Saturday, April 29, 2006

My friend, Lagean

My friend, Lagean, had asked me to be a part of a new initiative she is starting at our church. I had pulled back from my involvement in church activities over the last couple of years. I was pretty burned out. For a long time, I worked with the kids and I felt like I was by myself in the effort (much of that may have been my own fault). As I mentioned in an earlier blog, our church struggled for a while. Our membership numbers dwindled. But Lagean hung on. She believed in our small church. She believed in what it offered people. She never quit.

Lagean hasn't always been where she is now in her spiritual journey. She will tell you that she has made some mistakes. Yet as our church struggled, Lagean stayed dedicated. She recruited people. She grew herself spiritually and she grew our church. And now she wants to get someething started for our teenagers.

When she asked me, my inside reaction was, "Ugh!" I told her that I would help, but I also told her the only reason I agreed to do it was because of her. Her perserverance, dedication, and friendship inspires me and makes it very difficult to say no.

I ended up having a work-related meeting scheduled at the same time. I thought I had conveniently gotten out of my responsibilities with Lagean. Then my meeting was cancelled. I couldn't lie to Lagean so I called her and told her I would be there. Her excitement and joy, simply because I was going to be present, made me feel special. But, then again, Lagean always makes me feel loved, appreciated, and needed.

Although the meeting started 30 minutes late (that usually bothers me), I enjoyed being in the company of some women leaders whom Lagean had chosen. She had taken the time to include a variety of ages, ethnicities, stages in life, stages in Christianity--and had already decided before we arrived what our roles would be according to our skills and talents. Lagean organized our initial meeting but, moving forward, she asked us all to make the decisions together.

Although I've worked in a leadership capacity and worked with kids and teens for the last 11 years, I could've never pulled that meeting together like Lagean did. I guess a lot of it is her dedication to people that makes us all willing to come out and help. It's her ability to see our assets and what each of us has to offer, instead of focusing on our deficits and what each of us still needs to work on--emotionally, spiritually, etc. Her approach seems the perfect way to build a church--draw on people's strengths and, in the meantime, help them develop beyond their weaknesses.

Since this is our first meeting, I'm not sure how the teen meetings will turn out. But from the meeting yesterday, I have a feeling that the teenagers might not be the only ones growing and learning from this ordeal. I have a feeling that in the process Lagean might be unknowingly (or maybe she has this already planned! :) ) building a strong women's group as well.

I truly am blessed to have a friend like Lagean.


I had agreed to allow my computer to be updated yesterday thinking that I had an all-day meeting. Turns out, I didn't have the meeting so I had 6 hours to fill with no computer! In an effort to use my time wisely, I decided to map out part of the "scavenger hunt" I am planning for our Urban Experience program this summer. I want them to explore the nuances of urban communities so I figured I needed to get my facts straight before giving them the assignment.

In an effort to find out as much as possible, I went inside nearly every store right up the street from my house. I was actually quite impressed with the types of stores we have that I didn't even realize were there. There are no franchise-type stores, of course. But there is a shoe bazaar, a flower shop, a bridal shop, a cell phone store, a Spanish Christian bookstore, and several restaurants.

However, the other side of the street was much different. There was a pawn shop, a Rent-a-Center, and Justice Finance (a loan place) all right in a row.

I've heard about the exorbitant amounts it costs to buy things at Rent-a-Center. But I also know that many of my friends purchase from there because $9.99/month is much more affordable than paying one lump sum all at once. I wanted to know just how outrageous the prices were, though. I was shocked and appalled! Let me give you a couple of examples:

A Pentium 4 Dell computer with a flat screen costs $39.99/week for 104 weeks for a grand total of...(are you ready for this??)...$4158.96!!! Yes, you heard me right. However, if they were to pay cash for it, it would "only" cost them $2079.48. If they were to buy a similar computer at Best Buy, it would cost around $1050!

A DVD player with 5 CD changer costs a mere $9.99/week for 49 weeks for a grand total of $489.51. However, paying cash would get them off "easy" for only $244.75. (oh, by the way, the one I was pricing had been previously rented, so that was the price for a used machine!). The same new machine at Best Buy costs only $129.99.

There are more, but let me move to the next business, "Justice" Finance--a truly ironic name for a business that gouges the community like it does. Justice Finance offers loans from $100-$1000. For a $700 loan, she informed me that I would need to pay $92.54/month for 11 months, resulting in a $307.94 finance rate, which calculates to 44% interest!!! However, you could get a much smaller $200 loan and make only 6 payments of $43 each month. Then you would "only" have a 29% interest rate. Not even credit cards are getting that much interest!

So why do people borrow and spend money like that?? Since I've never been in that situation, I can't answer for sure. But I'm guessing it's less about being irresponsible (as I've heard some suggest), and more about figuring out how to have wants and needs for a manageable price each month and a convenient way to get it. Think about it. If you're a single mom making a little over minimum wage (which would amount to less than $800-$900/month with taxes taken out), You've got to figure out a way to pay the rent, electric, water, gas, phone, and food just to provide the basics. You may have a few dollars left over afterward. If so, you could either choose to save up $20 or so each week until you could afford to buy something (which would take forever) or you could get it in your home immediately and begin enjoying it now by purchasing from Rent-a-Center. If you ever can't pay it all off, they will be glad to take it back. If it does get taken back, at least you were able to enjoy it in the meantime. Oh, and Rent-a-Center is in nearly every poor neighborhood so it's accessible (how many Best Buys do you see in poor neighborhoods??). AND Rent-a-Center delivers so there's never any worries about needing transportation to get it home! "Justice" Finance works the same way. It makes everything easy and convenient.

It always amazes me that the people with the least amount of money are the ones who end up being charged the most. Don't you think poor people might be able to be more responsible and just might be able to break even every once in a while if businesses like these worked with people instead of taking advantage of them? I can't help but believe ethical business practices in poor communities might be beneficial to the entire community. Go figure.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006


A while back a lady called me at our offices. She explained to me that she needed some help. I believe she said she was around 50 years old. She had graduated from high school, but she couldn't read. She felt like people were taking advantage of her as they helped her decipher her bills. She wanted to be able to pay her own bills, to read her own statements. She said she had attended a literacy school for a while, but she wasn't catching on and I believe she ultimately quit. Her reading level was supposedly somewhere below first grade...yet she graduated from high school!! How does that happen??

After 11 years of working at Central Dallas, what I've found is that her situation isn't as far-fetched as I once thought it was. I remember when I first started working with kids here in Dallas. An 10-year old boy used to visit my apartment frequently. We tried to work on his reading skills. I was volunteering at his elementary school at the time. I'll never forget my conversation with the Assistant Principal at the time as we discussed "John's" inability to read in 4th grade. Her statement floored me. "Maybe he's reached his prime."

His prime????!!!!

At 10 years old???!!!!

You can imagine my incredulity! This child was not mentally challenged. Yet the school had decided he had reached his "prime."

Let me give yet another example:
Several years ago when I was running our University of Values summer program, I expected the teen workers to turn in journals every day. I couldn't believe the lack of writing skills of one of the 16-year old male teachers. I showed it to one of my teacher friends. As she looked at it, she commented that his skill levels were lower than some of the 3rd graders in her special ed classes!

Unfortunately, there are depressing stories after depressing stories of children not knowing how to read.

Yes, oftentimes there are reasons.
  • Parents aren't always involved. Some are and some aren't--yet whether involved or not, some still end up with the same result of a having a child who struggles.
  • I notice that many times parents recognize their own inability to educate their child and expect the school (the "experts") to educate their child. Some parents were in the same type of school district as a child and didn't get a great education themselves. It's not an excuse, but I think that when they don't know what to do, they expect someone who does know to do it.
  • Some parents work long hours and aren't available to advocate for their child; some parents are dealing with addictions; and some parents ...well, I don't know...maybe they don't see the importance of advocating for their child.

Here's the thing, though. Regardless of what a parent does or doesn't do, a child deserves to be educated. They deserve to have that chance in life. We can sit around and talk about the parents and lament the fact that they don't do their job....OR we can begin to work toward a creative solution. I vote for the latter.

The bottom line is that children deserve to have an opportunity. And we need to be a society that makes sure that happens!

School Finance

I have to admit I am not educated enough about the politics of the school finance law that keeps coming up here in Texas. I do know that our state legislature is taxed with coming up with a solution by June. I seriously wonder if that will happen.

Basically, what I know (someone correct me if I'm wrong) is that wealthy districts had something like a cap on the amount of money they could keep for their local school out of their taxes. Any money above that amount went into a fund that then was distributed to poor schools who had a much lower tax base. Thus, the bill was appropriately called "Robin Hood."

I know no one wants to have money taken away from their schools or their children. I know that parents want the best for their children. But what about those families who do work hard and pay their taxes, yet because their job doesn't pay as well as someone else's, their child's school gets less funding? Or, here's another reality, what about the families that don't work or maybe those who are addicts and they don't put money into the system, should their child be doomed to the same type of lifestyle because his/her parent made some bad choices in life?

I am very much against charity. Probably to a fault, in some instances. However, I see education as the great equalizer...well, at least it has the potential to be. In order to be that great equalizer, we must have an equitable system. Equitable doesn't always mean the same for everybody. Many of our low-income schools and children need more just to get caught up (see tomorrow's post for a discussion on how far behind some of our children are).

Many people will say, "It's not about money." If it's not, then why are the wealthy fighting so hard to make sure that they keep all of their money?? A quote from an article by Laurie Fox in the Dallas Morning News on Sunday caught my eye:

"School districts now are more alike than different," said Cathy Bryce, the Highland Park superintendent. "But we're all in the same inadequate circumstances. Equity and adequacy has not served our children well."
I think anyone in my neighborhood would be happy if they had Highland Park's "inadequate circumstances." If "equity and adequacy" hasn't served their children well, then how are their kids still scoring at the top on tests and getting into selective schools? And what could their same "inadequate circumstances" do for those in lower-income neighborhoods who are dealing with much more inequitable and inadequate circumstances than Highland Park?

I'm sure if I were a parent in a wealthier neighborhood, I would want my child to have what I had the opportunity to give them. But, if "adequate" funding is only given to those who have money, then what happens to the districts that don't have the high tax base? Do we just have to face the fact that wealthier schools and neighborhoods get what they need and want while poorer schools just don't?? Do people in low-income neighborhoods have to keep dreaming that one of these days they'll somehow be able to afford to move out to some suburb where their children can get a better education? There's got to be a better solution.

It does amaze me that despite paying all of their taxes that ended up sending millions of dollars to lower income districts, the parents in Highland Park were still able to raise $2.5 million to pay for things like computers and teacher salaries and such. In my experience, fundraisers in my neighborhood, have brought in maybe $150-$300.

I'm not trying to put down Highland Park. Those are just figures that stood out to me in the article. Click the heading of this blog for the full article.

I don't know of a solution myself. I wish I did. I just hope as people make these decisions, they realize that kids of all economic levels have potential and deserve the opportunity of the best education possible.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

"Less Fortunate"

I received an email from a college student last one I've ever met or heard of before. She asked me some questions for a paper she is writing. A couple of her questions stood out to me...

What are your thoughts about public schools and how they should focus their attention on less fortunate children?

I always shudder when I hear the term "less fortunate." I sensed that this young lady was attempting to understand how to best help children in low-income situations, so I explained to her my position on the "less fortunate." My answer to her question follows:

To be quite honest, I think that they [the schools] can't think of the kids as "less fortunate." I think the schools, the teachers, and the principals have to begin noticing what the kids *do* have to offer instead of focusing on the kids' deficits. I think teachers need to have high expectations of the kids. I think as they hold these high expectations, they also need to hold the kids accountable and expect the best. In our after-school program the kids often write sloppy or may not complete their homework to their best ability. They always comment, "It's ok. The teacher doesn't care if we do it like this." By not having high expectations, I think we set the kids up for failure later. That's not fair to the kids. I also think it's very important that the teachers get to know the kids and their families as much as possible. I think that teaching has to be more than a job. Although I am very much in favor of the public schools, I think Dallas is extremely segregated--racially and economically. I think this creates extremely inequitable situations that leave poor and minority children behind.

I also encouraged her to attend our Central Dallas Book Club on May 4. Jonathan Kozol's book is about the segregated schooling that exists all across our nation and explains that our schools are more segregated now than they were right after the civil rights movement. At the book club, there will also be a parent and a teenager on a panel who will talk about the schools in south and east Dallas. Anyone is welcome.

She also asked if I thought there should be more organizations providing educational programs for children in poverty. Of course I do! However, maybe more importantly, I think there needs to be more advocacy from organizations and individuals with and for parents, kids, and families in low-income neighborhoods. After-school programs are great. Education programs are great. I don't doubt that we will always need them. But in order to work toward long-term solutions instead of temporary fixes, we've got to listen to the people in the community and work with people in the community to advocate for a better system for children in low-income neighborhoods. Everyone at least deserves the opportunity for a quality education.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Making a Difference

As I was sitting in church yesterday, I realized that sometimes success comes despite our "mess ups" as well as because of our efforts and good intentions.

This all occurred to me as I listened to a friend of mine lead the communion talk at church. He was reflecting on his past and was telling how five years ago he was unable to stand before a group of people and speak. I remember that time. He had recently gotten out of prison and I guess he hadn't ever really spoken in front of people. Each time he was asked to speak, it was obvious how nervous he was. I remember how we all encouraged him, somehow knowing even then how much he had to offer the rest of us. Some of the people who I think were instrumental in his success have since "messed up." However, despite the fact that some of his "mentors" slipped, he continued developing--spiritually and mentally. Today he is an amazing man who speaks at church, ministers in the prisons, mentors friends, and loves people.

I also thought of another friend who recently relapsed into his drug addiction. He had been clean for quite some time, had gotten married and was a strong leader of our church. When our church membership had dropped dramatically and was struggling a few years ago, he recruited friends and family members to not only attend, but to lead the choir, play the organ, paint the church, clean up after everyone was gone, etc. Yet just last week, he "messed up."

In both situations, leaders "messed up." Yet, in both situations those leaders, despite their faults, had nurtured longer term growth that continued despite their setbacks. Too many times, I think we expect everyone--especially leaders--to be not mess up. And when they do, we kick them when they're down. We talk about them. We get disgusted at them. We leave them to fin for themselves in their biggest time of need. I'm not advocating that we excuse wrong behavior. I'm just suggesting that sometimes people know they've messed up

...real bad.

And sometimes what people need is someone to point out the things that they've done well...the footprints they've left and the legacy that continues because of them. And then we need to encourage them to get back up, dust themselves off, and get back on the right path.

I know I've made some big mistakes. However, it encourages me to know that despite me as well as because of me I have done some things right. It gives me hope. I need to know that when I mess up, I have a chance to redeem myself. God is much bigger than I am. In my good moments, when I have done something right, God uses those times to make ripple effects. People I have affected turn around and help others who help others, etc. I need to know that when I mess up, all is not lost. That gives me hope and gives me a reason to

get up,

dust off,

and continue.

Thank the Lord for grace.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Moving beyond the "System"

"...just as we must avoid a superficial optimism, we must also avoid a crippling pessimism."

~Martin Luther King, Jr.

I've had many different friends get frustrated with me because of my pessimism with the "system."

I think the system is wrong.

I think the education system in our country benefits some kids, but not all. I think that the lack of motivation and lack of hope in many of our communities stem from the problems that our "system" has created over many years. I think that racism is institutional. And I often talk about my views with [African-American and Hispanic] teenagers and adults.

I have had people tell me that I perpetuate the separation of the cultures by having those types of discussions. I have had other people tell me that what I say gives people an excuse to place all of the blame on the system and not take responsibility for their own actions. In my mind, I talk about things like racism, poverty, and injustice because it is liberating. Growing up, I wasn't aware that so much injustice and discrimination existed (past tense) and still exists (present tense). No one acknowledged it. It made me angry when I finally learned and internalized the Civil Rights movement and began learning from friends and neighbors that discriminatory practices and actions still happen all the time.

When I have taught groups of kids, teenagers, and adults, I do admit that I acknowledge the painful past and deal with the frustrating present. I find that people become more animated, opinionated, and reflective when I start talking about the inequity in our urban community, the racism in our society and the inadequacy of our schools--particularly if they have personally dealt with any of those issues. I feel like I'm pointing out the huge elephant in the middle of the room that no one talks least not in mixed company. I feel like I'm the one telling people the emporer has no clothes. It seems to be implied that if we don't talk about racism, poverty, and injustice, it won't exist. Yet, I've found that whether I talk about it or not, the people who experience the discrimination and the injustice still know it's there. It doesn't go away. Ignoring it just makes it invisible to me...a white person who isn't usually discriminated against and has many monetary privileges and choices anyway.

But, at the same time, I am trying to think through what some of my friends who disagree with me say. I don't want to end on the note that the system's screwed up, as much as I believe that. I want to go beyond Martin Luther King, Jr. did. I want to communicate to friends and the suburbs and rural areas as much as in the cities...that we do have a voice! And we need to speak out against injustice! We need to vote against unjust practices. We need to stand by someone who has been discriminated against--be it race, homosexuality, disability, or gender. We need to get together. We need to stop allowing the system to cripple us.

Yes, injustice is frustrating. Yes, people have been beat down for a long time (sometimes literally) and may not trust the police, the voting process, the government officials, etc. I agree. I have become leery of many of the practices myself. We have many things working against us. However, in order to change things, we must make our voice heard and we must fight...peacefully.

As King said, "...we must avoid a superficial optimism." We haven't arrived yet. We've got to get over trying to ignore racism and injustice and pretend that it will just go away. It won't. It won't until we deal with it. But at the same time, "...we must also avoid a crippling pessimism." Despite how tired and frustrated we are, we've got to keep pressing on and moving ahead.

Most recently, the Hispanic community has taken the lead in this. I would advocate that we all fall in and begin working together. It shouldn't just be a Brown issue. It's everyone's issue. After we conquer that injustice, we can move on to other injustices....together.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Race for the Cure

Last night, two things happened. I attended an event for my friend, Charlie Mae Ransom. Ms. Ransom is an amazing woman. She has lived in the Roseland Homes Housing development for (I forget exactly) over 60 years, I believe. She moved in when the development was first built and has been a leader (or should I say "the" leader) of the community ever since. If all of our communities had leadership like she gives Roseland, we'd all be better off. Ms. Ransom has recently been diagnosed with cancer. Though she has now lost her hair from her treatments, her energy level was still high and she looked stunning in a brightly colored, stylish dress with a bright pink scarf tied beautifully on her head. I would like to think that I could follow in the footsteps of a woman as amazing as she is.

Last night, the city of Dallas officially proclaimed April 21st as Charlie Mae Ransom Day. She very much deserves that honor. Congratulations, Ms. Ransom.

After I left Ms. Ransom's celebration, I went to the P.C. Cobb Field in South Dallas to support the Race for the Cure, also an amazing event. Evidently, they have this event every year in South Dallas. This year it seems more meaningful just because several people I know have been diagnosed with, and some have died from, cancer recently.

From 7:00 p.m.-7:00 a.m. at the event in South Dallas, people walk around the P.C. Cobb track. At 9:30, when I arrived, the entire football field was covered with tents ready to camp out for the night. The whole area had that wonderful Texas bar-b-que smell as people had already kicked the grills into high gear and had food available for the evening.

This reminded me of the Immigration march I went to a few weeks ago. There weren't quite as many people, but it was very much a family event. However, this time, it was mainly African-American families. Moms, dads, and in strollers as well as teenagers...walking around the track "racing" for the cure. Some teenagers entertained on a stage, other teenagers danced off to the side. Jump houses were available to give the smaller children something to do when they weren't walking.

Some of the cancer survivors participated wearing purple t-shirts that said something like, "I had it. I fought it. I survived it." I loved getting to one point at the track where about three people stood as a cheering section specifically for the people with purple t-shirts. Every time a person with a purple t-shirt would walk by they, cheers would go up.

Recently I've had several friends and family who have been diagnosed with cancer:

Ronnie Smith, Vern Cubbage, Dorothy Pringle and Tommy Clegg have died recently or within the last few years.

Charlie Mae Ransom, Charlie Clegg, and Brenda James have been diagnosed, but are doing well.

I'm sure I've forgotten some. Please keep them and their families in your thoughts and your prayers. Click on the title of this blog if you would like to make a donation to Race for the Cure.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Education for ALL

I've been hearing about free tuition to all of these Ivy League and other prestigious schools for a while now.

  • Stanford offers free tuition to families making under $45,000 and those in the $45,000-$60,000 range will have their expected contribution cut in half.
  • Harvard has now made their free tuition available to families making under $60,000
  • Northwestern University (NU) is exploring different options to help families afford the tuition so students won't have to choose a community college over NU just because they can't afford it
  • University of North Carolina (UNC) gives free tuition to those up to 200% of the poverty level
  • University of Pennsylvania (U Penn) gives grants to those who make under $50,000

All of that is wonderful.

However, several factors in those offers really disturb me.

Students must be qualified. Every time I receive information about a new school doing this, I always pass it on to the teenagers I know. However, what I also know is that not one of the teenagers I know would qualify for these opportunities. The schools they attend haven't adequately prepared them.

I pass the information along to encourage the teenagers to work harder, knowing that there are financial options available. I want them to have hope. Unfortunately, though, several teens I know already have high ambitions. When I ask where they are going to college, everyone says, "UT!" Although I don't want to discourage their hopes, I recognize that making B's and C's at an inner-city school is far from what it takes to get into a competitive university like UT or any of the ones I mentioned above.

UNC offers free tuition to up to 200% of the poverty level. What kind of country are we that 200% of the poverty level is still poor???? What does that mean when we say that people making up to 200% above the poverty level still can't afford tuition?! What does that say about our outdated poverty guidelines?! And what are we (meaning you and I!) going to do about waking our nation up to the fact that minimum wage, poverty guidelines as they are now, and many other factors that affect the poor are outdated!

Universities are the ones taking up the slack. I think it's great that prestigious universities are taking up the slack for what the government continues to cut. However, first of all, not all universities can handle that kind of financial hit. NU recognizes that. They also recognize that many low-income students are not academically prepared. Those are the reasons why they have no firm commitments to paying tuition or enrolling low-income students right now. They are still trying to figure out a plan so that it will benefit low-income students--even those who aren't quite ready for ivy league rigor.

Second, why are the universities picking up the slack for something the government has done (and, in my opinion, should still be doing) in the past? If you'll notice, some of the more "common" schools that our kids would be more likely to attend are not on the list. Only the schools that have a lot of access to money...I would guess former alums who have money.

Aren't we a country that touts free education for all? Is that really true? Every year as I try to get teenagers enrolled in colleges, they all seem to need some kind of loan package because their financial aid doesn't cover their total expenses. Some of them have a hard time getting the loans because of their low-incomes combined with their parents' bad credit and things like that. Others are just scared to take out loans because they realize what financial burdens their families are already in and they have no desire to make financial burdens for themselves. What can we do to ensure that ALL students are allowed access to a post-secondary education if they so desire? I'm not talking individual generosity either. Though individual generosity is nice and kind and very much needed, it will never reach ALL students. There are too many other students not connected with generous individuals or non-profit organizations who may pay for someone's college education.

So, what are we going to do? How are we going to ensure that ALL children have access? That ALL children have opportunity? ...NOT just those who happened to be born into good schools and high incomes.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Health and our Inner Cities

I love front porches. In my neighborhood, everyone comes out in the evenings after it's cooled down. I learn so much from sitting on my front porch and watching the neighborhood. I love to watch as people work in their yards, sit in lawn chairs under shade trees and relax, work on their car, and walk around the neighborhood. Everyone waves and says hi as they go about evening routines.

Our inner cities (which is where I live) have a lot of different issues. I don't have to tell you that. You see it on the hear the see the maps that show the geographic areas that have higher crime rates, poorer nutrition habits, higher mortality rates, etc. But tonight as I sat on my front porch, I realized something...

What those reports don't tell you is that not everyone in our inner-city communities are like that.

Tonight I waved at Shirl and J.C. (husband and wife in their late 40's, early 50's) as they walked by my house. When they returned about 30 minutes later, I heard them begin to talk to their niece who is probably in her 30's. They told her they had discovered a new route to walk. At that point it dawned on me that my neighbors are not one of those negative statistics that are always presented by the media and other reports.

I began to think about the times I've seen Shirl and her entire family--husband, kids and grandkids--riding their bikes down the main street near our houses. Shirl and her family take walks every day. I watch her sister, Stella (my next door neighbor...also probably in her 50's), leave for the gym nearly every morning. She has a membership at 24-hour fitness. Ms. Stella and I have talked about her high blood pressure and how she does different things like working in the yard, walking, working out, and watching her eating habits in order to lower her blood pressure.

Ms. Stella, Shirl, and J.C. are not only taking care of themselves, they are instilling good habits in their kids and grandkids. They are making their health a priority. Maybe they didn't have great health habits when they were younger. Maybe that's why they have health issues now. I don't know. But I do know that to look at my neighborhood and read off a bunch of statistics is a mistake.

I've seen and heard about a lot of "programs" that do good things in and for the community. But, perhaps more importantly than the programs, are the people in the communities who are influencing other people. Too often, I think we give the "programs" and ourselves the credit...when really we should be looking at the people in the community who are making a difference. Aren't they the true heroes who should be given a pat on the back??

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Net worth and Disparity

Former Senator John Edwards spoke at our Central Dallas prayer breakfast this morning. He didn't impress me too much as a presidential candidate, but I was actually very impressed with him today. His seemed very knowledgeable and involved as he talked about poverty and the things that need to be done to begin fixing things in our country.

One of the things that struck me was his comment of the Average Net Worth of different groups of people:


To make sure he hadn't pulled such amazingly disparate figures out of the sky, I looked it up. Sure enough, the Pew Hispanic Center had the same numbers....except for the fact that they found Whites were worth closer to $89,000. That's over $70,000 difference!!

Why is that?

Though the research I read doesn't address why, here is my assessment:

When we don't put money into a system to educate poor children (who are mostly children of color), they grow up to be under-educated adults. When the adults go look for a job, they have to look for jobs without college degrees and, therefore, make less money. Because they are making less money, they live in neighborhoods that they can afford, which usually have lower-quality schools with less resources. They have children who attend the local public school, which receives few tax dollars because people in the neighborhood are working at low-wage jobs. The children grow up...The cycle starts all over again.

Meanwhile, the opposite is happening in wealthy, predominantly White communities. Higher tax dollars leads to better-resourced schools, which leads to more formally educated kids, etc. You get the picture.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Being Different

Not too long ago, a friend of mine loaned me a book (Strength to Love) that is a compilation of Martin Luther King's sermons. King's commentaries and his breakdown of scripture give me a much better insight and connection to the scriptures than I have gotten in a long time. What I find so amazing about King's sermons is how parallel they are to current issues...particularly war and racism. He speaks truth. He speaks reality. And even though he gave these sermons some 40+ years ago, they still resonate today.

In his sermon
">A Knock at Midnight
King says,

"One of the shameful tragedies of history is that the very institution [the church] which should remove man from the midnight of racial segregation participates in creating and perpetuating the midnight."

What is any different today? Historically our churches have been segregated...and today our churches are still segregated! Granted, they may not be totally segregated. In any given church there may be one or two families that are of a different ethnic make-up than the rest, but overall, the churches segregate just like the rest of our society does. The church reflects the socioeconomic and ethnic demographics of the neighborhood where it exists. Yet, as a Christian body, we claim to be different.

I have come to the conclusion that many Christians are only different in their words and in their beliefs, not their actions. When we, as Christians, talk about being set apart from the rest of the world, are we talking about separating ourselves by our religious talk or are we talking about really acting on our beliefs? I know some people will argue and say that evangelizing is the way they act on their beliefs. But what about taking a stand for different issues? Isn't that what truly sets people apart? Evangelism is easy. It puts all of the responsibility on the person who is being evangelized. Whether or not they accept the Word is up to them. Long-term relationships are much more challenging and take much more time and effort.

Jesus was the type of "different" that I would expect of Christians. Wasn't Jesus so condemned by the Pharisees because he was hanging out and building relationships with sinners? The way I remember the scripture, it referred to him hanging out with, not evangelizing. I'm no seminarian, so I could be wrong. The Jesus I read about hung out with people, got to know people, and built relationships with people....people who were different than him.

Poor people.

Devious people.

Unethical people.

As he built relationships with people, he was then able to speak to spiritual issues...many times because they asked him his opinion. They asked questions and challenged him because he was so different from the rest.

Are we, as Christians, really that different from the rest? What issues do we stand up for? Do we notice that our churches, communities, schools, etc. are still segregated today? Do we care? What are we doing about it? Are we sitting back and waiting for people of other cultural backgrounds to flock to us? Or are we making the first, possibly uncomfortable, attempt to get involved in a church/neighborhood/community that is different than what we are used to?

What if churches and the people in them truly took a stand and fought for truth, justice, and peace? What if their actions spoke louder than their words? What would our churches and our communities look like then?

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Why I'm starting a blog

There are so many issues in today's society that cause me to struggle...

I don't understand why people are so opposed to immigrants and immigration.

I don't understand why our country doesn't see a problem with or address
the issue of racially segregated schools and neighborhoods.

I don't understand how executives are making millions of dollars a year,
yet expect people that work for them to get by on minimum wage.

I don't understand how "Christians" can sit back and watch all of this

Growing up in a small, rural town in Southern Missouri, none of the things I just mentioned were even close to issues on life's radar screen....mainly because our entire community was White. There was poverty, but in a way that is much different than the huge disparities I see here in Dallas.

For the past 11 years, as I've lived and worked in the city, I've come to love and appreciate the cultural and socioeconomic diversity that the city offers, as well as the challenges that arise because of such diversity. The challenges, however, are sometimes frustrating and cause me to re-look at and often question the White, middle class, Christian foundation upon which I was raised. Living amongst diversity forces me to see and hear issues from my friends' perspectives...often which are very different from my own and many of which can be uncomfortable. But being uncomfortable is ok when it challenges me to think differently about situations. I want to understand perspectives that are different than my own.

This blog is about my own personal reflections...what I contemplate on a regular basis. I have some good friends that have been a part of my learning process. I welcome other friends (known and unknown) to contribute to that discussion as well.

I decided that blogging might be a way to create dialogue that could potentially help me discover more answers

....or maybe just more questions.