Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Determined (and Impressive) Parents

I've got to hand it to Sylvia, our Children's Education Assistant.

Sylvia is a parent.

She cares.

She wants the best for her children.

She has high expectations for her children.

She has high expectations from the people who educate her children.

Sylvia knows that she has been a good parent to her 2nd grader. She has taught him well. But his little body just does not seem to sit still and stay focused. He is often in trouble. Sylvia is looking for answers. She simply wants to know the best way to help her child.

Sylvia visits her son's elementary school at least once a week in an attempt to get him tested for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). (It is her legal right to do that.) Maybe he isn't ADHD. But she wants to know so that she can move on to other possibilities if he isn't.

Despite her continuous requests, she has gotten no response. She visits the counselor every week and has attempted to get meetings with the principal, but to no avail.

Her perseverance has finally paid off. After about two months of persistence, the counselor finally gave her the paperwork today.

And we claim that parents don't want to be involved?? Should it REALLY take that long for a legitimate request that would benefit the child to be honored??

Do you see why parents might be a little frustrated and might have given up on their ability to impact on their child's education?

My hat goes off to all of those parents like Sylvia who are forcing the schools to stand up and take notice. Keep persevering!

Monday, October 30, 2006

"Because of"...not "in spite of"

As I volunteered at an Education is Freedom (EIF) event on Saturday, I had yet another opportunity to meet a couple of amazing teenagers. The EIF event was set up to give 9th-12th graders short workshops on how to write college application and scholarship essays. EIF had rallied a number of adult volunteers to be on hand to assist the students with their writing process.

Though we were available for any teenager needing assistance, I connected with two girls who were struggling a little with getting their ideas down on paper. As I prompted them with questions about what they wanted to do in life, I received the response, "I don't know," quite a bit. That answer is pretty common in the areas where I work and can be seen as short-sighted. However, the more I talked to my new friend, the more I realized she actually has her plans pretty well thought out. She just didn't realize how thoughtful she had been about them.

My friend had thought about the Navy, National Guard, and college as the next step for her future. She is looking at the Navy because she felt it would provide more intellectual stimulation than the Army, which she felt was more about physical training. She is looking at the National Guard because it will provide her with college funding, something she recognizes she doesn't have right now (and because of her family's financial struggles, she has no desire to take out loans). Her third, and really last, option is college. She recognizes that college provides choices, yet she is afraid of the cost and hesitant because she thinks she needs to know what she wants to do before she enters college (How/why have we led our kids to believe this?? How many of us knew what we wanted to do for the rest of our lives as a senior in high school?!).

She currently lives on her own, is a senior at a DISD school, and works. I hope she gets past her hesitation of applying to colleges. I think too often we convince kids in poor neighborhoods that they can persevere "in spite of" their past. I think we need to change our way of thinking. This girl, and so many others I know, persevere because of their past, not in spite of it. Many of the kids I know have very strong character, a number of survival skills, and they have learned how to make things work no matter what the situation. We should praise those characteristics! I encouraged my new friend to really consider the three options she had chosen and not limit herself to what other people tell her she "needs" to do because of her income status or because of her indecisiveness about a career right now.

I encouraged her to write her essay, keeping in mind how much she has to offer a college. I hope and pray that as she writes, she thinks about how valuable she is because of her work ethic, her ability to raise herself, her desire to attend high school and even go beyond without goading parents, and the fact that she is taking initiative to make something happen post-high school without family guidance...

Every college, every military department, every job should want her for that.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Figuring out Whiteness

I'm hashing out an idea in my mind and can't quite figure it out. Maybe you can help.

Here's the thought:
Maybe people of different ethnicities should remain separate. We each need to work on our own issues separate and apart from each other. Black people need to work on their issues with other Black people. Whites with other Whites. Hispanics with other Hispanics.

Of course, if you know me, you know I don't mean that totally and completely. Allow me to explain.

I attended a lecture series last night where an African-American lady spoke of how the problem with White people isn't that they need to figure out Black people. We don't need to come together with more Black people. We don't need to work harder at understanding how Black people must feel. We don't need to work harder at recognizing that they are discriminated against. Instead, we need to grapple with our own Whiteness. The problem is that we need to figure ourselves out.

What does that mean and how do we do that? I've been working to understand this for a couple of years now...and I'm still trying to grasp the whole concept. On one level I understand it. We (White people) are never going to "understand" Black people...or any other ethnic group for that matter. We are White. No matter what we do, we can never experience what it's like to be a person of color and feel the discrimination they have felt year after year after year. Even the people on that HBO series Black.White. didn't get it. Changing their skin color for a short period of time just made the White man into a belligerant White man with darker skin who then tried to convince the Black man that if he wouldn't have such a "chip" he would realize things aren't really as he perceives them. Side comment: How is it that we (Whites) think so many Black people have these "wrong" perceptions...yet they all say the same thing no matter what part of the country or what area of town they live in. If everyone is saying the same thing from east to west and north to south, doesn't that tell us something???

I also understand that we need to understand our own White power...our own White privilege. We need to recognize it, understand it, and do something about the inequality of it. Our privilege and power is no surprise to people of color but, for some reason, we (Whites) can't recognize it in ourselves. The benefits we receive from the system keep us blind to that. We need to be willing to step outside of our comfort zone and address those privilege and power issues...which will not always win us friends and will actually alienate some who we thought were friends.

But how do we work through that without the help of people of color? Can we do it just among Whites? I'm not sure that we can. We are so blinded by our seat of privilege and power that we need good friends (people of color) who are willing to point out to us where our racial blinders take over.

I do believe that we need to work on our own issues. And I do believe we have a LOT of issues to deal with. (At least it seems like people of color recognize the vices in their communities. I think we're too busy justifying to recognize our many problems...but that could be a whole different blog!). I believe we need to challenge each other within our White group to see things differently, but I also believe we need to have good friends (NOT just acquaintances) of different ethnicities and different socioeconomic groups to help us become aware. We've become so comfortable in our power and privilege role that we can't always see the forest for the trees. We need friends of color to challenge us so that we can go and challenge others. But, WE (Whites) need to be the initiators to educate ourselves.

That's my formulating opinion. What's yours?

Sunday, October 22, 2006

No Healthcare?? Tough luck. Deal with it.

I got a call from one of our college students this past week. Sarah (not her real name) is a sophomore in college. She has always been independent. Sarah was placed in foster care when she was around 9 years old. She was adopted, I believe, around 12 or 13.

Though her adopted mom wanted her to go to college, she did not have a great knowledge about what it took to get her there, nor did she have the money to send her. Sarah took the initiative to figure out the process herself. She talked to caseworkers to figure out what benefits she could get from the foster care system. She filled out paperwork. She made phone calls. She ended up getting in to the college of her choice and actually, through the government/foster care system as well as through the pell grants, she has all of her college paid for (please don't think this is every case...most other students, even with a full pell grant, still need to take out loans and struggle to make it financially through college. Hers is an exception due to her foster/adoption status).

The Spring of her freshman year in college, her adopted mom was diagnosed with cancer and passed away not long after. Right around that same time, Sarah turned19. Though Sarah had received Medicaid up until then, she was no longer eligible once she turned 19. When she attempted to apply as a 19-year old, they told her that because she was in college, there are grants available and she didn't need Medicaid. Huh???? I don't get that. She may have received school grants, but there aren't grants to pay for her dental care! And the money she receives isn't exactly making her wealthy! It's getting her through school. Sarah gets by because she manages her money extremely well.

Sarah's adopted mom had no savings or anything to pass on to Sarah. Though her biological mom and sister are in her life, Sarah is on her own. She takes care of herself completely. Can you remember being 19? Can you imagine being in college and figuring out adulthood and all of the complications of adulthood without any financial support from a parent and without any job-related income? I can't imagine!

When Sarah called me, as always she didn't ask for a handout. Sarah was calling for advice and information about how she could access dental care. She just wanted her eroding filling fixed so she didn't have to take pain medication every day. Out of the two dentists she tried, one was not taking new patients and the other one charged $75 just to assess the situation. She is afraid the procedure may cost hundreds more after the assessment. Sarah just wanted to know if there was a dentist who would accept a payment plan...even though she also knew a payment plan for an expensive dental procedure would probably deplete the money she has saved so that she can pay her own expenses in school (phone, food, etc.).

We ended up working it out so that she can go to Central Dallas's dental clinic hopefully as a walk-in so she will only have to pay the $15 fee. She will have to miss a day of school, but she is in so much pain she is willing to do that.

This whole process has been frustrating to me. She is asking for nothing except necessary healthcare. She is doing everything right. She is budgeting her limited funds. She is attending college. She has applied for an 18 hour/week job to add to her 16 hour course load.

Sarah can't afford a monthly health insurance policy. Even if she did get independent health insurance, I'm not sure that it would help her that much. I've heard those independent policies cost a lot of money and don't offer the benefits that a big company insurance plan could offer.

When you think about whether our country should offer a national health care plan or at least revise what we now offer, please think of Sarah.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Photo Shoot at Fair Park

Recently I met a guy, Dave Herman, who has co-founded an organization called Preservation Link where the goal is, "documenting culture through the arts." I had the awesome opportunity to be involved in one of his initiatives when he asked our After-School Academy (ASA) to be involved in documenting the fair.

As nine kids from our ASA gathered at the African-American Museum, he asked the kids, "What's fun at the fair?"

That was their mission.

Each child was given a digital camera. Each child was sent out to look from the eyes of young and old alike and figure out what is fun for different people.

As we walked around, the future photographers in the ASA asked young kids, older adults, and everyone in between if they could take their picture. If people agreed, they documented their photo by asking them, "What's fun at the fair?"

Kashia Jones, a 3rd grader and a precocious child, absolutely loved the assignment! Dave talks about her in the email below:

Greetings, Janet here are just a few images from our excursion on last Thursday. I will bring all the images by the center this week so the kids can complete writing their captions and then we will put all their work on the web. I had a lot of fun and enjoyed working with your group of young folks...the little sista "Ms. Jones" was just an incredible inspiration for me and the work that I do. We have to continue creating a solid system of support for these young folks as
they matriculate through their community.

Thanks again,

David Herman, Jr.
Executive Director
Preservation LINK, Inc.
214.293-5352 office
214.337-3684 fax

This link (http://www.thevisionbeyond.com/Fair_Turner) has some great photos from the day (taken by Dave). Once I get the ones that the kids took, I will post them.

I love knowing people who recognize the immense talents our kids have to offer if only they are given the chance to develop them.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Lessons from the Amish

I received this on my email this morning and thought the message was powerful enough to share:

Published on Friday, October 6, 2006 by CommonDreams.org

What the Amish are Teaching America
by Sally Kohn

On October 2, Charles Carl Roberts entered a one-room schoolhouse in the Amish community of Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. He lined up eleven young girls from the class and shot them each at point blank range. The gruesome depths of this crime are hard for any community to grasp, but certainly for the Amish who live such a secluded and peaceful life, removed even from the everyday depictions of violence on TV. When the Amish were suddenly pierced by violence, how did they respond?

The evening of the shooting, Amish neighbors from the Nickel Mines community gathered to process their grief with each other and mental health counselors. As of that evening, three little girls were dead. Eight were hospitalized in critical condition. (One more girl has died since.) According to reports by counselors who attended the grief session, the Amish family members grappled with a number of questions: Do we send our kids to school tomorrow? What if they want to sleep in our beds tonight, is that okay? But one question they asked might surprise us outsiders. What, they wondered, can we do to help the family of the shooter? Plans were already underway for a horse-and-buggy caravan to visit Charles Carl Roberts' family with offers of food and condolences. The Amish, it seems, don't automatically translate their grieving into revenge. Rather, they believe in redemption.

Meanwhile, the United States culture from which the Amish are isolated is moving in the other direction, increasingly exacting revenge for crimes and punishing violence with more violence. In 26 states and at the federal level, there are "three strikes" laws in place. Conviction for three felonies in a row now warrants a life sentence, even for the most minor crimes. For instance, Leandro Andrade is serving a life sentence, his final crime involving the theft of nine children's videos, including Cinderella and Free Willy from a Kmart. Similarly, in many states and at the federal level, possession of even small amounts of drugs trigger mandatory minimum sentences of extreme duration. In New York, Elaine Bartlett was just released from prison, serving a 20-year sentence for possessing only four ounces of cocaine. This is in addition to the 60 people who were executed in the United States in 2005, among the more than a thousand killed since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976. And the President of the United States is still actively seeking authority to torture and abuse alleged terrorists, whom he consistently dehumanizes as rats to be "smoked from their holes," even without evidence of their guilt.

Our patterns of punishment and revenge are fundamentally at odds with the deeper values of common humanity that the tragic experience of the Amish are helping to reveal. Each of us is more than the worst thing we've ever done in life. Someone who cheats is not only a cheater. Someone who steals something is not only a thief. And someone who commits a murder is not only a murderer. The same is true of Charles Carl Roberts. We don't yet know the details of the episode in his past for which, in his suicide note, he said he was seeking revenge. It may be a sad and sympathetic tale. It may not. Either way, there's no excusing his actions. Whatever happened to Roberts in the past, taking the lives of others is never justified. But nothing Roberts has done changes the fact that he was a human being, like all of us. We all make mistakes.

Roberts' were considerably and egregiously larger than most. But the Amish in Nickel Mines seem to have been able to see past Roberts' actions and recognize his humanity, sympathize with his family for their loss, and move forward with compassion not vengeful hate.
We've come to think that "an eye for an eye" is a natural, human reaction to violence. The Amish, who live a truly natural life apart from the influences of our violence-infused culture, are proving otherwise. If, as Gandhi said, "an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind," then the Amish are providing the rest of us with an eye-opening lesson.

Sally Kohn is Director of the Movement Vision Project at the Center for Community Change and author of a forthcoming book on the progressive vision for the future of the United States.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Christianity and Diversity????

I'm at a conference for youth ministers this week. There are supposedly about 2500 people attending the conference. I'm staffing a booth for Urban Experience. As I was sitting here today watching people walk by, I saw an African-American man walk by. It dawned on me that that was the very first Black person I had seen attending the conference and I have been here for two days now. There is an African-American girl a couple of booths over and another African-American girl across the aisle staffing a booth. But as far as people walking through, I hadn't seen anyone other than White people except for that one guy. What is all of that about? Why is it that there are 2500 people here and only a handful are anything other than White?

And people say our world isn't still segregated??? Paleese!! Let me allow the benefit of the doubt. Maybe it's just churches that are segregated...but that's even more depressing! I wonder...are there other youth ministry conferences that are primarily targeted toward Blacks? Hispanics? Asians? Maybe there are, but why can't we all come to the same one and why can't that one have something for everyone??

People say that I am too sensitive...that it's more about socioeconomics than race (even if that's true, I still have a problem with that as well, though). They tell me that middle class people are all mixed together and I just don't see it because I choose to stay in my corner of the world in the inner city. I beg to differ. This conference is obviously targeted toward an upper-middle class audience. There are flat screen tvs, multimedia presentations, and ipod, laptop, and overseas trip giveaways. Some groups have rented booths and equipment that cost thousands of dollars. Yet with all of that obvious upper-middle class marketing, there are still no people of color here.

I do agree that it seems suburban communities do oftentimes have a fairly diverse population and I probably don't see that. But if that's the case, what does a Christian conference that is primarily made up of White people say to everyone?? What message does it communicate??
Call me cynical. Maybe you have a different take on things. If so, I'd be interested in hearing.

(ok...just to make sure I'm being fair...since I started writing this I have seen one more African-American guy, one Asian guy, and an Asian couple. In fact, a lady just walked by who may have been Native American. So that's 6 people. ...out of 2500.)