Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Jamaican Vacation

I just returned from the North Coast of Jamaica this week. I've wanted to go to Jamaica for the longest time. The trip was absolutely wonderful! I will post the wonderful pictures in a day or so. However, there were some things that struck me as not so beautiful.

As we drove into Discovery Bay, our first stop, I couldn't help but notice the eyesore of the rusted, domeshaped Bauxite plant on the hillside and the gigantic rusted ship the size of a cruise vessel jutting out from the bay of the beautiful water. The Bauxite plant mines the ore that makes aluminum. It provides people with jobs and injects money into the country...money is not available otherwise. However, the dust that the plant produces rises into the clean Jamaican air and, subsequently, settles in the Carribean Sea, suffocating the ocean life.

My cousin who was travelling with me was in the Peace Corps here 5 years ago. She explained that the number of fish had already decreased five years ago. Because there are so few fish to catch, people resort to catching smaller fish, thus preventing the fish from growing to maturity and breeding to create more.

As we snorkeled in the Bay, my cousin pointed out several different species in the coral reef, but was disappointed that there were even fewer fish now than when she was here before. We didn't see one Parrot Fish--which, evidently, used to be more common.


As we explored the country and sought out places to stay, we ended up at a beautiful villa (called Patiently Waiting) that was somewhat like a bed and breakfast located in a small area called Mammee Estates.

Mammee Estates is another place that has been taken over by a "necessary" evil.

In the back yard of Patiently Waiting is a billion dollar all-inclusive resort called Riu. At six to seven stories high, it spans maybe 1/8 of a mile from the beachfront to the highway. It is painted purple and has loud music and talking coming from it until late in the night. The lights from the resort keep the villa's back yard bright so that the stars are no longer visible. But worse than all of that, before the resort came along, she had a view of the sea and could hear the waves crashing on the shore--now a distant memory. Though you can still get to the beach from her house, the view and the sound of the waves are completely blocked off by the huge purple structure.


I understand that both of the facilities I've spoke of inject money into the country, provide people with jobs, and "help" the economy. But at the same time, those same structures and facilities hurt the environment and create eyesores.

I've noticed throughout my travels that our American desire for money creeps into and has begun to consume other countries and the people in those countries as well. It seems that our desires for the "luxuries" money brings cause us to accept a lower quality of life in a sense. The Jamaicans I talked to didn't question the Bauxite plant. Some people worked there. It was just a part of life.

Though I get to see the beauty of other countries and comment on the ills that I see, I am a contributor to the creation of these structures. The privileges I've been granted--by being a "rich" American--allow me to travel. Tourism is the driving force behind the purple building. Why shouldn't the Jamaicans capitalize on their opportunity??

We sacrifice the beauty of our surroundings to build bigger structures that will generate more money so that we can have more things...thus creating the need for more structures. I am not a big enough person to give up traveling and make a stand that tourists are ruining the other countries. But I do think it should cause us to think about and realize our desire (here in the U.S. and abroad) for "more" and "better" things doesn't always create the utopia we think we're looking for. Sometimes it just makes that utopia even more unreachable.

Sunday, August 20, 2006


I watched a great movie last night. Quinceañera presents several different issues--from gay culture to Latino culture to gentrification. The movie does a good job of presenting how gentrification affects the people (most often people who have little financial means and are people of color) who live in the communities that are being gentrified. I would highly recommend it. Below is a summary and a link. Check it out:

Quinceañera remarkably won both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and is directed by breakout filmmakers Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland. This profoundly moving drama depicts the uniqueness of Latino culture and follows Magdalena (Emily Rios), a fifteen year old girl getting ready for her big Quinceañera celebration. But when an unexpected pregnancy leads her to be banished from her parents’ home, she moves in with her grand-uncle and troubled cousin and becomes part of a makeshift family that must stand up to social stigmas and encroaching urban gentrification that threatens their neighborhood and their culture.

Click here to go to the Quinceñera website.

Click here to listen to Latino USA's report on the movie.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Back to the Basics

I had set my alarm for 5:30 this morning. It's always set for 5:30. Part of the reason is that I like to get up and enjoy my mornings.

But it's also because I always tell myself I have so much to do...so much to get done by the day's end.

After hitting snooze for about an hour, I realized there was nothing pressing I had to do today so why not sleep in?? I went back to sleep for another hour.

When I woke up again, I had a revelation.

I need to sit back and enjoy life sometimes. When people ask what I've been up to, all I ever say is, "Work, work, work." That's not always true, but I think working is supposed to mean something in our society. Those who work more than their share get the promotions...or simply keep their jobs. A 40-hour work week just isn't good enough anymore. How much we work seems to determine our value.

I grew up on a farm. My parents always chatted about pointless things with whoever happened across their path. Dad would stay for hours after church talking to his cousin about the price of hay, the weather, and whether or not hog prices would go up or down. Quality of life was more about talking with the people around you.

My neighborhood in Dallas is the same way. My neighbors may not make a lot of money, but they have time for each other. They may not work the big-paying, salaried jobs. But sticking to a 40-hour work week allows them to just hang out and talk. I never hear them complaining about being bored.

I think there's a lot to learn from that ability to relax and hang out with the people around us. I'm trying to move back toward that

...beginning today.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Empty Classrooms

I just spoke with a teenager this afternoon. I'll call her Isis. She's a Senior at our local public high school. Since school just started this week and she knows I want to make sure she's on the right track, she called to give me an update.

Isis is an A/B student. Isis and I talked last year about her education. As a junior, Isis was being encouraged by her school to go to Job Corps. I'm no expert, but my understanding is that Job Corps is geared more for those students who need alternative avenues to getting an education and a job. But Isis is an A/B student! She has family issues, as many kids do, but she is perfectly capable of finishing high school and getting a post-secondary education. The Job Corps recruiter encouraged her by letting her know that Job Corps pays a person to attend (whereas high school does not). As with almost any other kid from an impoverished background, Isis was lured by that offer. Right or wrong, I encouraged Isis to finish high school and discouraged Job Corps.

Today, she called to tell me about her senior year classes. The school told her she needed to sign up for Co-op. I remain skeptical over this ploy to put kids in our neighborhood in the service sector without providing them with adequate choices. The reason Isis said she signed up for co-op is because there are no other elective classes available except for gym, office assistant, and things like that. Granted, the other four classes she is taking are things like Economics, AP Biology, and a few others. But what about those other electives that help students prepare for college?

Although I have a hard time believing a school would only provide enough classes for students to complete 3 1/2 years of school, most of the students I know are opting out of a full day their senior year. Some of them are even taking a few summer classes their junior year so they don't have to attend a senior year.

This seems like a huge deficiency in our system. Our world is changing so fast today that four years of high school is too little...not too much! ...Especially for our kids and teenagers who don't have the access to the latest educational and technological devices in their homes or in their communities.

Check this out in your own community. I would be interested to hear if this is an issue in other areas as well. Whether it is or not, I think we should speak up and speak out for all students. It takes education and knowledge for our children to move forward. Everyone deserves the opportunity to obtain that knowledge.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Opportunities in the Communities

My job over the past couple of years has shifted in a way that has me structuring our education programs more and implementing them less. I actually have really enjoyed the shift; however, being in the office more doesn't allow me to be as connected with people.

Since our Children's Education Coordinator resigned, I have had the opportunity to restructure our programs and hopefully expand my opportunities to interact with people. In the gap between her leaving and our new coordinator coming aboard, I have gotten to talk to several returning parents and meet several new parents.

Talking to parents always reminds me of the capacity and the quality people who live in low-income neighborhoods.

The three new parents who enrolled their kids were eager to enroll their kids in an affordable, educational after-school program. Of the three parents, one is looking for a job, one is trying to go back to school, and one is a cancer patient. All of them are in situations where they need our affordable, $5/month program because of their own meager finances while in the process of working toward their goals. All of them voiced a care and concern for their children.

I am excited about the possibilities this year.

I hope during our parent meetings each of the parents will meet so we can begin pulling together the efforts of caring and concerned parents.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Central Dallas Ministries

As I have often mentioned, I have been at Central Dallas Ministries for a while now. Throughout the years funding has always been tight. Each year it seems we get a stronger plea to buckle down in our spending. Perhaps we wouldn't have to do that if we didn't keep growing. But growth is what is allowing us to become a holistic ministry that is filling the gaps in services that aren't readily available to the poor in Dallas. So, we keep growing and we keep stretching our resources.

Our newest attempt at expansion is to purchase a downtown high rise so that we can move our administrative offices from our much smaller building at Haskell as well as offer affordable housing (economy apartments) to low-income working people, many of whom work in that downtown sector. To gain more context and information about our Akard building process, click here: Akard building. Larry James (our CEO) has blogged several times about our attempt to acquire the run down facility in downtown Dallas.

His most recent post about the building (Larry's Blog: Help Me) explains our current need for funds to purchase the building. We would love to have your involvement in this project if you can.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Are African-American leaders embracing "victimhood"?

I just heard a radio interview with Juan Williams. He thinks African-American leaders are embracing "victimhood" instead of raising the expectations and speaking truth.

Click here to read the excerpt from Juan Williams' new book, Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America -- and What We Can Do About It.

I would be interested in your opinion.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Unselfish giving

I took some teenagers to a Youth Empowerment Summit yesterday. A friend of mine was there with her 13-year old son. I have known them since her boy was about 4 or 5 attending our summer camp. Lately, every time I see her, she expresses her sadness and frustration with her son's bad decisions that have put him in juvenile and had him wearing a monitor on his leg.

She has talked to him. She has had me talk to him.

It's not enough.

Another friend of mine has tried to convince me for quite some time now that I, a White woman, cannot be everything to these Black boys. They need a male figure in their lives. They need a Black male figure in their lives.

I've had a hard time being convinced. For some reason I think that my relationship with them might be enough to convince them to change their ways. I'm beginning to realize, however, that though the kids may hear and respect me on one level, there is much more that they need that I, a White woman, can't offer them. No matter what I do, I have not been in their shoes. I cannot relate to the struggle and the peer pressure they face. There are things that young Black males in the United States deal with that people outside of that context will never understand. I don't know what it's like to be raised by a single parent. I can't imagine the frustrations of not having a dad in my life who is available and cares about me enough to discipline me and set guidelines for me.

I do believe that we all have something to offer--no matter what socioeconomic level, ethnicity, etc. And I do believe that my role is to offer the things that I can relentlessly. I can't give up and I can't go away. Too many people do.

However, I am beginning to recognize there are vital things that I can't offer. I have to listen and observe. If I am to be effective, I have to seek out the resources that go beyond my abilities. It may cause me to get out of my comfort zone.

I hear people all the time talking about "it is better to give than to receive." It's a concept I hear a lot from Christians. If that's true, then wouldn't the even better gift be to give, or seek out in order to give, what the person needs or wants more so than just giving what I think they need or giving them what I know I have to offer? Ever get a gift that you didn't really want? You know the ones...you appreciate the person's good intentions, but you have absolutely no use for it so you just say thank you and try to figure out a way to not offend the person?

Maybe the greater good is not just thinking we need to go to the inner city and offer people something, but figuring out how we can partner with people...get out of our comfort zone...meet new people...in order to seek out the resources that benefit people the most. And sometimes we will find the resource is not us. Isn't that the unselfish giving Jesus was talking about?

Friday, August 04, 2006

Ready or not...

I know there are good things that happen in the DISD (Dallas Independent School District). But when I see the outcomes of so many of the kids, I get frustrated. And when I hear stories like I talk about below, I understand that there are other contributing factors to their lack of education. We can't always blame the parents and the neighborhood environment.

A friend of mine just took a job with DISD. She was unofficially hired over a month ago to teach 6th grade Reading or Social Studies. After she was hired by the principal, she had to complete the paperwork in Human Resources to become official. Knowing they were on vacation during the week of July 10, she waited. The week they came back she called their office once a day, every day, to no avail. She never heard a human voice and never received a return phone call. She persevered. Hearing that DISD would be having a job fair and hearing that HR would be there in the flesh, she went. She finally was able to talk to them and set up an appointment to sign her paperwork. That was Saturday, July 22. New teacher orientation started Monday, July 24. Though she had finally broken through, she was still unable to attend the Monday orientation because her paperwork was not completed yet. She continued on this cycle and finally is now an official DISD teacher as of this week. When she was finally hired, she was told it actually wasn't Reading or Social Studies that she would be teaching, but Langauge Arts. Though her undergraduate degree focused on English, she was not prepared for their uncommunicated change of mind. However, she was already now on the path to teaching and she had already quite her job so she accepted the change of plans.

She received the text books for her class today...1 week and 1 day before 6th graders will be running into her classroom. She has yet to be given passwords, Scope and Sequence guidelines, a working computer in her classroom, etc.

I know another guy who was just hired to teach in Plano. He was hired back in the Spring. This summer parents (AND STUDENTS!) called him asking him when they could meet. The school had requested a reading list to send home with the kids for the summer vacation. Less than a month into the summer, the kids were calling him asking him if they could begin meeting and discussing the summer reading list. They had already completed the first book.

Do you ever wonder why our kids in the inner city (specifically, our kids in DISD) might not be able to read, write and comprehend well upon exiting high school? Ever wonder why so many in our South Dallas sector drop out or aren't prepared for college? My friend in DISD has not entered the easiest school to teach in. I have learned over the years that one of the easiest ways to win over kids is to let them know they mean enough to you to be prepared for them. The least DISD could've done is given her time and resources to prepare. Instead, she now has a week.

Maybe instead of trying to blame and then fix the kids, we should work harder on trying to fix the system and equip teachers with the resources, guidance, and time they need to make their classrooms work. Too often, the hope I experience comes from the individuals that persevere every day with no help from the systems around them.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Faux "colleges"

I have a new idea. I'm not sure how to do it, but I really think we should get some kind of push going to shut down some of these FAKE "colleges" that exist, in my mind, only to prevent people from succeeding in life.

Let me explain.

Ever heard of Remington college? I think it used to be called Education America. I know there are others out there, but I don't know their names right off hand. They're advertised on WB33 and UPN--channels with a large audience of people of color. Remington and other schools like them do a real good job of moving people nowhere in life. I've had two friends come to me with the same story:

One of my friends, a Hispanic lady, was encouraged while in high school to enter one of these schools. Thinking she was going to college (because that *is* what it's called...and it offers courses and everything!), she enrolled and spent two years of her time and money getting an "associate's degree" only to find out once she had "finished" that none of her credits would transfer into a college system. Realizing that she had just wasted those two years, and not wanting to start over again, she went on to find a job and raise her family.

A co-worker of mine, an African-American lady, had the same experience. She told me not too long ago that she had 96 hours of college behind her. She was working toward her education degree. Her GI bill was paying for her school. When she first told me about her "education" I didn't know that she had gone to Education America. Recently, she spoke with a guy she went to school with who informed her that he had tried to move into the college system and none of his credits would transfer. She was getting ready to look for a university to continue her education as well. When she looked further into the situation, she found that her credits would not transfer either. She now has to start all over again.

These colleges are taking people's money and offering them nothing! I am not sure why people, when given the choice, don't simply start with the Community Colleges. Even if they are only looking toward one of the 2-year degrees, Community Colleges offer those degrees and then offer them the opportunity to continue later if they wish. All I can figure is that someone is doing a pretty bang-up job of marketing.

I really think we should create some kind of effort to disband schools like this and prevent them from coming into our commmunities and advertising on our television stations. These "colleges" are targeting people who don't have as much experience with school...people who may not have had parents who went to college...people who are not sure of the difference between Remington and El Centro...people who don't understand the long-term benefits of attending a community college.

People in low-income communities...people who have demonstrated a desire and have taken initiative...are not being told the whole truth. They are being sold lies and that affects the quality of our community! People who could be getting a higher education and could be effecting change in our communities are being stifled because of some fake colleges who want to make money off the backs of poor people. I'm appalled by it! And I'm frustrated that I keep hearing the same story over and over.

Any lawyers out there? Any suggestions on how to get rid of these "colleges?" Any ideas on how to communicate to our low-income neighborhoods that Community College is a much better way to go? I'm open to suggestions.