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 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 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 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
  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.


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.