Friday, January 25, 2008

Opportunity for Growth

I received this quote and it seemed to fit perfectly with the last post:

The strongest principle of growth lies in human choice. ~ George Eliot

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Opportunities lead to possibilities

Meet Jordan. Jordan is 11-years old, loves technology, and loves to write and draw. He’s a thinker. He keeps a daily journal of his experiences and processes what he sees and hears through his journal. He’s a polite kid who greets you when you walk in the door. He’s a leader. When you ask him what his favorite thing to do is, he can’t decide…playing chess, taking pictures, working on the computer, doing computer animation, doing science projects…they’re all his favorites, he says. He absorbs what is being taught…and, like many other 5th grade boys, he does a good job of getting the entire class off track when he decides to be the class clown. What does he want to do when he grows up? He’s not sure about that yet.

Jordan is no different than any other 5th grade boy. However, the community where he is growing up is different than a lot of other communities. In Jordan’s community, only 53% graduate from high school…only 6% graduate from college. In 2002, 109 teenagers between the ages of 12 and 19 had children. In 2004 there were 20 murders…and only one of them led to an arrest. In 2000, 368 homes still had incomplete plumbing ( Most communities like Jordan's don't have the opportunities that even allow them to test out and dream about digital photography, computer animation, etc.

Jordan is a bright and eager learner with a mom who is willing to pay the $5 a month fee to encourage him to develop his newfound skills. Unfortunately, it doesn't matter how bright and eager someone is if they don't have the opportunities to explore their options in life. Not every parent can afford to send their children to various extracurricular activities that tap into their child’s interests. Not every community has an After-School Academy that focuses on bringing atypical programming like digital photography, art, and technology to a community. When children don't have opportunities to develop and deepen their talents it is unfortunate for them, but it is also unfortunate for the rest of us who could have benefitted from what they have to offer. Who's to say that Jordan might not be the next astronaut or the person who finds the cure for cancer, given the right opportunities and academic support while he is still young.

Jordan still has a long, tough road ahead of him simply because of the neighborhood and the pressures around him on a daily basis. The After-School Academy exists in order to provide a supportive environment so children can develop their interests in order to "dream and envision who they can and will one day become."

Photo is of Jordan picking blueberries at a blueberry farm in Gainesville, TX...a field trip with the Gleaning Network of Texas.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Prophetic thoughts from Dr. King

"The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just."

"And I say to you today, that if our nation can spend thirty-five billion dollars a year to fight an unjust, evil war in Vietnam, and twenty billion dollars to put a man on the moon, it can spend billions of dollars to put God's children on their own two feet right here on earth."

"But this is where we are drifting, and we are drifting there, because nations are caught up with the drum major instinct. I must be first. I must be supreme. Our nation must rule the world. And I am sad to say that the nation in which we live is the supreme culprit. And I'm going to continue to say it to America, because I love this country too much to see the drift that it has taken."

"We must all learn to live together as brothers. Or we will all perish together as fools. We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be."

"We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed."

"Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Maybe I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ecclesia and the hope of the world. "

"Jesus frequently illustrated the characteristics of the hardhearted. The rich fool was condemned, not because he was not toughminded, but rather because he was not tenderhearted. Life for him was a mirror in which he saw only himself, and not a window through which he saw other selves. Dives went to hell, not because he was wealthy, but because he was not tenderhearted enough to see Lazarus and because he made no attempt to bridge the gulf between himself and his brother."

"We must learn that passively to accept an unjust system is to co-operate with that system, and thereby to become a participant in its evil."

Click here to see a slide show of public art images of Dr. King in several different communities throughout the United States.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The man behind the soundbyte

What do you know about Martin Luther King, Jr.?

He had a dream, right??
But do you know what that dream was about?

Of course! That, "little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers."
Is that it?

He wanted freedom.
But what did he mean by that?

Long pause..........

Every January we hear the soundbytes. "I have a dream..." I know you can hear his deep, resonating voice as you read that. You can't help but know his face and his voice. It's played over and over.

But do we know who he was? Do we know what he was about?

Martin Luther King, Jr. won the Nobel Peace Prize. For what?? For having a dream??? Lots of people have dreams!

Several years ago I started actually reading some of his speeches and writings. I was blown away! First of all, I don't remember anyone ever telling me that Martin Luther King, Jr. had a Ph. D. from Boston University. (I know he's called "Dr."...I guess I always thought that was out of respect for him.)

As I read his writings, I was amazed at how prophetic he was. (Please take the time to read some of the links I've included at the bottom. Insert the word "Iraq" for Vietnam when he talks about war. You'll be amazed at how easy it is to change the word and never know you're reading something from 40 years ago!). His eloquence and depth of knowledge was so insightful.

Last night Black Cinematheque at the South Dallas Cultural Center showed a 30 minute clip of an interview with Dr. King, taken from The Mike Douglas Show. Much like I had never read his whole speeches, I had also never seen Dr. King dialogue. With much ease, eloquence, and obvious depth of knowledge, he spoke with the two White men about much more than "having a dream."

Thinking I might find the interview on YouTube, I searched for it. Though there were many other Mike Douglas Show interviews...Tiger Woods, Frank Zappa, Muhammed Ali, Cher...Dr. King was not available. I then searched "The Mike Douglas Show" and found a link to media clips on their website. No Dr. King.

Why is it that there are videos for so many other "popular" people, but a clip that would allow us to see Dr. King as more than a soundbyte is not available?

Dr. King's dream of having a world for little white boys and girls and little black boys and girls playing together is a good dream. But when that's all we look at, to some extent we can think that Dr. King's dream was realized and we have "made it to the mountaintop."

His dream was so much more than that! Read the links at the end of this post. Think about what he says about war, poverty, paying people what they deserve, justice, segregation, peace, church practices, wealth, international politics. Then ponder whether or not King's dream has been realized.

To celebrate Dr. King's legacy, maybe we should be having another March on Washington to protest the war instead of a March down Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. with our young students proudly marching in their ROTC uniforms. Maybe we should have a day of letter writing to congress about minimum wage. Maybe we should think about Dr. King's legacy and the irony in the fact that the Martin Luther King, Jr. parade comes down Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd, which is located in South Dallas, still a near 100% African-American neighborhood. Maybe we should question why our society is still segregated 40 years after his death. Maybe we should work toward continuing the "Poor People's Campaign" that he started shortly before he was assassinated.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was so much more than the holiday or Black History Month allows us to see. To truly celebrate him, I would encourage you to take the time to read his actual words, let them resonate, and then figure out ways we can work toward making his dream come true.

Letter from Birmingham City Jail:

Remaining Awake through a Great Revolution:

Where do we go from here?:

Monday, January 14, 2008

Daverse lounge

Lighted only by glass globes suspended from the ceiling and Chinese paper lamps scattered throughout the room, Daverse Lounge feels as if you are walking into a type of club. There is a low buzz of talking as people stand in line for free Starbucks drinks and then search for a seat.

The environment absolutely amazes and enthralls me--not because of the club-like atmosphere and the free coffee (though free Starbucks is always exciting!). Not because it is primarily for teenagers (though there are a few adults scattered around who go so they can take in the event as well).

Daverse Lounge amazes me because it is the only place I've ever experienced where people can come together and just be. At Daverse Lounge, the environment is set up so that all judgment is suspended. Teenagers come from Highland Park High School to South Oak Cliff and everywhere in between. They come to present their deepest thoughts and emotion in the form of poetry.

Teenagers listen to each other with rapt attention as one speaks of inner struggles and fears as she tries to understand her own sexual preferences. Another has formed a poetic response to girls at school who have told her to lose weight. Still another grapples with her dual identity of being Hispanic and African-American. A 11-year old boy stands up and waxes eloquent for a good 3-4 minutes about the state of our country, the political game we play, and how war is affecting us. Two young men have created a tag team effort to describe their "difficult" life of being "pretty boys" that girls don't take seriously. Yet another young man stands up and speaks of his virginity and his intent to stay pure.

I commend Will Ritchey for bringing it together and creating such an amazing environment where everyone is accepted, applauded, and patted on the back.

It is socially conscious. It is spiritually energizing. It is...





Wouldn't it be nice if church had those characteristics??

Sunday, January 13, 2008

...and some excel in spite of the odds!

As I looked over my last post, I realized I didn't give a complete picture. I described those whose past sometimes disables them...or at the most, they make a life for themselves by getting by. Don't get me wrong...those who make ends meet and "get by" are great people. I have no intention of short-changing my friends.

But I left out an important part of our communities. I failed to mention those who see what's around them and are determined to move beyond. They are determined not to be a statistic. They refuse to allow us to categorize them with a number that says who they are and what their life is about. Sometimes it's the adults who figured out a new way to hope; other times it's the kids who dig their heels in and refuse to let the people around them define them. For some it means college; for others, it means a full-time job; still others, it means staying home to take care of their children.

Kieva called last night, scolding me for not doing a better job of keeping up with her (you can read more about Kieva in previous posts here). She wanted to inform me that she is starting grad school on Monday and will be working toward a Master's in Public Administration. She explained that these days getting a bachelor's is what everyone is doing and she needs to be a step ahead of the rest.

When she struggled through college, people told her she wouldn't make it. I'm sure she heard that in high school as well. Kieva knew in her mind she would. She knew she could prove them wrong. And she has.

I know others like Kieva who take the path of defining their own life in spite of the naysayers around them. Sometimes I forget because they are off doing their own thing. They've forged their own path and have found other avenues of support and encouragement. I pray that their hope and determination continues.

Life is not all bleak in the inner city. :)

Friday, January 11, 2008


This week has been a fairly emotional week as I have found out about friends who have returned to crime, others who have returned to drugs, and others who have been victims of those things. But as I have somewhat wallowed in my misery this week, I also had to ask myself, "How can I think it's fair for me to be consumed and distraught by some of the activities of this week when I've only been living in this neighborhood for 13 years...and only really been allowed inside knowledge of some of the stuff that goes on around here for about the last 5 years???"

What about the people who have grown up living this life?!

How do they feel??

How do they function on a daily basis??

I process my feelings through talking to others. So, when I have an emotionally trying week like this one, I talk about how concerned I am and how much it bothers me.

Ever notice other people....people who live in tough neighborhoods...people who have grown up in tough neighborhoods...don't go around talking about the death and backsliding they see or have seen?

It's too real.

It happens too often.

After a while, you stop talking and just deal with it.

A friend of mine told me that as a young child, she came home to see three dead bodies propped up in the common area of her apartments. I would've never thought that she had that in her storage of memories. She told me who the mens' sister was. It never occurred to me that perhaps some of the rude and tactless behaviors their sister exhibits might stem from all of the pain she still has from their deaths.

The longer I'm here, the more information I find out; the more information I know, the more I am amazed at how people function on a day-to-day basis. The people around here don't advertise their pain. Some anesthetize it through drugs. Some violently fight back. Some have difficulty in keeping jobs. Some have been permanently disabled emotionally. And some just suck it up and keep going at whatever level they've made it to in life.

As I talked to one of my 23 year old friends, he explained to me, "It's always going to be this way. There's nothing you or I can do about it."

He knows that there are so many forces working against us. And the problems almost all need to be solved simultaneously for everything to work. I don't blame people for not feeling hopeful. It's hard to see someone you think has the potential for success...and just as you see them reaching it...slip right back into the game so easily.

But I refuse to believe that things can't change. I refuse to think that the good people I know in these neighborhoods can't help instigate some of that change.

To continue to live, I have to believe change can happen.

I have to hope.

I have to dream...and encourage others to dream...beyond the community we currently live in and imagine ways our community can be made fuller and more compassionate.

I see why people in our inner cities are so cynical and distrusting of outsiders who come in and proclaim there's a better way. It's much more complicated than a 6-week program that offers "solutions." There's nothing simple and there are no easy solutions.

Outsiders can say all day long that "they understand." Intellectually, yes, perhaps they understand. But the pain is much different and has a much different effect on lives when it's personal.

Ultimately, hope has to come from inside the community. That's a hard sale. But I know it can be done.

I also know that the hope is going to have to come from outside of the community as well. The toughest inner city communities did not become like this on their own. There are economic, racial, and social forces that have contributed over many years. Therefore, they are not going to turn around on their own. It takes a lot of resources, a lot of belief in, and a lot of time, effort, and long-term commitment by many different people.

We all need to partner with, listen to, and HEAR the community's cry.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Help for friends

I was still at the office when Wyshina called me.

"Janet! Kisha just called and someone broke into their apartment, stole their stuff...and then set fire to the apartment! I think they lost everything."

Since I was getting ready to leave the office, I went by their apartment. It was dark outside and the electricity was off because of the fire. I found Kisha sitting in the car with the Red Cross man. I took her kindergarten daughter out of her arms. As I picked her up and transferred her onto my chest, I realized Akia was sobbing. She continued to cry. Through sobs, she began telling me, "They even burned my bed!" and went on to express her concerns about her doll and her brother's video games.

Kisha hasn't lived in this apartment long. She just recently moved out of Turner Courts. It was a beautiful apartment. Unfortunately, Kisha had moved into the apartment of a lady who had been evicted. For the last week or so some guy has been banging on their door late at night/early in the morning asking for her. Kisha has tried to tell him that the lady (his ex-girlfriend) no longer lives there. Maybe he thinks she's hiding the lady or lying to him. Kisha suspects he was the one who did set fire to their apartment.

Kisha's has two kids--Curtis is a very talented, articulate 6th grader who has been a part of our After-School Academy for the last 3-4 years. Akia is cute kindergartener with a bright smile and an eager handshake and greeting every time you walk into the After-School Academy.

I don't know what the person who lived in the apartment before Kisha did that made that man so angry, but I know what he did changed the lives of three people. They have lost absolutely everything.

If you would like to help out, click here to donate and I will make sure that any money you contribute gets directly to them.

Monday, January 07, 2008

What happens in the end?

My friend and co-worker pulled me aside this morning. When he asked me to sit down I figured it couldn't be good.

"He's out there again," he explained about one of the teenagers we've both known for quite some time. "He's gone back to crackin' safes, robbing, and drugs. Easy money."

My heart dropped.

The last time I saw the teen, which was several months ago, I knew the light in his eyes was gone. He seemed to have lost his spirit and will to press on. But I really didn't think he'd go back to the life he'd lived as a young child. I thought he was past that. For some reason I thought being around positive people, realizing he could do just fine academically in college, and working a legitimate job would be enough to convince him that the old lifestyle wasn't worth it. I knew he was still friends with the old guys, but I thought he was stronger than their influence.

As I talked with my co-worker, the lump in my throat grew as I told him about other teens who are also making some bad choices...choices that all seem related to money...choices that are causing them to drop out of college...choices that are going to make their current financial situation a life-long reality. Every single one of them have the potential to be whatever they want to be, yet they fall into the trap of feeling like they have gone "without" all of their life and deserve more.

It upsets me that they feel the need to buy things they want...things that are overpriced and brand name (like a $150 pair of jeans or $125 pair of shoes). It angers me that corporate executives feel justified making $5 million a year salaries and then feel the need to cut wages at the bottom of their companies but don't offer cut their own wages. It bothers me that we have created a society that markets spending and debt as a good thing. It infuriates me that payday loans and drugs are targeted at our inner city communities so that wealthy people can gain money on the backs of poor people who just want to survive.

Today, I'm not sure I know how to compete. I don't know what to do to change a mindset. I cannot fathom what we are up against in order to design a program to counter it.

You can tell me all day that, "even if you only help one child, it's worth it." ...and believe me, I love appreciate, and look up to the Jessica's, Kieva's, Shantaye's, Anabeli's, Erica's, Kimberly's...but I can't rest easy and my heart will not stop hurting knowing that the other ones aren't making good choices...and knowing that I/we/CDM doesn't have an answer.

...Kids are using reimbursements from student loans to pay their drug addicted mother's light bill.

...Kids are flunking out of college because they are unprepared academically.

...Kids are being sucked in by friends who are making "easy" money and are convinced they aren't going to get caught.

Why do they feel so invincible? Why do they think that they won't end up in their parents' financial situation when they are making similar choices?? Why can't they see that many of their friends HAVE been caught?? Why can't they see that dangerous lifestyles with guns, drugs, and theivery often ends in prison or death??

I wish they could see their own beauty...what they have to offer. I wish they knew and understood about themselves what I know about them. I wish they believed in their own beauty and worked from that belief so that the world could see in them what I have been allowed to see.

My friend assures me this is just a minor setback. For today, that's what I have to put my hope in. I have to believe...

the ending isn't written yet.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

What it means to live out justice

The Dallas Area Christian Progressive Alliance ( is based on Matthew 25. Their mission is to live the radical love, compassion and justice of Jesus and to promote these values in religious and public discourse and policy. Below is an email I received that struck me as powerful:


"When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow." (Isaiah 1:15-17)

An Open Letter to the "Light the Highway" Campaign

In December of 2007, a group of Christians, including members of Christ for the Nations Institute in Dallas, initiated a "Light the Highway" campaign focused on Interstate I-35, linking the freeway to Isaiah 35:8 (New International Version):

"And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those who walk in that Way; wicked fools will not go about on it."

Beginning October 28 and ending December 1, the group engaged in 35 days of prayer, and several members conducted actions such as standing outside of sexually oriented businesses with "purity" written across the sunglasses they wore. Among the issues upon which the group focused their prayers were pornography, drug abuse, government corruption, and, somewhat surprisingly, workplace injustices. Their web site states, "As we, the church, walk in purity, we will see a new generation arise who will reform our nations so they can stay transformed!"The media that covered this initiative included CNN, Channel 8 and the Dallas Morning News. Below is the DACPA response to this initiative.

Dear Sisters and Brothers of the "Light the Highway" campaign:

The Dallas Area Christian Progressive Alliance (DACPA) is an organization of grassroots Christians founded with a mission to live the radical love, compassion and justice of Jesus and to promote these values in religious and public discourse and policy. We have become aware of your campaign through the media and would like to with your our own ideas as to how we can best respond to God's call to be just and righteous people.

The words of the prophet Isaiah provide a powerful challenge to us as we set about to bring the reign of God to "earth as it is in heaven": "Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight. And to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high." (Isaiah 58:3-4) Our piety means nothing if we do not act justly.

To tackle the "sins of I-35," the members of DACPA would look to Jesus' words as the focus of our concerns, just as we have done the last two Good Fridays when we conducted our Good Friday Walk to honor Jesus' teachings on the day of his death. In Matthew 25, he calls the nations to: Feed the hungry. Clothe the naked. Give water to the thirsty. Heal the sick. Welcome the stranger. Visit the prisoner. This is how the nations are judged. Our nation, unfortunately, has fallen short in these areas, as you recognize in some of your own efforts. How many of those around us living in poverty are often forced to seek out charity in sometimes humiliating circumstances that strip them of their dignity?

Jesus told us that he came to fulfill the law and the prophets. Along with Isaiah, let us look to the prophet Jeremiah, and to Jesus' brother James who, among so many others in the Bible, spoke so forcefully of the sin of not paying fair wages.

"Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness, and his upper rooms by injustice; who makes his neighbors work for nothing,
And does not give them their wage." (Jeremiah 22:13-15)

"Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts." (James 5:4)

So as we reflect on the sins of I-35, let us think of the low-wage workers toiling in businesses all along this highway, often without insurance to pay for their illnesses nor those of their families. And let us also remember the low-wage workers who labor in back-breaking and dangerous circumstances in the fields not far from the road that connects us to our neighbors to the south. Every day they put food on our tables and provide the sustenance that we need to live.

Along that by-way, do those strangers who live among us feel welcome? Or will they continue to serve as political footballs when their "offense" was entering this country to seek a way to provide for their families? Following I-35, the Pan-American Highway, south of the border, we might see valleys that had once been a patch-work of farms that provided work for many all year round. Those valleys are now filled with crops for export that now only provide a month's employment. We pray for God's will to extend beyond our borders.

And when we visit the jails in the communities along I-35, what will we find there? Will we find humane conditions and the opportunity for redemption, or will the word "corrections" ring hollow?

In the Bible, God spoke over 2000 times of the poor and almost as frequently of the oppressed. Let us put our efforts into making this world a just place, along the I-35 freeway and beyond, a place that takes God's word seriously. A place where those of many faith traditions and where all those who care for humanity can live in a community based on our shared values of economic and social justice.


Not a Penny More?

"Therefore because you trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not live in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards but you shall not drink their wine. For I know how many are your transgressions, and how great are your sins." (Amos 5:11-12)

What is one more cent for a pound of tomatoes? For Burger King the cost is $250,000 per year-more than the company is willing to pay the people who pick those tomatoes. It's a lot of money, except when you consider that the top 12 executives of one of its major shareholders, Goldman Sachs, paid themselves $200 million in bonuses in 2006. But the company can't, or won't, afford .015% of the cost of those bonuses for the migrant farmworkers who do the torturous work of picking the tomatoes served in their restaurants.

Taco Bell and McDonalds, after public pressure, can afford that penny. We can pray for Burger King to turn from its efforts to force those companies to reverse their one-penny-per-pound increase and to follow their example. And the next time we or our friends or our family members step up to the counter for that fast food meal, let's also reflect on what that Burger King Whopper truly costs.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Taking a step of faith

We are starting our new year off right in Turner Courts. This morning we had a meeting with the city. Yes, the city. We had a representative from each of the following departments:

  • Public Works

  • Animal Control

  • Dallas Police Department

  • Community Prosecutor's office

  • DART

  • City Planning Commission

  • City Parks and Rec

  • City Council
...along with a few others.

The show from the city was quite impressive...especially to those of us who have been in Turner Courts for many years and have often dealt with ignored 3-1-1 calls to the city, neglect in repairs, and a feeling of being completely forgotten and left out.

It was also quite impressive because we knew (and warned the city officials) that our first meeting was not going to be big. We had about 9 people attend...some current residents, some former, and some of us who work there but don't live there. Yet, they came anyway.

The meeting was good, but the best part of the whole day for me came when the meeting was over.

Ms. Haynes had come to the meeting...despite her semi-protest a few weeks ago as she explained to us that she didn't want to be involved in anything like that because it makes her blood pressure go up. She explained that she had done her part by reporting things and the city hadn't responded quickly, if at all.

Yet she showed up.

After it was all over, she sat down at the table. After the room had pretty much emptied out, Ms. Haynes (a resident in Turner Courts for many years) turned to Sylvia, Wyshina, I saying, "I really enjoyed that. You guy are really to be commended for bringing this together." I asked her what it was that she enjoyed about it. "I was able to get all of my issues out there."

Ms. Haynes voice was heard.

That's what matters.

We have gotten to know Ms. Haynes over the past few months because she utilizes our computer lab on a regular basis. As I approached her with the thought of working with us to hold the city accountable and helping make our community stronger, Ms. Haynes balked. See...Ms. Haynes has lived in Turner Courts for a long time. During that time she has made calls to the city, made police reports, reported street lights that are out...and got a slow response at the very best. Her doubt and skepticism is understandable. Why should she spend her time spinning her wheels on issues that won't be addressed anyway?

We have a LOT of work to do and a lot of issues to solve. But our biggest job is going to be earning the trust of the community so that they will begin coming out to help us move forward and hold the city accountable. Turner Courts and the people in that community have been left out for too long. Convincing people that their voice matters is going to be a long process.

The smile on Ms. Haynes' face and her very genuine compliments today tell me we may have gained one more core person to our efforts. Knowing that people are being heard, are regaining trust, and are willing to try putting effort into their community again (although cautiously) puts a smile on my face.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Wish for '08

I love my friends.

I used to live in the apartment above Lisa's mom, Flo. Flo pretty much raised Lisa's three kids while Lisa was in prison for 7 years. Her kids ,to this day, still call her, "Lisa."

Flo never seemed to like me and I was never quite sure why. Despite that, when Lisa came home from prison and moved in with her mom, she always said hi to me and spoke when I would come in from work each day. Lisa and I became friends. I am convinced Lisa's friendliness toward me eventually won Flo over to be my friend as well.

Eventually, we needed a cook for our summer program. Lisa had cooked for large numbers in prison so we hired her as our cook. (aside note: as I write this now, I think about all of the background checks and such we do before we hire anyone nowadays. I wonder if Lisa would've made the cut. I kind of doubt it. That makes me sad. Despite her past record, she was/is a great person. Though she joked about the kids being "little monsters," I knew she really enjoyed being around them.). After working at our summer program, she started working in fast food (which she was very happy with simply because it's so difficult to get a job coming out of prison).

After several years, Lisa, Flo, and the kids moved. We didn't stay in touch very well, but every once in a while I would see Flo or Lisa would call. About a year ago Lisa's middle daughter decided to enroll in college. As we've all worked together on that process, I've been in a little more contact with them, but mostly with Ashley.

Tonight Lisa called. I hadn't talked to her in several months. She was calling because she was down and her year was already starting off wrong. Evidently she was irritated at a guy at work who was giving her problems. She explained to me that she had just gotten "off papers" December 7 and had no intention of doing anything to jeopardize that. Though I wanted to be sypathetic, I couldn't help but change the focus...I had no idea she had gotten "off papers!" I wanted to celebrate that with her!

I know the last 10 years haven't all been easy for her. I asked about her motivation and wondered if it started the day she was released. Her response? Her motivation started with her concern about her mother's health and knowing that if she went back to prison she wouldn't get to spend time with her. Her motivation increased when her grandkids came along.

I think that's interesting...and so true for all of us. When our life is meaningful we want to stick around. When we mean something to someone else and they mean something to us, we have purpose and we have a reason to move forward.


I've decided I have wishes instead of resolutions for '08:

One of my wishes is that more of the kids and adults I know find meaning in their life and know that they are meaningful...and I hope that, if needed, we (our After-School Academies, our Educational Outreach Center, our efforts with college students, etc.) can help people discover that meaning.