Friday, May 30, 2008

Blaming the victim

As I'm sitting in my office at Turner Courts, I see this huge truck with a trailer holding some equipment attached...a backhoe maybe??

It made me think about the crime report statistics I read this morning: "STOLEN VEH RAN INTO TRANSFORMER IN GRASSY COMMON AREA OF APTS."

As I watched the truck park and get ready to unload, I thought of how much it costs to bring in big equipment to fix all of the things that knuckleheads decide to no expense to themselves. I thought about how it's no wonder DHA (Dallas Housing Authority) and the city gets frustrated with our requests to fix things only to have them broken again.

I then had to adjust my thinking.

If a criminal drives a stolen car into any other neighborhood, we don't blame the neighborhood for that problem. If someone does something wrong in any other neighborhood, the neighborhood is seen as the victim, the criminal is treated as the bad guy, and the problem is fixed in order to keep the community in good condition.

So why do low-income neighborhoods get treated as if they were the ones to blame for the crime that happens?

Thursday, May 29, 2008

College isn't for everyone...or is it??

A recent opinion column in the Dallas Morning News suggests that college isn't for everybody.

Though I am very much in agreement that colleges are businesses looking for profit and agree with many of Mr. Nemko's suggestions that college give much fuller disclosure to the students they serve, I sense he is also saying that some students just shouldn't waste their time.

I disagree.

Sure, part of the problem is that colleges have turned into businesses looking for dollars...and student loan companies have gladly jumped on board to reap the proceeds. But I don't believe only encouraging those who have enough money and academic knowledge is the answer. By doing that, we leave out a whole lot of kids who have perfectly good potential, but have not received the same adequate benefits and opportunities to ready them for college. Instead, I think the responsibility is on us as a society to do a much better job of educating and preparing all students.

Take Jennifer.* She wants to go to college. I was looking forward to attending her graduation this year. Instead, when she called, she explained to me that she wasn't going to graduate because she hadn't passed her Math TAKS. She was upset and had decided to visit the district office to try to convince them that she just couldn't do math and they needed take that requirement off of her. I, of course, encouraged her to let me set her up with a tutor so she can be prepared to re-take the TAKS...and went on to explain to her that she has the capacity. I continued to talk to her about the importance of learning the basic math concepts because they will impact her throughout life--the way she handles money, the way she gets loans, purchases cars, houses, etc.

Jennifer is not dumb. I have known her most of her life. She obviously has missed some basic mathematical concepts along the way. As she moved through high school, math classes got progressively more difficult. However, without the foundational concepts, she "got by" but never understood. She now believes she is incapable of understanding math.

Israel* was just like Jennifer. He was supposed to graduate last year but he couldn't pass the Math TAKS. After re-taking the test and continuing to fail, he had one shot left. He kept trying to convince me that he just wasn't good in math. Though there wasn't much time, I set him up with a tutor. Sure enough, just as I thought, the tutor let me know that he was making good progress. However, they had to start at the beginning and they weren't able to get through all of the material before he had his last chance at the TAKS in March. We are still waiting to hear from him about the results.

The issue with Jennifer and Israel is not just about their lack of knowledge. Their lack of knowledge has now impacted their self-confidence and their belief in their own capabilities.

Unlike Mr. Nemko, I admire the ones who go on to college despite their academic challenges. I hate that they have to pay for a remedial course out of pocket and get absolutely no credit toward their degree, but at least they will finally get the knowledge that their elementaries and high schools should have provided in the first place.

Tammy* is one who went to college despite her math deficiencies. She entered college determined to finish. In fact, she wants to go on to get her master's and doctorate in Education. But math was (and is) the thorn in her side. Her college entrance exams showed she needed the absolute basic math course, which meant she had to pass two developmental (remedial) courses before she was able to enroll in basic college level math. She failed both developmental classes and had to re-take each of them. Yet she persevered. She will enter into her senior year this fall and will finish in December. As a result of all of her remedial math courses she will graduate a semester late. But she *will* graduate...and she will be more knowledgeable...and have more opportunities in the job a result.

Students like Jennifer, Israel, and Tammy need to be noticed and targeted at the beginning of their struggles...not their senior year in high school.

We need to challenge the academic rigor in lower income schools and we need to recognize this as a long-term battle. I realize the odds have been stacked against us in that battle through years of neglect. There is a lot of work to do. Therefore, we need to provide easy and free access to individual tutoring (and I'm not talking about TAKS tutoring!) by people who know how to help kids understand the concepts they are missing. ("easy" and "free" are key here. The beauracracy of getting assistance for children in the public school is a nightmare for even the most educated and resourceful of parents! least in the low-income neighborhood schools I've been a part of.)

We need to fight with and for these students to ensure that everyone is afforded the opportunities they deserve to be intellectually competitive and enter a profession they enjoy.

To leave people like Jennifer, Israel, and Tammy out because they are not "college material" is asinine and will perpetuate the economic and racial segregation that is already prevalent in our society. Instead of encouraging the students differently, we need to challenge our academic institutions to educate differently.

*names changed

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Persevering for justice

My friend, Dave, called to ask if I had any applications of kids applying to his summer program. I had called a few teenagers, but hadn’t heard back from any of them.

Knowing I wanted kids in his program, I went into my email and scrolled through my “student” list to see if I had missed any of the kids I know who live in South Dallas (his program's requirement). As I scrolled, Tracey’s name jumped out at me. Tracey! He’s a junior in high school now....and he's in South Dallas! Perfect!

I went through the numbers on my phone and called the number I had for his sister. “The mobile number you have called is no longer in service.” Darn. I checked to see if I might have a number for Tracey. Luckily I did...


“Tracey! Hey, it’s Janet. What are you doing this summer?”


“Good. You are now. I need you to fill out an application. Do you like technology?”


“Great. Call me when you get out of school tomorrow and I’ll bring the application by.”

Tracey called just like he said he would. I ran by his house after he got home.

Tavies (his mom) was driving up as I was leaving. I went over to the car to say hi.

“Did Tracey tell you what he is doing this summer?”


“I didn’t figure he did. I’m putting him to work. I gave him an application to fill out for a technology program this summer.”

“GREAT! Thank you, Janet! What do you have for Erica? …for Shatavies? Anything? Please keep them in mind! I’m so glad you came by!”

How did I…a White girl from rural Missouri…get so loved and accepted where I am now?? What makes me able to approach someone else’s kid and tell them what they will be involved in…and both parent and child eagerly accept that?

How is it that for 13 years, I have driven into neighborhoods that are suspect at best yet, instead of anything bad happening, invariably a screeching kid (or now some young adults…like Kiesha, 23, did the other day) calls across the parking lot, “MISS JANET!!!”

What is it that makes some parents feel free enough to talk with me about brothers, uncles, cousins, and nephews in prison (oftentimes people who we both know) and give the full explanation about what they did, how they did it, and what the family says about it?

I didn’t grow up like most people around me. I don’t look like most people around me. Yet, they accept and embrace me. That amazes, awes, and humbles me.

I am given privileges with the kids, equal to that of their own parents. I am encouraged to take them with me, discipline them, and get them involved in whatever opportunity I find for them. I am trusted with taking them anywhere from down the street to the top of a mountain in Colorado.


It is because of what I see in the children…the light in their eyes as they discover something new…the insightful observations they make…their comments that seem to be way beyond their years….

It is because the parents’ trust me to move their child to a new level …it is because the parents’ trust me to seek out and connect their children with the right opportunities that will develop them …it is because the parents’ trust that I believe in their children and have high expectations for them…..

It is because of these things that I feel an obligation to parents and their children.

…parents who want to see their kids do better than they were able to do
…parents who want the best for their children, but don’t always know how to connect them to the right opportunities
…parents who are trying to keep their children out of their surrounding environment so that they don’t connect with the wrong people and get involved with the wrong crowd

It is because of them that this White girl from Missouri must continue persevering justice.

I thank God for granting me with such trust, love, and acceptance. Just like their parents already know, despite their environment, their socioeconomic status, or perhaps even their past behaviors, the children (as well as the adults) around me have something great to offer.

We ALL lose out when we fail to educate our children and fail to demand that we and others around us see the good in what the children...ALL children...have to offer us.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Connecting with old friends

I feel the need to post, but I'm not quite sure how to summarize what I'm feeling right now.

I wasn't looking too forward to this weekend because it was going to be busy. Event after event, graduation after graduation. I am always tired after weekends like these...especially knowing I have to work on Monday.

But, this weekend has been different.

After our Art Show Friday night...

I raced to Gustavo's graduation...then enjoyed a late night meal at IHop with his family, which provided a great time to catch up since they had moved out of the neighborhood a few years ago.

I got up early in order to attend Katrina's graduation at 8:30 a.m....
went to a meeting...went to work out...then joined their family for an afternoon bar-b-que, which was another great opportunity to reminisce about old times, talk about the girls' college plans, and just hang out.
I left there to meet Tiffany (a "kid" who is now a near-graduating college student...a young adult), who had agreed to save me some time by picking up some of the kids. After dropping them off at the house, she went to pick up her nephew and cousins so that we could all go to the 22nd Annual Invitational Black Rodeo together...
which gave the younger ones the opportunity to see horses, cows, and cowboys up close for the first time. The three youngest kids we took were all children of kids I used to have in our different programs. I laughed as 6-yr old Anasia was quick to tell me how she should act around me and wondered if, though I haven't spent much time with her, if her mom and dad had relayed that message to her.

And that was just Friday and Saturday!

Sunday, Nathan and Vanessa came to the house so that Vanessa could use the computer and the internet to make her Power Point presentation for her class. Since the computer was already taken, Nathan agreed to make monster cookies, which we did together--learning how to pack brown sugar, level off baking soda, and use the mixer in a way that didn't splatter cookie dough all over the kitchen.

Then, though most of today has been restful, I went to visit Tracey to make sure he got all of his paperwork filled out for the Sight and Sound technology program that he will be enrolled in this summer. In the process of getting he and his mom to sign papers, Tavies and I were able to reconnect and catch up. It's always nice working with parents who encourage me to get their kids involved in anything possible...and trust that whatever I send their way will be beneficial to their future.

Though most weekends I enjoy having time to myself, weekends like these help me to realize the friends and the blessings I have in my life. I realize how much my friends mean to me...and how much I mean to them. It's nice to connect with people.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Democracy in action

Younger...older...Black...White...Hispanic...American citizens...non-American citizens...We all came together so that we could be deputized to register people to vote.

The Dallas County Elections department brought out an electronic voting booth as well as a paper ballot system so that we could all see and practice voting and gain an understanding of the process.

We learned that...

...people who are out of prison and "off papers" do not have to wait to vote in Texas.

...although you have to be an American citizen to vote, you don't have to be a citizen to register voters.

...the elections department can take the electronic ballot to someone's car if they are elderly or disabled so they don't even have to get out of their car.

...someone in Iraq can register and vote if they go to a certain place (I forget the name and will need to find that out...but I know they can register and vote from wherever they are stationed).

...we can advocate for our candidate of choice while registering people as long as we don't refuse anyone the right to register because they don't agree with us. is important to make sure the registration cards are filled out completely and are readable so that they will be sure to get their voter registration card. is important to make sure your address is up-to-date and that you know your precinct so your voice is sure to be counted in November.

...after the November election Texas will be requiring an ID to we need to start preparing people for that and figuring out ways to help people get IDs so their voice will be counted.

We now have 17 people registered and equipped to register others to vote.

If you would like the Dallas County Elections department to deputize your group and to provide you with excellent information and answers to any of your questions about voting education and rights, feel free to contact them and they will come to you as long as you have a minimum of 15 people; otherwise, you can go to them at 2377 North Stemmons Frwy, Suite 820. Contact Toni Pippins-Poole at 214-819-6334.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Think people in poverty are scamming the system? Think again!

Who's really scamming the system?

Each summer we operate a summer program called Urban Experience. The program is designed to educate people outside of the inner cities about issues that impact our friends and neighbors in the inner city.

This year we are working with the USDA to provide a session called Buck and a Half lunch, the amount per person, per meal that families receive through food stamps. The USDA's goal is to teach people how to make healthy meals with only $1.50 per person.

Our goal at the Urban Experience is to educate people on the time, effort, and obstacles associated with attempting to provide that healthy, buck and a half lunch.

Although I am very aware of the research and commentary that talks about the injustices and inequities in the inner city, it always strikes me harder when I actually see it laid out on paper. I had asked two of the people helping with the Urban Experience to price the menu ingredients at the local Walmart and the community corner store. Despite my awareness, I was still shocked by what I saw.

Before I show you the numbers, keep in mind that...

  1. The prices only compare foods that are similar in brand; we did not try to make this look worse than it is by comparing name brand to off-brand.
  2. The community corner stores lack the majority of foods needed in order to create this healthy lunch; therefore, without adequate transportation, these healthy meals would not even be an option.
  3. The community corner stores offer primarily chips, soda, and snack foods. These high in sugar and fat foods offer the ability for a filling food, though not healthy.
  4. When comparing prices, corner stores often offered small sizes (like 8 oz) while grocery stores offered larger sizes (like 16 oz). When comparing prices, we had to purchase two 8 oz sizes in order to equal the 16 oz we needed for the recipe.
  5. The corner stores did not offer a cheaper, store brand. All items were name brand.

In the price list below, the first price is Walmart, the second is the community corner store, and the third number is the difference between the two.

Chili powder $3.18 $2.36 +.82

Flour tortillas $1.50 $1.79 +.29

Black pepper $2.50 $1.99 +.50

Green beans $.50 $1.19 +.69

Vegetable oil $3.88 $3.99 +.11

Vinegar $.62 $.99 +.37

Pineapple $1.12 $1.69 +.57

Ramen noodles $.14 $.50 +.36

Salsa $2.50 $2.99 +.49

Miracle Whip $2.12 $2.99 +.87

Paper plates $1.28 $1.59 +.31

napkins $1.64 $1.39 +$1.14

The total amount spent for one meal at the corner store versus the grocery store is $5.93 more. Of course, most of these are condiments and sides. Most corner stores don't stock up on healthy foods for neighbors to purchase.

When you take into account that if someone has no transportation or bus fare and would need to purchase their items from the corner store, $5-$6 extra per day to make a meal ends up being about $150-$180 per month.

Is it really the poor who are taking advantage of the system??

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

5th Annual Art Showcase

Mark your calendars!!!
Central Dallas Ministries and The South Dallas Cultural Center present...

The After-School Academy
5th Annual Art Showcase
May 23, 2008

featuring the work of the 3rd-5th graders in Mr. Wendell Gordon's digital photography/Photoshop class.

Photographs will be auctioned off in a silent auction. All proceeds will go to the After-School Academy. Hor d'oeuvres will be served. Dress: Business Casual
(above: photos from last year's exhibit)

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

After some broken promises, DART comes through

I got a phone call from my friend, Mike Davis, this evening.

"Can you get some people together? DART (Dallas Area Rapid Transit) is reinstating their route through Turner Courts."

I immediately called Lori and Evette, who were at our Saturday Town Hall meeting with DART and had done their best to explain why bus service was needed through the apartments after 8:00. DART had promised that service would be reinstated by March 15, but didn't follow through on their promise. Their representative talked about statistics and dangerous conditions. Evette, Sheila, Lori, and Sylvia tried to help them understand the situation of people who get off work late and don't want to walk through a dark field at 10:00 at night; they told of people who take jobs based on bus service; Ms. Dana Arnette, with the Dallas Housing Authority, commented that she sometimes struggles to lease apartments because transportation is a concern for incoming residents.

Lori, Evette, Dana, Mike, and I met at Turner Courts at 10:00 this evening to anxiously await the bus's 10:15 arrival. A little after 10:15, we saw an older lady come out of the shadows from the end of Bexar Street, shuffling her feet, running as fast as she could. "The bus must be coming," someone observed. Sure enough, you could see it in the distance getting closer to the JBC corner store, which has been the last pick up/drop off point (after 8:00 p.m.) for the last several years.

Mike told the lady not to worry and assured her the bus would wait for her.

She kept shuffling as fast as she could, trying to get to the store.

We told her she could slow down because the bus was going to stop right here.

She kept shuffling and explained, "No, the bus doesn't stop here! It stops at the store up there."

We all began trying to convince her, "No, it's changed. The bus will stop here from now on."

She stopped running, but tried to explain to us, "See the sign. It says right there...No service after 8:00." (I wish I'd have taken a picture of the DART sign from the other side so you could see it).

We assured her tonight that was changing and the bus would now run through Turner Courts after 8:00 on a regular basis.

You should've seen her face. Though my pictures didn't turn out very well in the dark, she was somewhat older, had dress shoes on, and was coming from the church, I believe. The look on her face and her comments were absolutely priceless. "Really?? It's going to stop here from now on?? Oh, thank you Jesus!!" She seemed so relieved, surprised, skeptical, but thrilled. Her excitement nearly brought tears to my eyes.

As the bus pulled up and stopped, Dwaine Caraway, our city council person, stepped off along with about 3 Turner Courts residents who were coming home for the evening. One young adult getting off of the bus was just as shocked as the older lady. "I never thought I'd see the day that these buses actually go through the apartments at night."

Though we planned our little gathering of meeting the bus and witnessing the outcome of the community's efforts to speak out, we couldn't have planned the older lady running for the bus and expressing such relief and genuine appreciation.

Customer service. Valuing the community. It's important.

Sometimes it's important to go the extra mile...or in this case the extra demonstrate commitment, show value, and let everyone in and outside of the community know we're all in this together and we're going to do what it takes to make this community safer and more appealing for the neighbors who currently live there, the children, store owners, bus drivers, and visitors. By working together as a community, inclusive of pro-active city services, we can make this a more pleasant place to live now and a more pleasant area that will attract other businesses and services in the future.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

From little things, big things grow

A Song By Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody ©1992

This song talks about an 8-year strike by the indiginous people of Australia beginning in the 60s. Though it took eight years, the Australian government finally acknowledge the people and returned their land to them. Just this year, the government apologized.

The message is powerful and has much application to us in the United States today.

  • "Now you failed to imagine what if it happened to you" ...What if we decided as a country to imagine others' situations as our own? What if we thought about things from other people's perspectives? Would we change bus routes? Would we beef up police presence? Would we improve the schools?

  • "We must all play our part" ...Change can't come from just one side. Otherwise, it gets defeated by those who push harder and want more for themselves. We have to be in this and poor, black and white, neighborhood to neighborhood.

  • "It seems to me that if we can imagine the injustice we can imagine the opposite and we can have justice" ...If we truly looked at what was injust in communities across our cities and our nation, we would be able to understand how to create justice. But when we stay focused on ourselves, we miss out on the injustices others face.

We are all very much alike and have similar desires, hopes, and dreams...if only we can look past the barriers that separate us.

In Turner Courts, we are doing little things. In urban communities across America, people are doing little things. But "from little things, big things grow." I look forward to that day.

Wharfies on May Day march, Sydney 1965

As Prime Minister of Australia, I am sorry.
On behalf of the Government of Australia, I am sorry.
On behalf of the Parliament of Australia, I am sorry.
And I offer you this apology without qualification.

To say sorry means to give respect
It’s long overdue
Now you failed to imagine
What if it happened to you

Now they’re not only words now it’s not just a symbol
Accepting the past, well it’s not always simple
When thinking of yesterday
We live for tomorrow
We can’t face the future now
Till we face the sorrow

Now under the colours, yeah
Of red, yellow, black
We say “Never again”
We say “No turning back”

From little things, big things grow
From little things, big things grow
From little things, big things grow
From little things, big things grow

Lighting up the path
With good in our heart
See the more that you look
The better for all
So he sang as he walked
And together we stand
For we’re sure to stand tall
We must all play our part
[Rudd: “indigenous and non indigenous”]
Tears within our brow
Yes forward we struggle and all we’ve achieved
Will be nothing if greed was the only motivation of man
So we can love one another, and with respect for each other
Then we move forward [”reconciled”] together

From little things, big things grow
From little things, big things grow
From little things, big things grow
From little things, big things grow

There are moments in the lives of nations
Where hope and history rhyme
And now’s one of those times
Let’s close the gap and if we truly mean it
we can stare down our future and find
we can see through those eyes
And let us not stand with those who deny

It seems to me that if we can imagine the injustice
We can imagine the opposite
And we can have justice

From little things, big things grow
From little things, big things grow
From little things, big things grow
From little things, big things grow


All of us are one, because we are human
And if I cut you, you cut me, what comes out?
red blood, not different colour blood, only red blood. Yes.

Bill Moyers commentary on Jeremiah Wright

At the risk of beating a dead horse...and being just like the media, I feel the need to bring Jeremiah Wright up just one more time (unless, of course, something comes up again :) ). I really appreciate Bill Moyers' perspective. He articulates so well the points that I have thought about over the last few weeks. I wanted to give everyone the chance to see what he said on the Journal last night. I couldn't get the video so you can either click on the link or read the transcript below.

May 2, 2008
BILL MOYERS:Welcome to the Journal.
I once asked a reporter back from Vietnam, "Who's telling the truth over there?" Everyone he said. Everyone sees what's happening through the lens of their own experience." That's how people see Jeremiah Wright. In my conversation with him on this broadcast a week ago and in his dramatic public appearances since, he revealed himself to be far more complex than the sound bites that propelled him onto the public stage. Over 2000 of you have written me about him, and your opinions vary widely. Some sting: "Jeremiah Wright is nothing more than a race-hustling, American hating radical," one viewer wrote. A "nut case," said another. Others were far more were sympathetic to him.

Many of you have asked for some rational explanation for Wright's transition from reasonable conversation to shocking anger at the National Press Club. A psychologist might pull back some of the layers and see this complicated man more clearly, but I'm not a psychologist. Many black preachers I've known - scholarly, smart, and gentle in person -- uncorked fire and brimstone in the pulpit. Of course I've known many white preachers like that, too.

But where I grew up in the south, before the civil rights movement, the pulpit was a safe place for black men to express anger for which they would have been punished anywhere else; a safe place for the fierce thunder of dignity denied, justice delayed. I think I would have been angry if my ancestors had been transported thousands of miles in the hellish hole of a slave ship, then sold at auction, humiliated, whipped, and lynched. Or if my great-great grandfather had been but three -fifths of a person in a constitution that proclaimed, "We the people." Or if my own parents had been subjected to the racial vitriol of Jim Crow, Strom Thurmond, Bull Connor, and Jesse Helms. Even so, the anger of black preachers I've known and heard about and reported on was, for them, very personal and cathartic.

That's not how Jeremiah Wright came across in those sound bites or in his defiant performances this week. What white America is hearing in his most inflammatory words is an attack on the America they cherish and that many of their sons have died for in battle — forgetting that black Americans have fought and bled beside them, and that Wright himself has a record of honored service in the Navy. Hardly anyone took the "chickens come home to roost" remark to convey the message that intervention in the political battles of other nations is sure to bring retaliation in some form, which is not to justify the particular savagery of 9/11 but to understand that actions have consequences. My friend Bernard Weisberger, the historian, says, yes, people are understandably seething with indignation over Wright's absurd charge that the united states deliberately brought an HIV epidemic into being. But it is a fact, he says, that within living memory the U.S. Public Health Service conducted a study that deliberately deceived black men with syphilis into believing that they were being treated, while actually letting them die for the sake of a scientific test. Does this excuse Wright's anger? His exaggerations or distortions? You'll have to decide or yourself. At least it helps me to understand the why of them.

But in this multimedia age the pulpit isn't only available on Sunday mornings. There's round the clock media — the beast whose hunger is never satisfied, especially for the fast food with emotional content. So the preacher starts with rational discussion and after much prodding throws more and more gasoline on the fire that will eventually consume everything it touches. He had help — people who for their own reasons set out to conflate the man in the pulpit who wasn't running for president with the man in the pew who was.

Behold the double standard: John McCain sought out the endorsement of John Hagee, the war-mongering Catholic-bashing Texas preacher, who said the people of New Orleans got what they deserved for their sins. But no one suggests McCain shares Hagee's delusions, or thinks AIDS is God's punishment for homosexuality. Pat Robertson called for the assassination of a foreign head of state and asked God to remove Supreme Court justices, yet he remains a force in the Republican religious right. After 9/11 Jerry Falwell said the attack was God's judgment on America for having been driven out of our schools and the public square, but when McCain goes after the endorsement of a preacher he once condemned as an agent of intolerance, the press gives him a pass.

Jon Stewart recently played a tape from the Nixon white house in which Billy Graham talks in the oval office about how he has friends who are Jewish, but he knows in his heart that they are undermining America. This is crazy and wrong -- white preachers are given leeway in politics that others aren't.

Which means it is all about race, isn't it? Wright's offensive opinions and inflammatory appearances are judged differently. He doesn't fire a shot in anger, put a noose around anyone's neck, call for insurrection, or plant a bomb in a church with children in Sunday school. What he does is to speak his mind in a language and style that unsettles some people, and says some things so outlandish and ill-advised that he finally leaves Obama no choice but to end their friendship. Politics often exposes us to the corroding acid of the politics of personal destruction, but I've never seen anything like this — this wrenching break between pastor and parishioner. Both men no doubt will carry the grief to their graves. All the rest of us should hang our heads in shame for letting it come to this in America, where the gluttony of the non-stop media grinder consumes us all and prevents an honest conversation on race. It is the price we are paying for failing to heed the great historian Jacob Burckhardt, who said "beware the terrible simplifiers".

Friday, May 02, 2008

The capacity is in the community

The goal of inner city ministry is to help a community. "Helping" can be defined differently depending on the organization. Some believe that Christianity is the foundational principle so they focus on Bible studies and Christian principles. Others believe that equipping people with skills is important so they focus on life skills training, job skills, academic preparation, among other things. Some are a combination of the two.

Over the last several months, we have run into some situations that make me wonder if we should begin focusing our efforts differently and how to go about doing that.

Through Sylvia's efforts with our Educational Outreach Center, we have found that people want jobs. Yet, when we have tried to hire people for jobs at our After-School Academy, we continuously run into obstacles. Some can't pass a drug test...some don't have a driver's license...some have outstanding tickets that have turned into warrants for their arrest...some don't communicate well and try to show up to orientation on their own time schedule...some decide what part of the job is important and put in half-hearted effort.

The barriers are often deeper than just finding someone a job.

People can advocate for change in their community, but unless they get help for their drug issues, they won't be able to get...or maybe keep...a job, which affects the economic viability of the community. Sometimes it's financial issues where people may want to make a change but they have made a bad decision or two in the past to ignore a ticket or an outstanding loan because they didn't have the $300 to pay at the time and it continues to exponentially increase. Sometimes people make bad decisions, but then want to change...but because of their past decisions, their obstacles seem insurmountable.

What we're beginning to find is that the real problem is not just helping people find jobs…it’s helping people deal with drug habits so they can maintain a job. It’s not just getting them to a point of making more money, it’s helping them learn how to manage what little money they currently have and begin paying off some of the things that may have accumulated because of past decisions. It’s not just getting them a car, it’s helping them to get a license and work with them to make sure when they get a car, they understand all of the financial costs associated--like insurance and driver's license--so that if/when they do get a ticket, it’s not multiplied by getting extra tickets for no insurance, no license, etc. It’s helping people understand that although they may not feel they have the money now to pay off their ticket, their credit card, their loan, etc., it only multiplies over time so they need to get started now (or don’t take on that expense in the first place) in order to save them money later.

Though it can be extremely frustrating, I continue to tell myself that these things take time. I continue to focus our efforts on hiring people within the community, because I know that there are good people out there who simply need an opportunity. There are others who need an opportunity as well as someone to help them work through their obstacles.

Hiring someone outside of the community who may have better organizational or communication skills and may have a squeaky clean record often seem like it would decrease my work load substantially, but it takes away the opportunity to work with a potential leader in the community. It takes away the hope that the community has the capacity right in front of them.

The quick fix is easier. Problem is, it often leads to long-term dependence.

Though the immediate relief of hiring someone who already possesses all of the skills and iniative needed for the job may seem like a great solution today, I continue to believe that the long-term solution...and belief that the capacity is in the the answer.