Thursday, May 04, 2006
Community Development 101--Part Seven
People who have been around Central Dallas Ministries for awhile tend to glass over when they hear me start in on "the three boxes." I've used this little chart so often in an attempt to summarize the work that we attempt to accomplish with our friends in the inner city.
Box Number 1 involves us in the important, beginning work of extending compassion to people who find themselves in tough circumstances that often call for immediate, emergency intervention.
Box Number 2 connects us to our neighbors as they enter longer term commitments to growth and talent development that leads to opportunity creation.
Box Number 3: Advocacy
If in the opportunity creation phase of our work, we attempt to prepare people to play "the game of Dallas" by the current rules, in this part of our efforts we find ourselves questioning the rules of the game.
Imagine with me for a moment that you are seated beside a beautiful, swiftly flowing river. As you relax and watch the water move along, you notice a person in the water struggling to swim to the side. You quickly come to the swimmer's aid, pulling him out of the water. He thanks you and walks away.
Relaxing after the excitement, you try to get back into enjoying the river and its surroundings.
Suddenly, you notice another person in the water. This time it appears that the swimmer is almost out of strength. You dive into the cold, rushing water and successfully rescue the person just in the nick of time.
Suppose you set up camp by the river and over the course of the next week you rescue over 100 struggling swimmers.
At some point I expect you would begin to question those you were pulling out of the water to determine why and how they were getting into the dangerous water in the first place.
Eventually, you and your new friends might decide to travel upstream to determine what steps could be taken to prevent others from ending up in the dangerous water.
This story illustrates our thinking and our experience on so many issues confronting low-income individuals and families.
The truth is, much of the chronic poverty we battle every day is the result of systemic malfunctions, inadequate public policy and huge gaps in funding for entire groups of men, women, youth and children.
Whether we focus on health care, education, housing, transportation, food security or wages, most of the problems facing low-income, inner city residents are created and sustained by forces and decisions beyond the contorl of the people "in the river."
One cannot account for the fact that over 47 million Americans are poor by saying that all of them are personally irresponsible, lazy or stupid.
Our experience in Dallas tells us that irresponsibility, laziness and stupidity are spread at an equal depth across the entire socio-economic continuum! No one class has a corner on the market of any of these negative, personal characteristics.
Millions are poor and remain poor because of failures in public policies.
So, at times we advocate for and with our poorer friends and neighbors to see policy change for the benefit of those at the bottom of the economic ladder.
When we take this kind of action, we often see neighborhood people getting excited and more involved. We also notice that some of our supporters who live outside our poor communities get a bit concerned. Some churches get nervous. Some people believe we should leave these policy areas along.
When we work in this area, we think of Jesus and the action he took when he drove the money changers out of the Temple because they exploited the people of the land and took advantage of their need (John 2:13ff).
Community development always arrives at a place of controversy concerning public policy. When a community rises up and asserts its collective will and strength, good things have a way of happening. As social capital grows, neighborhoods change for the better.
Keeping people out of the river in the first place always beats helping them out just before they drown!