Monday, December 29, 2008

The Price of Silence

On December 10, 1948 the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The following 48 countries voted in favour of the Declaration: Afghanistan, Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Burma, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Denmark, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Ethiopia, France, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Iceland, India, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Liberia, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Thailand, Sweden, Syria, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Venezuela. Eight abstained (all Soviet Bloc states [i.e., Byelorussia, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Ukraine, The USSR and Yugoslavia], South Africa, and Saudi Arabia).

Yet, as I read the Declaration, I wonder how much the countries who voted for the declaration actually take to heart the commitment they made 60 years ago. How do we create a renewed commitment to this...and what is the price of our silence?

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas, Mr. Madoff

When I heard about the Madoff scandal, I was irritated. It bothers me that people are so greedy. It bothers me that our capitalistic society has driven people to "capitalizing" in order to benefit themselves. It bothers me that we take so much pride in this capitalization.

My dad asked me if I knew of anyone who had lost money and was hurt due to Madoff. (I assume he was asking about wealthy people.) At this point, as far as I know, no one I know invested with Madoff and our non-profit was not affected by that... as far as I know. But as I was driving home last night, I heard something very troubling. Dallas County's Innocence Project has been affected by his panzi scheme.

I have written about the Innocence Project before. Since 2001, 20 convictions have been overturned in Dallas County solely because of the tireless work of the Innocence Project. Twenty innocent people spent years in jail but have now been freed. How many are still out there who have yet to receive their exonerations??

I think of James Woodard, a man who served 27 years for a crime he didn't commit. I met Mr Woodard at an Innocence Project press conference and asked him to come speak to a group of students at our Urban Experience program. Mr. Woodard was gracious enough to drive from Fort Worth to Dallas to do just that. Most amazing to me was his kind spirit and lack of bitterness. I can't imagine not having met him. I can't imagine him still being in prison for something he didn't do...all because someone named Bernard Madoff used and abused people and their money for his own benefit.

What he has done may seem like it has to do with money. It may seem like greed and something that should be punished. But his crime is much greater than that. Because of Madoff, many innocent people will lose their life, their families, their livelihood. Not only that, as innocent people spend their lives in jail, their children are also affected... by not having an available parent... by not having the income that a second parent could provide... by facing stigmatization because their parent is in jail.

The JEHT (Justice, Equality, Human dignity, and Tolerance) Foundation that supported the Dallas County Innocence Project was in talks with Dallas County and DA Craig Watkins to give as much as $15 million to fund more of these efforts. All has been halted now.

Maldoff deserves a very harsh punishment... many life sentences for his act. It's Christmas and it seems crass to be wishing someone many life sentences. But then I think of the families who are spending Christmas without their innocent mother or father... and may never get to enjoy that feeling ... or the people who are sitting in a jail cell year after year, wishing they could be with family and friends on the holidays.

Merry Christmas, Mr. Madoff.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas thought...

You can have anything you want in life if you just help enough other people get what they want.

- Zig Ziglar

Friday, December 19, 2008

Obama's choice of Rick Warren

I'm not sure why people are so surprised over President-elect Obama's choice of Rick Warren to do the invocation. Barack Obama said from the beginning that he planned to bring everyone to the table. The media demonstrated intrigue when they found out he was reading Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.

Now he has chosen Rick Warren and people on the left are upset.

Though I'm not a Rick Warren fan, I am really impressed with the President-elect's choices. He is following through on his word to value people without necessarily agreeing with them.

This last semester, I taught a graduate level Diversity and Equity in Education class. Racially, we weren't that diverse; half of the class was Black, half was White. But within that mix, there were many diverse views and experiences. As we engaged in conversation throughout the semester, we got to know each other.

We found out about Susan* (names have been changed) who is White and is married to a man who is Hispanic. Kristen, though on the surface she appeared "White," she has a rich culutral background of Jewish, Spanish, and White. Assim is African American and experienced at least one racial slur or insensitivity each week at the predominantly White school where he teaches. Kristen, who is White, grew up in the 70s during school desegregation in Dallas.

It was obvious at some points that we didn't all agree. In fact, I know that many were in adamant disagreement with some of the people and issues in the class. Many emotions and frustrations came out during this semester. Yet through this, we learned.

The tension was thick and emotions were high as one lady disclosed her own failed interracial marriage and explained how that experience reinforced her parents' teachings that interracial relationships were wrong. She went on to explain how her daughter's interracial marriage and the birth of her bi-racial grandson cause her great struggle as she tries to figure out how to love him.

Though that is painful and sad for me to write and remember, I also realize it was because she disclosed this information openly to the class that Susan was able to respond and talk about her own (positive) interracial marriage, her family's painful reaction to that marriage, and her current pregnancy. It allowed Kristen to talk about her experience growing up as a biracial child...and how her family taught her to celebrate all of her cultural heritage.

After an entire semester of self-reflection, diverse speakers, many diverse readings, and dialogue with others, one student decided, "I have really had to take a closer look at myself. I have had to sort out my thoughts and beliefs, from what they were and what they will be in the future. I had to examine...my opinions." The sad thing was, this same student came to the conclusion that, "Diversity does not belong in my family now or ever. I am an effective teacher and I can teach without seeing color and be successful."

Yet others commented that...

"As awkward and uncomfortable the discussions, films and activities were at times, I’m indebted for being a part of the eye-opening experience this diversity course offered."

"I know that I’m a racist. I don’t know if I’ve ever acknowledged it before, but the way that I think and the way that I believe, make me a racist. I’m so sad to admit that. I do think that some of my views are backwards and need to be changed, but after 28 years, it’s a hard thing to do."

"I learned that listening is sometimes more important than speaking and silence is never the right answer."

One student summed it up by saying, "sometimes the gruffness we hear in others voices and the pain that we see on their faces has a past and a history."

We need each other.

I believe the honesty in the class challenged all of our beliefs and thoughts. It would not have happened if we hadn't have been "forced" to be in a classroom together every week for 16 weeks talking about and challenging our beliefs about diversity.

We have to form relationships in order to get to that point. It is not until we are in conversation with each other that we can begin to understand each other and are able to challenge each others' belief systems.

We need more communication with each other. We need less divisiveness. I think Barack Obama should be commended for modeling this to all of us.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Classrooms we can learn from

I love to learn!

I want other people to love to learn as well.

Yet, we set up our classrooms in a way that faces all kids in one direction and tell them to listen to and learn from one person... and, more often than not, that one person is someone who is much older than them and does not have a grasp of the new technologies out there.

What are we doing?!?!

We are teaching yesterday's news...and aren't even doing "that" well!

We can't keep teaching like we did 10 or 20 years ago. We have got to be creative in our approach of facilitating our students' learning. Otherwise, in another 10 or 20 years, our students and our society will be worse off than it is now.

We have got to teach children to interact and learn in this rapidly changing world. There is only one concept they really need to learn throughout their entire high school career:

Learn how to learn.

Once we've equipped our children with that skill, the sky (and beyond) is their limit. Check out this video. This is what I'd like to see going on in our After-School Academy as well as in our schools:



Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Being culturally sensitive...or simply increasing their bottom line??

I was reading something about multicultural marketing that made me think...

I've seen/heard people get upset because certain ethnic groups aren't targeted. But then I've also seen/heard people get upset because a certain ethnic group *is* targeted, but in a way that is offensive to people within that culture.

For example, I heard a discussion about a new McDonald's commercial that has an R&B singer much like the ones on the radio...but made into a McDonald's song. There was a mixture of feelings coming from the African-American people who were having the discussion. Some thought it was humorous; some were appalled.

As people have spoken out about the diversity within our society and executives have finally begun to take notice, marketing to the different groups has gotten a lot of attention. Companies have begun to figure out that they need to "market to" different groups of people. Many have even hired people of the different "target ethnicities" to help them with these ideas. Companies are learning that they need to be sensitive to the different ethnic groups and make sure to include and represent them in their marketing ads.

However, is being culturally sensitive in a marketing message what people of the different ethnic groups really asking for??

As I thought about it, "marketing to" is different than listening to, learning from, and adjusting because of.

...because when I "market to" you, I am selling you something...and, thus, I benefit and my bottom line increases. The person being "marketed to," for the most part, is no better off as a result.

Isn't much of the problem in our society right now because we've all become commercialized and want, want, want because we have all been over-marketed to spend, spend, spend and buy, buy, buy?? We see unhealthy foods that we want, despite the fact that we are overweight...we see "toys" (yes, your new iphone counts as a toy!!) that we (or our kids) want that we can't afford...we are mesmerized by images and behaviors that aren't healthy for us to see or emulate...

I have a hard time believing people truly want to be inundated with these types of behaviors.

Instead I wonder...is it that people of different cultural groups are upset because those unhealthy behaviors are not marketed to them?...or is what they're really saying is "I want you to listen to me, learn from me, and adjust because of me???"

Hear me, see me, don't ignore me...and don't patronize me!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Christmas presents you can feel good about!


Want something fun to give this Christmas?

Christmas is a time of giving to more than just those around you; Christmas is about helping others. However, this Christmas looks to be a little more challenging than most we've experienced. With limited funds, it will be difficult to provide gifts for family and friends, while also donating to your favorite non-profit organization.

But we have a solution!!

The 2nd-5th graders at the After-School Academy have been hard at work learning how to use Microsoft Publisher and creating pages for our First Annual CDM cookbook--Food for Thought! The 8 1/2" x 11" cookbook is full of recipes from our Central Dallas Ministries' staff, volunteers, friends, family, and our community.

As an added benefit, you will also get some of the kids' very own recipes! As I taught the technology class this semester, some of the kids insisted they wanted to type in the recipes. Week after week I tried to explain to them, "Just make the backgrounds! We will insert the recipes later!" Finally, Melvin, seeming somewhat frustrated, explained to me, "I already know the recipe!!" He went on to explain how you, "open the box, pour the cake mix in, add other ingredients, stir, etc." Probably just as frustrated as he was, I said, "Fine. Go ahead and write your recipe." (I should know by now that my ideas aren't always the best ones). As a result of Melvin's insistence, we now have cool recipes like:
"Brownies to Die For "

To make the brownies with nuts, first you will need Cake Mix, 2 eggs, water, and oil. Now when you got that lets cook. Pour the cake mix, put 2 eggs, and nuts. Pour 1/2 cup of water. Now pour 3/4 cup of oil. Stir real good. Now get a pan but spray it with butter. Now pour mix in the pan. Put in oven. Take it out. Put the nuts in the cake. Now put the chocolate icing on it.

But that's not all!! (isn't that what they always say in the info-mercials? :) )

The cookbook not only provides a variety of recipes, but shares the story of the CDM mission and the great programs that support our neighbors and friends in the community. The great thing for the kids who designed the cookbook is that...

All proceeds received from the sale of "Food For Thought" will go to support the After-School Academy in their efforts to provide technology classes, chess classes, art classes, interactive science, financial literacy, family game days, and so much more!!

Buy them for friends...family...co-workers. They are only $10 (please include an extra $2 if you would like them shipped to you). Hurry, though! Orders are due by THIS FRIDAY, DECEMBER 12!!

To place a quick order:

  1. Go to www.centraldallasministries.org/donate.
  2. After filling out the first page, click "continue" to go to the second page.
  3. You can either check one of the set amounts...or click on "Other" and tell what amount you are giving.
  4. In the "designation" box, scroll down and choose, "Children's education and after-school programs,"
  5. In the comments section make sure to type in COOKBOOK (otherwise, we will have no idea you want a cookbook!) and...
  6. Make note of whether you will pick up the cookbook(s) or whether you wish to have them mailed to you. If you wish to have it mailed, please include the address in the memo box.

The cookbooks will be ready December 19th-December 24th (noon) at 409 N. Haskell, Dallas, TX 75246, if you would like to pick them up yourself.

THANKS FOR THE SUPPORT OF THE CHILDREN'S LEARNING EXPERIENCES!!

Saturday, December 06, 2008

What's in a name?

Names are important to me. Regardless of what your name is, it is your name. It is part of who you are and should be valued.

It's interesting to me whose names we overlook and whose we choose to berate. Usually, the names we sarcastically talk about are Black.

This came to mind yet again when I listened to Jon Stewart on The Daily Show as he talked about Saxby Chambliss's recent Senate win in Georgia and commented on the "fancy name bearer, Saxby Chambliss."

Yet, on another recent episode he makes fun of Plaxico Burress commenting that he was "named after the plastics company." Stephen Colbert also took a jab at Plaxico's name as he described the incident of Plaxico shooting himself in the thigh saying, "Who's really at fault here? ...Whoever named him Plaxico."

So, let me get this straight...Saxby Chambliss is a "fancy name," but Plaxico Burress is "named after a plastics company." Frankly, I don't see the difference.

To be fair, Jon Stewart also makes fun of Sarah Palin's kid's names in a segment where Rob Riggle sarcastically comments, "I’ve got, like, 20 kids: Slag, Truck, Quandary, Glump, Chug, Turnip, Rockhammer…" And I have to admit, Todd Palin did get quite a bit of press for his explaining, "Sarah’s parents were coaches and the whole family was involved in track and I was an athlete in high school, so with our first-born, I was, like, ‘Track!’ Bristol is named after Bristol Bay. That’s where I grew up, that’s where we commercial fish. Willow is a community there in Alaska. And then Piper, you know, there’s just not too many Pipers out there and it’s a cool name. And Trig is a Norse name for 'strength.'”

But even Bill Cosby, at the Brown v. Board gala in May 2004, jumps in to talk negatively about Black names stating, "…with names like Shaniqua, Taliqua and Mohammed and all of that crap, and all of them are in jail.”

I know what you're probably thinking... Bill Cosby was right...because look at Plaxico...he's now going to jail. So, if Bill Cosby's right and Plaxico was destined to go to jail because his mom named him that, why aren't those kinds of statements made for White children?

The same weight is not put on a White child with an odd name. When I bring up the odd White names I know, the White people I've talked to seem to think the names they name their kids are unique. No one in my family seems to question my aunt Classie Jane, my great-grandmother Alphabet (yes, that is her real name), or my cousins Afton, Blakely, Kannon, and Cutter. Yet, say, "Shaniqua" and eyebrows raise.

Many of my Black friends are proud that their names are "simple" and "common" names like Jennifer or Dave. They've explained to me that their parents named them that on purpose so they wouldn't be as discriminated against when they got older and were looking for jobs or just telling someone their name. Studies have shown that resumes with "white sounding names" were 50% more likely to be contacted for job interviews.

Who ever made the decision of what is a "good" or "acceptable" name and what isn't?? If the majority of names had been names like "Shaniqua," maybe "Janet" would be the odd name out.

Instead of always talking about how other people should change their names or stop naming their kids "strange" names, maybe we should think about changing ourselves and our way of thinking. Maybe the problem doesn't lie within the person choosing the name...but, instead, maybe the problem lies within us.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The stakes are high

When I was in college, my cousin started dabbling in drugs. He ended up getting stopped by the police and sent to an out-patient rehab center.

After word got out, I can remember one of my friends in our small town telling me, "He'll be alright. He's been raised by good parents. He'll come out of it."

Sure enough, he did. He's married with three children, runs his dad's farm, and is an upstanding citizen maintaining the good Morrison name in our small town.

Unfortunately, the stakes are much higher in the inner city. Once a kid messes up, it seems that it is much harder to recover. A police record is much harder to break for a kid in poverty and a kid from certain neighborhoods. The surroundings seem to pull children down and keep them there. One mistake sends them into a downward spiral. It is because of these odds that it makes me breathe a sigh of relief when I watch a student consciously make a decision and put forth great effort to do something different.

I thought of that as I talked to Kia* (not her real name) the other day.

Kia is now in the 8th grade, but she was in our After-School Academy for about four years--first as a student, then as a volunteer. She has a mom who strongly encouraged academics and did everything she could to keep her children involved in productive activities...even if it meant spending extra money.

Kia started out as any young elementary student. She was smart. She was interested. She followed her mom's rules. But as Kia got older, she became influenced by her surroundings. Her attitude made her more difficult and her school work started suffering. Not only was she being influenced, but began influencing others as well. The teen girl attitudes seemed to take on a ripple effect throughout the After-School Academy.

She and her family moved several months ago. I stayed in touch with the family, but didn't talk to Kia much except to say hi and chat with her a little here and there.

The other night I went over to see the family, but everyone was gone but Kia. As we sat and talked, she eagerly began telling me how she had made a conscious decision to change her attitude and begin focusing on her education. She proudly told me that she had all A's and could see now why her younger sister hated getting B's. She had decided she needed to begin working on everything now so that she could be prepared for college.

As I quizzed her about how this all took place, she simply explained, "I just decided."

I know it was more than *just* a decision. I know that her mom's perseverance probably had a lot to do with it. I would guess that being a part of the community we had created in the After-School Academy had a part as well. But I also believe that them moving away also played a major part.

Either way, I'm glad she made such a conscious and intentional decision. It was really good to listen to her. It was so great to see such a genuine smile on her face and hear her chuckle about her "old self" as if she were a grown woman looking back on her teen years. Her conversation seemed lighter...friendlier. It seemed like the attitude she used to have was a burden and had been taken off of her shoulders.

The stakes are high for kids in the inner city. We need to provide as much support, guidance, and encouragement alongside the parents. We need to make sure there are plenty of opportunities available for kids like Kia to make that decision.

"It takes a village," is more than a cliche and the kids need to know there are many of us there to walk beside them long term.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Life lessons from Wyshina Harris

by: Colleen McCain Nelson

03:05 PM CST on Thursday, November 20, 2008

When I wandered into the after-school academy at Turner Courts last year, I was enveloped by enthusiasm.

There, in some of the sorriest public housing this city had to offer, kids were clamoring for chess lessons. They were creating a blog on the computer, learning photography, reading to one another.

These elementary school students in navy-and-white uniforms were soaking up everything their teachers could tell them about the big world beyond a South Dallas neighborhood where the main road literally is a dead end.

Wyshina Harris, a single mom who spent six years in the Air Force, was making it all happen. As the education outreach manager for the academy, she commanded the room with a quiet presence that demanded respect.

I told Ms. Harris that I'd like to write about the after-school program, this bright spot on Bexar Street. Perhaps the attention would bolster the academy's fundraising efforts, I noted as I surveyed the modest classrooms.

Ms. Harris, who lived for four years at Turner Courts, was friendly but firm.

"This is not some charity," she told me.

Parents and kids alike at Turner Courts are seeking opportunities – not handouts, she added. And a volunteer's gift of time and energy is more valuable than cash.

"Don't come in and give a bike at Christmas and expect these kids' lives to be OK," Ms. Harris said. "Help them with their homework for a year."

I explained those sentiments in an essay about Ms. Harris and her colleague, Sylvia Baylor. Headlined "Lessons in success," the column reflected some of what I'd learned from these two mothers determined to do right by the kids of Turner Courts.

The article was one of the first in this newspaper's continuing series focused on putting neglected southern Dallas neighborhoods on equal footing with the rest of the city. And as I've continued to write about Dallas' north-south disparity, I've carried Ms. Harris' words with me.

While her neighborhood and some of the challenges Ms. Harris faced were much different from what many of us are accustomed to, her priorities – her children, her church, her job – were familiar to folks everywhere. I learned from Ms. Harris that our lives weren't all that different.

Last weekend, I was only half-listening to a 10 p.m. TV news report about a Dallas woman fatally shot in her car. The story had all the makings of the horrific but somewhat distant crime that compels many people to channel-surf right by.

Too often, we do a quick assessment of bad news: Not my neighborhood. Not my friends or family. Not my problem.


But, I learned, this was not just "a Dallas woman" who was murdered. This was Wyshina.

The news report offered the basic who, what, where information: Ms. Harris had been driving to her job as assistant manager of a liquor store. (She had been laid off from the academy in May when Central Dallas Ministries restructured its after-school program.) She had kissed her kids goodbye, hopped in her car and was shot in the neck as she drove down Scyene Road.

But the story couldn't explain how Ms. Harris had coached 6-year-old Raquasha to shake my hand, how she had singled out students and praised their good deeds, how she'd taught me more than I bargained for. Ms. Harris, like many of the people who get only a passing mention in the crime blotter, wasn't just the anonymous victim of an unsolved murder.

Ms. Harris had an unshakable belief that both she and the kids she worked with were going places. "People here are trying to move up, move out," she told me. "We try to teach the kids: This is not it. Turner Courts is not it."

She had moved up and out of Turner Courts – to a home in Pleasant Grove.

Now, 12-year-old Jazmine and 7-year-old Jordan will say goodbye to their mother at tomorrow's funeral. She was 32.

Wyshina Harris' story should not have ended this way. But if there is any solace to be found, it is that those who knew this determined woman will continue to benefit from her lessons in success.

Colleen McCain Nelson is a Dallas Morning News editorial writer. This column represents her personal opinion; her e-mail address is cmccain@dallasnews.com.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Funeral Arrangements for Wyshina Harris


FUNERAL ARRANGEMENTS
Friday--viewing
From 2:00-10:00 at
Golden Gate Funeral Home
4155 S. R.L. Thornton Frwy (I-35) @ Ann Arbor
Dallas, TX

Saturday--funeral
1:00 at Southern Hills Church of Christ
6969 C F Hawn Freeway
Dallas, TX 75217
Church Office: 214-398-2576

DONATIONS
If you would like to donate money (in lieu of flowers…or in addition to flowers) to secure a fund for her two children, Jordan and Jazmine, please make checks payable to Central Dallas Ministries with "Wyshina Harris" in the memo line.

You can send the checks to Central Dallas Ministries, Attn: Jenny Fogel, P.O. Box 710385, Dallas, TX 75371. Or, if you would rather donate online, go to www.centraldallasministries.org/donate and click on Wyshina Harris in the drop down menu. (Note: if "Wyshina Harris" hasn't been added yet, click on Education and then email me to let me know the amount you donated so that they can make sure your funds are designated correctly).

Sunday, November 16, 2008

I can't quit

As I reflect on my friend Wyshina's death, I think about how much less stressful my life would have been had I stayed in Ozark county in rural Missouri. It probably wouldn't have been filled with as much death, tragedy, and worries that my life has now.

When things like this happen, a fleeting thought of quitting enters my mind. I have had people tell me I should move on...that I can do "more good" if I utilize my doctoral degree for something else...like working at a university full time or doing some other, larger job. Others have tried to convince me that I am not doing the good I think I am and could do it more effectively if I did more to fulfill myself. Thank goodness I have learned and continue to realize that the people who make those suggestions have their own issues and insecurities about who they are and what they are or aren't doing.

Wyshina's death makes my head throb as I think of the people I have lost over the last few years--some due to senseless murder, some being caught up in the drug culture, some because of a lack of healthcare...all of them societal issues that can and need to be fixed.

I think about how these deaths have affected me...I think about how many people's stories I carry in my head and how they burden my heart...yet I think about how anyone walking by me would never know about these things. It makes me think about other people around me...people who probably also have many things going on in their life that the average, outside person would never know about them. I know many of these are children...and the children grow into the adults of our society.

However, when I think that it would be easier to go somewhere else to make my own life less complicated, the word SOLIDARITY comes to mind. I think of Paulo Freire, who speaks a lot about solidarity in his book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Here is just one quote from this book:


...true solidarity with the oppressed means fighting at their side to transform the objective reality which has made them these “beings for another.” The oppressor is in solidarity with the oppressed only when he stops regarding the oppressed as an abstract category and sees them as persons who have been unjustly dealt with, deprived of their voice, cheated in the sale of their labor — when he stops making pious, sentimental, and individualistic gestures and risks an act of love. ... To affirm that men and women are persons and as persons should be free, and yet to do nothing tangible to make this affirmation a reality, is a farce.
It is not fair or just for me to remain on the outside. I am not any more special than the people I know who directly face these tragedies. To think I am would be arrogant and unwise. It is because of my friendship and my solidarity with those around me that I can not leave. I must endure the hardships with them.

I have found that there is true "family" in that solidarity. (Thank you Sylvia, Larry, Gerald, Marva, Mike, Mr. Wendell, Vicki, Dave, Lagean, Ms. Coleman, and so many others)

To truly be free, we cannot ignore what happens. We cannot remove ourselves.

If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is tied up with mine, then let us work together.-- Lill Watson, aboriginal activist
I now understand that my welfare is only possible if I acknowledge my unity with all the people of the world without exception. ~Leo Tolstoy
I know these are just quotes, but remembering them in times like these gives me hope...provides me with a sense of direction and understanding that is much needed in times like these. I can't quit.

When things go wrong as they sometimes will
When the road your trudging seems all-uphill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit
Rest if you must, but don't you quit.

Life is queer with its twists and turns,
As everyone of us sometimes learns,
And many a fellow turns about
When he might have won had he stuck it out.
Don't give up though the pace seems slow
You may succeed with another blow.

Often the goal is nearer than
It seems to a faint and faltering man
Often the struggler has given up
When he might have captured the victor's cup
And he learned too late when the night came down
How close he was to the golden crown.

Success is failure turned inside out
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt
And you never can tell how close you are,
It may be near when it seems afar
So stick to the fight when you are hardest hit
It's when things seem worse that you musn't quit. -Unknown

In memory of Wyshina Harris

My friend and former co-worker, Wyshina Harris, was killed yesterday morning.

Just two weeks ago Wyshina was calling me, so excited that she had been able to cast a vote for an African-American president. It was her I posted about here. As I was standing in shock and awe as 6000 people around me cheered, it was Wyshina who called as soon as the announcement that Barack Obama had been named our president. Since I couldn't hear a word she was saying, I called her on my way home that evening and we talked about our feelings about that moment, what was happening around us, and how we were moving things forward.

A short time before that she came to visit Sylvia and I at our new office in Roseland. As she sat at the table, she laughed and asked us to start a new enrichment class on her day off so that she could teach art, a class she had taught in Turner Courts and something she had discovered she really enjoyed when teaching it to the children.

Wyshina had a great smile, a great laugh, a great joy. She loved pictures and was very photogenic. I hate the picture the Dallas Morning News chose to put in the online edition of the paper. I have no idea where they found it, but I wish they had asked for something representative of her. Below are some pictures that remind me of Wyshina.

Click here or go to the blog search above and type in "Wyshina" to read about the number of ways she impacted the community and to read about her own motivation to make things different for her and her children.

Please pray for her two children and her family.










Saturday, November 15, 2008

Hurricane Katrina--Invisible to the tourist eye

I chose to take a Hurricane Katrina Tour yesterday. My interest in the tour disturbed me. I didn't want to be the sensational tourist who wanted to see other people's devastation, but I wanted to understand and see for myself the lack of resources that have been placed toward this effort to rebuild. Seeing what New Orleans offers on the surface and what is easily available to tourists makes it too easy to overlook that so much has not been done. It makes it easy for me to be comfortable listening to jazz, eating jambalaya, and going back home thinking everything is fine.

Everything is not fine.

Over three years later, as we travelled around to the different parts of the city, I could still see houses marked with an "X" and "TFW" (Task Force Washington) to let people know the house had been checked and cleared. There were entire shopping centers still vacant and in disrepair. There were very large homes with tall weeds all around them because no one had returned to that property.

The blight was not limited to poor neighborhoods, although many of the wealthier neighborhoods were often located on higher ground and weren't as affected. Small and large houses alike had been hit and were left behind--vacant and now overgrown.

The entire city is like a neglected urban area....like a giant "inner city neighborhood." I couldn't help but think of the $700 billion that has been approved to bail out the economy and has been given to people who knew what they were doing and could've changed course...yet we left an entire city whose commerce and culture is just as vitally important to our country to figure out how to fix their own problems.

Something about that seems terribly wrong. The scars because of our terrible mistake are, unfortunately, hidden--except to those who continue to be affected.

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While listening to some great jazz music at Preservation Hall I met two people who had come to New Orleans about 18 months ago to work with Habitat for Humanity and Americorps through the St. Bernard Parish Project to help rebuild homes. I believe he said they had built around 50 homes during that time period.

One of the guest drummers works with Sweet Home New Orleans, a non-profit agency that offers social services and financial assistance to the city’s musicians, Mardi Gras Indians, and Social Aid & Pleasure Club members. Sweet Home’s mission is to perpetuate New Orleans’ cultural traditions by providing direct services to the individuals and institutions that will carry them forward.

I also purchased a book called 1 Dead in Attic that is a recently updated version of personal accounts that have happened during and since the hurricane.

After seeing what still needs to be done and talking to people who are doing it, I would highly recommend that you invest some of your money into these two organizations. I'm sure there are more, but these two are ones that I have talked directly to people working with them. People are working hard to rebuild this city with no help from the government. I hear people talk about how we should leave things up to the people...so here it is. New Orleans still needs help. Please consider helping monetarily, coming to rebuild with the local organizations already in existence, or even moving here to take a teaching job.

Many have not moved back because of lack of resources. Housing prices have risen, businesses have disappeared, jobs are not available. Jobs can't become available until people move back and people can't move back until jobs are available. I would encourage everyone to help if at all possible.

To see the slideshow of my New Orleans/Hurricane Katrina pics, click here.

Here a few to preview:





Thursday, November 13, 2008

The realities of Katrina still live in people


Not too long ago I met a 17-year old girl from New Orleans. As I was taking her home one evening, I asked her if she had moved to Dallas because of the hurricane. She did.

She began explaining the horror and the fear she and her family endured during the hurricane as they moved to the upstairs of their home, then had to break through the attic as the water rose higher and higher. She explained that they were ordered to evacuate a couple of weeks before for a different hurricane scare and they didn't have the money to evacuate again. They were hoping this would also be a false alarm, but as the water rushed in, they knew they were in trouble.

They were stranded on their rooftop with only a box of cereal. She talked about how they communicated from the rooftops with three other families, trying to figure out a plan to survive. Helicopters kept flying over, but none bothered to stop.

After three days on their rooftop, the four families decided they needed to get to the infamous bridge that they could see from their rooftop. They could now see that buses had begun arriving taking people to safety.

The families used a door that the hurricane winds and water had busted off of its hinges and began taking turns swimming and using the door for a floating device. However, after their horrendous journey swimming through the waters, the bridge did not offer them the route to safety they had hoped for.

So few buses and so many people created chaos. Perhaps on purpose, the buses kept stopping on opposite ends of the bridge causing people to run back and forth trying to get to find safety...trying to get out, often losing the people they were trying so desperately to hang on to. At a last ditch effort, my friend was able to lurch onto a bus and hang on to her mother, despite the official's attempt to separate their hands.

You would never know all she went through by talking to her. She said it has taken her quite a while to be able to talk about it. But as she talks, she lights up as she remembers the music, the culture, the city where she once lived.

------------------------------------------------

In the French Quarter where I am...and I'm sure where most tourists go...the memories of a hurricane, to the naked eye are gone. But, it is my friend and the remaining devastation that prevents her from moving back that I think of as I sit in Cafe du Monde eating beignets and drinking coffee.

Obama donates campaign supplies to schools

Barack Obama's campaign contacted iloveschools.com a few weeks ago to begin organizing the donation of their office supplies and other items.

"The man had the foresight to plan this. In the middle of a huge national campaign, he's thinking about poor children," commented Jean Schmalzreid, the district's director of federal programs and special projects.

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08317/927129-54.stm

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Obama groundswell efforts continue

The election is over and we have a new president...or we will have in 69 days.

I am excited about President-Elect Obama. Barack Obama picked a team of people that ran an absolutely amazing campaign. He inspired young and old alike. He rose above many of the stereotypical and racist comments and insinuations throughout the campaign. His campaign staff used technology in ways no other campaign thought of. He encouraged all of us to believe that WE are the government...that it takes US to make change happen.

But now he's elected. Will those same inspiring efforts continue?

What's exciting to me is that I don't see this changing!

I am still getting emails from http://www.moveon.org/ asking me to host house parties so that we can come together and offer our ideas to the incoming administration.

Color of Change is still collecting our stories...stories that help define who we are as a nation and what we are going through as individuals who make up this nation...with the goal of informing our political system.

Barack Obama's staff continues his ground swell efforts through the internet by allowing people to apply for jobs in his administration, share personal stories with him, or just keep up with what's going on with his transition.

I have high hopes that these groundswell efforts will continue and we will continue moving toward the day when the United States is not about one person in charge, but is a collective of voices from all different perspectives, socioeconomic statuses, ages, religious beliefs, and genders.

Monday, November 10, 2008

What brings us together?

Mark Johnson spent 10 years going all over the world making this film, Playing for Change: Peace through Music.

Unifying across cultures through feel-good music. These videos make me smile.

Stand by Me:


One Love:

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Barack Obama's presidency is not the change we need

Unfortunately, this week hasn't been good for everyone.

One of our college students called on Wednesday to let me know that a noose had been hung in an area of the Baylor campus where the African-American students hang out. She told me about an Obama sign-burning that took place in a bar-b-que pit and some fights that had broken out between Whites and Blacks. The story was picked up by CNN:



She text'd back on Friday to let me know that the fighting had not let up. She told me of instances of the "n" word being used toward students who White students assumed voted for Obama. She talked about the tension and slight fear that has been created through White students comments and threats...and some retaliation that has happened with some of the Black students.

As she told me about these events, she wondered aloud, "Why are they targeting us? It wasn't just Black people who elected Barack Obama. Why are they acting like it was only Black people who elected him?" She explained that some White people she knew voted for Obama and some Black people she knew voted for McCain.

An African-American student of mine who teaches at a small, rural, predominantly White school explained that this week has been very somber at her school. One of her close [White] friends who hadn't spoken to her all week finally admitted to her that she is scared President Obama is going to enact all kinds of laws that benefit Black people and oppress White people.

It is true that 95% of African-Americans voted for Barack Obama...but so did 43% of Whites, 67% of Hispanics, and 62% of Asians. Barack Obama could not have been elected solely on the Black vote; there simply aren't enough Black people to make that happen. Plus, as we all know in "politics," people have to cater to their electorate or they won't be elected again. I don't know of any politician who gets elected just to prove a point (i.e. that a Black man can be president) and doesn't want to be re-elected when that time comes.

This reality has not escaped Barack Obama. He addressed it in his speech:
"And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn -- I may not have won your vote, but I hear your voices, I need your help, and I will be your President too."
Barack Obama is not going to be perfect. No president ever is. I'm sure he will make decisions that I will not agree with. Besides, the presidency is different than the campaign; he will probably not fulfill all campaign promises due to realities he didn't realize as a candidate.

But Barack Obama never said he had all of the answers. Throughout the campaign, Barack Obama challenged US to get involved. The presidency is not the end. It is only the beginning. Each of us must step up and get involved. We must get out in the community, organize people, and encourage them to speak out as well. It is OUR voices that are important to making this country work.

November 4 was not "the change" we are looking for. November 4 was only the BEGINNING of that change.

It was up to us to start the process of change. We did that by electing a president who is African American. It will be up to us to continue that change...by involving ourselves in local issues...by writing letters that express our thoughts and opinions...by educating ourselves about candidates and vote accordingly...by visiting city hall.

Our democratic society is set up so that everyone can be a part.

"There's not a liberal America and a conservative America; there's the United States of America. There's not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America." ~Barack Obama
We must ALL choose to be a part of that change for it to happen. We're not there yet.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

President-elect Obama: "A new dawn of American leadership is at hand."


"Barack Obama is our next president." Typing that statement still overwhelms me with emotion. I've watched his speech three or four times and have the same feeling.

I am a very passionate and emotional person, but I don't shed tears often. On Tuesday, as the screen flashed the statement above in big, bold letters, I could feel the emotion welling up from my chest. As I stood in the middle of 6000 African-American people crying, dancing, praying, and some in complete shock, I wondered if I had the right to be so overcome with emotion. After all, I'm not Black...I haven't endured what they have to get to this day.

I held back the tears until I started receiving multiple phone calls and text messages, most of which were from the young adults that we have dubbed the apathetic generation...all of whom were Black and Hispanic. The emotion came faster than I could hold it back. My tears were for them.

For the 23-year old young man who text'd me after he voted, explaining:


"Obama's my idol! He just became one of the reasons I want to make sure I pursue my degree and perfect my speaking skills. He presents himself in a way that I wish I could at interviews and important outings."
For the 25-year old African-American teacher who explained to me that she thought she had high expectations for all of her students, but after Obama became president, she realized she had never thought it would be realistic for her African-American students to say, "I want to be President."

For the 23-year old young man who has worked hard to get past neighborhood influences of drug dealing, friends who are in prison for murder, and friends who have been killed...but who called two days after the election saying, "You've got to help me find a newspaper from yesterday! I want to frame it!"

For the White grandmother who called me in tears Tuesday night because, though she is a democrat and an Obama supporter, this election has a whole new impact on her because of her 3-year old bi-racial grandchild.

My tears came because of the African-American children I have known for years...and how I know this election impacted them.

But my tears also came because I know this election was for ALL of us. As Barack Obama said in his speech on Tuesday night,


"...our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand."
We are all connected.

My hope...and the reason I voted for Barack Obama...is because I believe he will help us understand that we ALL have a shared destiny. I believe he will help us see that people of all cultures, ethnicities, skin colors, and places of the world need each other and can benefit from the relationships that develop.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Live at Friendship West!

I'm at Friendship West in a blogger lounge...about 4000-5000 people here!

The energy is amazing. Luckily, I've got friends who were willing to sneak me in to a PACKED house! Inside the auditorium is much different than the blogger lounge!

I'm headed back in so I can get some good photos and document this monumental night!

How does Barack Obama affect race relations?

I got a call from a local TV reporter this afternoon. "Hey Janet...what have you been hearing about the elections?"

At that point...nothing really. Several of my college-aged friends had text'd me to tell me they had voted...and that it didn't take long. Nothing extraordinary.

Not an hour after he called, one of my college-student friends called to tell me that there had been a noose hung at Baylor University! Since the African-American population is the minority, there is an area where the black students hang out. It has been dubbed, "Little Africa." Evidently, this morning some of the students walked to their daily hang out to find a noose hanging.

They took pictures...and she's going to try to send them to me...but when the reporter called to try to investigate, no one wanted to talk. My friend said her friends don't want their names associated with that story. They're scared.

Another friend from Missouri told me that he voted democratic for the first time. But, he said his biggest fear for Obama is that he will be assassinated.

The blog I posted the other day, You Can Vote However You Like, has drawn many racist comments. I ended up having to moderate the comments. I'm all about free speech...but I won't have overtly racist comments associated with my Youtube account.

The racists that have come out as a result of this election may be in the minority, but their voices are loud...and they create real fears.

It is because of these things that I, too, have fears for Obama. But I believe Obama is very aware of these threats and fears. But I also believe that Obama knows he, much like Martin Luther King, Jr., can move us to the next level of race relations. I believe he is willing to take that risk for the good of the country.

I hope that we have enough people now that we can overcome the racism in a very different way than it had to be overcome in the 60s.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Who's really running for President?


Some of my Republican friends have explained to me that Sarah Palin *could* be ready for the presidency and would eventually make a good president. I've heard several talk about hoping that if this election doesn't go their way, they hope she will continue in 2012. None of them have spoke with confidence about her *current* abilities though.

Maybe we all need to re-think who is really running for president on the Republican side. Evidently, from a rally in Florida, it isn't McCain.

As Sarah Palin was speaking, several people had on McCain/Palin t-shirts and hats, but the overwhelming majority of signs being waved said either "Country First" or "Florida is Palin Country."

What happened to McCain???

See the CNN article:
McCain's name nowhere to be seen at Palin rally

Have a good laugh

Sometimes it's just good to laugh!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Spotlight moments

This month I have had several moments I'm very proud of.

The first one came when one of my friends IM'd to ask me to send some of the pictures I'd taken of the Chemistry Camp our kids attend with her each spring. After I sent her the pictures, she explained why she needed them. She had been chosen as one of the 100 women for the White House Leadership Project.

A couple of weeks later...

...voila! The picture I'd taken ended up in "O" Magazine, along with a great article on my friend, Jennifer Stimpson, explaining her chemistry program.

Not long after, I was asked to write an op-ed for the Dallas Morning News. It was published this past Monday, drawing a variety of positive and negative comments.

Then, earlier this week my friend, Shawn Williams (who blogs at Dallas South) asked me to be a guest on his Blog Talk Radio segment. You can listen to us talk a little about my life in South Dallas, a little commentary on the op-ed I wrote, and my thoughts and observations about the political candidates and campaigns and how I feel they have affected rural America by clicking here.

It's been a busy month...but very productive and fun. Are we really already in November???

Monday, October 27, 2008

Our world today: Progress and Resistance

As I sat grading Reflective Personal Development papers for the Multicultural Education course I teach, one of my friends called. The first words out of her mouth were, "My mom and I just voted! Outside of having my children, I have never felt something so liberating!!"

She went on to tell me how she had originally planned to vote tomorrow (her day off), but her dad called and said, "You need to come now! The lines aren't long and it's an amazing feeling!"

Yes, my friend is Black...and yes, her overwhelming excitement was because, for the first time in her life, she was able to walk into the voting booth and choose a Black man for the highest office in our land. But, just for the record, she is not voting for Obama solely because he is Black. We talked about how she likes Obama's healthcare plan...and desperately needs affordable healthcare for her children. She also believes that the Earned Income Tax Credit that Obama supports can help her and her family.

My neighbor, an older Black gentleman, also explained to me yesterday that he could now go to his grave because of this monumental moment. He talked about the segregated entrances and water fountains he used to experience and explained how he never thought he'd see this day. He went on to say that he had hopes that this would open up the field for Native American, Asian, and Hispanic candidates in the near future.

And just for the record...for those who still may be thinking that Black people are only voting for Obama because he's black...the majority of Black people have traditionally voted for the democratic platform...which has meant voting for White men. Obama being a democrat probably has more to do with them voting for him than because he is Black. Otherwise, Alan Keyes (R) or Jesse Jackson (D) would have won.

As my friend talked, I got chills. This moment obviously meant a LOT to her.

I hung up the phone and went back to grading the reflective development papers, which challenge the students to think about ethnic and racial experiences and how those experiences have impacted them. Ironically, the paper I was grading was a very open and honest account of negative past experiences related to race and negative present feelings about mixing cultural groups. The hurt and anger from those past experiences were apparent and had led this particular student to be content with admitted closed-mindedness.

After the phone call, I was excited about the possibilities of our future. But grading the paper, I was sad knowing that we still have much very challenging and difficult work to do to dispel stereotypes and create trust amongst people.

Our country is changing. We are moving toward acknowledging the diversity of our great nation. We are hopefully moving toward inclusivity in a way that Brown v. Board didn't accomplish. At the same time, though, we still have people who believe people of different cultures and ethnicities are too different and that assimilation and conforming should be the solution.

Some of the most hardened segregationists have admitted they were wrong for their actions in the 60s. I have hopes that the remnants of people who have fears about a Black man becoming president and people who believe that multiculturalism should be equal to assimilation will one day in the near future recognize the value that each person has to offer our great nation.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Don't let this be you!

Yes I Did!


As we drove to our early voting location, I asked Anasia (1st grade) who was running. After thinking a minute, she excitedly shouted, "Marack Obama!" I asked who else. She quickly said, "John McCain!"

Off we went to be a part of history-in-the-making.



I took my camera to document our history making trip. We sought out both candidates campaign signs, but McCain wasn't represented.

I was a little disappointed in the poll workers raised eyebrows and comments toward Vanessa and Anasia. I really expected them to be so much more welcoming toward introducing future voters to the process--especially with this being such a historic election. Despite their looks, I kept Vanessa and Anasia with me and showed them how the electronic voting machine worked.

As we left, some people standing outside gave us a handmade "Yes I Did!" sticker to show everyone we voted.

As we got in the car to drive off, Anasia exclaimed, "Voting is fun!" ...to which I whole heartedly agreed.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Food insecurity...what about the children

Yesterday, in the After-School Academy, Sam* (not his real name) pulled me aside after the program and asked for the left-over snacks. Because I'm such a rule-follower and the state says we can only serve snacks for a certain time period...and we can only serve one snack per child, I told him we couldn't give him the extra snacks. As he puffed his lip out and stomped off saying, "But I'm still hungry," I wondered if there was something more to the story.

Every day Sam attends the school's after school program, then comes to us. By the time he gets to us, he misses the snack...but he always asks for it. I began to think there was something more to Sam's request.

I called him to the side and quietly asked him if they had enough food in the house. "When my mama gets her check, we do," he explained. He wasn't sure when the next check was coming. With at least three other kids in the house, I knew one extra snack wasn't going to help. As I talked to Sam, I asked him if his mother would be mad that he told me. He shook his head no. I asked if I could talk to his mom. He said yes. Sam and his two brothers and sister ran home with the rest of the kids.

After all of the kids left, I went to Sam's house with thoughts of getting into our food pantry after hours and getting them some food...or letting his mom know so that she could go herself.

Sam came to the door, munching on a sandwich. He barely cracked the door open. He quickly explained, "My mom's not here." He no longer had the cute smile he couldn't help flashing at the After-School Academy. I asked when she would be back. He said he didn't know, then closed the door. I asked him to open the door again. I asked if he had what he needed. "I have a sandwich. I'm fine."

I felt (and still feel) horrible. I should have just given him the snack he asked for.

I don't know what happened in the 30 minutes between the time that I talked to Sam at the After-School Academy and after he got home, but I believe in my intent to help I messed up. I know from experience that a white lady walking up to an unknown door causes people to question, "What did you do?!"...or it could be CPS...but it's not usually anything good. I'm guessing that's what Sam figured out on his way home and chose not to risk his mom's embarrassment or anger that he had told someone he was hungry.

It makes me think about kids who never told me about their struggles and their hunger until they were adults. ...good kids who found ways of survival--sometimes community programs, sometimes stealing, but always too embarrassed to admit their family's inadequacies.

I went back to the After-School Academy to explain the situation to our other staff members in hopes of figuring out what we could do.

We talked about sticking extra snacks or food into his backpack...but then decided that could get the him in trouble...and could potentially cause every other kid to begin asking for food to take home. We wanted to figure out a way that wouldn't single his family out...and could also potentially help other families in similar situations as well.

We finally thought about CDM's Hunger Busters program, offered at the community recreation center on Mondays and Thursdays...and I became very thankful that Central Dallas has such a variety of programs and partnerships to which we can connect--programs that allow us a little more freedom to make exceptions when needed.

Starting Monday, we will begin working to figure out how to incorporate Hunger Busters into our regular programming at the After-School Academy so that no one is singled out. We will hopefully figure out a way to get Sam and his siblings what they need.

For the rest of the weekend, though, Sam will remain on my mind.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Monday, October 20, 2008

Vote!

“Go vote now. It'll make you feel big and strong.”
~Bob Schieffer’s mother
Early voting in Texas is from October 20-October 31. You can vote at ANY early polling place.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Think about it

We each have prejudices we need to work on. However, sometimes half of the battle is becoming aware and conscious of our words and thinking about how those words affect people. Sometimes it's easier to make ourselves aware than it is to correct someone else.

It takes courage to speak out and correct those who do...but it's important. Sometimes a simple comment causes people to think about what they said and may change what they say in the future. A courageous action has ripple effects you may never know about.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Are we ready to move to the next level of race relations?


John Lewis, Rep. (D-Ga.):
As one who was a victim of violence and hate during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, I am deeply disturbed by the negative tone of the McCain-Palin campaign. What I am seeing reminds me too much of another destructive period in American history. Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin are sowing the seeds of hatred and division, and there is no need for this hostility in our political discourse.

During another period, in the not too distant past, there was a governor of the state of Alabama named George Wallace who also became a presidential candidate. George Wallace never threw a bomb. He never fired a gun, but he created the climate and the conditions that encouraged vicious attacks against innocent Americans who were simply trying to exercise their constitutional rights. Because of this atmosphere of hate, four little girls were killed on Sunday morning when a church was bombed in Birmingham, Alabama.

As public figures with the power to influence and persuade, Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin are playing with fire, and if they are not careful, that fire will consume us all. They are playing a very dangerous game that disregards the value of the political process and cheapens our entire democracy. We can do better. The American people deserve better.

John Lewis has always been a hero of mine. I admire his wisdom, his work, and his perseverance during the Civil Rights movement. In my mind, he was a more important person than he gets credit for in many history books.

Though it may mean little for me to say that John McCain and Sarah Palin are stepping over a line, creating unfounded fears and provoking untruths, John Lewis lived through the climax of racial tensions, fear, and hatred. He experienced the results of fear-filled people who were provoked by strong voices in our country.

In 2008 we have come to a new turning point in our country. We are experiencing a new era that is leading us to deal with our prejudices and discrimination head on--whether it's women, African-Americans, Muslims, Mexicans, spanish-speakers, gays/lesbians, and a number of other cultural groups.

As happened in the 60s, the current culture clash is leading us to show our colors.

I have hope that, like the 60s, these confrontations will ultimately propel us on to the next level. I pray that as we work toward that next level, however, we will not have to go through the same tragedies in order for us to realize how ridiculous our fears and actions were.

Racism affects the intelligence of people


My friend sent me an email saying, "Janet, what is wrong in our world?" and attached this picture with its inaccurate and offensive caricature and misrepresented stances of Barack Obama's policies.

For a brief moment I wanted to believe that surely someone had photoshopped this picture and put it on the internet. But experience has told me it was probably real. I wondered where in the world would people put a sign like that!

I was taken aback as I read down in the email and saw that the sign was from West Plains, MO! I guess I shouldn't have been surprised.

See...West Plains is only 40 miles from my home town....so I am very familiar with it. Like I said, I guess I shouldn't have been surprised. After all, when I was in junior high or high school I remember that a cross was burned in front of one of the black churches in West Plains. At the time, I didn't know what a burning cross meant...and I really didn't know that we even had black churches in our area!

I know it sounds naive, but I want to believe that things like that are not so overtly ingrained in all of us who grew up there. I know and love my friends and family who live there. They are good people...very kind, helpful, church-going people. But racism and racist comments carried through the generations has affected them, despite their willingness to believe it.

Someone from my home town told me the other day, "98% of black people are only voting for Obama because he's black." I explained that their comment was insulting to the intelligence of black people. I explained that although I'm sure there are probably some who are only voting for Obama because he's black, I can't think of a single [black] friend of mine who is voting for Obama for that reason. Every black person I know has watched the debates and can talk about the issues with which they agree/disagree. So unless all of my friends account for the 2% of that equation, something is wrong with that statement. But, see... it's easy to make a statement like that when you don't know or have conversations with people who are black. People in my hometown rarely even see someone who is black. So their information about black people comes from what they hear.

What troubles me so much is that the statements made and the fear that results is created by people who do not know the people of the religion, the ethnicity, the country, the language, etc. who they talk about....yet, they are still willing to repeat, perpetuate, and exacerbate the comments. What further troubles me is that many of the people I know who are perpetuating the racism are good people...intelligent people...but their comments demonstrate that their intelligence has been compromised. Because they don't know people of different cultures and different religions, they have completely bought in to the hateful, inaccurate comments and are content with speaking to character (of which they can only assume) instead of issues.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Board games...the perfect teaching tool

Sometimes running a program that requires reporting and "results" makes me forget some of the best ways of learning. I suppose I didn't realize how much my own mother was teaching me when we played cards and board games at home.

Yesterday I saw some of the kids opening up the Chutes and Ladders game. Because I've always played Chutes and Ladders...and it seems like such an easy and self-explanatory game...I figured at least the older kids probably already knew how to play. As I sat down with them I realized they didn't know...and I realized I needed to re-read the instructions to refresh my own memory! I explained the rules to them and we began to play.

Halfway through the game I realized the squares have pictures...a boy taking out the trash gets to go up, up, up the ladder to a picture of a boy eating ice cream...A girl pulling a cat's tail goes down, down, down the slide...things that allowed us to have a conversation about why they got to advance or why they slid back. Life lessons that we were able to talk about in pretend nature... Me: "Quindalyn...why did you pull the cat's tail??!!" ...to which the other kids responded, "You need to apologize to the cat!" ...and allowed Quindalyn to sheepishly look at the board and say, "I'm sorry" to the cat on the board.

As we played, the kids had to count the squares (which are labeled 1-100). The kids had to gain an understanding of how to wait their turn. They had to work on moving from one space to the next without skipping around the board (which, for some reason, seems to parallel the problems the often have with the way they do their math problems). They also learned about concepts of addition by helping a kid understand that if they are on square 53 and move 5 spaces, they advance to square 58. They had to learn good sportsmanship because I wouldn't allow them to quit the game because they were behind...and when Tyrese won, we each reached across the board to shake his hand and say, "Good game, Tyrese."

Overall, though, it allowed me (an adult) to have personal interaction time with the kids...which a lot of our kids, these days, don't get enough of.

As soon as I was finished, a few kids who saw me playing Chutes and Ladders quickly asked me to show them how to play Monopoly. I knew I was on to something when I explained began explaining how to buy property on the Monopoly board and Eddie, a kindergartener referred to the checkbook system we've been using for discipline...which allows the kids to earn or lose money based on their attendance, participation, and behavior...and then allows them to "buy" activities and field trips. Eddie immediately made the connection of buying the property on the monopoly board to saving and spending money from his checkbook: "It's like our checkbook! It's just like when we can choose to buy a camera or a voice recorder!"

Sometimes I think we try so hard to make sure we have "results" that we forget these natural and fun ways of learning. And we forget how much it means to kids that someone sits down with them, focuses solely on them, and teaches them lessons they can carry with them.

Anyone have any children's board games they would like to donate? If so, call/email me!

note: photos taken by Melvin, 5th grade

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Ever wonder why people in our inner cities are angry??

As I got ready to leave the Roseland Town Homes (a housing project that has been rennovated in a very visible and accessed part of Dallas) at 7:00 on a Friday night, a fight was getting ready to happen. Thirty to forty people rounded the corner of the building and as they saw the fight materializing, many broke into a run to get there quicker.

I watched as my co-worker called 9-1-1 then got in my car and drove off.

Before I had even pulled out of the apartments, I saw the police lights. As I chose a different exit route, I nearly ran into two more police cars as they jumped the curb and sped across the open lot. I looked back to see two other police rapidly approaching from a different direction. When I pulled into the Jack in the Box parking lot, I heard a helicopter overhead. I watched it fly directly to Roseland and begin circling. The immediate and massive response for a teenage fight was unbelievable.

As I watched all of this activity, I could barely contain my anger. However, my anger is probably not what you think.

My anger is not at the teenagers who were fighting or those who were running to the fight. Nor was my anger at the police who were responding to the fight (I was actually very happy to see such a quick police response in such large numbers).

I was angry because I could recall the many times we called 9-1-1 during my eight years in Turner Courts (also a housing development, but one that is very far from the visibility of middle/upper class America)--usually with 45+ minute response times, never with a rushed response, and never any more than two cars.

But it wasn't just that. It was remembering how, in our Turner Courts community meetings, the police officers and sergeants and would condescendingly explain to us that when we called in we weren't using the right verbage when talking to the 9-1-1 dispatchers.

Nearly every meeting, we would receive condescending coaching comments that informed us, "The problem is you are saying, 'I just heard shots' instead of saying, 'Someone is shooting.'" They would then proceed to explain to us that it was our verbage that was causing the dispatch not to type in an immediate response command.

We thought we must be at fault. So much so that we even tried to circulate flyers with this "verbage" that they insisted was the problem.

Yet, despite using my coached verbage, a few months ago I drove through Turner Courts on a Friday evening around 10:30 p.m. and called 9-1-1. I frantically explained, "Three teenage boys are walking through the apartments with a gun...One boy is shooting! He is not even putting the gun away...it's still in his hand!" I had two teenage girls with me and these guys were walking right past their apartment so I wasn't going to even try to let them out.

I circled the block one more time, hoping the guys had taken off running in a different direction afraid of what might happen, but they didn't. They had no fear of anyone showing up. They continued sauntering through the apartments, still with the gun in hand, visible for all to see.

Scared that they might begin shooting again and we would end up caught in the cross fire, we made a quick decision to take the girls to a different place. We sped out of the apartments as fast as we could, never seeing a single police car (and there is only one way in and one way out of Turner Courts so I know they didn't even arrive as we were leaving).

When I later confronted the police officers who attended our community meetings, they looked into it and brought me documentation that they had shown up. I forgot to look at the response time. But it really didn't matter. They were always quick to "explain" to us the way the police system works and how they may be on another end of town or may have to wait on backup and couldn't get there quick. In other words, it wasn't their fault. The way they made it sound...and what we came to believe...the understaffed police department caused this kind of response to be the same across the city.

So someone tell me why the response was so different at Roseland!

As I talked to my friend about it today, I could still feel my blood pressure rise and the angry feelings overhwelm me all over again.

It upsets me when it takes all of five minutes for 5-7 police cars and a helicopter to arrive at Roseland for a teenage fight but we never saw that kind of response for a shooting in process at Turner Courts.

It upsets me because I feel like we were duped, lied to, and convinced that *we* were the problem because we weren't phoning things in correctly...and I'm angry because we believed them!

It upsets me because very few people who don't live in a community like Turner Courts will ever comprehend or care enough to fight for better security because, quite honestly, it just doesn't affect them.

But what is almost even more infuriating to me is that my position and my socioeconomic status allows me to move around, socialize in, and live or work in lower-income and upper-income communities. It is because I can move throughout each community that I have the opportunity to see the difference in services...an opportunity that many of my lower-income friends and neighbors don't have and, therefore, often blindly accept without question the poor services they are given.