Sunday, January 03, 2010

Community Crusader Award of 2009

A Community Crusader is a person who creates solutions to a local problem or social issue. This year I feel two people deserve this award: Susie Marshall and Shawn Williams.

Susie Marshall
Though I met Susie several years ago when we took the kids to pick blueberries in Gainesville, TX, I have found Susie to be an extremely dedicated friend to the After-School Academy. She began working with us more consistently during the 2008-2009 school year where she committed to coming once a month to teach the kids gardening lessons. By the end of the school year, Susie was stopping by the ASA randomly and helping out. This summer, she started working more diligently to help develop a community garden within Roseland. Susie stuck with us as DHA wavered back and forth and/or completely ignored our requests to utilize the grassy, fenced-in space behind the ASA.

When the approval finally came, Susie was ready. She had already been teaching the children about gardening. She had been growing little seedlings inside and doing what she could. The approval allowed us to get into the gate and begin plowing up the garden. But Susie ran into another roadblock. The dirt was so hard that it couldn’t even be tilled.

The set back didn’t stop Susie. She researched “lasagna gardening,” gathered a group of teens from the Lake Highlands youth group, and they came out to work with our summer program kids to layer the garden with leaves, soil, and mulch. Shortly thereafter, the garden was planted and things began to grow.

In the fall, Susie continued. Though she is still only “scheduled” to come every other week to the After-School Academy to teach about gardening, she is there at least once a week and sometimes more. She has mentored a few of the kids so that they are now considered “garden apprentices.” Because of Susie, we have seen young gardeners like Ladaysha and Niemen develop.

The partnership is not finished. Mid-semester, Susie started a second garden so that we could have rotating crops. The goal is to eventually get the kids working on their own and to possible rent out plots to neighbors in the community so that they can have their own space to garden.



Shawn Williams
I met Shawn last fall at the Democratic National Convention. Strangely enough, he and his friend, Brian, were walking one way while I, and my friend, Pam, were walking another. As was the nature of the friendliness of the convention, everyone spoke to each other, if only to say, “hi.” It was when I overheard my friend introduce herself to Brian and Brian returned the greeting by saying, “We’re with Dallas South Blog,” that I became very interested. “I read your blog!” I exclaimed. How strange that I should randomly meet people in Denver that I knew about but had never seen when in Dallas.

I found out it was Shawn who actually did the writing on Dallas South’s blog. I was there as a blogger as well. So while I unabashedly threw myself at politicians asking to take pictures of them to post on my blog, Shawn calmly sought out people he noticed and asked for interviews and made some amazing connections. After an amazing week in Denver, Shawn and I returned to our lives in Dallas, but remained friends. That was in August of 2008.

Even though we remained friends, I never expected the phone call I received that asked me first to be on his advisory board, and then moved me to the board of the new endeavor he had decided to start, “Dallas South News.” I was honored to be asked. 1) Because I knew how composed he was when scoping out and interviewing people, 2) I knew how crazy I had looked throwing myself at all of the politicians and was sure he must think I was a nut case, but most of all 3) Because his new endeavor was focused on getting the news to the people, by the people...in the form of citizen journalists.

As Dallas South News developed and continues to develop, Shawn has offered and is very committed to come weekly to our After-School Academy to teach a Junior Reporters class for our 3rd-5th graders. Over a single semester, I have been so impressed with how quickly and easily the kids have picked up interviewing skills, learned how to use the Flip video cameras, and taken to the reporting. Even some of our toughest kids have shown some amazing growth being in the class. I have also been impressed with Shawn’s ability to engage them. I love that he is very methodical (yet very flexible) about his approach and, unlike me, is patient and teaches them one thing at a time, allowing them to grasp skills.

When Shawn first started coming, I would ask, “How did class go?” to which he would reply, “It was all right. They still need a lot of work.” To which I would grow frustrated. I wanted the kids in our After-School Academy to be awesome from day one! Each time I expressed my frustration, Shawn would explain to me, “If they didn’t need work, you and I wouldn’t need to be here. Of course they’re going to need work.”

I so much appreciate Shawn’s attitude. Shawn deserves this award because of his determination to not just expect, but that he is willing to go out and teach and equip a new “crew” of people to be a part of Dallas South. But through our friendship, Shawn has also taught me a lot about being gracious toward people with good intentions. He teaches me patience with the learning curve that some of our kids have been placed on. His patience with my questions and frustrations about our society helps me to see a bigger picture. It is his ability to see that bigger picture that I think is what has allowed Dallas South News to come into existence and what I believe will help Dallas South News to grow into something bigger.

Shameless plug: We need your help to make that dream grow…and to continue to equip more Junior Reporters and Citizen Journalists so that our under-represented communities can become more represented as we move forward. Please consider helping by becoming a $10/month supporter. Sign up here.


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