what you see in urban neighborhoods and urban schools. The problems aren't the unruly and out of control kids. It's not just the parents or lack thereof of the unruly and out of control kids. The problems run so much deeper. Look at the way the system is set up. Decide if you would want your child to be in those situations. If not, help us figure out how to solve those problems at a systemic level so that every child has an opportunity to be successful.

And realize that the ones who do come out of that system successful are way more extraordinary than we ever give them credit for.