Thursday, May 27, 2010

So much work to do

Our kids have a lot of potential. They're bright, inquisitive, and active. The problem is, when there isn't something for them to do, they get restless and work to find a way to fulfill their need to do something. Unfortunately, this often results in them "experimenting" with things like, "What happens when I throw this paver (that was supposed to go to our garden) to the ground?" or "How hard do I have to throw this rock before it breaks that double-paned window?"

I don't think they have a clue that what they're doing are physics experiments. In their minds...and most times in ours...I think they're just vandalizing property...which is extremely irritating. But the reality is, whether they know it or not, they're experimenting. Our job is to channel that experimentation. And that's not always easy.

I want to say that parents should be more involved and aware of what their kids are doing. But during my social work internship, I was told that, "You can't 'should' all over yourself." So, instead of "should-ing" we've got to go to work.

We have a building that is not conducive to kids' programming...but it's a huge, nice building that we're extremely grateful for. Because of the way it's designed, kids run up and down the halls without us being able to monitor them. By the time we get to them, they've run out one door and in another. When there aren't very many staff people, we have to lock the door so we can monitor who comes in and out...and that doesn't even work very well.

Yesterday, when I walked over to the building, some kids were standing outside complaining because they couldn't get it while another kid was inside antagonizing by making faces at them through the window. The Community Center was closed so the kids who wanted to run around and play didn't have a place to go. Instead, they were wreaking havoc on the staff trying to conduct educational programs (a true testimony of why we need all kinds of different programming in a single community).

Though some of the kids know me, the one at the window did not. When I walked in and asked him to leave, he refused. I usually have great relationships with kids and they respect me even if they don't like what I'm telling them. But he didn't know me. After probably 30 minutes of refusing to just let him slide, he finally walked out the door...but not without commentary.

As he walked down the stairs, he mumbled loud enough to make sure I heard him, "Stupid white lady. You can just go back to Whiteville." Though it's not the first time something like that has been said to me, it hasn't happened in a long time. And though I didn't want it to bother me, it did.

I tried to write it off thinking, "I don't have a relationship with him. He doesn't know me. It's understandable."But the other side of me was saying, "That shouldn't matter. Kids should demonstrate respect no matter who it is." I was irritated that some kids show absolutely no respect for themselves, peers, property, or other adults. I addressed a few more situations in the building, then started to head back to the After-School Academy.

When I left the building, he was sitting outside. Knowing that my job was not done, I went over and sat down beside him. He didn't get up and run off when I sat down. We had a rational conversation about what had happened...well, mostly I talked and he listened.

At one point, another boy his age (about 10 or 11 years old) who knew me came up to me with a big smile and greeted me. I could see the other boy's eyebrows raise as he gave me a side eye like, "You know him??" and because this kid was his friend, I could tell he was thinking, "Wait! You like her??" I could tell my "stupid white lady" status was starting to break down.

The two boys gave each other their special handshake. I engaged the boy I knew and convinced him to teach me the special handshake...which he explained I could only do with about 4 other boys. My coolness factor was starting to come back. I convinced the boy I knew to leave so I could finish my conversation to which he then asked, "What did he do?" if he was hoping to find out so he could help me out, go tell his mom for me, or somehow reprimand him for me.

Once I convinced him to leave us for a minute, I finished my conversation. By the end, the kid I was talking to wasn't angry any more and explained that if he would've done what I said, the girls he was antagonizing would have laughed at him. He was trying to save face.

Ahhh...point well taken. So I could have approached the situation differently. We discussed what I could've done differently and what he could've done differently and ended by shaking hands and agreeing to both do better.

The whole situation wore me out. It made me start thinking about how we can structure our programs in a way that doesn't allow them to get to the point of that kind of behavior, but also to figure out how to teach them not just to respect the person they've built a relationship with, but to learn to respect the people and things they don't have a relationship with as well.

I know of one kid who was that trouble maker all through junior high and high school with everyone but me. People said he was just wrapped around my little finger. Perhaps he was. But I also know that I pressed him to be respectful and we had many conversations on how to respond to people even when he didn't like their reaction. Now, at 25, he has worked at the same job for 6 years and tells me about situations he deals with in a positive way in spite of what he wants to say or do. So, I know that what happens when they're 10...even if they only show respect for one person right now...can eventually affect them if they are continuously taught and coached.

It's a big job that takes a long-term commitment and effort. The short-term is frustrating at times and, despite the successes, doesn't seem to reach every kid. Maybe I shouldn't have to play the role of the parent. Maybe I shouldn't have to hire male staff to play the role of the male role model because so many fathers are absent. Maybe I shouldn't have to get such a large number of staff to handle the types of emotional and behavioral outbursts we have. But, again, it's not about the "shoulds," it's about working toward creating a society where we *all* feel safe. We have that opportunity. It's challenging...and there are many people who don't see the need to fund it. But think about the alternative...not just for the kids themselves, but for us as a society as well.

The kids deserve to see themselves in a different light...and the rest of society needs to see what they have to offer. We have a lot of work to do, but creating a sense of hope is never easy.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Ms. Charlie Mae Ransom--Community Leader

Charlie Mae Ransom was diagnosed with cancer in 2006. I remember the heavy hearts we all had when we heard the news. The doctor had given her only months to live.

We should've known better.

Ms. Ransom never was one to simply accept news. She was a fighter. She defied the doctors. Up until a few months ago, she might get tired a little quicker, but she never let it show.

She was tough and she spoke her mind. She demanded respect for herself and the community around her. When something wasn't getting taken care of, she made phone calls and went up the chain of command until she found the right person to take care of the issue. Her persistence gained her respect and reverence so that if Ms. Ransom called, you answered and you did whatever she asked...and if something new was going on in the community, you made sure Ms. Ransom knew and approved.

Ms. Ransom didn't believe in holding anything back. She was honest with people. I loved that about her.  "I want to be like you when I grow up," I always told her. Every time I said it, she would break into a slight smile and give a slight laugh.  

The video above shows some of the "Ms. Ransom events" I was able to be a part of over the last few years--her birthday, her family reunion, honoring Charlie Mae Ransom day... Ms. Ransom loved to dance. Every party we had, she was willing to be the center of attention doing her own dance to whatever music was playing. We waited for her to break out into her dances. It made the evening. She would tell me later, "Oh, I can't dance! I just like to so I do." She didn't worry about whether or not people thought she could dance. Ms. Ransom danced to her own song. It was her confidence in her song that won people over.

The video below was captured by our Junior Reporters in the After-School Academy. The kids were instructed to interview community leaders. The sound quality isn't great, but I'm really glad they were able to capture that moment and ask her some of those questions.

Thanks for the memories and the life lessons, Ms. Ransom. Your spirit and influence will always remain in Roseland.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

If everyone had a mom like mine the world would be a better place

It's Mother's Day and I'm 500 miles away from my mom...but she's been on my mind for the last week. As I've listened to news stories, I've thought about my mom and even had a conversation with my best friend about her.

We joke about my mom being so "frugal." But the other side to her frugality is that she is very generous and kind. and shares everything she has with everyone else. When we lived on the farm, she took eggs to church and sold them for something like 50 cents so other people could have cheap and farm-fresh eggs.

We had more than enough and there was no reason they should go to waste so she sold them cheap. She had a HUGE garden that she had created with anything from squash to tomatoes to peas to potatoes. She exchanged different produce with friends and neighbors who had gardens, but often gave the extra to people who didn't have a lot--shut ins, elderly, and people she knew couldn't afford a whole lot.

Once our house became a Bed & Breakfast, the business status provided her with discounts for different products in hopes that she would buy their product and sell them to her patrons for a profit. Instead, she let the customers and friends browse the book, collected orders, and purchased the products at cost so others were able to receive the discount. There was nothing in it for her. She just felt like everyone else should have the opportunity to have what she had.

Even when we opened the Bed & Breakfast, I can remember them having conversations about how much to charge. They didn't want to charge exorbitant amounts. They didn't...and in the 10 years or so they were open, I only remember them increasing the price by $5 or $10 one time.

My mother never used her opportunities for self-gain. I never remember her scrimping on quality in the Bed & Breakfast for the guests or in any business they ran. Yet, she and my dad have been able to retire very comfortably. They are enjoying traveling the world (literally).

I think of the executives at these large companies. T-mobile just tacked on an extra $2.50 tax to mine (and I assume the rest of their millions of customers') bill. The representative I talked to said it was a "discretionary tax." The CircleK car wash in my neighborhood has missing panels where the keypad to insert your money and your code is, has a rusty, deteriorated door, and has a dryer at the end that won't drop down, yet the man I talked to said, "we don't have money to replace the car wash"...and evidently don't have money to make it better either...yet they are willing to keep it open (and actually refuse to close it) so that people like me can spend their $5.00 for a car wash that isn't in very good shape. They are willing to take my money, but aren't willing to use my money on the car wash in my neighborhood. I guess these executives are scared they might not have enough to live on so they're willing to exploit others.

I wish everyone had a mom like mine. If they had, they would know to always provide good quality and not to scrimp on people in hopes of making more money for yourself. They would know that sometimes people are not as well off financially as they are and they would think about that when offering products. In the end, my parents aren't just "getting by," they are in good shape financially...and they did it all by passing along their kindness to others.

Thanks, mom. I'm glad God chose you to be my parent.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Nathan's Cello Concert--part 2

About this time last year I went to Nathan's cello concert. You can read about it here.

Much to his mother's surprise, Nathan has stuck with the cello. He is in his third year of orchestra and second year of playing the cello. He said he really likes it and is already signed up for orchestra for his freshman year of high school. I am really hoping he will try out for the Young Strings program at the Dallas Symphony next January.

His orchestra teacher was caught up with emotion as she explained to the audience she hated to let go of her 8th graders. She has done an amazing job with her group. It is obvious she is passionate about kids and music. I am so happy that there are some schools left that have quality arts programs that truly develop the kids in areas that go beyond the traditional reading, writing, and math.Like his mother, I would never have guessed Nathan would enjoy the cello, but I am so glad he has had the opportunity to try it out and discover that talent. Thank you, Dallas Independent School District, for allowing that arts programming in Lang and Skyline to continue. Our kids deserve that.

Indulge me and watch Nathan's performance in the video above. Watch it to the end so you can see he and his orchestra buddy's "secret" handshake. :)

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Jessica's kind Facebook note

This is extremely hard for me to post, but it is such an amazing, gracious note that my dear, dear friend, Jessica, who I dearly love, posted on her Facebook page and told me she was "forcing" me to put it on my blog. 

I have posted about Jessica a couple of times before. She never ceases to amaze me. She is currently in her Master's program at Texas A & M-Commerce.

This note is inspired by Janet Morrison. I read one of her blogs a few months back when she had began giving people awards through her blog, she encouraged other people to pass it it on. So here goes....

I would like to dedicate my award to.....JANET MORRISON! She is a person who has never ceased to amaze me. I always knew my award would go to her but it took me a long time to come up with a title for the award and to decide what exactly to say because I have so much to say. Although you deserve so much more than a blog, this one is for you!

Janet works for Central Dallas Ministries which is an organization that is really involved in helping the community. Janet's title there is the director of children's education which means she coordinates and oversees programs for the children. I have never seen anyone as involved in what they do as she is. She is constantly brainstorming ways to improve or make what she does more meaningful to those involved. She is constantly helping someone do something. She is what I call an activist because she is always stands up for what she believes in.

If you know Janet, you know she does not approve of giving time, money or effort and then walking away to never be seen again. So with that being said, she has honored her words in my life.

I met Janet at church many years ago when I was just a child. I attended the camp, "Univeristy of Values". I loved to attend the camp because it had a great atmosphere. She had trained her staff to interact positively with the kids. Never had I been in a place as such. When I grew too old to attend I became a volunteer and later a staff. It was the best job I have ever had. I really confirmed my passion to teach more than anything.

There has been many many times in my life where she has been exactly what I needed. I can recall when I was younger her making my birthdays special with her decorated cakes, making all the kids Christmas gift each year, sending a post card from Mexico and giving advice while being understanding when I was in trouble. As I got older, I remember her always encouraging me, helping me get into college, helping me deal with grief my freshman year of college, stepping in when others stepped out, assisting me with dealing with issues of all kinds in college, and celebrating my successes in life with me.

Even with all of that said, I still left out lots of things.

She is absolutely one of the best people that I have come across in life and she has been consistent and always true to her word. She is a blessing from God to me! I appreciate her and her efforts so much. So to Janet, my mentor, my friend, my supporter, my inspiration..... thanks for being an AMAZING "ALL AROUND" PERSON.

To all who read this and know Janet, what has Janet done for you? (Post here) And to Janet copy and paste this into your own blog please!!!!

Janet and Jess!

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Mega March solidarity

We must stand in unity. When one person’s voice is silenced, it is up to the rest of us to cry out. Justice is not a flexible tool. It must be applied to all and it must be applied equally. This is a shared planet, and until we can learn to respect and tolerate one another’s differences, we risk the continued loss of our freedom, our dignity, and the chance to create a peaceful world for our children.
~Leonard Peltier, In the Spirit of Crazy Horse

As I walked from the bus stop to the front of the march, I could feel my chest tighten as it does when I get emotionally overwhelmed. The signs I saw and the chants I heard had such big messages for being so concise. "Obama, Escucha, estamos en la lucha!" (Obama, listen, we are in the fight!) was chanted throughout the march.

"Which one is the illegal one?" with three shoes drawn (photo below) struck me as Arizona considers arresting people who "look" illegal.

"My husband supports us. If he's deported, America will." (photo below) made realize how silly our arguments can be for splitting up families just to make our point.

I always learn about people when I attend events like this. Listening to their voices instead of my own arguments for or against seems to have so much more rationale and reasoning than I can come up with. It's important to listen to the people who are affected by these laws. Maybe by listening to them, we might understand how we can do a better job of helping out the country they left as well as helping them in the country they immigrated to.