Saturday, March 31, 2007

Think, think, think...critically

According to a recent insert in the Dallas Morning News, the most important skill for people to succeed in the business world??

Critical thinking.

Do we encourage that in our kids?

MBA programs, the insert explained, hand people cases/scenarios and ask them to look at and discuss them critically. How much do we prepare our children for that level of critical thinking?

How often do we ask our kids what they think about something and why? How well do we teach them to network and get to know people from different sectors so that they have more than their isolated corner of the world to draw from? How does the fact that our children (especially our urban children) are segregated...from other ethnicities, other socioeconomic levels, technology access, resourced schools, etc...impact their future?

Check out these facts:

Skills recruiters find attractive in MBA graduates:
Ability to think analytically............78%
Ability to think strategically..........71%
Quantitative skills 58%
Leadership skills 56%
Oral communication skills 53%
Creative problem-solving skills 52%
Ability to integrate information 51%
Project management/implementation skills 51%

Skills recruiters feel MBA graduates need to strengthen:
People management 35%
Leadership skills 30%
Interpersonal skills 26%

I would argue that these skills are not limited to being a necessity in MBA programs.

What are we doing about it for our lowest income, lowest performing kids? They deserve to know, and be taught, this "secret."

When I was in grad school, a professor stated that something like 60% of the jobs of our future have not even been thought of yet. Though I can't seem to find that statistic anywhere, it makes sense to me. Our world is changing fast. Technology is very different now than when I was in school...and that wasn't that long ago! Despite this fact, I see critical thinking being taught less and less.

Are our schools teaching these critical thinking skills?...or does the school and the area where you live determine whether you receive these higher order thinking skills?

As parents, teachers, and community members, are we fighting for everyone's kids...or are we only concerned when the outcome affects our own children?

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Mayorial candidates--words versus actions

On May 12, we will make a choice. Who do we want for our next mayor?

Central Dallas had decided to invite the top 7 mayorial candidates to Turner Courts and Roseland Homes so that they would have the opportunity to dialogue with people who usually get left out of the conversation.

I was excited about the opportunity. Central Dallas has a lot of clout these days and even though this same opportunity probably wouldn't have taken place had it been left up to the candidates to organize it, I was grateful that we at Central Dallas were using our "power" to facilitate an event like this.

However, by 2:00 yesterday, I was very disappointed.

We had found out the day before that only 2 candidates had planned to come to Turner Courts. The rest had all opted to go to Roseland Homes (a public housing development, but one that is in a very "safe" area for the candidates...economic development and nicely constructed town homes exist all over the Roseland/City Place area. The Hope VI grant has refurbished the entire Dallas Housing Authority area). The candidates had chosen to go to an area, though still in need of some work, that is very plush compared to Turner Courts.

Figuring if they wouldn't come to us, we'd go to them, we (Turner Courts) decided to visit them on their "turf" at Roseland. At 1:30, we all packed up and made the trek over to Roseland for the meeting at 2:00.

Only Sam Coats showed up on time.

And not only was Mr. Coats at Roseland, Mr. Coats evidently hadn't gotten the message and had gone to Turner Courts first.

THANK YOU, Mr. Coats! Thank you for valuing us enough to come both places...on time!

Gary Griffith did show up about 15-20 minutes after we had started and stayed the remainder of the time.

No other candidates showed up.

Both men seemed like fine men. I'm sure the other 5 are fine men as well. But it says something to me when they do not acknowledge our worth and value enough to show up...or even call for that matter. If the meeting had been scheduled in a wealthy part of Dallas with potential campaign contributors where there is a higher percentage of voter turnout, would they have shrugged off that meeting as matter what their schedule looked like? I tend to think not.

At one point in the discussion, Mr. Coats asked the audience (of maybe 30 people) who was registered to vote. I wonder if he was surprised when nearly every hand went up.

Perhaps if people had a reason to think they were valued, if they had a reason to think that the city works for them, too, perhaps they would vote. Perhaps if the candidates did make more of an effort to go into low-income communities and ask the people what city services are lacking (explaining what the mayor does and doesn't have authority over so that we target our requests and statements), maybe then people would see that their voice is a part of the conversation as well.

Before our meeting I had looked over the candidates and each of their platforms. I had made some tentative decisions of who I thought might be working in our best interests. After yesterday, my tentative decisions changed. It's one thing to put a good platform in the paper. It's a completely different thing to actually show up.

Actions speak much louder than words.

Note: The same 7 who were invited to speak with us have also been invited to be at our Prayer Breakfast on April 26. Check out the link and come join us!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

God's faithfulness...despite me

Yesterday I had received a monetary gift. Being a little strapped for cash lately, it was a welcome gift.

This morning as I began cleaning up after my parents left, I looked in the folder where I had put the envelope that held the money, but it wasn't there. I searched the house high and low...nothing. I called my parents, who were already on the road, to ask them if it had fallen out in their car....they didn't see it. I called Tiffany to see if it might be in her no avail.

I was frustrated and irritated over losing money. I kept telling myself that it was something I didn't have before yesterday so losing it shouldn't be that big of a deal. Besides, it was just money. It was just a "thing." But no matter how much self-talk, I was still stressed over where I would've left it or dropped it.

After searching some more, I finally went on to church. The minute I walked in the door, my friend pulled me aside to give me some money that I had loaned her son for college. It was more than double the amount I had lost--an unexpected and welcome return. (It had been several months since I had loaned him the money and I'm never quite sure that I will receive my "loans" back). So, even though it was my money in the first place, it was unanticipated money that had been returned.


Here I was, stressed over some money that had never been mine in the first place, and then I received double. Jesus' words, "Oh ye of little faith," come to mind.

I was reminded of this scripture:

Matthew 6:25-34
25 “For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 “Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? 27 “And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? 28 “And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, 29 yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. 30 “But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! 31 “Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ 32 “For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Friday, March 23, 2007

A productive day

Strawberries on sale at Albertson's: 99¢

Trip to the nursery to buy flowers: $21

2 trips to Home Depot for supplies and more flowers: >$100

Planting flowers around the tree in my front yard, repotting hanging baskets of flowers for my backyard, digging a plot for a garden, making home made strawberry freezer jam, eating home made biscuits and gravy, fixing my fence, installing a motion sensor light in a single day...all with mom and dad's help:


Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Are people objects to be viewed?

I got a kick out of a story on NPR this morning.

Evidently, there is a new sky walk over the Grand Canyon. It's quite a site. The Hualapai Indian tribe opened the skywalk to generate income for their tribe.

One of the tribal members had worn a traditional beaded shawl over a long, print dress with colored ribbons on the hem. Visitors took her picture. In turn, she took pictures of them. One reporter asked her what she thought of all of that. Laughing, she said she was thinking about the fact that she was taking pictures of all of the White people. The reporter asked why she thought that was funny. Ms. Cuerto responded by saying, "Because everybody takes pictures of the Indians."

In other words, Ms. Cuerto had decided to turn the tables. Since everyone was taking pictures of the Indians, she decided to take pictures of all of the White people. I think it was her own little way of making an irritating situation humorous.

I don't know if that resonates with anyone but me, but I was laughing right along with Ms. Cuerto. I'm not sure that those of us who are White think about what it feels like to always be the "object" of people's excursions and adventures...and photographs.

I've often felt like Ms. Cuerto...not because people come to take pictures of me, but because people come to take pictures of the kids and our community. The inner city has become a novelty to people.

They come,
they play with the children,
they take pictures of the children,
and they go back home and show the children to their friends.

They come,
they look at the Indians,
they take pictures of the Indians,
and they go back home and show the Indians to their friends.

It sounds like what I do when I go visit a petting zoo.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Hurricane Katrina...a thing of the past???

I'm afraid that for many of us, Hurricane Katrina is something that happened (past tense). Unfortunately, for so many others, Katrina is very much a present tense issue...yet something that few are paying attention to. A friend of mine explained that when he went home to visit not long ago, his relatives still didn't have running water. Below is a fairly long piece, but one I strongly recommend reading. Kalamu is a friend of a friend. He communicates a powerful but very sad word about the lives in New Orleans. Please read:

N.O. Way to Live. Comments from Kalamu ya Salaam in New Orleans.

WHAT NOW? By Kalamu ya Salaam

Less than half the pre-storm population has returned to New Orleans to face the music. Housing for non-home owners is expensive to non-existent. Health care, ditto. Other than construction and fast food service, jobs are scare, benefits miserly. Public education and the lottery have a lot in common, you can play, but only a handful hit the jackpot.

Beyond the daily battles a new and even more disturbing trend emerges: seniors are dying, youth are leaving. Seniors dying from strokes, heat attacks, and cancer fill the obituary pages. In our city seniors were a social safety net. From baby-sitting to first responders to crisis, we counted on Big Mamas and Auntees, Parans and Nannans (God-parents), uncles and older cousins.

Since Katrina, we can no longer count on them.Vital health care services are gone, simple check-ups and routine medications are now rarely available. Although the stress of living in a trailer combined with a fourteen-month history of untreated diabetes or undiagnosed cancer is a lethal cocktail, it's not dramatic enough to become national news, after-all tens of thousands of Americans survive without adequate health care or insurance.

For youth on the edge of adulthood, the outlook is even bleaker. Imagine, your name is Tyeasha. You're seventeen. The housing development where you lived has been boarded up for over a year and a half. The high school you attended may never re-open. Your family is flung across city and state lines. Is that why you find yourself staring at empty buildings?

Or you could be Aaron unable to go outside after school because the smell from across the street aggravates your asthma. The local drug lord is cooking cocaine, which he will later dispense from the corner. But you're no snitch, and besides the police are corrupt and won't protect you. Since you're a high school sophomore, you only have two more years to put up with this and then you're out of here.

Gabe graduated from the University of New Orleans this past December and now she is working in a high school writing program. Gabe wants to help rebuild her city but she's pretty sure she won't raise her family here. Crime is bad and the educational system worst but it's the little things that really get to her, like no grocery store anywhere near her neighborhood. Should you really have to drive three or four miles just to buy beans, rice and chicken?

Theresa is trying hard not to drop out. She'll be twenty-one soon. One year kept back. One year lost to Katrina. The following year shunted between schools until finally she was informed: we can't find your transcript, you'll just have to repeat.

An Angelica at one school was doing well but her family broke apart and so now she's in Memphis after both she and her mother were battered by her father. Meanwhile, Angelica at another school had vowed to finish her senior year but now they've moved across the river and...

I wish Brittany good luck in dodging the Marine recruiter. In a moment of confusion she signed an intent to volunteer. She was seventeen. What else was she going to do? Her mother died when she was eight. Her father, well, forget about that. Katrina scattered her siblings. Brittany currently has no where to live in the city. So she gets up at five a.m. to catch a commute bus from Baton Rouge to New Orleans in order to finish her senior year while staying with a sister who lives eighty miles from school. It's not even a month yet and Brittany can't keep it up.

Kenneth's cousin was killed on Christmas eve, or was it Christmas day? It seems like bad news never stops. None of these stories are sexy enough for news anchors to share. People succumbing to cancer. Children dropping out of public school. What else is new?

I hear they're having Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Everything must be getting back to normal. Pre-Katrina "Big Easy" was already a disaster. Now New Orleans sometimes gives Baghdad a fierce run for the money-twelve murders over the 2007 New Year's holidays and we're officially the per capita murder capitol of America.

Driving across a town where you constantly run into broken traffic lights, where sparsely populated neighborhoods are patrolled by armed national guard, and where the emergency trauma center-should you have an accident-is located five miles outside the city limits, as you negotiate these truly mean streets the thought is never far from your mind: why am I still here?

I'm 59. I teach five high school classes, five days a week. New Orleans was my home. This "new" New Orleans is another country in which I feel like an alien. Daily some non-native consultant arrives to do a study or offer a bold, innovative rebuilding plan. Meanwhile the physical and social infrastructure disintegrates, undelivered state and federal aid is shrouded in bureaucracy, thousands of vacant houses have not been touched since before the flood.

Everyday I face young men and women, each with a particular story, a specific need, an individual reaction to the aftermath. They are traumatized.

Mekele says she couldn't stop crying New Year's day and she is trying hard to rationalize away her fear of rain. What I want people to understand is simple. New Orleans doesn't have to be ignored. America spends over eight billion dollars a month in Iraq. How much has the government spent to rebuild post Katrina?

It may be difficult to understand right now, but I believe New Orleans is everywhere USA. We really need to prioritize the social and physical reconstruction of urban America. Our seniors are dying. Our youth are leaving. We're ignoring the past and killing the future. This is no way to live.

Writer and filmmaker Kalamu ya Salaam ( is co-director of Students at the Center, a writing program in the New Orleans public schools.

More details about his work are available at:

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Changing the tide

When I first arrived at Central Dallas I can remember regularly attending baby showers for single teen moms. I remember how much throwing grand parties for teen moms bothered me. After several conversations with other adults, we decided to begin trying to turn the tide by throwing big celebrations for high school graduates instead.

Shantaye was the first. She has now graduated from Texas Southern and is furthering her education by enrolling in classes that will allow her to apply to grad school to be a dietician.

I don't know how much our change in celebrations really influenced anyone. Maybe it just made me feel better. Fact is, though, we have more kids in college than we have teen pregnancies. As an aside: though unwed teen pregnancies still frustrate me, my stance has softened quite a bit since I first came.

My friend, Seun, was one who helped us decide to turn the tide. However, Seun has an even harsher stance than I do. He believes we shouldn't celebrate unwed teen pregnancies, but he also believes that we shouldn't celebrate high school graduations. He thinks celebrating a high school graduation is too low of an expectation. In his mind, high school is just a means to an end. College graduations, he says, is what we need to be celebrating...and nothing less.

I am happy to say that Seun's vision is beginning to come true.

Many of our kids are enrolled in college. That's great! But as I was talking to Fredrick over Spring Break, it dawned on me that our kids are beginning to see high school as part of their education...not the end. In fact, many of them are starting to even look at their undergraduate courses as just a beginning. For example:

Fredrick, a sophomore Communications major at Lamar University, talks in terms of what he what he plans to do in grad school...either get his MBA or a Public Administration degree. In his mind, grad school is the first stopping place. Who knows what he will do after that.

Jessica, a sophomore Education major at Texas A & M-Commerce, called the other day excited to tell me that she found out her foster care grant will cover her entire education up to her doctorate as long as she goes straight through without stopping. She was so excited and plans to finish every last bit of it...all the way to her doctorate!

Nazareth, a 9th grade student at Skyline high school, already talks in terms of getting her doctorate.

Kieva, a senior Political Science major at Stephen F. Austin, will graduate in August and figures she will continue working on her Master's degree in the fall.

Those are just a few.

Consider the facts here for those who have
a bachelor's degree or higher:

Collin County (the northern suburbs of Dallas)--45.9%
Northern Sector (of Dallas)--36.78%
Southern Sector (of Dallas)--10.05%
South Dallas/Fair Park area--5.68%

Consider the connection between
educational attainment and median earnings:

less than high school--$23,176
high school--$31,075
(statistics found at and

I can't tell you the exact percentages of the kids we have had contact with over the years who are now enrolled in college, but I'm pretty sure it's higher than the percentages for our area, the "Southern Sector" in general and "South Dallas" more specifically, and I keep watching the numbers increase year after year.

"Free"...Is it breaking down "community"?

What is the best way to "help?"

Most people I meet who aren't in destitute situations are compassionate (so are those in destitute situations, but that isn't the focus of this blog). Compassionate people want to help. Non-profits want and need their help. I have often been told that I need to look for people who are willing to offer services for free because we don't have the money to pay someone to come in and offer those services. These services can be wonderful! Because of compassionate people and the services they offer, we have chess, golf, art, photography, and many other non-traditional after school classes that allow kids to learn and develop.

But when my friend, Peaches, called the other day, it made me recall something I've thought about before...Is "free" always good?

My friend, Peaches, used to own a restaurant in South Dallas. She couldn't make it in that business (despite the good food!) so she closed and now does anything from cleaning house to cooking at one of the city buildings. She has a dream to market and sell her hot water cornbread. (Personally, I would love for her to get that on the market! :) ). She still caters, but she just doesn't get enough events so she has to work other jobs.

She asked me if we had anything available.

I explained to her that our food was all donated so there was little opportunity for us to use her catering business.

In other words, because people, funders, foundations, give free food...and because we try to spend as little as possible to keep our overall costs down, we are unable to support people/businesses in the South Dallas community where we live and work.

Could that be part of the reason the economy is worse in South Dallas than in other parts of the city?

If everything from your meals to your clothes to your children's school supplies are given to you, what is left to buy? If a person doesn't need to buy anything (or needs to buy very little), what is the reason to have businesses in your community? (...because those businesses won't be able to sustain themselves anyway!) If there are no businesses in the community, where do people go to get a job or buy the things they do need? And who do the children see around them working (besides those of us who are in the community to "help")? If people choose to take the 2-3 hour trek on the bus to the suburbs to work, how are they able to spend time with their family or supervise their kids? If people aren't able to supervise their kids in those crucial after-school hours, what do we expect to happen?

With all of this break down, non-profits, churches, and individuals come in and offer free services to their children, offer free food, clothes, and supplies to the parents (instead of working with the community toward long-term solutions of creating a viable economy), and the cycle continues.

Free services more than likely come from outside the community. People outside of the community are the ones more likely to have enough time and money to give extra.

It seems to me that if we tapped into the talents of people who are in the community and helped them develop those talents and use them within the community and then invested in people and businesses owned and run by people in the community, the community and its residents would 1) have more time to focus on giving back to their own community because they wouldn't be spending their time running all over the city from job to job outside of the community, and 2) their money would, in turn, be spent in their own community, building the economy and structure of our urban communities.

So is "free" really the best way to help our low-income communities?

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Monica and Jose are home!

I've been extremely busy and haven't/don't have time to post, but I wanted to let everyone know that Monica and Jose made it home safe late last night. Words cannot explain the homecoming. There were tears, gut-wrenching emotions, and tight hugs. As Monica hugged me, the first thing out of her mouth was, "I'm sorry, Miss Janet."

*She's* sorry?!

Sorry for what???

Sorry for not being born in the United States? Sorry for being a typical teenager and making a bad decision (Come on! What teenager has not skipped...or at least tried to Sorry for not carrying her ID with her (she wasn't driving!)? Sorry for being in a town where prejudice is an accepted form of treatment toward people different than them?

Yes, Monica made a mistake. Trust me...she knows that. Unfortunately, her mistake (unlike many of mine) became (and still is) a life-changing and lifestyle-threatening one.

As the evening went on and we all enjoyed a wonderful reunion with Monica and Jose, you could see her begin to release some of her fear and apprehension that had begun to affect her interaction with others. By the end of the evening (which nearly ran into the next day! :) ), Monica was talking non-stop...explaining everything that had happened--who was nice to her, who was rude, how she had come up with different survival skills to get messages to her family, the quick thinking she had done each time they shuffled her off to a new place, and many other things. I have to hand it to her. She kept her wits about her!

Of course, Larry has posted about this as well. If you would like to read his post, click here.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

My friend, Monica

I'm not sure how you feel about immigration issues, but regardless of how you feel, I hope you read Larry's blog (click here) and think about how lives are dramatically being affected and families being torn apart...all because some people are more concerned about getting rid of Mexicans (even when they've been here most of their lives) no matter what the cost. I fail to see how the dramatic actions to rid us of Mexicans help our country. What bothers me even more is the fact that these Minutemen-types claim Christianity. I see no Christian behavior in targeting teenagers and ripping families apart as has happened with Monica and so many others.

Please pray for Monica and their family. I have known them for the last 12 years. They are such a wonderful family and deserve none of this emotional toil...and now fear...that will likely stay with them for the rest of their lives.

Friday, March 09, 2007

East Grand Place

My neighbors were sitting out on their porch when I got home yesterday evening. I love the spring. As the weather gets warmer, my neighborhood begins coming alive again in the perfect springtime evening weather.

I went over to ask them to help me think about a photography assignment I had been given to capture pictures about "The Dallas no mayor wants to see." As the four of us stood out on the porch talking--Kendrick (22), Onion (22), Chris (27), and myself--they, of course, came up with some good stuff: the broken up sidewalks in front of the houses, the lack of drainage on our street because the roads have been paved over and over so much it covers all of the drains, the corners where no stop signs exist, the concentration of liquor stores, the grown up alleys that no one can drive through and the fact that we have to set our trash out front instead of in the back of our house, and the way trash is dumped in some fields around us. It was interesting, though. It took all of us a while to start coming up with thoughts. When you live in a neighborhood where those issues exist, it tends to become "normal"...until you start thinking about other neighborhoods and comparing ours to theirs.

As we talked, Chris mused about how it would be nice to change our neighborhood around and have little signs around that say, "East Grand Place." He talked about how other neighborhoods have their graphic design posted around the Jubilee Park, Swiss Avenue, Highland Park. Why don't we start "East Grand Place?"

We started thinking about what we could do with just us. We don't have the big money or the key people that back some of these other neighborhoods, but wouldn't it be nice if we worked toward addressing the issues of our neighborhood on our own? What if we came together and worked toward figuring out how to change the reality for people like Tim through our efforts to be positive change agents in the community? It would be a complete grass roots effort.

We didn't schedule any neighborhood association meeting or anything like that, but, as Chris said, "This is how big ideas get talking about them." True. We've got to start somewhere.

Chris isn't the only one who has brought that idea up to me. I had a conversation not long ago with Quinton, another 22 year old who grew up in this neighborhood. Without any prompting from me, he brought up the same idea as Chris had...getting all of the people their age together and working toward making a change.

A picture can't capture that. People who never frequent our neighborhood or get to know the people in them will never know that there are a group of 20-30 year old African-American males who are interested in making their community different, but just aren't sure how to do it yet.

I know this can happen. I have hope this will happen. Maybe not today, but I believe the seed is there.

"Revolutions begin when people who are defined as problems achieve the power to redefine the problem." ~John McKnight, The Careless Society

Hope is alive!

I was at home getting ready to go to work yesterday morning when I got a knock at my door. Through the peek hole I recognized the tall, slender guy and the way he shifted his weight back and forth. It was Kevin and I hadn't seen him in a very long time.

I met Kevin when he was probably 15 or 16. I don't even remember how or why. Maybe he and his friends came to church a few times. He came in and out of my life for various reasons. His entire family is/was caught up in drugs. When he was around 17, I tried to get he and his cousin re-enrolled in school because they had moved and his sister, who was his guardian, was too hooked on drugs to care if they got back in school or not. Kevin explained to me that 22 people lived in their economy apartment. At 6'1", his bed was the bathtub.

He ended up dropping out of school.

I lost track of him again until he was caught and charged with possession, or something to that effect. He went to jail for a while. He got out. He messed up again. He went back to jail. He got out...this time with 10 years probation, a lot of probation fees, and an assignment to a treatment center.

I remember driving him to the treatment center. I'll never forget our conversation. As we talked about what he needed to do to make his life different he explained with a sense of resignation and defeat, "Janet, drugs are all I've known since I was 6 months old!"

He completed the treatment center, but ended up back in the system...this time prison...only months later. He served his time from 2002-2004. So he's been out for 3 years now. Every once in a while I wonder how he's doing. I know the rest of his family hasn't changed. His sister is still strung out and his cousins still sell.

As I invited him into my house, he offered me a hug and then sat down in the living room to tell me what he's been up to. Last time we talked, he had gotten a job at Walmart. He still has that job. It's been almost a year now and in a few more weeks he will be up for his first vacation. He explained that he is now making $9.45 and hour...up from the $8 something he started at. You could tell he was very proud of his incremental raises over the last year. He is now "off papers"...meaning he no longer has to make regular visits to his parole officer.

Kevin explained to me that each time he went back to jail or prison he truly wanted to do the right thing when he got out. But going back to his family...the people he knows best...always landed him in trouble. It takes a lot of courage to figure out how to break free from that. He is working to change his reality:

In 2000, 65 percent of black male high school dropouts in their 20s were jobless - unable to find work, not seeking it or incarcerated.

By 2004, the share had grown to 72 percent, compared with 34 percent of white dropouts and 19 percent of Hispanic dropouts.

Even when high school graduates were included, half of black men in their 20s were jobless in 2004, up from 46 percent in 2000.

Incarceration rates climbed in the 1990s and reached historic highs in the last few years. In 1995, 16 percent of black men in their 20s who did not attend college were in jail or prison; by 2004, 21 percent were incarcerated. By their mid-30s, 6 in 10 black men who dropped out of school have spent time in prison.

In the inner cities, more than half of all black men do not finish high school.

Kevin is 27 years old. He is right in the age range for all of those statistics. He's still got a long, tough road ahead, but so far he's on the right path and he's doing a great job.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Who matters?

Warning: The information in this post may be a little much for most people to handle--especially those who are family or who have stayed with me or visited me. If you already have preconceived notions about the inner city or if you intend to develop a fear of my neighborhood or the people in it, please do not read any further. I do not want you to reinforce your preconceived notions.

I read a report in the newspaper yesterday. I never read the newspaper. It was a small, last minute paragraph telling about news that probably came in after the deadlines. It said a passenger in a car had been shot in the face when the car had stopped to ask directions. The street name caught my eye. I knew the address. I recognized the street name of where they drove to call for help.

It concerned me.

I re-read the paragraph several times thinking, "Wow. So many things have happened over the past couple of years around here. Have I been oblivious to the type of neighborhood I live in or has crime gotten worse??" Because of the brazen nature of the crime, it bothered me a little bit about my neighborhood and made me think about being more careful.

I had nearly forgotten about it until this afternoon. One of my friends came up and told me that Tim* was the person that shot the man. My heart immediately got heavy. What is really probably a little bit twisted on my part is that the fact that I knew who shot the man somewhat relieved me. I know Tim so I know (or am pretty confident that I know) that Tim would never hurt me. But, I wondered, what in the world ran through his mind to cause him to pull out his gun and shoot a man who was simply asking for directions???

I always hesitate in writing about stuff like this because I know that this is exactly the type of thing that most people expect from the inner city: It's all about violence...There are a bunch of crazy people there and you never know what might happen to you. I know people think that. I've heard the way people talk. The inner city is so much more than that...and that's what I want people to see.

But, the truth of the matter is that things like this *do* happen.

What I wish we would focus on instead of the fear, however, is the concern for people like Tim. What has happened throughout Tim's life that has gotten him to this point? What needs to happen in this neighborhood to provide enough hope so that people don't want to do those things? What is it that makes someone so angry and hardened that they can take someone else's life and not feel immediate remorse? What is it that creates that "eye-for-an-eye" mentality instead of "turn the other cheek?" And WHY AREN'T MORE PEOPLE ASKING THESE QUESTIONS??????

In the past, something like this would have made me cry. I don't have as many tears anymore. Perhaps that says something about my own hardened outlook on life. I am still sad for Tim. But I am more concerned and saddened that I live in a society that doesn't ask the questions that will prevent there being more Tim's in the future. I live in a society that thinks if they live far enough away from neighborhoods like Tim's, they can isolate themselves and their children from the Tim's of the world.

Perhaps that's what the man in the car thought...until he accidentally drove through the "wrong" neighborhood. Then, all of a sudden, the Tim's...and what they did or didn't get in life...mattered to him.

*not his real name

Seeking black votes

In this early race for president, it's already happening. Candidates are vying for supporters. It happens every election. Candidates seek votes.

Think about that for a minute. Don't you always hear that come election time? Candidates are seeking the "black vote." What does that mean?? From what I can tell, it means that the candidates go into black communities and black churches during the election period. They try to get on the dockets to speak at different community events in these arenas. They usually succeed.

But what does that mean once they get into office?

I hear a lot about politicians seeking the black vote but I don't hear a lot about them seeking the black voice. To me, if you are seeking my vote, you need to know what I think about things...not the other way around. If I'm Black, I don't need a politician coming in only during election time to attend my church, clap their hands and sway to my music, ask for my support, then leave and continue with their agenda and nothing changes to benefit my community. That's pimping a community.

And people wonder why certain people are leery of and have no faith in the political system!

Saturday, March 03, 2007

A life lost...A life gained

Friday was tough. Pregnancy complications for one of our 19-year olds. She has sickle cell anemia. Even without the pregnancy, she deals with complications on a fairly regular basis. A sickle cell crisis (even when she's not pregnant) may send her to the hospital where she has stayed for a month or more at times.

But this was different. She's pregnant. In addition to the sickle cell, she was dealing with pre-eclampsia. The baby wasn't growing and her blood pressure was staying around 160/100.

When I visited her in the morning, she explained the situation. They couldn't seem to get her blood pressure under control. "They may need to take the baby," she explained. She's only 23 weeks along. The doctor said he needed to talk to the team.

Unsure of what was going to happen and how quickly they would make their decision, I went ahead and left...only to get a phone call about an hour later from a wavering and teary voice saying they were going to take the baby.

I raced back to the hospital for moral support.

This pregnancy has been hard for me. The teenagers have listened to me discourage thoughtless, unplanned pregnancies for a long time. This one was particularly difficult because I have watched this teenager grow up and have watched her make such great progress and turn-arounds as she has gotten older. This decision...and her choice of a father for her child...made me wonder if her progress was taking a u-turn. The father's absence and lack of demonstrated concern throughout her hospital stays told me she was already becoming a single mom.

As I drove to the hospital and arrived at her room for the second time that day...despite my frustration and sadness over all of the choices I had seen her make recently...I came to a few different conclusions. Though I plan to continue to explain to teenagers that certain choices we make can cause our life to be way more difficult than it needs to be, I also realize that all of us make wrong choices. We all suffer the consequences of our choices...some are just more visible to the public than others. Sometimes...maybe more frequently than we realize...I think the Lord allows us grace and blessing through our choices--even the bad ones.

During this pregnancy, throughout the testing, not only did she have pre-eclampsia, they also found out she had pre-cancerous cells. Though they could do nothing about that while she was pregnant, they now know it exists and can deal with it in it's early stages.

What I have been so consumed with as such a negative may end up having a positive outcome. It may save her life.

I thank God that He offers grace and mercy despite my judgment calls.