Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Nothing better to do??

As I was listening to the radio this morning, I heard the report about the flag burning amendment not passing. As I listened to the report, I was amazed. Does our Congress really have that little to do that it needs to focus on flag burning??

John Kerry did speak up and suggest that there were more important issues at hand. However, Oran Hatch refuted him saying that banning flag burning is *the* most important thing we could be doing right now. He wants to send a message people that says, "You cannot usurp the power of the Congress of the United States."

Let me think about that a minute. There's nothing more important than making sure people don't burn the flag and show disrespect for this country? Maybe he's right. What could possibly be more important than that?? Let me ponder on that...

...teenagers who can't read who are expected to pass a test to graduate in a school that is given the No Child Left Behind law but no resources to implement what it will take to get them there?

...adults who have little job skills but are expected to get into productive jobs to contribute to our economy?

...schools that are drilling the kids with tests instead of teaching higher order thinking for fear they will lose their jobs as a result of "No Child Left Behind"?

...seniors who can't afford their medication and are confused by the new Medicare stuff? who are being recruited for the military to fight in a war that has no end in sight and no set plan for an eventual pull out?

...children without health care?

...large numbers of kids who aren't graduating from high school?

...CEO's who are getting rich while their workers are struggling in poverty?

Maybe Oran Hatch lives in a different world than I do. Maybe a lot of people in Congress live in a different world than I do. I'm guessing that their socioeconomic status--where they live, where they work, the people they hang around--isolates them from all of the other more pressing issues that are happening to the people that they "serve." I suppose the issues I've mentioned don't affect their world much so worrying about that handful of people who might burn a flag is a perfectly legitimate issue...right?

Monday, June 26, 2006

From Misery to Hope

Below is a poem that the teens and adults in our Civil Rights night created last year. The statements were made by Black and Hispanic teenagers, as well as a few of them made by a couple of adults. The words seem very fitting and poignant these days considering what has happened in the last week.


Misery is when black people don’t trust my motives and white people misunderstand them.

Misery is having to ask an African-American not to use the “n-word.”

Misery is when white people torture a black person.

Misery is when white people think all black people are ghetto.

Misery is when smart minorities choose to throw away their future.

Misery is when you go to South or West Dallas.

Misery is when you have to be in a class where your teacher is racist.

Misery is when people say I’m going to be nothing in life.

Misery is when you have to wait for someone to go get a “Spanish speaker” to assist you when you don’t need one.

Misery is when black people do black on black crime.

Misery is when a white person is scared to go to the black neighborhoods.

Misery is when black people hate their color so much they want to be white.

Misery is when people say, “Immigrants are invading the country.”

BUT…I have hope!

I have hope when my neighbors and I eat bar-b-que together and they show me how to make greens.

I have hope when I can go to church and get a hug from African-American, Hispanic and White friends.

I have hope when I see young black people who are serious about their education.

I have hope when the church not only cares but brings programs to help the community.

I have hope when I see people making a change for the better.

I have hope when immigrants aren’t ashamed of saying, “I am an immigrant.”

I have hope when other teachers tell me I have big opportunities ahead of me.

I have hope when I see a black person succeed.

I have hope when I hear of someone who started at the bottom reaches the top.

I have hope when I see someone in an abusive relationship make it.

I have hope when I see different cultures and backgrounds bonding together.

I have hope when I see younger people trying to be role models for their younger brothers and sisters.

We are from…fast food…fast kids…traffic on the highways…drug traffic in the streets…Texas heat…glazed doughnuts to chocolate doughnuts…sandboxes to mudpies…hard times…people doing hard time…bluegrass…hip-hop…sinners…repenters…no respect…respect.

We are from different backgrounds but we are all trying to make a change.

We are from Misery to Hope.

Sunday, June 25, 2006


I read an article in the New York Times about schools that are attempting to use race and socioeconomic level as a factor in student assignments to schools in order to ensure their schools maintain socioeconomic and ethnic diversity. Their goals are admirable. I would love to know that every school has an economically and ethnically diverse population.

However, because of this intentional practice, the Supreme Court is now looking into the legality of using race as a criteria in school assignments. For some reason, people think that the days of needing desegregation orders are over. I don't know if they noticed, but our schools are more segregated now than they have been since the 1970's! For more factual information on that, look up Jonathan Kozol's latest book, The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America or check out Gary Orfield, Professor of Education and Social Policy at Harvard and co-founder of the Civil Rights Project.

We no longer see desegregation as a priority, yet each time a law is passed saying desegregation is no longer needed, we segregate a little bit more. You can see it in the decrease in minority enrollments in colleges.

I have read that the Civil Rights Movement strove to be about equality, but ended up being about integration. There is a difference. Integration allowed middle class Blacks to move out. Equality would have produced schools and neighborhoods that made people wanted to move in.

We need equality, not integration! Schools still suffer from inequality. Though the schools mentioned above that are striving for a ethnic and economic balance should be praised for their intentionality, it is almost always the Black and Hispanic children who are bussed out. Why doesn't the effort go both ways? Why aren't White children bussed in?

For one, I know that White (and other ethnicities, for that matter) parents in the suburbs would fight that tooth and nail. I have read about it happening. They don't think it's fair that their children have to be bussed. Besides, they don't want their children going to inadequate schools.

Why do we think it is any different for kids and parents in the inner cities? Do we think that parents in the inner city want their kids to take a long bus ride every day to school? Do the kids or the parents want to attend schools outside of their neighborhood? Do they want their children attending inadquate schools? I would guess I could survey 100 parents in the inner city and all of them would say NO! So why do we make the rules different for them?

Saturday, June 24, 2006

The Rights of a Child

Right to Protection

Right to an Education

Right to Life

Right to a Homeland

Right to Play

Right to Friendship

Right to Freedom

Right to Grow Up

Right to Protection on Teasing

Right to Self-Expression

We are All Equal

~Paintings outside of the Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam

Friday, June 23, 2006

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure

Since the shooting/killing of my 22 year old friend the other day, I have had several people ask me, "Well, what do we need to do to keep stuff like this from happening?" Since people ask, I am willing to respond.

Focus on the children!!!

Of course, we hear the rhetoric. Even the President has declared that education is a necessity. He believes in this so much that he passed a law (No Child Left Behind) that requires children to succeed. Of course, he doesn't provide any funding for the kids to reach these standards and play catch up like they need in order to meet the standards he's set. But talking more than acting on our beliefs is not just the president. It's our society. What real effort do we put into our children? What do we have available for them? Where are our priorities?

What if we doubled our effort on the front end instead of trying to put out fires on the back end? What if we dedicated ourselves and held our society accountable to putting twice as much time, money, and effort into every program that involved children? Maybe then we wouldn't have to worry as much about finding drug treatment centers, dealing with shootings, or finding low-level jobs for uneducated adults.

The priorities of our society are apparent. The fact that we are willing to be in massive debt for a war and building a wall between us and Mexico, but not willing to go into debt for public schools, education, and children's enrichment programs tells me where our priorities lie. Why do we sit and muse over why our society has become so bad?

Do people not understand that adults who are addicted to drugs, poor, violent, and/or hungry were once children
...who attended poorly resourced schools.
...who had teachers who had low expectations of them
...who had parents who couldn't afford to get them involved in outside activities.
...who had absentee parents
...who had to "hustle" in order to provide food for themselves and their siblings.
...who don't have a context of rich educational experiences to draw from.
...who lived in rough neighborhoods where survival was the norm

Once again, it's not just the government. Look at other organizations as well. After-school programs...How many are willing to offer the funds that would allow them to hire high quality teachers for struggling children? Middle school programs...we know that middle schoolers are when kids fall off, yet how many middle school programs are you aware of? College readiness programs...many of the kids I know don't have parents who are able or willing to figure out the complicated college entrance process. Where are the college/career prep programs?

I want to offer all of these programs...but we don't have the funding. Anybody willing?

I truly believe that the more connected we (individually as well as our entire society) are to the kids, the less need for food pantries, job readiness programs, drug treatment centers, and anger management programs we will need.

How about we save money by investing on the front end?! Anybody with me???

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Tyree Sims

October 27, 1983 - June 21, 2006

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Staying alive is a struggle

I've always read articles and looked at research that talks about about how a child living in the inner city has less chance of living to their 18th birthday. Yet, even though I had read that, I think I had convinced myself it wasn't quite true. Though the kids and adults I knew might talk about losing people who they knew well, it was only people I knew of and not people I really knew and had interacted with on a personal level. I guess because I've been here 11 years and it hadn't touched me personally, I assumed it wasn't quite as dramatic as it was presented in the literature. Unfortunately, these days, I'm learning that those statistics I always thought must be explaining other cities are actually statistics that hold true for my Dallas neighborhood as well.

I have lost several people over the past few months. I can split those into two categories--both equally discouraging. 1) Lack of health care and care in general and 2) urban violence.

Just yesterday I found out that B.J., a young girl I know, drowned in her own bathtub. B.J. was mentally challenged. She was 17 years old. Her mother is in jail. Her 19 year old brother was trying to keep watch over his three siblings as they all crowded into his aunt's small apartment along with her family. I am not sure of the details of her death, but I have heard that B.J. wandered around quite often. I would guess that the lack of ability by the family to meet her needs as a mentally challenged adult ultimately led to her unintentional death. I am afraid of the guilt her brother is probably taking on himself.

Just two weeks ago Pat, another mentally challenged adult in his 30's or 40's, died of suffocation and dehydration after he crawled in to sleep in a car on a too-hot night in Dallas. Pat also had a home where he could stay and an aunt and cousins who cared for him. However, he, too, wandered all the time. He had been beaten up several times by people who simply took advantage of him, but he had always managed to survive. I think of how Pat could maybe have lived longer if the family could have afforded to get him into a home that worked with mentally challenged adults...if there were even one available anywhere close to our neighborhood.

In March, my friend Priscilla, a lady in her early 60's died after a fight with cancer. I don't know if she could've hung on longer if she had better care, but I do know that the statistics show that higher poverty areas have alarmingly high rates of heart disease, diabetes, and death due to lack of health care and other poverty issues that create more health problems.

Just six months ago, I also lost Sam, a 22 year old who was also shot and killed in broad daylight because of a case of stolen drugs they assumed he had a role in.

Then, last night I was awakened by a phone call at 2:30 a.m. saying that Tyree, a 20 year old friend of mine, had been shot in the back of the head. I got a phone call about an hour later telling me he had died. Evidently he was sitting at the bus stop and some guys were driving around mad at another guy who had challenged them. Shots rang out. Everyone ran. Tyree didn't have enough time. He's gone.

I have listened to B.J. as she told me with such pride that her teacher at school loved her because she told her so and how her brother loved her because he bought her some tennis shoes.

I have given Pat rides home at 2:00 in the morning after he had finally gotten tired of wandering around so he had decided he would throw rocks at my bedroom window to wake me up so that I would give him a ride. (Pat was very resourceful and had created his own survival strategies).

I have watched Priscilla give people her last the point of not being able to pay her own rent...when she used to volunteer for the food pantry when I was there.

I have watched Sam grow up and went out of my way to speak to him when he was a kid. As a still shy adult, he would always walk by my house and nod his head to say hi.

I have taken Tyree to church, dealt with he and his brother as belligerant kids, helped him with resumes as an adult. Whenever I would see Tyree, he would harass me about something. Despite him making fun of my strictness with kids and teens and my high expectations of him and his friends, I always felt there was a respect there.

Judge these situations and their circumstances any way you would like, but they were all friends of mine. No matter what the circumstance, losing my friends is extremely difficult. It doesn't get any easier--especially when they are so young.

Please pray for me today. Please pray for his friends.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Shifting our thinking

I went home for a family reunion this weekend. It's always great to hang out with friends and family who unconditionally love you. I happen to have a really great family. I know not everyone is that blessed.

Most people in my family, whether or not we see each other in between the 5 year reunions, know that I work for an inner-city ministry and know that I work with kids. This is always difficult for me. I am always troubled by the way people approach me and tell me, "I hear you are doing such great work!"

I know that sounds odd and I probably should just take their comments at face value and move on. But let me explain my delimma. When people say that, I always have to wonder what they mean by their comment. I always wonder if they would make the same comment if I were working with a suburban, predominantly White ministry.

I think I have so much trouble responding because I know what we do at our ministry is not "typical" for most ministries I've seen. We are so much more than a charity stop. How do you explain to someone that our ministry is about handshakes, not handouts? It's about justice, not just crises management? It's about fighting for quality schools for children, not just providing them a "safe place" for an hour or two after school? It's about educating suburban, rural, and middle class people in order to help them understand that relationships are reciprocal, racism is real, and poverty affects a person's life more than people with money will ever understand? It's about building relationships and friendships with people. It's more than just handing out food. It's more than just a mission trip.

People have such good intentions. I know they mean well. I know when people ask if they can 'help' and volunteer for a day that they are trying in the only way they know how. I know when people ask about the kids I work with and want to know how much impact I have had on their lives that they really just want to know that good things are being done. I know when they say they are proud of me, they really are.

But what I want people to realize is that what I do is not 'helping underprivileged kids.' The 'underprivileged kids' and people I 'work with' are my friends. We are all in this together.

Do I encourage some of my friends here in the inner-city to make different choices and think differently about things? Of course I do! I do that the same as I do with my close friends outside of inner-city Dallas when I don't agree with a decision or choice they have made. But in addition to me handing out advice and accountability, my friends here in the inner city do the same for me. It's a two-way street. And in order for both of us to grow, we have to be willing to learn from each other. That's what I don't think people understand.

Ministry isn't one-way charity. Jesus built relationships with people...often with the most unlikely people for a man of his stature. Through his relationships, he held people accountable. He was critical of the upper-class religious person just as much as he was of the more, no less. He thought religious piety was just as bad as a woman who had slept with many men.

Jesus hung out with the people others (especially religious folk) condemned. He went to their homes and hung out. He did not go to their house to judge them. He went to eat dinner and enjoy their company. Through those relationships, ministry often came to him. He didn't have to seek it out.

We need a paradigm shift in ministry. Maybe we should approach life the same way Jesus did. Maybe if we lived our lives in a way that built relationships with all people, opportunities for ministry would seek us out instead of us having to contrive ways for us to "minister to" people.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Is separation and segregation really the way to go?

I was reading through a newsletter I received from another non-profit this morning. It made me think back several years ago when I had first come in contact with them. This particular non-profit was attempting to involve more inner-city groups in their camp at the time. After agreeing to take a group of kids, I remember a lady calling and explaining to me that since our group was small, they would make sure that they found another inner city group to go with us. I can still remember my irritation at that comment. Why could our inner-city kids not be in a group with any random group who signed up to go? Of course, I posed that question to her, to which she replied, "They just don't have the Bible knowledge that the other kids have." Once again, I was shocked and appalled! How did she know that?! She had never even met the kids I would be taking! I encouraged her at that point to make sure we were signed up with a NON inner-city group. I then discussed the issue with one of their board members. They listened. Over the years it has gotten much better. We still attend the camp. And if our group isn't big enough, we are often combined with other suburban churches.

Why is that so important? It's not the reason some people might think. I think some people figure that the reason combining groups must be good is so that the inner-city kids can see a "different way of life." (I've heard that many times before). I look at it differently. Of course I want our group to be with different groups so that they can get to know other people. But I also think it's important for us to be with other groups so they can get to know us!

Contrary to popular belief, inner-city kids and teens often know a whole lot about suburban children. They are faced with them all the time. Our society focuses on middle class, primarily white, lifestyles. However, those middle class, primarily white children don't often know about our low-income, predominantly Black and Hispanic children. The images they receive of children in those situations are of criminals, impoverished people, victims, who are uneducated. I would argue that it is the suburban children who need our children, not the other way around.

Don't get me wrong. I think that we can all learn from each other. But I think most of the time people with good hearts are trying to put poor, inner-city children in situations to help them learn something instead of thinking about what the poor, inner-city child has to teach someone else--perhaps their own child.

We separate and segregate a lot. We say it's for the good of the child. I would argue that it's probably more to allow us to remain in our comfort zone. We say separating children in blind schools, special ed schools, gay/lesbian schools, etc. allows that school to provide specific and specialized resources more efficiently to a group of children. But what happens later in life? What does segregating children teach all of us about approaching each other in life after school? And what does it say about our willingness to share our resources with others who may not have as much? Because we've been separating and segregating for so long, it's extremely challenging to think of restructuring. But I have no doubt it can be done. It starts with us. It starts with our choices for ourselves and our children.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Just for Fun

No big profound thoughts today. I've been told every once in a while that I can be too serious because I think about things too much. Knowing the things I know, I don't think people think about reality near enough...but that's another blog. :) Today's blog is just for fun.

Have you heard about the story of the adult-proof ringtone? You may have by now. I've seen it in about three different news sources. The tone is a high-pitched frequency that most people over 30 can't hear. The sound was originally developed as a repellant to keep teens from hanging out at certain places. Realizing that, the teenagers somehow figured out how to turn the annoying noise adults had come up with to keep them away into something they could use for their benefit. Somehow they made it into a downloadable ringtone so that they could send undetectable text messages to each other in their school classes.

Kids really are way more intelligent than we give them credit for. If only we adults were as intelligent and could figure out how to tap into their creativity in a way that benefits us all!

I was really curious as to how this ringtone worked. On the link below, there is a place to "download ringtone." Try it out. I have a 20-year old in my house right now. When I pushed play, the Windows Media player looked like it was playing, but I could hear nothing. (How in the world does that work!) Tiffany immediately looked up and asked, "What are you doing?" I must say, after that I had a good laugh while driving her crazy the rest of the evening randomly playing the buzz tone over and over. I have no idea what it sounds like. I can't hear it. Evidently it can get pretty annoying. :)

Try it with your own kids or some kids you know. It's actually pretty funny to watch.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Food for Thought

This was the quote on my Starbucks cup this morning. Thought you might find it as interesting as I did:
If you've got a dollar and you spend twenty-nine cents on a loaf of bread, you've got seventy-one cents left. But if you've got seventeen grand and you spend twenty-nine cents on a loaf of bread, you've still got seventeen grand. There's a math lesson for you.

~Steve Martin, Comedian and writer

Monday, June 12, 2006

Why so much hate?

In my mind, racism has always been a U.S. problem. We have such a negative history with different ethnic groups--taking away the land of Native Americans, bringing Africans to enslave them, taking land from Mexico, using water hoses, lynching and physical abuse on African-Americans, and subjecting the Japanese in internment camps. Though, in some ways, we have made some steps forward, we seem to be slipping backward in many ways as well.

I'm finding out that racism isn't solely an American problem. Not to long ago, a friend of mine told me about the racism that also goes on in Europe, mainly targeted toward Black soccer players--to the point of the crowd yelling monkey chants and throwing bananas and peanuts at the players. There has also become a strong anti-immigration sentiment as well. With the World Cup going on, the racism is getting a little more publicity. I'm not sure whether Europeans are mimicking our issues in the United States or simply creating their own hate. I can't figure out what prompts people to hate others just because they have a darker color of skin. The irony is that this is taking place in Germany! You would think Germans would be much more sensitive to race and immigration issues because of their past!

At the initiation of some of the players, Nike has begun a campaign against the racism called Stand Up, Speak Up. For more information on the campaign, go to Nike has created two interlocking armbands--one black, one white--saying Stand Up, Speak Up so that people in the stands and players have a way of saying they don't agree with the racist practices without having to deal with the confrontation.

Even though I think people with such overt racist attitudes need to be confronted, sometimes it's good to make the statement without ever saying a word. One researcher I've read talks about the "White Racial Bonding" that happens between White people where they make a derogatory statement about another group to create that bonding between them. (ex: "Can you believe how the neighborhood has gone downhill? It used to be so nice before." ...referring to other racial/ethnic groups that have now moved into the neighborhood). We all need to stand up and speak up. Overt racism is not only in Europe. It's in the United States, too. Our silence on the issue implies agreement. Speak up.

Check the website out. Watch the TV commercial. Powerful stuff.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Behind the Scenes

I've been watching the NBA playoffs. I love watching the Mavs play. I don't know much about the strategic plays of the game; I watch simply for enjoyment. My mind just doesn't work in a way that sees plays and looks for strategy. (I have attempted to coach a Rangers Rookie League 4th and 5th grade baseball team in the past. After that I gained a whole lot more respect for coaches and their abilities to pull a team together!)

Avery Johnson (head coach of the Mavs) has that strategic mind. I am very impressed with how he utilizes his team. His strategy seems to be different than most. Instead of putting all of his time and energy into one group of five, he develops his whole team, realizing that the players on the bench are just as vital to the game as the starting line-up. Although injuries to key players always affect a team, Avery takes injuries in stride. He is constantly switching his line-up, readjusting his strategy depending on the team they're playing, and his team doesn't usually miss a beat.

Of course, there are always going to be the main people who receive the bulk of recognition. On the Mavs, it's all about Dirk. But the truth is, if Dirk didn't have Terry, Dampier, Stackhouse, and some of the others, the team wouldn't win. It takes the shooters to win a game. But if we didn't have rebounders and blockers we wouldn't win either. Their contributions are often overshadowed by the very visible points that go on the board when someone makes a shot.

Life is like that. There are those of us who are in the "spotlight" because what we do is apparent. But there are so many other people who are blocking and rebounding. Without all of us working together, none of us would succeed.

Here are the blockers and rebounders in my life:

Any number of teenagers who have made the decision to stay in school when no one at home tells him/her to or even encourages him/her.

Parents who provide meals for their children on a minimum wage salary.

My neighbor Gino, who is more than willing to help me fix my lawn mower, my gate, or anything else I need.

My friend Juan Carlos, who always comes to my aid when my computer is down.

Robert, who I've witnessed helping a random stranger at Wal-mart as they tried to fit something they purchased into their too small trunk.

Lorenzo, who delivered a grill to my house, cooked the links and hotdogs for the party last week (on a hot evening!), and then came back to take the grill back to it's rightful owner, though I know he's exhausted from working, taking care of four girls at home, and then doing so much for other people.

Roy, who loaned the grill.

Tom, who has let me borrow his car while mine's in the shop.

Rachel bringing the teenagers to speak to my graduate class.

Gary, who is always available when I need a favor.

I could go on and on. Most of the people I've mentioned are content being the rebounders and blockers. They definitely don't get the recognition they deserve. But the truth of the matter is, the "team" couldn't exist without them.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Revealing truth about our subconscious discrimination

I know race is a very sensitive issue and people would like to deny that it still exists as an obstacle. However, it is always interesting to me when studies are done and when statistics are presented that show the only explanation for the discrimination is the color of someone's skin. Read the article below, from the Washington Post.

The Color of Disaster Assistance
By Richard MorinFriday, June 9, 2006; Page A02
Americans are more willing to provide extended government assistance to white victims of Hurricane Katrina than to African Americans and other minorities -- particularly blacks with darker skin.
Overall, the "penalty" for being black and a Katrina victim amounted to about $1,000, according to the
latest online study by The Washington Post, and Shanto Iyengar, director of the Political Communication Lab at Stanford University.

More than 2,300 individuals participated in the latest experiment, which tested how much subconscious racial bias shapes attitudes toward disaster relief. Participants went to a Web site that featured a brief news article about the effect of the hurricane. A photo of an individual featured in the story accompanied the article.

But here's the trick: The race, gender and occupation of the featured person varied. Some participants read an article about a flood victim named Terry Miller who was depicted in the photo as a black man; others read the same item, except the Terry Miller in the photo was a white man, while in others, Terry became a black or a white woman. (The Latino victim was named Terry Medina.) In some photos, the skin tone of the person was darker; in others, it was lighter.

After reading the article, participants were asked to indicate how much government aid hurricane victims should get for housing and general living expenses. For each type of assistance, participants could give from $200 to $1,200 per month, and from a minimum of three months to a maximum of 18 months.

If race mattered, there would be a difference in the level of assistance favored by respondents who read an article about the white Terry Miller and the assistance favored by those who read about a black Terry Miller.

There was. People were willing to give assistance to a white victim, on average, for about 12 months. But for an African American victim, the average duration was a month shorter while the amount of aid was nearly the same, meaning that blacks would collect about $1,000 less than white victims.

Skin tone also mattered. A darker-skinned black received about $100 a month less over a shorter period of time than a light-skinned white, all other factors being equal -- a huge effect. Content of the articles also made a difference: Participants were the least generous after reading one article on looting.

"These results suggest that news media coverage of natural disasters can shape the audience's response," Iyengar said. "Framing the disaster in ways that evoke racial stereotypes can make people less supportive of large-scale relief efforts. News reports about flooding evoke one set of apparently positive images in the reader's mind; reports about lawlessness evoke quite another."

Read a complete analysis of the results of the experiment.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Hearing the Voice of the Community

I mentioned I'm teaching a graduate class of 11 current or future teachers. 10 out of 11 of the teachers teach in predominantly African-American and Hispanic schools. The topic of my class the other night was Stereotyping. As I think through the agendas for each evening, I always think about the stories kids' and parents' have told me through the years. Many of their stories address underlying racism and assumptions that often affect their educational decisions in life. Their experiences are something people need to listen to and really hear--especially teachers who are teaching in these schools.

Because I've seen what happens in the schools I've been in--teachers cussing at kids, hitting kids, encouraging kids to go into the Army because they think that's all the kid will be able to do in life, etc.--I want people (especially teaches) to hear from the people on the receiving end. What are they thinking and feeling when all of this happens? Since I now have the opportunity to connect the voices of the community with the educators, I thought I would do just that. I asked Nazareth, Gary, Whitney, and Tiffany to speak to my class. I was a little hesitant simply because I didn't want to make the assumption that the teachers in my class don't already have quality relationships with their students. However, the result was amazing!

Nazareth, Gary, Whitney, and Tiffany expressed to the group of teachers that their worst experiences and their least favorite teachers were the ones that didn't do anything. They didn't make an effort to teach them and they didn't bother to expect anything from them. They told stories of teachers who didn't care if they skipped class, which they eagerly participated in, but they wished the teacher would've held them accountable and taught them something instead. Their words of advice to the teachers was, "Get to know your kids on a personal level. Ask about them." Build a relationship. Love us even when we're bad. Encourage us despite our attitudes. Help us be successful. Only one of the four had a parent who was willing to be involved in his daughter's education. The other three had parents who attended discipline meetings...mainly because that's the only time they were called...but did not get involved any other way. Despite the lack of parental involvement, the four continued to say, "Build a relationship with us! Our parents probably won't get involved. Talk to us!"

The teachers responded so positively! They listened intently to each of their stories and they asked questions. They seemed to genuinely want to understand the perspective of a student. They seemed a little surprised at how adamant the four speakers were about wanting expectations, encouragement, and relationships. After the speakers left, one of the teachers asked, "Can you bring in some parents, too?" I'm going to work to do that. Teachers need to hear from the students. They need to hear from the families. Hopefully, this class will lead the teachers to begin to get to know the families at their school instead of just relying on the people I bring in.

It always amazes me what can happen when you connect people. The teachers genuinely wanted to hear and understand the perspective of a student. The students (and families) want the teachers to hear them. But, for some reason, we don't work toward that end. We judge what we see and what we hear from others instead of getting to know the other side. The fact that we're different...racially, culturally, socioeconomically, where we live, where we work...should make us more, instead of less, eager to get to know each other. The benefits are more valuable than we realize.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Acknowledging society's contributors

I taught my first graduate class the other night. It was a Multicultural Education class. Though I would never want to teach a group of teachers reading strategies and classroom management techniques and such, I have always wanted to teach Multicultural Ed.

The class of 11 people was pretty diverse. Out of those 11, 4 are male (2 white, 1 Asian/Indian, 1 Hispanic) and 7 female (2 white, 5 African-American). Four of them teach elementary, 4-5 of them teach high school, and 2-3 are not teaching right now. 10 of the 11 have predominantly African-American and Hispanic students in their classes. The Asian man teaches Humanities in Plano and has an overwhelmingly white class. The diversity of the class is going to add to the richness of perspectives.

Last night as I gave them tasks and assignments that would introduce them to a number of different "unsung heroes" in our history, one of the African-American women made the comment, "I feel dumb." Another African-American woman made a comment that implied she blamed herself for not knowing more about the variety of cultures and names of the people in different cultures who have made major contributions to our society.

Did you know...

Shirley Chisholm, an African-American congresswoman ran for president in the 1970s

Sacajawea, a Native American who aided Lewis and Clark on their expedition

Charles Drew, an African-American man who founded the blood plasma and transfusions

Maria Tallchief, an Osage Indian who was a famous ballerina

Diego Rivera, a Mexican artist

Jose Marti, a Cuban poet

Seiji Ozawa, a famous Japanese-American orchestra conductor

Garrett Morgan, an African-American who invented the stop light

It's interesting to me that if we want to learn about cultures other than the mainstream, White culture, we feel like it's our own responsibility to do that. Yet, from a very young age we are fed a variety of information about White inventors, musicians, politicians, leaders, etc.

I think Stevie Wonder's song, "Black Man," describes it best:
"We pledge allegiance all our lives to the magic colors red, blue and white. But we all must be given the liberty that we defend. For with justice not for all men, history will repeat again. It's time we learned this world was made for all men."
I would add to his song...this world was not just made for all men, but by all men...and women! I think we would be much better off if we acknowledged that.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Graduation Party

We had our annual graduation party last night at my house. I love the event. It's a reason to get everyone together and everyone gets to acknowledge, celebrate, and offer words of wisdom to the graduates as they enter a new stage of life. As I looked at each of them, I saw a kid who I had helped coach baseball when he was in 5th grade. I saw a beautiful, mature young lady that I've watched grow and mature since she was 4 years old! I saw a guy that everyone absolutely adores now...never even guessing that just about 6 or 7 years ago he was trying to hang with the wrong crowd and terrorize neighborhoods.

My mind was filled with stories of each one of them. They have each grown and matured and are moving to their next stage in life. They have guides surrounding them. Everyone at the party was there to celebrate them. Words of wisdom were offered. Some of the graduates from last year and the year before that were there to offer some advice. These guys are surrounded with a network of support. I know they will do well.

Oscar--graduated from Woodrow Wilson. Is going to University of Texas.

Whitney--graduated from Skyline. Is planning to be a nurse, starting at El Centro.

Nick--graduated from W.T. Whyte. Is going to Brookhaven.

Albert--graduated from Lincoln. Is working on getting into UT Dallas and is planning to be an engineer.

Adrian--graduated from Pegasus. Is planning to be an engineer. Will probably start community college in the fall.

Danielle--graduated from Woodrow Wilson. Is going to a school in Kansas on a basketball scholarship.

Ronyell--graduated from Hillcrest. Is still deciding what she wants to be, but will attend Eastfield or Richland in the fall.

Britney--graduated from Kimball. Will start community college in the fall.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Knowing our Past, Changing our Future

I came across some information several years ago that really stunned me. Allow me to quote:

"In Oregon, in 1922, the Ku Klux Klan, which had made the little red schoolhouse
a symbol of Americanism, lobbied successfully for a law mandating that all
children attend public schools"
(p. 14). (Tyack, D. B. (1993). Constructing difference: Historical reflections on schooling and social diversity. Teachers College Record, 95(1), 8-34.)
In the article it explains how immigrants who came to this country were forced (against their will) into public schools. A series of Americanization laws (the Bennett Law in Wisconsin was one) were created so that all children would attend public schools, despite the fact that many immigrant groups simply wanted to continue educating their own children and retaining their own culture. The goal of the public schools was to "Americanize" and assimilate immigrants. As a part of that, in the 1890's the Pledge of Allegiance was instituted in the schools in order to "inculcate a common loyalty" (p. 13).

As I read about the origins of our current education system, I began to have a much different outlook on our current practices. The Little Red Schoolhouse icon was a symbol of patriotism that the Klan supported??? The Pledge of Allegiance was a way to force people into allegiance??? There were actually laws that demanded patriotism??? (that actually sounds eerily like today's laws!)

I'm afraid most of us are ignorant to the past. Information like this is not presented in history textbooks. We have to search for it. But I would like to believe if we knew more about our past and knew what we were actually founded on, we might begin to understand our current system and we might begin to recognize how the system has always set certain groups of people at a disadvantage. I would like to think our awareness and knowledge would lead us to change the way we individually and collectively approach our present and future.

As I look into our history from a multicultural perspective, I have found numerous events and happenings that disturb me. I think it is important for all of us to be aware of our past--even the parts of our past that make us uncomfortable. There are truths that have conveniently been left out of our education. If they are not presented to us, we need to seek them out.

I have heard the quote: "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it." ~George Santayana. I am afraid we are already going down that path. However, by educating ourselves and passing along our new information, I believe we can begin to turn the tide.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Growing and Changing Population

A friend of mine sent this to me recently. I thought I would pass it along for the statistics, but also in hopes that you or someone you know might volunteer for this. If you're outside of Dallas, I'm sure you could call or email the person below and he could direct you to your local office.

Per a U.S. Census Bureau news release dated May 10, 2006, about 1 in every 3 U.S. residents is now classified as belonging to a racial or ethnic minority. In 2005, the nation's minority population totaled 98 million, or 33%, of the country's total of 296.4 million.

Hispanics continue to be the largest minority group at 42.7 million. With a 3.3% increase in population from July 1, 2004, to July 1, 2005, they are the fastest-growing group. Hispanics accounted for almost half (1.3 million, or 49%) of
the national population growth of 2.8 million between July 1, 2004 to July 1,

The second largest minority group was blacks (39.7 million), followed by Asians (14.4 million). The population of non-Hispanic whites who indicated no other race totaled 198.4 million in 2005.

A Census Bureau projection showed that the "minority" population would make up about half of the total population by the year 2050. There are two components of population growth - immigration and natural increase of births over deaths. Hispanics are leading the nation's growth in both factors.

Based on the above data, the SPEC (Stakeholder Partnerships, Education and Communication) Partners and coalitions will need to recruit more Bilingual Volunteers to help staff the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites in 2007. Please distribute the attached Volunteer Interest Form to your colleagues, partners, associates, friends and families. Thanks in advance for your help. From: Johnnie Bowers 214-413-6032

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Putting up fences

I was listening to a radio report on NPR this morning. The commentator was expressing his belief that we shouldn't erect a physical barrier between us and Mexico. He believes a physical barrier presents a negative symbolism to both countries.

I have to agree.

It made me think back to my first couple of years at Central Dallas. I was originally hired to run our food pantry. The food pantry consisted of an "interview room" (a large waiting room with little side rooms for interviewing) with a "front desk" area and a food "warehouse" in the back. What struck me early on was the black wrought-iron fence that separated the [White] people interviewing from the [Black and Hispanic] people being interviewed. The symbolism in that drove me absolutely crazy until I couldn't take it any more and literally (with the help of a friend) ripped it out of the wall. The fence...the barrier...seemed to provide a strange sense of "comfort" and "safety" to the suburban volunteers. It had to go.

Tearing down the barrier between us was also a symbolic move. More and more people from the community (people coming in for food) began to be a part of our operation...interviewing, distributing food, helping make decisions for the future of the pantry, etc. until now the food pantry is comprised of 90-95% community volunteers. (Sadly and unfortunately, many of the surburban volunteers slowly stopped coming after that). It was amazing to me what was accomplished when we invited everyone to the table. Before tearing the fence down, we struggled to have enough volunteers. However, once we became serious about inviting the community in and working together, we were pretty fully staffed most days.

It's the same with Mexico. We can continue to erect barriers and provide the symbolism that "We don't want you," and "Fix your own problems...don't come to us to provide the means to fix them for you." Or, we could tear down the barriers (literally and figuratively) and work toward figuring out a way to work with our southern neighbor to make life better for all of us. The second option sounds like a much better deal to me.