Make no mistake, people who live in low-income neighborhoods in this country care about crime and quality of life issues.
As a matter of fact, the vast majority care about all of the same things that people residing in more affluent communities care about, including good schools, crime prevention, code enforcement, timely trash collection and the timely delivery of health-enhancing community services.
I know the common perception is quite different, but it is simply not true.
Fifteen years ago or more, when I was still a pastor, our church partnered with a small church located in a very poor, South Oak Cliff neighborhood here in Dallas.
What a great partnership it was for everyone involved, especially me. Rev. L. J. Pate served as pastor of the congregation and leader of the neighborhood. He is still my good, good friend.
Working in his community revealed many things to us.
First and foremost the connection we enjoyed there showed us that what I have said here is true: our friends from the Gladewater community desired the same things we all desired for ourselves, our families and our neighbors.
But, we also learned that this part of town often didn’t receive the same kind or quality of service from the public sector as we did out in much more well-to-do Richardson. Police protection and patrols, garbage collection, infrastructure maintenance and drug enforcement simply did not measure up to the standards our group was accustomed to. I recall the anger and indignation on the part of our members as they realized how their new friends were living without much prospect to change things.
Poor people don’t generally live in areas with high tax bases!
And, to their own hurt, poor people don’t tend to get organized, vote or act as unified blocs demanding change like people in other parts of town seem to always operate.
The recent images of looting from New Orleans in the aftermath of the Katrina tragedy may deceive us in terms of truly understanding the hearts of the poor who dwell in our inner cities. We must resist the temptation to lump people into neat, tidy categories so that we can dismiss them and our civic responsibility to and with them.
On Thursday, August 25, just few days before Katrina struck New Orleans, I attended a community meeting with friends who live in a public housing development in a poor part of the city. The large community room in the center where we met was jammed packed. Representatives from the Dallas Police Department were present. Members of the development’s Residence Council were present. Many, many concerned residents attended.
For almost two hours over lunch, this dynamic group had an in-depth discussion about how they all could work together to make their community better, safer and healthier. They also were clear in insisting that public services be delivered to them and to their community in the same way they were being delivered elsewhere in Dallas.
Don’t dismiss the poor as unconcerned or unthinking.
Open your mind and heart to the reality that when it comes to basic human needs and hopes, we really are very much the same.
Frankly, it is my opinion that until we arrive at this understanding, our urban areas will never be appreciated or taken seriously as the precious assets that they actually are.