Monday, January 07, 2008

Taking a step of faith

Community organizing is an essential tool for the work of neighborhood revitalization. Organizing is an imperative if justice is the goal.

My hat's off to Dr. Janet Morrison, her team at Turner Courts and to those members of the community who are stepping up to demand improvement and to work for a better home for themselves and their children.

Central Dallas Ministries has been providing after school programming and other services in the Turner Courts housing development since 2000. The real measure of the success of any of our efforts is always going to be reflected in the quality of the nature of our relationships with our neighbors who live in the places where we also live and work. It may seem strange that an after school initiative would lead to what is described below. To me it is the most encouraing news I've heard in a while.

What follows was lifted directly from Janet's blog on Saturday, Januray 5, 2008( Put her site on your favorites list and check in on her whenever you have a moment. I think you'll be encouraged by what she reports.


We are starting our new year off right in Turner Courts. This morning we had a meeting with the city. Yes, the city.

We had a representative from each of the following departments: Public Works, Animal Control, Dallas Police Department, Community Prosecutor's office, DART, City Planning Commission, City Parks and Rec, City Council... along with a few others.

The show from the city was quite impressive... especially to those of us who have been in Turner Courts for many years and have often dealt with ignored 3-1-1 calls to the city, neglect in repairs, and a feeling of being completely forgotten and left out.

It was also quite impressive because we knew (and warned the city officials) that our first meeting was not going to be big. We had about 9 people attend...some current residents, some former, and some of us who work there but don't live there. Yet, they came anyway.

The meeting was good, but the best part of the whole day for me came when the meeting was over.

Ms. Haynes had come to the meeting...despite her semi-protest a few weeks ago as she explained to us that she didn't want to be involved in anything like that because it makes her blood pressure go up. She explained that she had done her part by reporting things and the city hadn't responded quickly, if at all.

Yet she showed up.

After it was all over, she sat down at the table. After the room had pretty much emptied out, Ms. Haynes (a resident in Turner Courts for many years) turned to Sylvia, Wyshina and me saying, "I really enjoyed that. You guys are really to be commended for bringing this together."

I asked her what it was that she enjoyed about it.

"I was able to get all of my issues out there."

Ms. Haynes voice was heard.

That's what matters.

We have gotten to know Ms. Haynes over the past few months because she utilizes our computer lab on a regular basis. As I approached her with the thought of working with us to hold the city accountable and helping make our community stronger, Ms. Haynes balked. See...Ms. Haynes has lived in Turner Courts for a long time. During that time she has made calls to the city, made police reports, reported street lights that are out...and got a slow response at the very best. Her doubt and skepticism is understandable. Why should she spend her time spinning her wheels on issues that won't be addressed anyway?

We have a LOT of work to do and a lot of issues to solve. But our biggest job is going to be earning the trust of the community so that they will begin coming out to help us move forward and hold the city accountable. Turner Courts and the people in that community have been left out for too long. Convincing people that their voice matters is going to be a long process.

The smile on Ms. Haynes' face and her very genuine compliments today tell me we may have gained one more core person to our efforts. Knowing that people are being heard, are regaining trust, and are willing to try putting effort into their community again (although cautiously) puts a smile on my face.

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