Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Seek out the assets, not the deficits

Spend a little time in an inner city neighborhood. Talk to the people. Get to know people. I would bet after getting to know them you would find out that they rarely talk about what they don't have or what obstacles they have overcome. Instead, they focus on their hopes and dreams for themselves and their children.

Before living and working down here, I didn't get it either. I visited the inner city to do "mission trips." I loved leaving after a day or a week knowing I had "made a difference." I liked hearing the stories of huge turnarounds. I wanted to hear how tragedy turned into some big success story. I wanted to know how this or that organization or person had done something good for people. I wanted to hear about heroic efforts. It made me feel good.

But living and working here is much different.

I have known some people for years before finding out that they were sexually abused as a child or that they were once homeless. I've known kids who have grown up in crack houses and some who raised themselves because their parents weren't willing or able to take care of them. Most of these things were learned inadvertently. The kids knew I knew, the adults knew I knew, but we rarely ever talked about it. It was life. It was reality. We didn't need to dwell on it. They didn't want to dredge up their past...or present...situation for some woman who wouldn't understand what they were dealing with. They did, however, need access to resources so they could move forward.

That's what Central Dallas is all about. People are valued because they are people. I don't have to know their "story." I do, however, want to know where they are headed.

In the After-School Academy, we talk about "noticing" kids. We seek out areas in which they demonstrate talent or interest. We tap into the potential we see. It doesn't matter how much adversity they have or haven't faced. Our concern is for their future.

  • I have no idea how much "adversity" Jordan has faced. What I do know is that he is very observant, that he is quick to pick up technology and that he thinks a lot and processes what he is learning.
  • I have no idea what "adversity" Kendell has faced. But I know in 2nd grade he became a great chess player and did an amazing job developing those skills.
  • I have no idea what "adversity" Kashia has faced. But I know she is a very talented ballerina and I know that even though she has moved from Turner Courts, her mother continues to keep her connected and continues to enroll her in ballet.
It's the same for the parents...or others in the community. We don't ask...or need to know...all about their past and how many trials they have faced. If they want to confide in us, they will, but that is their choice. It's not something I probe for.

  • I have no idea what "trials" or "adversity" Sylvia has faced, but I know she is an amazing person with amazing people skills, which is why I hired her to run our computer lab. Because her job requires her to supervise the computer lab, she has sought out and taken advantage of computer classes and is constantly learning new things so that she can teach friends and neighbors in the community.
  • I have no idea what "trials" or "adversity" Ms. Haynes has faced, but I know she utilizes the computer lab every time the doors are open and, with the help of Sylvia, learns something new every day about how to utilize the internet. I know that having that resource available has allowed her to have knowledgeable conversations with her grandkids because she now utilizes the internet just like they do!
The "story" isn't that people have overcome adversity. The "story" is that resourced neighborhoods and communities provide opportunities for people to achieve and develop the capacity that already exists in these communities.

Our job is to ask the question, "What do you want for your family?" (and think about what we would want for our own families) and then seek out the resources needed to connect people with they want in order to raise their children in a safe and healthy environment...whether that be a reasonably priced grocery store, lighted streets, job readiness training, academic preparation, adequate policing, etc. That's what I want for my own community. I should expect no less for an inner city community.

Instead of sensationalizing people's lives, we need to do our part to build relationships, find out what people in the commmunity want and need, assist with the resources in whatever way we can, and recognize that with the right resources and with ongoing relationships and support, people can and are moving toward their future.
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