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Monday, March 02, 2015

Dallas County Schools--public and private


Interesting “snippets” from The COMMIT! Partnership’s annual report, “Our Kids.  Our Tomorrow.”

·         750,000 students served by COMMIT!

·         Coalition of 160 different institutions with a “vested stake” in Dallas     County’s educational outcomes.

·         Between 1980 and 2010, poverty increased by 242% in Dallas County neighborhoods.

·         Dallas has 3rd highest childhood poverty rate in U. S. (38%), behind Detroit (59%) and Memphis (44%). 

·         Dallas County’s job growth lags behind surrounding counties.  Between 2000 and 2012, jobs increased in Denton County (+63%), Collin County (+71%), Rockwall County (+89%), Kaufman County (+4%), Ellis County (+21%), Tarrant County (+10).  In Dallas County jobs fell (-13%).

·         By not increasing each student’s level of attainment, our region loses $6.9 billion in lifetime earnings for every cohort of about 30,000 students entering the K-12 system annually.
 
·         Hispanic and African American students lag woefully behind white students in Dallas County in every measured category:  in 2014, only 345 black students graduated “college ready.” Fewer than half as many economically disadvantaged students graduated college ready as more affluent students (1,128 compared to 2,600). 

·         56% of eligible students are not enrolled in Pre-K or Head Start. 

·         36% of students in Dallas County are reading on grade level by 3rd grade. 

·         $33 million is left on the table in Dallas County in student financial support/services. 

·         Teacher supply is declining by 4% annually, while student population is growing at 1% each year. 

·         While there are examples of high-poverty schools doing well or better, poverty remains a key driver in low performance.  

More clear and compelling evidence that we must attack poverty and its associated stresses on children and families.  And, NOW!

Friday, February 27, 2015

Why wait?

Everyone knows it.

We need to discover a radically different approach to attacking, beating back and at least managing poverty and its frightening growth in Dallas.

We don't need more data--data plays a key role, but we have more than enough for today. 

As Todd Williams noted at this week's COMMIT! Partnership festival, "we're not here to admire the size of the problem". . .  we know we have a problem already! 

What we need are solutions, hope and a plan to act. 

While our problems confront us with daunting complexities, pervasive affects and little sign of real progress (check this news report--listen past the weather update!), we must not back away from the challenge.  And, we must not settle for more talking, analyzing and reporting. 

The time has come for action.

So today, I'm in a "what if" mood as I consider the more than rapid growth of poverty in my hometown.

What if. . .

. . .we decided as a city to get dead serious about poverty in Dallas? You know, the kind of "serious" that puts poverty reduction on the agenda of every single Dallas City Council meeting and in the economic development strategy of the City Manager?  The level of commitment that served as a formula for settling disputes at City Hall about where to allocate limited resources? 

. . .we identified one public elementary school, possibly with a focus on one grade/class within that school? Or, if we could muster the courage, take on all the families represented by students on the target campus?

. . .we enrolled a cohort of families to participate in our 3-5 year process?

. . .we laid out cohort requirements in a membership contract for parents to sign on to (things like regular meetings, coaching, financial literacy, Safe Conversations about marriage and family, health and wellness screenings, life plan development, imagination trips/tours, etc.)?

. . .we recruited another cohort of resource partners who would sign on to target our family cohort with benefits and savings (I'm thinking of the principal and staff at the chosen DISD elementary school, folks from Health and Human Services, staff and leaders at the City of Dallas, major corporations, all public utilities, at least one serious bank partner, Dallas County, Parkland Health and Hospital System, expert but wide-ranging non-profit organizations, faith communities and others)?

. . .we located as many resources for the cohort as possible inside the target public school, transforming the school into a beehive-active community center?  Included would be mentors, reading partners and many other expressions of the smart, effective volunteer activities that have proven beneficial to schools, communities, families and children.

. . .we cut down on as much cash "outflow" as possible via free or near-free Internet/Wi-Fi access complete with computers or tablets, reducing all utility rates for the target cohort households, planning a monthly diet building exercise that would focus on both health and cost containment (via food pantries and the North Texas Food Bank, and lots of other creative cost reduction strategies we could begin to imagine together.

. . .we went to work providing aggressive, unrelenting counsel and action to increase cash and non-cash benefit flow into all of those who agree to join the cohort?  Here I have in mind a long list of resources that need to be obtained systematically as a part of enrolling in school and joining our cohort:  all HHS benefits, SNAP, CHIP, WIC, SSI/SSDI, Medicaid/Medicare/ACA, EITC, child care, child care tax credits, workforce training, AmeriCorps membership for some, home improvement subsidies/incentives, "school success" backpacks that took advantage of purchasing in bulk/coop style (uniforms, supplies, books, etc.).  This essential component would call for an up-front investment to staff the target school with the financial advisors/counselors needed to handle the enrollment and sustainability of the discovered resources.

. . .during or staged across the process, we invested a direct cash benefit into a savings/bank account for cohort members--parents and children (possibly with an Individual Development Account type asset) with the agreement that we could study the impact of this direct, hard investment on family stability, academic performance and overall well-being?

. . .we marshalled and focused the city's code enforcement assets to ensure that the area around the target school provided a clean, safe and livable environment, complete with well-maintained parks, sidewalks, streets and private properties?

. . .we informed and involved the Dallas Police Department in the project with community policing, "beat cops" and even mounted officers who were long on teaching children about equestrian skills, appreciating horses and even visiting the community's horse park? 

. . .we engaged a research partner to measure impact, document outcomes and advise us on program modifications for rolling out our successful pilot effort to another target school/neighborhood? 

. . .we proved to the inevitable naysayers the depth of our commitment by finding, raising and appropriating the on-going funds needed to achieve our objectives?

What if?

Overcoming poverty, or at least working together to see good people climb out of its depths, calls for hard-nosed, economic choices. 

Here's my hypothesis:  the cost to engage families in a "dispelling poverty cohort" will turn out to be an incredibly wise, smart and effective investment. 

Forget about our community values or the moral/ethical considerations. 

The effective ROI for the city, its neighborhoods, its schools and its social fabric would be beyond enormous.

In my view the successes realized in one neighborhood could lead to program expansion, as the early adopters of the approach actually could end up paying for the next steps in the effort.   Our research partner could document our progress for everyone to see and understand.

We know enough right now to act.

Why do we tarry?

Confession seldom heard. . .




"Saint Francis Xavier, the noble Jesuit missionary, said that in the confessional men had confessed to him all sins that he knew and some that he had never imagined, but none had ever of his own accord confessed that he was covetous."

 
Christianity and the Social Crisis
Walter Rauschenbusch


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

COMMIT! report to the community

Below you'll be able to read my brief remarks yesterday to the community reporting session hosted by COMMIT!.

The Commit! Partnership helps drive student achievement throughout Dallas County from cradle to career by leveraging data, community expertise and collaboration, to measure what matters, identify best practices and spread what works. 

I was glad to be asked to say a few words about what I consider to be our number one challenge in Dallas and our region. 
________________________________
 
COMMIT! Update
February 24, 2015
 
·         Impressed by and grateful for this public show of concern and commitment to see our children receive the best in education across the region
·         My 5-minute assignment is a perfect length:  you’ll likely leave here with “data overload”—so, I’ll be easy on you
·         Here’s the deal:
1.       Poverty is the biggest challenge/problem/obstacle facing us and the education of our children
 
2.       Poverty is pervasive:  almost 9 of 10 DISD students receive free and reduced meals at school; if we look at the county public schools that number is 3 of 4 students
 
3.       Poverty is growing:  between 2000 and 2012 the population of the city of Dallas grew by a modest 5%; while for the same period the number of us trapped in poverty grew by 41%!
 
4.       Poverty is deepening:  during that same time frame the number of census tracts experiencing concentrated poverty almost doubled.
 
5.       Our poverty problem calls for new imagination as to how to use schools to strengthen entire families/neighborhoodsrelationally, intellectually, financially, skillfully, spiritually & politically
 
New imagination as to how to regard one another with respect, value, love and commitment.
 

Monday, February 23, 2015

Homeless Bill of Rights


Every human being arrives in this nation with "certain inalienable rights."  What applies to the housed, applies also to those men, women and children without homes.  Thinking about that and talking it through with my friend, Jonathan Grace has led me to propose a first draft of a homeless persons' bill of rights.


Essential Articles

1.  Every person who experiences homelessness has a right to a permanent place to call home.

2.  Every person who experiences homelessness has a right to personal security and safety.

3.  Every person who experiences homelessness has a right to restroom and hygiene facilities.

4.  Every person who experiences homelessness has a right to police protection.

5.  Every person who experiences homelessness has a right to privacy.

6.  Every person who experiences homelessness has a right to educational options.

7.  Every person who experiences homelessness has a right to treatment services.

8.  Every person who experiences homelessness has a right to basic human respect from others.

9.  Every person who experiences homelessness has a right to sit down and rest in public places without harassment or derisive treatment.

10.  Every person who experiences homelessness has a right to be heard in the public dialog of the cities where they reside.

11.  Every person who experiences homelessness has a right to access food.

12.  Every person who experiences homelessness has a right to receive adequate health care. 

13.  Every person who experiences homelessness has a right to basic human services and income supports.

14.  Every person who experiences homelessness has a right to secure his/her belongings without fear of loss.

15.  Every person who experiences homelessness has a right to a decent life.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Religion or Reality?

". . .the immense majority of people in Christendom have holy places, where they recite a sacred ritual and go through sacred motions.  They receive holy food and submit to washings that cleanse from sin.  They have a priesthood with magic powers which offers a bloodless sacrifice.  This Christian ritual grew up, not as the appropriate and aesthetic expression of spiritual emotions, but as the indispensable means of pleasing and appeasing God, and of securing his favors, temporal and eternal, for those who put their heart into these processes.  This Christian ceremonial system does not differ essentially from that against which the prophets protested; with a few verbal changes their invectives would still apply.  But the point that here concerns us is that a very large part of the fervor of willing devotion which religion always generates in human hearts has spent itself on these religious acts.  The force that would have been competent to 'seek justice and relieve the oppressed' has been consumed in weaving the tinsel fringes for the garment of religion."

Walter Rauschenbusch
Christianity and the Social Crisis

Friday, February 20, 2015

Loving beyond the data

Philanthropy Must Lead With Its Heart

By Jennifer and Peter Buffett
                                    

As Valentine’s Day approaches, we are struck by a paradox that confronts philanthropy. The very meaning of the word philanthropy is “love of humanity”—yet the concept of love is almost never discussed in our sector.

In the race for philanthropic impact, we’ve got our heads in the game, but what about our hearts?

This is not, as some might claim, a question of fuzzy emotions. Instead, as we hear that nonprofit leaders are advised to avoid words like “love” or “caring” for fear of being seen as “not strategic,” we believe we face a larger problem that could ultimately limit what philanthropy dares to achieve.

Over the last 10 years, we’ve been lucky enough to become financially independent, and at nearly the same time, to become stewards of a large foundation we’ve called the NoVo Foundation. Neither of these things were expected. At all.

After spending a decade in this altered state, we have come to some basic conclusions. People are incredibly resilient. Nature is a phenomenal teacher and the most advanced technology we’ll ever see. As humanity progresses through time, our narcissistic tendencies may be getting the best of us. It’s imperative that we see ourselves in a loving relationship to each other and our planet if we are going to survive—collectively and quite possibly individually.

Perhaps most important: We’ve searched long and hard, but we can find very few indicators that tell us things are truly getting better for more people. Or that they will anytime soon. As our foundation seeks to address the root causes of big global challenges, all we see is symptom after symptom of a poisoned root. It’s systemic: education, agriculture, politics, media—the planet and the people—all commoditized to buy and sell.

This has led us to a new way to think about our role: alchemy. In a world in which everything is a commodity, we’re going to try to turn money into love. Into trust. Into safety. The first elements in the periodic table of relationships.

And we hope that by sharing some initial ideas from our work at NoVo, we might also start a broader conversation about putting love back into the world of philanthropy.
  • First, love means understanding that we don’t have the solutions to the problems we hope to solve and that the real breakthroughs come from the people who live with those challenges every day. After all, it’s the people who are most affected by a problem who most often hold the solutions. 
  • Just as love doesn’t do well being locked up, money doesn’t either. And we’ve observed that if money isn’t moving in philanthropy or any sector, it’s because of fear. If we are inspired by love, we should challenge ourselves whenever possible to spend more of our assets to move money to where it’s needed now. 
  • In practical terms, love also means providing grants that cover a longer period of time and that provide general operating support. We’re not dictating the direction. Not unlike an investment philosophy we learned from Peter’s father, we’re not interested in tinkering with passion and commitment.
  • Love means actively seeking out collaboration and partnership with others, rather than rushing to claim credit for oneself or one’s own organization.
  • It means investing in people—because people create lasting change. And that means truly embracing mistakes as part of a natural learning process, not simply paying lip service to the need for experimentation or risk.
  • Love means accepting that social change is ultimately about human capacity, human relationships, and human happiness and that progress in these areas is never easy to measure. After all, how do you measure a girl knowing she’s safe? How do you measure a worker’s dignity? How do you measure joy?
We’ve all seen money change behavior. What if behavior could change money? What if, by giving in ways that demonstrate our trust as opposed to control, the return would be honesty? And with that honesty would come deeper relationships. And in those relationships we could begin to develop a better understanding of what the person on the other side of the grant truly needs to lead a healthy and fulfilled life? Not a donor’s version of life, but theirs?

There’s a reason love songs are so numerous and popular. Love can’t be quantified. But it seems to matter. So how can we infuse love into the motivating force behind moving money? There are certainly other unquantifiable forces at work—greed and fear to name two. How can we put money out of its misery?

We live in a wildly dynamic time in history. When so much of our social fabric appears to be frayed, the solution is not to sew faster but to find new material. Like Dorothy in the “Wizard of Oz,” it’s been here all along. And the road starts by leading with our hearts. 
- See more at: http://m.philanthropy.com/article/Philanthropy-Must-Lead-With/189987/?cid=pw&utm_source=pw&utm_medium=en#sthash.rHvEg6DI.dpuf

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Cottages development showing progress

Soon 50 men and women will occupy the 50 small houses that we are building here in S. Dallas-Fair Park. 

I love seeing dirt fly and shovels turn up new possibilities! 



Monday, February 16, 2015

The Battle: Questions

Tedious is the battle
For poor folks
Striving to live,
Not some ordinary,
Solitary, eeking
Existence; but
Really to live life
Even as preachers with
Suspect theology would
Suggest!

Can my children succeed?
Can my home be safe?
Can my diabetes be controlled?
Can my girl earn a fair wage?
Can my table be spread?
Can my old car start?
Can my boss be fair?
Can my son be promoted?
Can my momma be lifted?
Can my color be an asset?
Can my father know my love?
Can the cops love me?
Can my side of town be honored?
Can my clothes be pressed?
Can my offering be valued?
Can I find a quiet place?
Can I expect better?
Can I pray and see progress?
Can I find real hope?
Can someone see me for who I am, really?
Can I love my community?
Can I love my enemies?
Can my enemies learn enough to love me?
Can we all get along?
Can my soul be found?  Saved?
Can playgrounds be built? 
Can playgrounds be safe?
Can sidewalks be repaired?
Can homes be built? 
Can neighborhoods be made over?
Can re-investment come my way?
Can opportunity be multiplied?
Can REITs work where I live?
Can I relocate to a "high opportunity" community?
Can the national dream be realized?
Can I contribute to someone's life and well being?
Can I be truly needed?
Can a child look up to me?
Can I be worthy of respect?
Can crack houses disappear?
Can City Hall work at last?
Can I win
the Battle?

Friday, February 13, 2015

AmeriCorps at CitySquare: Getting things done!


CitySquare AmeriCorps is recruiting for Summer 2015!

 How can you help?

Help us spread the word about our summer of service opportunity by forwarding this information on to friends, peers, family, coworkers and anyone else you think might be interested! The application is attached and available online at http://www.citysquare.org/becomeamember/ .

Members commit to 300-450 hours of service during the summer, receive a biweekly living allowance while they serve and upon successful completion receive money for school! More details are available in the attached Handout.

This summer we have over 225 positions with following programs:

Food on the Move – Serve with a mobile feeding program that provides daily meals to 10,000 children residing in low-income apartment communities in Irving and Dallas. Members must be willing to serve outside all day in the heat, be energetic, have reliable transportation and thrive in a team environment. Preference is given to applicants 21 or over, bilingual (English/Spanish) and with access to reliable transportation.

Education - Help eliminate summer learning loss with one of our twelve community partner agencies; members support structured summer programming to provide daily enrichment activities to youth in low-income areas of Dallas and San Antonio. Members must have reliable transportation and interest in working with youth.

Member Eligibility:

-      Available full-time beginning June 1, 2015

-      17 or older by June 1, 2015

-      US Citizen or Permanent Resident (Deferred Action does not qualify)

-      Available all summer (Education ends August 7; FOM ends August 14)

-      Reliable Transportation

Priority consideration is given to applications received by March 13, 2015 and on a rolling basis until all summer positions are filled. We encourage applicants to apply early! Interviews will begin next week!

 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Counting misery

Two weeks ago Thursday evening, over 100 concerned citizens fanned out across Dallas, like their peers and counterparts in cities all over the nation, to participate in what's called "the point in time census" of our neighbors who have no place to call home.  The annual "snap shot" count provides a baseline number that becomes useful in year-to-year planning and understanding of the scope and scale of the challenges of homelessness in the United States.  The census never provides an accurate. full count--we know there are more people dealing with homelessness than we ever manage to account for.  But, the count does allow us to understand more about trend lines and changes among the most miserable of our fellow human beings.

CitySquare sent a team to work on the project.  About 20 of us took our assignment to survey/interview anyone we found on Louise Street or its environs.  We know this part of town, the Opportunity Center sits right in the middle of the neighborhood. 

The night was bitter cold and wet.  This will likely be good for the final tally, as most folks found places inside to spend the night.  Local shelters open their doors wider, and some find places to spend the night with friends.  Since the census documents the presence of all in shelters, it drives the count up, though we have no way to count folks who find places inside with friends or family. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Poverty and education


 



Data is just numbers. Behind those numbers
are thousands of stories...
On Tuesday, February 24th, you're invited to come hear these stories as we release Dallas County's third annual Community Achievement Scorecard. With the release of the scorecard, you'll get an up-close look at where our students currently stand and what obstacles remain when it comes to supporting each child from cradle to career. Although data can help us define the challenge and tell us where to focus, we're not here to admire the problem but to work collectively to solve it. Join the following guest speakers in attendance:
Featured Speakers

Mike Rawlings
Mayor,
City of Dallas

Dale Petroskey
President/CEO,
Dallas Chamber

Larry James
CEO,
CitySquare

Michael Sorrell
President,
Paul Quinn College

Miguel Solis
Board President,
Dallas ISD

Todd Williams
Executive Director,
Commit!
2014 Community Achievement Scorecard Launch Event
When:
Tuesday February 24th
from 4:30PM to 6:30PM
Where:
City Performance Hall
2520 Flora St., Dallas TX 75201
Please join us to celebrate the great progress of our students and learn about the many opportunities we have to support them as we strive to create a more equitable and prosperous community together.
Sincerely,
The Commit! Partnership

 

Monday, February 09, 2015

My privileged life. . .




Every day I. . .

  • start with breakfast, coffee and my iPad
  • freely access a private bathroom, complete with shower, sinks, toilet, mirrors, towels, etc.
  • start one of my two cars and drive to work or to some weekend, enjoyable destination
  • spend about an hour working out in the YMCA Downtown (Gordie's torture chamber!)
  • enjoy conversation with my wife, family, work mates, friends, neighbors, strangers without fear or concern
  • read something worthwhile
  • study and think and dream because I have the "space" to do so
  • plan and strategize on how to achieve my vision for work, life, faith
  • laugh with good reason
  • experience good reason to hope
  • freely access wellness and health enhancing activities and resources
  • exist in a space to imagine better times
  • don't worry about meals
  • don't worry about clothes
  • don't worry about keeping my "stuff" secure
  • pet my cats
  • wonder what next blessing might fill me up
  • live in the midst of absolute privilege
  • thank God
  • beg for mercy from above, within and all around
  • receive mercy freely
  • brag on my four grandchildren--have I told you about Gracie, Wyatt, Owen and Henry lately?
  • don't worry about becoming poor
  • know that if I get sick or injured, I'll be cared for in a state-of-the-art medical facility
  • wonder, "Why me?"

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Wounded

The Wound

If the white man has inflicted the wound of racism upon black men, the cost has been that he would receive the mirror image of that wound into himself. As a member of the dominant race, he has felt little compulsion to acknowledge it or speak of it; the more painful it has grown the more deeply he has hidden it within himself. But the wound is there, and it is a profound disorder, as great a damage in his mind as it is in his society. This wound is in me, as complex and deep in my flesh as blood and nerves. I have borne it all my life, with varying degrees of consciousness, but always carefully, always with the most delicate consideration for the pain I would feel if I were somehow forced to acknowledge it.

But now I am increasingly aware of the opposite compulsion. I want to know, as fully and exactly as I can, what the wound is and how much I am suffering from it. And I want to be cured; I want to be free of the wound myself, and I do not want to pass it on to my children. Perhaps this is only wishful thinking; perhaps such a thing is not to be done by one man, or in one generation. Surely a man would have to be almost dangerously proud to think himself capable of it. And so maybe I am really saying only that I feel an obligation to make the attempt, and that I know if I fail to make at least the attempt I forfeit any right to hope that the world will become better than it is now.

Friday, February 06, 2015

Great IT training options open to South Dallas-Fair Park!


 
Dear supporters, partners, and friends of Per Scholas:
 
Our first ever IT-Ready class at Per Scholas Dallas is kicking off February 23 at our new location in the CitySquare Opportunity Center.  
 
We are seeking applicants for this exciting opportunity. Per Scholas training is offered at 100% scholarship to unemployed, under-employed, and low income adults interested in pursuing a career in IT.
 
What is a Per Scholas IT-Ready course?
IT-Ready is an 8-week, full time, tuition-free IT training opportunity comprised of rigorous tech skills and soft-skills training essential to IT workplace success. CompTIA A+ certification prepares graduates for entry-level employment in IT in positions such as Data Center Technicians, Desktop Support Specialists, IT Support Analysts, and Network Field Technicians.. 3 out of 4 Per Scholas grads land jobs upon graduation, with an average starting salary of $30K.
 
Who is a good fit for Per Scholas IT-Ready?
·         someone who has a genuine interest in pursuing a career in the IT industry
·         someone who needs A+ certification to find employment
·         someone who is not afraid to work hard to accomplish a life-changing goal
 
To see the detailed list of requirements, see below or click here to download our flyer.  
  
Refer today! Now is the time to apply. Interested individuals should complete our online application here. More information can be found at perscholas.org/dallas
 
Please forward this to anyone in your network who might be right for this program. You can also download & print the flyer below. Thank you.
  
Sincerely,

 
Billy Lane
 
Managing Director,
Per Scholas Dallas

 

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Opportunity in Denver

For the past year CitySquare has been working in Denver

Thanks to an invitation from His Hands Christian Ministries, CitySquare has been connecting to the Denver community for almost a year. 

Johnny and Susie Davis founded this amazingly compassionate and welcoming non-profit organization in March 2008.  Since that time, His Hands has grown in reach, scope and capacity. 

Last year CitySquare and His Hands reached an agreement that promises to further expand the overall effectiveness of the Denver effort.  Now known as CitySquare Denver, the team operates a large food and clothing distribution center and more for low-income, working families, as well as for homeless persons. 

Last summer CitySquare's Food on the Move initiative served about 300 meals each day throughout the summer to Denver school children who qualified for the free and reduced meal program in public schools. 

Now CitySquare intends to launch a comprehensive program of community and human development that will, from the beginning, attempt to find ways to support already functional efforts on the ground in Denver.  As in Dallas, we will listen to "the poor," seek out partners already at work and innovate to achieve greater outcomes from our "customers," both neighbors in need and partners working alongside us.

Our first step is to find a Denver leader.  We are looking for a person who shares our mission of battling the causes and effects of poverty through service, advocacy and friendship.  We are looking for a mission-driven leader with an "entrepreneurial soul."

If you know anyone who would be interested in providing aggressive leadership to our Denver efforts, please let me know by email at ljames@CitySquare.org. I'll be pleased to share a job description.  I can't wait to visit with interested, potential leaders. 

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Friday, January 30, 2015

The author

Read the following excerpt lifted from a letter I received not long ago. 

After you've read it, I'll reveal who wrote it.

The day is all about reading and writing for me here.  That's the things that change in my day:  what I'm doing with my time. Otherwise, the system offers nothing but a routine subsistence of nothingness that grinds one's soul down also to nothingness.  It is beneficial thus to find some reliance also to nothingness.  It is beneficial thus to find some reliance on your mind, your spirit--the Lord--and discover some meaning and purpose for your life.  And there invest your energies, and in so doing you don't spend energy--you cultivate it and it will sustain you when even all that is left is death.  I don't fear death (so much!) but the "death" I do GREATLY fear is a life devoid of purpose, meaning and intention:  I fear waking up and having nowhere to go, to strive toward--no dreams.  I think this is something I have discovered here to generate on my own:  my meaning, my dreams. . .because here these things aren't given.  Peace. . . .

This thoughtful letter came from the hand of a 33-year-old young man who makes his home on death row in a Texas prison.  He has done so for the last 14 years. 

He has become my friend.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Inclusive capitalism?

A good, relatively new friend sent me a message that read in part:

I just emailed to you a column from the NY Times talking about “inclusive capitalism.”  Reading it made me think of your concept of the wealth of the poor.   .   .   .  The fact is that the poor and the middle class have been hammered for too long and there must be a way for them too to share in the wealth they are helping to create.  If our capitalistic society cannot create wealth for the vast majority of our people, then at some point our people will reject it, which would be a disaster.  The secret to our success has been that those who hold the levers of wealth have been far sighted enough to understand that unfettered capitalism will over time devour itself, so balance must be struck with government regulation.  We have managed to do that most of the time, but the balance is now frayed.  Regulated capitalism makes the most sense, because capitalism is the very best way to engineer wealth in a democracy.  We need to keep it that way.

All the best to you in the new year.
 
You can read the article he refers to here.
 
Reactions???

Friday, January 23, 2015

Grateful for not sneezing!

My dear friend and colleague, Randy Mayeux shared an inspirational post on Monday, as we celebrated the amazing life of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Read his wonderful words here

Note:  you'll do yourself a big favor is you read Randy's blog on a regular basis!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

University students use creative partnerships to battle poverty!

From The Dallas Morning News
Editorial: Duke, Paul Quinn and Abilene Christian University do poverty-busting in Dallas

Read all about it here.





Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Tough reality often overlooked, not understood

 How Expensive It Is to Be Poor
Earlier this month, the Pew Research Center released a study that found that most wealthy Americans believed “poor people today have it easy because they can get government benefits without doing anything in return.”
 
This is an infuriatingly obtuse view of what it means to be poor in this country — the soul-rending omnipresence of worry and fear, of weariness and fatigue. This can be the view only of those who have not known — or have long forgotten — what poverty truly means.
 
“Easy” is a word not easily spoken among the poor. Things are hard — the times are hard, the work is hard, the way is hard. “Easy” is for uninformed explanations issued by the willfully callous and the haughtily blind.
 
Allow me to explain, as James Baldwin put it, a few illustrations of “how extremely expensive it is to be poor.”
 
First, many poor people work, but they just don’t make enough to move out of poverty — an estimated 11 million Americans fall into this category.

So, as the Pew report pointed out, “more than half of the least secure group reports receiving at least one type of means-tested government benefit.”
 

 
And yet, whatever the poor earn is likely to be more heavily taxed than the earnings of wealthier citizens, according to a new analysis by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. As The New York Times put it last week:
 
“According to the study, in 2015 the poorest fifth of Americans will pay on average 10.9 percent of their income in state and local taxes, the middle fifth will pay 9.4 percent and the top 1 percent will average 5.4 percent.”
 
In addition, many low-income people are “unbanked” (not served by a financial institution), and thus nearly eaten alive by exorbitant fees. As the St. Louis Federal Reserve pointed out in 2010:

“Unbanked consumers spend approximately 2.5 to 3 percent of a government benefits check and between 4 percent and 5 percent of payroll check just to cash them. Additional dollars are spent to purchase money orders to pay routine monthly expenses. When you consider the cost for cashing a bi-weekly payroll check and buying about six money orders each month, a household with a net income of $20,000 may pay as much as $1,200 annually for alternative service fees — substantially more than the expense of a monthly checking account.”

Even when low-income people can become affiliated with a bank, those banks are increasingly making them pay “steep rates for loans and high fees on basic checking accounts,” as The Times’s DealBook blog put it last year.
 
And poor people can have a hard time getting credit. As The Washington Post put it, the excesses of the subprime boom have led conventional banks to stay away from the riskiest borrowers, leaving them “all but cut off from access to big loans, like mortgages.”
 
One way to move up the ladder and out of poverty is through higher education, but even that is not without disproportionate costs. As the Institute for College Access and Success noted in March:
“Graduates who received Pell Grants, most of whom had family incomes under $40,000, were much more likely to borrow and to borrow more. Among graduating seniors who ever received a Pell Grant, 88 percent had student loans in 2012, with an average of $31,200 per borrower. In contrast, 53 percent of those who never received a Pell Grant had debt, with an average of $26,450 per borrower.”

And often, work or school requires transportation, which can be another outrageous expense. According to the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights:

“Low- and moderate-income households spend 42 percent of their total annual income on transportation, including those who live in rural areas, as compared to middle-income households, who spend less than 22 percent of their annual income on transportation.”
 
And besides, having a car can make prime targets of the poor. One pernicious practice that the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. — and the protests that followed — resurfaced was the degree to which some local municipalities profit from police departments targeting poor communities, with a raft of stops, fines, summonses and arrests supported by police actions and complicit courts.
 
As NPR reported in August:

“In 2013, the municipal court in Ferguson — a city of 21,135 people — issued 32,975 arrest warrants for nonviolent offenses, mostly driving violations.”

The story continued:

“ArchCity Defenders, a St. Louis-area public defender group, says in its report that more than half the courts in St. Louis County engage in the ‘illegal and harmful practices’ of charging high court fines and fees on nonviolent offenses like traffic violations — and then arresting people when they don’t pay.”
 
The list of hardships could go on for several more columns, but you get the point: Being poor is anything but easy.