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!" 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


“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 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??!!" 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'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 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.