Sunday, February 15, 2009

Ripple Effects of Community Organizing

During the 2007-2008 school year the community in Turner Courts began coming together to speak out about many of the injustices and inequities in their community. We didn't have the process perfected yet. Each time we had a meeting it was like pulling teeth to get people to come out. But, there were little victories won here and there and some community members gained a little more faith in the process. Click here and you can see many of the efforts we undertook.

Unfortunately, just about the time we were building steam...just about the time residents were beginning to feel a stake in the process and knew they had the ear of the city and the Dallas Housing Authority, the decision to tear down Turner Courts came through. Central Dallas, along with all of the residents, were forced to find other places to settle.

We have attempted to keep in touch with our friends and neighbors from Turner Courts, but we're often dependent on them calling us since their phone numbers often change pretty regularly. I think it is a testament to say that many have kept our phone numbers and call to check in every once in a while.

Yesterday the phone call came from Maria.

Maria has six kids. She makes sure that she takes advantages of opportunities, makes sure to attend Bible study 2-3 times a week, and wants to see her children receive the best opportunities possible. Maria is also enrolled in a GED program. If her car is broken down, she packs up the family (even the baby) and they ride the bus wherever they need to go...planning ahead to manage the extra ride time and the extra distance between where the bus lets off and where she needs to go.

Unfortunately, despite her best efforts, Maria struggles with her oldest two boys--one 16 and one 14. Both have found the "wrong crowd" and both hate school. Every morning, she drops them off at school. All day long she hopes and prays that they will remain there throughout the day. Often they don't. Maria now has more than $1500 in truancy tickets. She takes responsibility for her family, but she does not know what else to do. She is working hard to make sure her other four stay on the right path, but the tickets and the constant truancy issues keep distracting her from her focus on her youngest ones.

Maria called yesterday to get advice. She thinks her boys should be required to work in order to pay off the truancy tickets instead of her having to struggle to pay tickets and risk jail while her boys continue to skip school. She said the truancy officer explained to her that the only way things would change is if she talked to the people in Austin.

My first reaction was that she shouldn't be shirking her responsibilities as a parent. She should be held responsible for her boys' actions. But, the more I listened to her (and I know her boys), I realized that she had a point. She is not just complaining; she has a solution to offer. And she wants to write whoever is making these laws to help them think about it differently as well.

It was because of our community organizing efforts in Turner Courts that Maria called. She wanted to know how to write the letter and who to mail it to. She has already started planning how she can go around to different parents who have truant children and get them to sign on to the letter.

I haven't decided if I agree with Maria's approach. But, the point isn't whether or not I agree. The point is that Maria has a problem and a potential solution and she is taking the initiative by using our democratic system to make her voice heard. My hat goes off to Maria!
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