Tuesday, February 26, 2008

If this isn't exciting, I don't know what is!!

As I watched the Clinton-Obama debate tonight, I heard the bell-like ring of my phone...a text message.

"You have been sent a picture." Figuring it was just another cheesy forward, I went ahead and opened it.

Much to my unexpected surprise and delight, I saw this:

It's Checo's voter's registration card that he, evidently, just received in the mail.

How cool is that!!!

Monday, February 25, 2008


Today is Jose's 3rd deportation hearing.

Though it's been on my calendar for a few months now, the reality of the situation didn't hit me until I was driving to work. As I called my friend to ask for prayers, my heart was heavy and it took a lot of effort to hold back tears. I pray that his lawyer (who has become a good friend to us all) has made some good progress and we will have a positive outcome.

I know this involves faith.

Pray for Jose. I can only imagine that he must be anxious.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Parents of the last 36 Years Award

My parents have always allowed and encouraged me to chase my dreams. I don't know that I realized that when I was younger.

Their time and money was spent on me taking baton twirling lessons, piano lessons, traveling, participating in choir events, becoming a "Future Business Leader of America," a Future Farmer of America," a "Future Homemaker of America," and all kinds of other things. I only recently realized that they enjoy traveling...I suppose because I spent all of their money as a teenager exploring my own interests!

My parents have always been very involved in their community...serving at the Senior Citizens Center, visiting the local nursing home, volunteering for Lion's Club, supporting summer baseball leagues...the list could go on. As the presiding commisioner of the town, my dad is very involved in writing grants and creating programs that benefit the entire community. Since it is a rural community, he recognizes the need to seek out programs that help poorer people in the community, but that benefit the city overall.

Over the last few weeks, I've had a couple of conversations with my dad where he has strongly encouraged me...and is quite adamant...to get involved in politics. Despite my attempt to convince him that I'm involved in more of the grass roots organizing efforts in my community, he insists that I need to run for office or at the very least, get involved in what is sure to become a very historical presidential campaign. "That's how you make change," he keeps telling me.

My dad and I are on opposing sides when it comes to party politics, but I truly respect and admire that he knows what effects change...and he encourages that no matter what political side one might be on. Both my mom and dad have encouraged and supported me in stepping into situations that I thought I wanted, others that I wasn't necessarily ready for, and many that I wasn't necessarily good at...and then pushing me to be the best at whatever I chose.

My dad explained to me last night, "No one's ever ready. Just get in there."

Good advice from a wise farmer and politician from small town Missouri. I wish more people had parents like I have. I hope as we move forward in our efforts in Rochester Park or in my own Jubilee Park neighborhood...or simply in my conversations with other friends and young people...that I can inspire the same kind of action my parents have inspired in me.

"No one's ever ready. Just get in there!"

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


As I pulled out the equipment for our technology class at the After-School Academy on Monday, seven eager young students (3rd-5th grade) quickly scrambled to get a seat and pull it up to the table. After setting their chairs up, one by one they moved around the table to greet me.

I was filling in for Wyshina and was simply following up on her curriculum. She had asked them, "What feelings do you have when you think of Turner Courts?" I reiterated the question to them and asked them to each give me their three words.







Powerful words...even more powerful to think about why they said them...and so quickly...without hesitation.

What would cause a child to feel "disappointed" or "embarrassed" to live somewhere? ...But at the same time feel "happy?" If I were the parent, how would I feel knowing that my child felt "afraid" or sad" to live where s/he does?

Below are a few of the pictures the kids took. Look really closely at the doors with signs. Behind the No Trespassing sign you can very faintly notice a baby's face behind the sign.

If I were to teach the class again, I would do it a little different. I would do more to explore their feelings and talk about *why* they have those feelings and what those feelings look like. I would show them some pictures other people have taken and asked them to tell me the feelings they associate with those pictures.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Give 'em an inch and they'll take a mile!


That's all some people need.

They'll take it and run with it.

A few months ago I was asked to choose a teenager who could represent Dwaine Caraway's district 4 for the Dallas Youth Commision.

After thinking it through a while, I thought Chantel would be a good fit for the position. I don't think I could've made a better choice!

Thursday I took Chantel to the second meeting (the first one ended up being cancelled because there wasn't a quorum). As the students waited for a quorum and as I sat back in the corner reading while I waited, I heard Chantel ask the group, "Was I the only one excited to be here today?!"

I smiled to myself. I thought about how sometimes it's just a matter of noticing something in someone and then nurturing that "something special." Sometimes it just takes an opportunity to get someone going.

As we were driving to the meeting, Chantel explained to me that she had finished her activities at the school and was sitting around talking to friends when one of her friends said, "It's 6:00! You've got to get to your city council meeting!" Knowing that she was going to have to catch the bus to get to Turner Courts, where she was supposed to meet me, her friend quickly offered to drive her so she could get there on time.

It reminded me of Akeelah and the Bee....though the community isn't necessarily noticed...and though they aren't the ones given the opportunity, they come together to ensure the success of the one with the opportunity and the most apparent ability to succeed.

During the meeting they talked about starting a recycling program in each of their representative schools, doing a Youth Service Day, and using meetings to discuss and help address some of the relevant issues they see in their communities and schools. I could see Chantel's wheels turning.

On the ride home she told me how her brain was clicking and how she wrote notes about her ideas during the entire meeting. She kept thinking about the different ways to engage the school and broader community to get involved in the recycling program so that Lincoln could be the "winner"...despite the fact that she is only one person and three of the other Youth Commission members all go to Greenhill.

She has also recently been chosen to be the intern for Radio One (94.5 and 97.9) as well as the Youth Intern for Atlantic records through her radio/tv cluster at school, which she thinks will give her ideas for publicizing the recycling program.

Chantel has ideas. When I first asked her to be on the committee, she said she went around the school telling people she was going to be on the Youth Commission and asked for ideas and thoughts about what they wanted her to address with the city.

Chantel can be a change agent. She just needs the opportunity and the venue. We need to recognize and nurture so many other kids in their skills and talents that they could develop if only given the opportunity.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Way to go, New Black Panthers!

I always had this vision of the Black Panthers as militant and violent.

They were scary...intimidating.

Until I learned more about them...

Until I met them.

I didn't know about their 10-point program:
  • We want freedom. We want power to determine the destiny of our Black Community
  • We want full employment for our people.
  • We want an end to the robbery by the capitalist of our Black community.
  • We want decent housing, fit for the shelter of human beings.
  • We want education for our people that exposes the true nature of this decadent american society. WE want education that teaches us our true history and our role in the present-day society.
  • We want all black men to be exempt from military service.
  • We want an immediate end to police brutality and murder of black people.
  • We want freedom for all blck men held in federal, state, county and city prisons and jails.
  • We want all black people when brought to trial to be tried in court by a jury of their peer group or people from their black communities, as defined by the Constitution of the United States.
  • We want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice and peace.
I didn't know that the free breakfast program in the schools was created by the Black Panther Party because they understood that children need a nourishing breakfast every morning so that they can learn...and not all children were getting that.

Today the New Black Panthers in Dallas still carry on some of those traditions. The picture above is a few of the New Black Panthers marching in last year's Immigration march.

Tonight I heard on the CBS 11 news (click here to see the report) that the New Black Panthers have stationed themselves at Lang middle school in the East Dallas/Pleasant Grove area because the school does not have school zones or crossing guards in critical areas around the school. The New Black Panthers are being the crossing guards for the kids until city hall meets so that they can petition city hall to put in school zones and crossing guards.

I respect and admire their efforts. They see a need and they come together to meet that need and, at the same time, work to create a long-term solution for the good of the community.

I think we all could take some tips from them about organizing and their care and concern for vulnerable communities.

Thank you, New Black Panthers.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Promises, promises, promises

For the last few months, Residents in Rochester Park have been meeting with City officials to communicate frustrations (one of them being that entire rows of street lights have been out form months (see the picture to the left). Calling 3-1-1 didn't seem to get results.

The Dallas Housing Authority and the city have been talking about leveling Turner Courts and rebuilding it into nice town homes for the last 5 years. That conversation continues. City documents show that it *will* happen...in the next 5 years.

What I find interesting (though I guess it should be a no-brainer) is that people are less concerned about what will happen in 5 years and more concerned about their safety and their quality of life NOW.

They want working swing sets for their children....stray dogs picked up by the pound...street lights that work...police that patrol (instead of just parking and waiting)...repairs made to their home (apartment) when the work order is called in...stores that dust their shelves and sell food that isn't expired...

They want to be able to invite friends into their home and not be embarrassed by the conditions they live in.

Part of the problem is that Rochester Park is a high crime neighborhood. Vandalism and crime happens frequently. So, just about the time the street lights are fixed, someone figures out a way to short circuit them from the base. The city and DHA are tired of sinking their dollars into the same repair over and over again. I empathize with their plight. However, that is the business they're in. Their job is to fix what is broken. And there are many other residents who *aren't* causing problems. Those residents shouldn't have to deal with indecent conditions. They deserve better than that.

So far, the residents gathering are small in number, but we continue to come together...to educate ourselves about the process...to bring the conditions to the attention of the city and DHA...and to fight for the right to a decent living.

Some things are happening.

I received an email the other day:

A night time survey of Bexar and Municipal streets was preformed at 6 am Friday the 8th and a list of the lights not working was sent to Oncor for repair. The lights should be repaired within 5 working days.

As a result of residents and former residents communicating concerns, making phone calls, and attending city meetings, almost all of the street lights are now working, animal services are coming around to pick up stray animals, store owners are being called to upgrade their stores, and maintenance issues are being heard. We are not finished. Residents still have concerns about security and police patrol...among others. We still have more work to do on the current issues as well. They're not perfect yet. We will continue working on those issues.

I want to commend Dwaine Caraway, Mayor Pro Tem, for continuing to show up...and bringing out numerous city officials...to help us address our concerns.

I also want to commend Kassem Elkhalil from Public Works for working so hard to make things happen...especially getting the street lights turned back on. Without any prompting, he makes sure to email and tell me what's going on.

We are happy with the progress, but we still have a lot of work to do! Getting the city to focus on the issues are just the beginning. We have to figure out how get them to listen and consistently ensure that our neighborhood is clean, safe, and livable.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Reasonable Passion or Venomous Anger?

When I talk to people about social or political issues, I find that my temperature rises. Sometimes my voice gets a little shaky. I can feel my heart beat a little faster. Some call it passion. My brother tells me it's venom.

He's not the first one to tell me this. Nor is this a recent development. I can remember our CEO telling me many years ago that a funder told him that I sounded angry. Larry said he explained to him that if he had seen what I had, he'd be angry, too.

Though I suppose I've always been a pretty passionate person, I don't remember ever being "angry" about poverty, wealth, government, and racism growing up.

Why not?

Because it didn't affect me then. I grew up in rural Missouri. Though there was (and is) quite a bit of poverty, it wasn't me. There were no people of color in that area when I was a kid. The government worked for us as far as I could tell.

Then I grew up...got out of college...and came to Dallas. (I've been told Dallas is it's own political and racial beast and different than any other city. I'm still doing my research, but I haven't found anything to refute that to this point so far.)

I experienced being around people who did not have phones in their homes in 1995...before cell phones. This is still common among friends and neighbors in 2008.

I experienced being around children in 5th grade who could barely read a "See Dick run" passage.

I was a part of a segregated neighborhood that white and middle class people feared, but had never even ventured in to get to know the people who were there (unless they were evangelizing or selling insurance).

The longer I've been here, the more I've learned about the way our system has worked to benefit wealthy people who manage to get into positions and work the system to benefit them. I've learned (and still have lots more to learn) about the strategic ways poor people and poor neighborhoods are intentionally and blatantly left out of the process.

From what I've read and learned, people, it seems, are not ashamed of doing things to benefit themselves to the detriment of someone else. It's survival of the fittest. It's capitalism. It's the way our society works.

It doesn't matter if the playing field isn't even. It doesn't matter if they got a head start in life. It's their right. And if they can work the system to get ahead even further, so be it.

I simply don't agree. I think we all miss out by leaving others behind. I think we have faulty rationale when we are willing to put someone behind bars at $35,000/year and know that they plan prison beds based on how many children can't read by 3rd grade, but aren't willing to invest in our children at the front end to keep them out of prison in the first place.

I think our rationale is faulty when we say our government simply doesn't have money for these programs to help the poor, but have plenty of money to invest into a flawed strategy in Iraq.

I think we're wrong to suggest that poor people shouldn't get anything extra because it makes them feel "entitled" when the wealthy have a different system of entitlement. Theirs is simply a system where they feel entitled to getting no-bid contracts or other business deals because of the position they are in....and the reality is their entitlement factor is of much greater consequence.

No matter who we are, we find money for what we want.

So why do I sound so angry?

Because I've watched it and lived it on from both sides. I've been in the position where I benefit from what is happening in the city and in the nation (and except for the neighborhood I live in, am still in the position to benefit)...and I see that there are hard working people who deserve...not people's charity or leftovers after they've purchased all of their needs or wants...but deserve the justice of having a livable wage, a good school system to send their children to, a safe neighborhood, the opportunity to be healthy...and being able to make choices themselves based on the income they have worked hard to earn.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Making Valentines for college students

Get a group of 30 elementary-aged kids. Let them know that we will be making care packages for the college students. Explain that the students who are now in college used to be in the after-school and summer programs just like they are.

Take a bowl of marshmallows and heat in the microwave.

Stir the rice krispies and fruity pebbles into the marshmallows.

Dump the mixture into the heart shaped pans.

While everyone else is making the rice krispy treats, form an assembly line so you can get all the boxes addressed to our 26 college students.

After pressing the rice krispy in the pan and before putting it the box to send off, show off the rice krispy heart for the camera.