[What follows is the text of my opening statement last week before a briefing session of the Dallas City Council and Mayor Mike Rawlings. During the almost 3-hour conversation, we presented the initial findings of the Mayor's Task Force on Poverty. It feels like we are making progress.]
six months ago, Mayor Rawlings invited me to chair a task force on poverty for
Dallas.The objective was to identify
5-6 steps that could be taken quickly to create catalytic impact relative to
the problem of poverty in Dallas.
mayor reminded us all that the short-term future of Dallas was bright for the
next 5 years or so.Beyond that line of
sight, things didn’t look so certain; in fact, the outlook for the longer term
appeared troubling.The mayor understood
that the surprising growth of poverty in Dallas posed a very real threat to our
entire community, and that we had to find ways to pull together as one for the
sake of all.
Poverty affects and
magnifies every other challenge we face as a city.Public education, higher education, community
health/wellness, employment skills matching available jobs, public safety, transportation,
quality of life issues in neighborhoods, food deserts—you name the challenge,
poverty intensifies the surrounding problems.
you are about to hear is the product of the task force’s hard work.Much of what you will hear should be
unsettling to you.It is to us.In my view, Dallas is not only the “tale of
two cities,” it is also the untold tale of one city—a city within a city
defined by poverty, limited opportunity and an uncertain future; a city well
acquainted with unrelenting “toxic stress.”It is not acceptable for a city as full of wealth and opportunity as
Dallas to be ranked as the 4th poorest urban center in the United
States just behind Detroit, Memphis and Philadelphia.
the time has come to go to work with new vigor.
[S]imple people can be amazingly powerful
when they are members one of another. As everyone knows, it is almost
impossible to create a fire with one log, even if it is a sound one, while
several poor logs may make an excellent fire if they stay together as they
My gender and my race set me up in a position of amazing advantage.
To deny this basic truth would be the ultimate in self-deception. To pretend that I've "made it own my own" would be the most damaging lie.
No one ever turned my father or me away from a drinking fountain. In fact, my society thought so much of us that we had a designated fountain with the word "ONLY" set in place to assure no one but our kind drank from these special places of refreshment.
No one ever turned me away or thought of turning me away from a school, a hotel, a neighborhood, a church, a restaurant, a business establishment or a job due to my racial identity.
My father moved from share cropping in West Texas to being a successful real estate developer. How? He was smart, but not formally educated beyond the 11th grade. He got an opportunity. He was given a chance.
Everyone in his work world was white. The job he began with at the City of Richardson could have been filled by a black man, but that's not how things worked. He was able to move into the private sector from that job and its experiences. I have to believe that the only thing separating a black dad from such success was the absence of an invitation to give it a try.
Growing up, I never thought of myself or my family in racial terms. Such thoughts were reserved for people of color.
Special schools were reserved for me and my friends, and they were all white. The black kids in the area had their own schools. I never saw the students or their schools.
The barriers facing my black and Hispanic friends as they grew up were real, considerable and almost impenetrable. It literally took an act of Congress to open doors sealed shut for so long. Actually, it was a matter of cutting doors through thick, unforgiving walls that finally opened up some passages for advancement in spite of their racial identity.
But, it's not all about history, or the past. Today it is certainly not all about "the progress" we've made.
There is no place for smugness when it comes to racial justice in the United States.
We have an African American president. That is a signal achievement for the nation.
However, don't be fooled.
White privilege, and male at that, remains a powerful force in our culture.
And personally, before I get too sold on my own accomplishments, it is always helpful to remind myself that I started, via a genetic lottery, with a huge advantage.
If you look at life as if it were a football game, I was born on my opponents' 5-yard line, while they weren't even in the stadium.
Racism hurts. In fact, it destroys, and the destruction goes deep into a person's psyche.
Racism and prejudice are not the same. All racists are prejudiced. But racism combines a hateful prejudice with power. It's the power that gives prejudice teeth, transforming it into a force that works in individual lives and decisions, but even more importantly, it also spawns policies and systems capable of oppressing entire groups of people on the basis of race and ethnicity alone.
Without a doubt over my lifetime, we've made progress as a nation in our struggle with and against racism. Still, two factors combine to ensure that our struggle must continue.
First, systemic racism still exists, and in some situations it is on the grow.
Disproportionate numbers of African Americans end up in prison in this nation. Violence against black "suspects" fills our news: young people in hoodies, an asthmatic adult choked to death, a young man in Ferguson, Missouri gunned down by a police officer as he held his empty hands high above his head in a posture of surrender, organized attacks on various essential expressions of the Voters' Rights Acts threatened to call in question the legitimacy of our electoral process. I know black mothers who feel compelled to teach their children how to react to authority figures in our culture, especially police officers. Who am I to question their assessment of the world their children must face even today? Rather than question or minimize, I just need to listen and learn. I could go on. People who protest too much about any conversation involving the so-called "race card," make me wonder about their true worldview regarding the subject.
Second, seasoned civil rights warriors have been defined in many respects by their experiences in the battle against racism. Such self-definition must be honored, not rudely brushed to the side.
Many activists in my generation simply cannot forget what went before the progress we have made. Frankly, it is unfair to ask them to forget that which has defined their lives so completely. White persons who insist on "moving on" or who urge us to forget the past in defensive responses to words like I am sharing right now, just don't understand. There is a time for simple listening in a real attempt to understand those who have been wounded and forever altered by the pain of the long night's struggle. The progress many white folks and even younger minorities want to quickly tout would not have been realized without the sacrifice of the generation that calls on us to never forget.
Sometimes being thoughtful means simply being silent, even when you don't agree, so that real hearing, listening and understanding can happen.
[A couple of weeks ago, a homeless woman and friend to CitySquare was murdered under an I-45 bridge near our new Opportunity Center. What follows are the reflections of one of our team leaders here at CitySquare. Jonathan knew Ava well, as his sentiments reflect. What he says speaks to the faith of our team and the hope of our community.]
Hello all. I arrived at work this morning to find your kind
and thoughtful card on my desk. Thank you for your thoughts and offer to help
during this time. I am still cycling through different emotions for Ava and the
homeless community around the OC. I am angry, then sad, then strangely at
peace. Some staff, volunteers, and neighbors are going to meet with me soon to
discuss how we can best honor Ava and do our part to create a safe space for
our friends in this area, especially under the I 45 overpass. I am reminded of
a scene from the movie The Shawshank Redemption. If you have seen the
film you will be familiar with the scene during which Andy plays a record of
two women singing over the prison PA system. This landed him in solitary but it
was worth it to him. It reminds me that there are moments of great beauty, of
transcendent truth even in the reality of the ugliness we face every single
day. Ava was a person of great beauty. She made this dark world brighter and we
are missing more than a friend, we are missing sunlight. I have faith that Ava
has been welcomed into a kingdom that has been prepared for her and for all of
us since the beginning of time and that as I write this she is comforted and
renewed by God. I have faith that this is the destiny of all of us. Thank you
all for the work you do and for how much you love and care for our neighbors. I
cannot wait for you all to move over here and to see you every day. You are a
blessing in my life and a constant source of strength.
Stepping onto the light rail train in Minneapolis on the way to the airport before 7:00 a.m. yesterday, I noticed 4 or 5 men sleeping in their seats.
Immediately behind me, a young man entered the train.
He was ill-clad, not much over 20 and developmentally challenged.
He turned to me with a look of panic on his face.
His speech sounded garbled.
His demeanor somewhat timid.
He drooled on this chin as he spoke.
"Could you give me $2.50 to make my fare?" he asked.
Turns out you can ride a day pass for $6.00.
The young man fumbled with money held in an open hand. He tried to count it again and again, even as the train rumbled along.
I handed him a five dollar bill. He thanked me and headed toward a seat to count his change again and again.
A couple of stops down the line he exited the train. I watched as he put his money in the ticket machine and received his day pass.
Now, I turned my attention to the others on the car.
Two men were urged off the train by transit officers under threat of a $180 ticket--one left thanking the officer again and again for not writing him up. The officers had stepped onto our car to do their morning work.
The officers interviewed another young man with a bicycle. They checked him for warrants. Not sure how his situation ended, as he remained on the train when I got off.
Most striking of all was an older gentleman with long, white hair.
He sat in a corner.
He held his head in his hands and moved his head back and forth, as if to declare a categorical "No!" on all of life as he knew it.
The ride to my plane made me feel like I was home already.
Reading the Bible with the eyes of the poor is a
different thing from reading it with a full belly. If it is read in the light
of the experience and hopes of the oppressed, the Bible’s revolutionary
themes—promise, exodus, resurrection and spirit—come alive.
Position Title: Afterschool Hero! Eligibility: 17 or older by 09/08/2014
High School Graduate
US Citizen or Permanent Resident
Pass a criminal background check
Must have reliable transportation
General availability Sept-May, M-F, 1-7pm Commitment: 09/08/2014 through 05/29/2015 (full 9 months) Min. Hours: 20 Hrs/Wk
675 Hrs Total Compensation: $221 Biweekly; $4,200 Total Living Allowance
$2,150 End of Term Education Award Required Events: AmeriCorps & Site Training 09/08-09/12/2014
Additional Trainings TBD Afterschool Position Description: Members serve with one partner agency for the length of their term to provide afterschool assistance, homework help, tutoring and lead academic enrichment and recreational activities to youth grades K-12 under the supervision of a Site Coordinator.
Before students arrive on site, members plan, gather materials and prepare their stations for the day’s activities. When the students arrive, members guide students to the appropriate stations, help with homework and provide an afterschool meal. Based on the curriculum set out for the day, the member will assist or lead an academic enrichment activity. In the evening, the member will ensure students are picked up safely by a parent or guardian. Workstations will be cleaned up and team meetings may take place at this time. Any required data collection will be completed at this time, including time sheets, student attendance records, meal counts and homework completion.
Members also assist with program-related special projects and events as determined by site staff. Members are expected to help with program based events to help whenever possible, as long as these requests are within the AmeriCorps guidelines and do not take away time from essential functions. Placement Process: All prospective members must be interviewed by both the partner agency and AmeriCorps before receiving an official offer to be a part of the AmeriCorps program. This offer will be made by the AmeriCorps program via email and requires an official acceptance. Once a member has accepted the position, information on training and completing the required FBI fingerprint background check is provided. All members will be confirmed no later than September 8, 2014.
Partner Agencies: Cornerstone Baptist Church http://www.cornerstonedallas.org/
Jubilee Park and Community Center http://www.jubileecenter.org/
Kids University http://kids-u.org/
Trinity River Mission http://www.trinityrivermission.org/
Wesley Rankin Community Center http://wesleyrankin.org/wp/
O God, keep our whole country under your protection. Wipe out sin from this land; lift it up from the depth of sorrow, O Lord, our shining light. Save us from deep grief and misfortune, Lord of all nations. Bless us with your wisdom, so that the poor may not be oppressed and the rich may not be oppressors. Make this a nation having no ruler except God, a nation having no authority but that of Love. Amen.
(c) 1950 by Harper & Brothers
The longer I live in the city with all of its challenges and complexities, the more I realize that doing the right thing is almost always the best thing.
When it comes to serving hard core, down-and-out, mentally ill, addicted people who have racked up impressive criminal records and a huge tab for urban taxpayers, lots of folks lose all touch with compassion and any notion of "shared humanity."
I get that. I really do.
I may not agree, I may not respect the sentiment, but I do understand.
So, let's just leave soft-hearted, "do gooder" concerns behind.
Enough of this compassion speak!
Let's talk cost.
I mean, cold hard cash!
Housing the seemingly "unworthy" or undeserving poor can be tough business, if you're inclined to look at folks that way. But what if providing housing turns out to save us all money, the hard, cold cash variety?
The story of "Million Dollar Murray" and several national research trips convince me that the very best approach to overcoming the challenges facing our friends and neighbors who live without permanent housing is to provide them the housing they need first.
Further, we must build into the provision of housing some "space to fail."
Recovery doesn't happen over night for people who battled addictions. Punitive approaches that terminate housing benefits following set backs, work against recovery, not for it. Extending grace and coupling it with realistic expectations, turns out to be the most effective approach to overcoming homelessness in a city like Dallas.
In addition, providing permanent housing with "high-touch" support services (I like to use the word "concierge" right here), turns out to be less expensive by a factor of about three than maintaining people on the streets of our community.
So, doing what is right by this special population, turns out to also be doing what is best for everyone.
The event combined the spiritual and the utilitarian about as perfectly as any experience I've ever witnessed.
Think about it.
If you are homeless, you walk a lot. Your feet remain perpetually tired from the parade march that fills your days. Your shoes may not fit. A major challenge is finding some place where you can sit down to "get off your feet." Having your feet washed is like a little taste of heaven, just for a short while.
What made this event special was the fact that homeless people returned the favor. Some of our homeless neighbors washed the feet of their housed friends.
In the midst of the activity, over at the edge, a friend of mine showed me the blisters that plastered his feet.
His foot is size 14 extra wide! He has a big foot.
The shoes he wore were about size 11. They were worn out. They rubbed the top of his feet raw.
"Brother, Larry," he said, "do you think you could find me a pair of shoes that fit? That's all I ask."
Of course, I said, "Sure. I'll work on that."
Later that day I learned that a size 14 extra wide shoe has to be special ordered!
About a week later, after the shoes arrived, I found my friend out on the street.
I pulled up beside him at the corner and presented him with new socks and a pair of 14 extra wide, New Balance walking shoes.
The first words out of his mouth stunned me.
"You remembered, brother Larry, you remembered!" he almost shouted.
I thought to myself, well, sure I remembered.
Not a big deal.
But to him it was the whole deal.
He turned to a buddy standing behind him on the sidewalk at the corner and said, "They remembered me! They didn't forget me!"
The shoes were nice. They fit and everything.
But the great learning, the big take-away for me was the importance and the power of being remembered.
Like I say, utilitarian: sore, hot, blistered feet placed in comfortable new shoes.
But, also so spiritual: "Do this in memory of me"--spiritual in a real world way. A sacrament of the street.
As the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas prepares to celebrate 90 years of service, coordination and engagement in our city, nine great events will be rolled out in partnership with the Dallas Cowboys, local corporations and non-profits.
CitySquare hosted event number 2 just a few days ago.
Nine in 10 wealthy Americans say they want to help close the income gap between the rich and the poor, according to a new study released today. But only 39 percent say donating money to charities that provide education and employment programs is the way to help the disadvantaged. Wealthy individuals put more stock in volunteering as a way to help the poor: Forty-eight percent said giving their time and talents to programs that aid the disadvantaged would help create a more level economy.
Even more of the survey’s respondents, 53 percent, think the way to create income equality is through job creation by starting or growing businesses, or by promoting business ownership and laws that reduce regulations and taxes for entrepreneurs. The survey found that women are taking a more active role in wealth planning and decision-making, and many have their own fortunes: Fifty-two percent of women in the study came into their marriages or relationships with financial holdings equal to or larger than those of their partners, something for fundraisers to keep in mind when cultivating gifts from wealthy couples.
The nationwide survey, conducted by U.S. Trust, Bank of America Private Wealth Management, polled 680 Americans with investable assets of $3-million or more. Among other findings: One-third of women are the primary income earners or contribute equally to the wealth of their households. Three quarters of wealthy millennials (adults under age 35) consider the social and environmental impact of companies they invest in.
Nearly 80 percent of well-off millennials believe socially conscious investing can help hold businesses and governments accountable for their actions.
Last Thursday we took part in a "big event" out at the Opportunity Center just across the street from "the Corner."
A number of our community partners showed up to be with us.
We served several hundred meals.
People were pleasant, engaging and joyful--on both sides of the resource line!
The folks who came with the meals did a superb job in delivering them. It wasn't just another "hand out.' The volunteers from this company really spent time with the homeless poor who came to retrieve a box lunch.
But, simple "retrieval" wasn't possible with this group.
If you came, you talked to these people, both at the service line and then in lawn chairs arranged for conversation!
For them, it wasn't about the meal.
No, it was about the common humanity of everyone.
In the midst of it I walked up the street a bit to invite others to join us.
As I walked, I spotted him.
A man, slightly built, about 60-years-old, I'd hunch.
He looked ill.
His skin tone was deeply yellowish, betraying possible liver disease.
He was sitting on the curb resting his feet on a drain opening.
I invited him to join us for lunch.
The only word in his reply that I could hear was "sick."
"Are you feeling sick," I asked. "Do I need to call for a doctor?" "No!" he snapped back. "I said, 'I'm sick of stale sandwiches,'" he explained.
"I'm sure you are and I'm sorry," I replied before retreating up the street further.
He told me the truth. (Actually, the sandwiches this time were boxed, beautiful and not stale, but this gentleman had been to plenty of our rodeos!) He'd eaten my sandwiches before and he was tired.
In reality, what he was tired of was having to depend upon and settle for what I decided to bring his way.
He wanted more, and he wanted more on his terms.
I wasn't offended at all.
He just told me the truth as he saw and experienced it.
I left our encounter more determined than ever to work for the development of more permanent supportive housing.
Someday, I hope to watch him move into an apartment of his own where he can prepare his own meals, as he likes them.
If I'm lucky, maybe he'll invite me to dine with him in a home of his own.
Larry's new book, now available from Amazon.com! Also, now in Kindle format! To place your order visit Amazon.com today! Also, available at Barnes and Noble bookstores and on the web. Click on the image above to order!
Larry James' Urban Daily
A repository of ideas, resources, commentary and opinions concerning the issues facing low-income residents of the inner cities of the United States and how mainstream America largely forgets or, worse, ignores the day-to-day realities of urban life for the so-called "poor." Written and edited by the President & CEO of CitySquare. Please visit CitySquare.
Today and throughout 2013, we need your support to continue our life-changing work in inner-city Dallas. Every day hundreds of our wonderful neighbors arrive at our doors seeking our assistance, offering their help and prepared to pursue a better life. Frankly, the folks we "serve" make essential contributions to the scope, nature and soul of the work we attempt. At CitySquare we honor and recognize the amazing value and richness of our low-income neighbors. During 2012, almost 55,000 different people received the benefit of our wide-ranging services designed to assist in the process of building better lives. We need your help TODAY as we continue to respond to the needs of our community. Even more, we need you to become our PARTNER in the work of compassion and community renewal--work that continues day after day at CitySquare.