Saturday, November 28, 2009

The purpose of a life...

Thanksgiving is my absolute favorite holiday. There is no gift-buying that adds to the stress of other holidays...just family getting together and doing what they do best--some cook, some clean, some take pictures...

I have so much to be thankful for.

Thankful was the word that came to mind when I watched this TED video:

I listened to Emmanuel Jal talk about his willingness to die for education...not for himself, but for the other children in the Sudan. He writes, he speaks, he performs...he only eats one meal a that he can raise money to build a school for the children in his home country.

Emmanuel Jal credits Emma McCune for saving him. It is because of her that he is able to save other people's lives.

We need dedicated matter what their dedication is to.

I am thankful that we have people like Emmanuel Jal who believe in education so much that they have dedicated their lives to ensure children have access. I am thankful for people like Emma McCune who believe so much in saving child soldiers that they dedicate their lives to the effort and, as a result, people like Emmanuel Jal and his vision becomes possible.

We all have those people in our lives. People who inspire us. People who save us from ourselves. People who are so devoted that we can't help but be devoted as well.

Thank you to all of those people.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Learning from Precious

Have you seen the movie Precious? If not, it's a must-see. But not just for a night out. Precious exists to pique our conscious. Read the book as well. The movie stays pretty true to the book, but the book provides even more insight.

I wanted to watch the movie because several years ago one of the teenagers were sitting in my apartment. We were having some kind of serious discussion and one of them mentioned that she had been sexually molested by her mother's boyfriend. One by one, the other girls spoke up...“Me, too…me, too…me, too…”

I had no idea what to do. We worked to try to get the most recent one to counseling but her grandmother resisted and her mother denied it had ever happened.

More recently one of them text'd me to let me know she was ok, but she had just tried to commit suicide. I couldn't believe it. She's in college and she had just told me how well she was doing! She explained that she had repressed her memories, but knew she needed to know. When her sister told her what all had happened, she couldn't take the reality. The residual of what happened when she was four or five years old still haunts her.

Just the other day when I was telling another young adult about my idea to have one of the girls I know speak about their situation in hopes of helping another young teenager speak out, she explained that she had also been sexually abused. She went on to tell me she knew of quite a few others who had been victims as well.


I don’t understand! Where do these sick, sick men come from?? And why can’t we stop them??

I had heard one time that 75% of women…or maybe it was 75% of African-American women had been sexually abused. 75%! That’s 3 out of 4 women! And I would guess most times that abuser is never brought to justice because the women were too scared and unsure to tell when they were kids and by the time they became adults they felt like there was nothing that could be done. I've heard mothers say, "It happened to me and I'm fine so you will be, too." ...and they don't realize how it has manifested itself in so many other ways in their life.

As I read the book, I've been bothered even more. Precious didn’t know how to read until she was 16 and was, by chance, put into an alternative program. She thinks so little of herself because her mother always called her stupid and ugly. She was fat because of her mother's abusiveness toward her. She was raped not only by her own father, but she was also molested by her own mother.

I think about other kids I’ve known. I wonder what I *don't* know about their situations.

I think about a girl I knew who was sexually abused by her mother's boyfriend for so long. I wonder about her sister. I wonder if that's why she was always a slow learner. I wonder what a pre-GED program and literacy program could have and could still do for her today.

I’m so happy that we finally have teen programs at Central Dallas. I’m happy that we have young adults working with the teenagers who have been in their shoes. They know what the teens have gone through and they can relate to them in ways I never could.

But I am not satisfied.

We have to do more.

I have known so many adults who graduated from high school who are illiterate. After watching Precious, I wonder now if some of their childhood situations may have contributed in a much bigger way than we realize.

We are doing what we can, on a small scale, with the elementary kids and the teenagers. But we need a program that works on literacy. We need a pre-GED program. We need counselors--not the school referrals that send kids to counseling but only allow them three visits...not the school counselors (because they only administer tests and aren't real counselors anymore) ...and not the fly-by-night counseling services that come through the inner-city neighborhoods to make a buck, take on clients for a limit time until their funding runs out, and without even having the counseling ethics to tell a parent or client that they will be leaving, they disappear.

We need more programs like the ASA, Teen U, the Library, and Digital Connectors. Programs that exist for the long haul. Programs that don’t disappear. Programs that have such dedicated staff who care about the future of the kids and adults in the community. Programs that offer solutions instead of just pointing out the problems.

We’ve got to do more. Not just in Dallas, but everywhere.

I don’t know what that is just yet. I haven't figured out what we will start next. But I know we’ve got to do more.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Teen U: Helping teens realize their dreams

One of my biggest pet peeves these days is listening to adults talking about inner-city youth say, "We've got to teach these kids to value education."

Newsflash: Kids value education. They simply don't have the opportunities to get a good education from many of our schools...and they don't know what to do to progress past high school.

Note to adults: Stop trying to teach them to value education and, instead, start providing them with opportunities.

Case in point:
This past Saturday I woke up at 4:00 a.m. so I could drive the van for Teen University's college trip to Prairie View A & M. When I arrived at 5:05 a.m., I only saw one teenager walking toward Teen U. I admit, I was disappointed.

However, my disappointment was completely unwarranted.

As Terrence (Teen U Coordinator) finished up inside the building and walked out, seven teenagers followed right behind him. He told me later that they were at the door waiting for him when he arrived at 5:00 and were trying to tell him he was the one who was late!

The entire trip impressed me! As we went into our first session, the teens introduced themselves to the PVAMU financial aid speakers just as they had been taught at Teen U. As they took the campus tour, the teens stayed right on the heels of the tour guides listening to everything said.

Realities we need to recognize:
One girl in the group was a senior. She only recently got involved with Teen U, but it was very obvious she was serious about being on the trip.

After our first session with financial aid, she began talking to me out of the blue. "I've got a lot of questions, but I don't even know how to ask them," she confided. She mentioned her concern that she wouldn't be able to start college next year. She explained how she would be the first in her family to go to college. She wanted to make sure if she didn't go to college right out of high school we would still help her.

As we drove home, she and I talked about careers and college possibilities. Though she said she wanted to go into the medical field, in talking to her I found she had a lot of interests and wasn't aware of all of the possibilities available to her. She hadn't ever visited colleges beyond the community colleges in Dallas.

Why Teen U exists:
In working with kids and teens over the years, over and over I hear the same thing. Teenagers want to go to college, but don't know how. Teenagers want to be "successful" but have no idea of the possibilities of careers that are open to them.

Props to the staff:
For the first time in my career, I did not play a role in the planning or decision making. All I did was agree to drive. I'm so glad I did. It's obvious that the teens are absolutely amazing because of the staff at Teen U. The Teen U staff and interns are passionate about ensuring the teens have the information and knowledge to make a smooth transition into college.

Teen U has only been in operation for two months and already has a solid group of about 10 students plus about 20 others who show up once or twice a week. As more teens find out, I know Teen U will continue to grow.

Teens know to value education. It's our job to provide them with the opportunity to realize their dreams.

Friday, November 20, 2009

What's in your community?

I forget how easy it is to do a good deed. And I forget how meaningful those good deeds can be.

Last night we had our monthly Parent Academy. Soup and sandwiches are provided through an organization that comes each week. We try to over-estimate our numbers so that we are sure to have food for everyone. Last night we had an over-abundance of leftovers. Mostly soup and bananas.

By about 8:30 when the meeting was over, I was ready to go home. Though I *hate* to waste food, I was about resigned to throwing the soup in the trash when Tameshia wondered aloud if there would be any homeless shelter open to take it to.

Duh! Why didn't I think of that?!

Before I moved to Dallas, I was very involved with the homeless. I worked at a cafe breakfast program designed for formerly homeless addicts in Chicago and then worked at a homeless shelter in Boston. As I walked and caught the bus to work, I made friends with the homeless men asking for change or selling newspapers. I always enjoyed what I learned from them.

One of the guys in Boston, who stationed himself right outside of Mass General hospital, informed me that people would walk right past him without ever even looking at him until one of the doctors (who had become a friend of his) would stop and talk to him. He told me people would literally go around the corner then turn around and come back to give him money if the doctor was standing by him.

So, when Tameshia suggested that, I thought of the places I know. I thought of the Dallas International Street Church because of a friend who volunteers there and because of some minor involvement I've had there.

So, we headed that direction. I called my friend, Karen, to make sure it would be ok to take food that late at night. She assured me it would and told me who to connect with once there.

Just as she said, church services were in progress. Several men were sitting around out front, while others were walking in and out of a building beside the church. It was dark and the street where the church is located is not necessarily the best neighborhood to be in.

It's interesting to me how darkness and run-down buildings can make everything seem so scary. Because the man I approached had absolutely no threatening factor about him. As I asked my questions, he immediately guided me in the right direction, sending me to another man by an open door. As he saw the man we needed to speak to, he called out to him. Barry and a young teenage boy came over to the car to pick up the soup.

Each gentleman thanked us in a very gracious way that wasn't over-done or under-appreciated. They took the soup and bananas and returned to the building.

I am reminded how much perfectly good food goes to waste when people right down the street are hungry. And tonight I was reminded of how easy it is to do good if I simply get outside of my every day routine and think outside of that box.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Volunteer Spotlight: Susie Marshall

I often get random requests from people wanting to volunteer with our education programs. Usually the requests are very specific. They want to come on a certain day (usually a weekend or an evening after we're closed) and during a certain time frame. Oftentimes, they want to bring a large group of people.

I truly appreciate a person's willingness to give of their time, but I struggle to try to reconcile a group or individual's willingness to give of their time (working around their work schedules) with our actual need. There has got to be some way to engage people in volunteering without making our staff work 50 hours a week to accommodate them. There has also got to be a way to engage volunteers in a way that is beneficial to the program instead of just busy-work that is created because non-profits feel the need to cater to volunteers.

The consistent and genuinely engaged volunteer is very rare and hard to come by but they are possible. We have a couple of them.

Today, I want to spotlight Susie Marshall as one of those people.


Susie works with the Gleaning Network of Texas. She helped our After-School Academy get their garden started this summer. Her original commitment was to teach a garden/environment class one Friday a month last school year. But she took it upon herself to visit us more than that. Susie would stop by every so--in between meetings or if she was down the street for some reason--often just to say hi or to check out something for the class she was going to be teaching. Because she was so consistent, we convinced her back in the summer to help the kids to start a garden.

Due to different obstacles here and there, we couldn't start the garden when we wanted to. Many people would have stopped coming. But that didn't stop Susie. She kept coming. She hung out. She got to know the kids better. She assisted some teachers and sat in on some classes. She became a part of our program, despite there being "nothing" for her to do.

By the time we got approval for the garden, Susie was ready...because she never went away. Since we were behind in the process, she recruited different people to help. She ran into more obstacles (the ground was too hard). She did more research. She decided on a "lasagna garden." Since the process was too big for small kids, she recruited a group of teenagers to work with the kids.

We could have set aside our project and waited for a volunteer group to come along, but we needed to get the garden going so that vegetables could grow and so that the kids could work in it. And we didn't want it done *by* somebody, we wanted it done *with* the kids. Susie knew all of that and was quick to accommodate--even gathering and purchasing the supplies needed.

Because we had a long time relationship/partnership with Susie, she didn't need a lot of nurturing. We didn't have to provide a staff member to supervise her and her group on a Saturday because she was very familiar with us, the garden, the kids, and our expectations. Susie's volunteering efforts didn't (and don't) take time away from what we spend with the kids, they enhance them.

The garden now has green peppers, red tomatoes, and ripe black-eyed peas and jalepenos. Susie is still researching new practices and has become a part of our summer planning committee. Our After-School Academy is doing some great things with the help of volunteers like Susie.


If you are someone who wants to be involved, offer your time. Stop in on your lunch break and be willing to enter data or shelve books. Get to know the program's day-to-day activities and needs when kids and big events *aren't* happening. We have to have staff to run our programs like everyone else. Our kids deserve that. But in preparing for our programs, we don't always have time to get the behind-the-scenes things done. Help us with those behind the scenes things...or just show up regularly so that we know we can call on you when we need something. And we need those kinds of volunteers beyond Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Dr. Iesha

For the last two weeks I've been going to physical therapy to rehab my knee.

I'm a big believer in exposing kids to new opportunities and careers. So as I left therapy the first day, I asked my physical therapist if he would mind if I brought a kid with me the next time. He said he didn't think it would be a problem.

So...each time since, I have taken a different "kid" with me. Warzandrielle, a sophomore, was first. Hayzul, a 4th grader, was next. Brittany, a sophomore in college was next. Each of those guys seemed to enjoy the experience. Warzandrielle celebrated with me when I came home and told her my knee had healed enough for me to make an entire revolution on a stationary bike. Hayzul learned what a quadricep, a hamstring, and a calf muscle was. And Brittany decided that she just might want to change her major from Political Science to Sports Medicine.

So, tonight, when Danielle (our After-School Academy Coordinator) brought Iesha (2nd grader) to me, I thought she had asked someone too young. On the way there, I talked to her about what we were going to be doing. I asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up. She said a doctor. I figured at least that was a start.

Once there, as I worked on the bike and then the shuttle machine, I tried to give Iesha some similar activities so she could work the same muscles I was working. She did the exercises, but seemed just as content watching me and everyone else doing exercises.

After doing a few exercises, one of the therapists allowed Iesha to shut off the timer and asked if she was going to read the next exercise on the clipboard. Iesha, being as quiet and shy as she is, didn't respond. Feeling that it was ok for Iesha to look at the clipboard, I asked her if she was going to tell me the next activity. Next thing I knew, the beeper went off. Iesha took it upon herself to turn off the beeper, take the clipboard off of the counter, and begin to read me the next item on the list, "Is-o-met-ric..." she began.

She wasn't being silly. She was very intent on her job. She took on the role so well that I could see shock but a pleasant, surprised smile on my physical therapist's face as he watched her. He proceeded to ask Iesha what I was supposed to do next. Very intently, she looked at the chart and did her best to figure out which exercise was next and how to pronounce it. As we finished up, he smiled in a very pleased way and commented to her in a very genuine way, "We need to hire you!" He went on to say that child labor laws would prevent that, but I got the feeling that had Iesha been about 10 years older he would've hired her on the spot! When we left, my therapist very seriously asked her if she was going to come back.

As we got in the car, I loved watching the smile creep across her face as I told her from now on I was going to refer to her as Dr. Iesha.

Ask Iesha what she wants to be now and I think she just might tell you, "Phy-si-cal thera-pist." It's a big career with a hard name. We've just got to work on saying it.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Great things at the ASA

My staff constantly tells me little snippits of great things that are happening in our Teen U, Library, Digital Connectors, and After-School Academy. I constantly tell them, "Write it down!" But, when in the midst of it, it's a whole lot easier to tell someone than to take the time to write it.

However, I just noticed that there are three new posts at our ASA blog.

Check them out. Hopefully soon, I'll be posting some comments the staff has made in the "traveling journal" we've been keeping.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Exploiting poor people's desire to learn

As I was walking out of my office the other day, a friend of mine in the housing development where I work approached me with a big smile on her face. "I'm so glad I caught you! I wanted to give you my graduation announcement!"

Being the educator I am, I try to make every graduation I can. Graduations excite me. I was honored that she would think of me when she was inviting people.

As I opened the invitation in front of her and saw Everest College, I tried to keep the smile on my face, though my heart cringed. I knew she had just wasted two years of her life and probably had the debt to prove it.

I don't know that our country realizes how well it has sold the idea that education is the key to one's future. I hear it preached over and over again in the inner-city where I live and work...and people listen.

People in the neighborhoods and in the housing developments where I lived and worked have bought into the belief that education is they key to their future. It is because of that belief that they actively pursue "higher education." The problem isn't in their effort. Their problem lies in where they've been convinced to pursue this "higher education."

If someone comes to me to ask for college advice, I immediately, emphatically tell them to stay away from "colleges" like Everest, Remington, ATI, or some these other for-profit schools that promise them they will have no financial obligation and promise them a high-paying job when they finish. I try to convince them what many of us know already. Those institutions lie to get people in the door. See this article: The Subprime Student Loan Racket - Stephen Burd

Sometimes, I can convince people of the lies they've been told. Other times I can't. The for-profit institutions market so strongly to poor communities that people are convinced they are their ticket out of their life of poverty. Instead, they are their ticket into more poverty.

However, it is one thing for me to convince someone before they start their educational career. It is yet another when someone is 1/2 way or all the way through one of these exploitative schools. They are so proud of working toward something, I don't have the heart to tell them the reality they are about to face. Unfortunately, because of these schools, they often get dissuaded and then convince their children that they have to accept the reality that there isn't a way out.

So what do we do about "colleges" like ITT Tech, University of Phoenix, Westwood, Career Education, Corinthian College, DeVry, Brooks Institute, and Everest?

We need to change legislation. We need to prevent these institutions from profiting off of the backs of poor people.

Right now, the government acknowledges these schools and assists with their funding by backing defaulted loans. Sallie Mae works in conjunction with them because they make big profits in working with these for-profit schools.

If you have a similar story, post it here. If you know of people who are being taken advantage of because of these schools, post that as well. Maybe we can build enough stories to convince Congress there need to be strict regulations against them.

We need to get the word out that it is not ok to exploit poor people's desire to learn.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Justice of the Peace refuses to marry interracial resigns

It's the year 2009. Barack Obama, a bi-racial man, has been elected President of the United States of America. As we look back through our history, we can see the events that led up to him becoming president.

School segregation was outlawed in 1954. Some cities (like Dallas) didn't institute it until 1970. Even now schools suffer from de facto segregation, but at least the de jure segregation is over, I suppose.

In 1967, the Supreme Court determined that interracial marriages were legal. This was another landmark decision. No longer were people told who they could and couldn't love.

Despite this fact, 40+ years later a Justice of the Peace in Louisiana thinks that he doesn't have to abide by that Supreme Court decision. Keith Bardwell refused to marry at least four interracial couples in the last 2 1/2 years.

After much publicity and despite his term being up in 2014, Mr. Bardwell has now decided to resign. Thank goodness.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

When will we understand that blackface is *not* acceptable??

Remember that Post-racial America series I did here, here, and here? Well, here's another to add to it. reports that a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader dressed up in blackface as Lil' Wayne for Halloween. Though I believe Deadspin was reporting it for the sheer idiocy of the act, the question they pose at the beginning of their article speaks to their own ignorance:

"When are people going to learn that you cannot upload photos to your Facebook page if you don't want them to get out?"

Geesh! How do people miss the point so blatantly??

Maybe I'm over-estimating people, but I think we all know that the World Wide Web is the WORLD WIDE Web! We may not think about it as much as we should, but people know that their words, pictures, etc. are accessible. Otherwise, we wouldn't put them on our pages. Whitney Isleib knew other people would see her photos. There would have been no need to post them if others couldn't see them.

The problem here is not that she uploaded the photo (though the picture is nauseating to look at). The problem is that she thought it was ok to go in blackface in the first place!

I'm sure she shared her costume idea with others before going out for the evening. So, my other problem with this whole incident is that no one around her talked her out of the idea!

Whitney obviously doesn't have the social consciousness to know or understand her actions...on the other hand, maybe she does. I mean, really, who doesn't know by now that blackface is not acceptable?? But, it sounds like she also doesn't have friends who are willing to call her on her own ignorance.

I'm sure someone will point out that there were Black people at the same party. I saw that, too. The only thing I can think is that if I were Black, would I point out the racism of your costume or just shake my head and wonder why White people still don't get it. I lean toward the latter.

I'm trying to keep myself from lumping Whitney in with all White people. But when will we learn?? When will we begin taking historical context into account and realizing that no matter what year it is or what crowd of people we are around, some things just aren't acceptable!

My friends deserve the Public Option

I mentioned in a previous post that I was trying to rehab a knee injury. Little did I know it was a torn ACL.

I had surgery. Even with insurance it has been a pretty expensive process. But I am blessed to have a cousin who took on the expense of housing me, feeding me, and providing any medication and supplies I needed. I have parents who drove from Missouri and contributed as well. I have other friends who brought food and loaned me exercise equipment to help me recover faster.

My recovery has been faster than most, I believe. I am grateful.

But I can't help but be troubled by my friends who need surgery and don't have insurance...nor could they afford it even if they did.

One friend particularly disturbs me...

As we walked and talked the other day, he stopped. His hip was convulsing. I paused and asked if he was ok. He said he was; his hip just sometimes acts like it wants to move out of socket.

After standing for about 30 seconds and the shaking hip continued, I quickly grabbed a chair for him to sit in. I don't think he could have moved at that point to go get the chair himself.

My friend is only 24 years old.

I asked him what caused his hip to do that. He explained that he had an old basketball injury from high school. At the time of the injury, his family was poor and had no health insurance so they didn't (couldn't) fix it.

As he got older, he found out that the injury had progressed and gotten bad enough that he needed hip replacement surgery. However, they won't do a hip replacement on a 24-year old. Besides that, he is an adult on his own now, has graduated from college, and is now in seminary. He is on his own and, once again, doesn't have insurance. He could at least use physical therapy...but, again, no insurance.

He takes 16 hours in seminary. He works a 30+ hour a week job. What has he done to *not* deserve health care??

We need a public option. Please, President Obama, push for the public option.

But, President Obama can't do it on his own. We need to help.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Creating a Single Story

I often wonder why terrorists who fly planes through the Twin Towers cause us to hate and become skeptical of Muslims, but why two White men in the Oklahoma City bombing become two anti-government individuals that have never defined White America.

Listen to Chimamanda Adichie(below) as she describes what hearing a "single story" affected the way she saw her own life...and then her realization of how she looked at others.