Monday, May 12, 2008

"A slow motion Katrina. . ."

Paul Jargowsky, professor at the University of Texas at Dallas and author of the immensely important book, Poverty and Place: Ghettos, Barrios, and the American City, made this statement at our last Urban Engagement Book Club:

"Poverty in Dallas is like a slow motion Katrina."

He is so right.

Why is it that we find it so easy to respond to the dramatic, the spectacular, the disastrous, the obvious, but can't see what occurs on an everyday basis in our own backyards?

Not long after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and blew away the Lower Ninth Ward, the Dallas-based Foundation for Community Empowerment and the J. McDonald Williams Institute produced a research report that compared that New Orleans community with our own Frazier Neighborhood here in South Dallas. By every single measure the Dallas community was worse off than its counter part in New Orleans prior to the storm.

I suppose it takes a disaster to get us concerned. Of course, in the case of New Orleans we have been far from concerned enough, but that is another matter for another time.

Week before last an immigrant from East Africa was killed while trying to cross one of our freeways here in Dallas. Tragic story and loss. Front page story in our local newspaper.

I've received a number of calls about this man's family from people wanting to help. Great of them to call and to help.

But in the ghetto neighborhoods of Dallas slow motion car wrecks claim innocent lives, one bit at a time, every single day. Some how, we act as if we don't believe the reality is anywhere near us. Like unless we come and see it every day or read some shocking report about human pain, we feel as if it is not there, as if it is not going on at all.

Dr. Jargowsky is right. A "slow motion Katrina" at work in a neighborhood very near you, much closer than you think.

What will you do about it?



Travis Stanley said...

I think the reason why we are eager to respond after great tragedies and not so eager to even pay attention to the everyday tragedies happening all around us, is that our response is based on our need to feel special, as if we are contributing something, and has nothing, or very little, to do with those who are suffering. It feels much better to help the victims of a hurricane or tsunami than it does to help the single mom in Frazier.

It's funny how upset people are right now, and rightfully so, about Myanmar's military government preventing aid from getting to their suffering people. I wish we would get this upset about similar things when our own government, and even our churches, do their own part to prevent our suffering neighbors from receiving the basic help and human dignity we all deserve.

c hand said...

Our own government, and even our churches, do similar things as Myanmar's military government in preventing aid from getting to their suffering people? Is this intended as hyperbole or was the word "similar" misused?

Anonymous said...

A "slow working Katrina" may be next door to me, but how do I know? Years ago when we moved to our house in a middle class neighborhood, the house next door was a showplace. The couple put in a pool and it was landscaped beautifully. The yard was a always manicured. Fast forward 30 years. The family who lives there now has never trimmed a tree. A hugh branch is almost on top of the house. The pool hasn't been in usuable condition in years. It is full of black and green water. Dead branches are all over the back patio. A mangy dog lounges in the backyard. Sometimes they actually carry the garbage to the street to be picked up. I have seen gettos in better condition. Is this a slow motion Katrina or just sloppy neighbors, and how do I find out, and is it any of my business?

Door Mats said...
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swimming pools said...
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Larry James said...

Comments that turn out to be nothing but ads for sale items will always be removed here.

Pegc said...

I am surprised you have not responded to Anonymous. I would be interested in your response.

When we live in our middle class neighborhoods, it is hard to know what is going on in other areas of town.

We are looking for ways of helping and short of starting a ministry such as yours, what can we do?

Larry James said...

Pegc, thanks for the "nudge." I haven't responded because of the pace of my schedule right now and because I'm not sure what is underneath the commnets made by Anon. But, thanks to your prompting, I'll do so.

It is really very, very simple in the case that he describes regarding the rundown property next door.

Go over and meet the people. Get to know them. Invite them over for dinner. Extend yourself into their world or into your part of their world. Likely, what will be found is a bit of a need for a neighbor or simple friendship or some sort of interventiont that can only occur successfully based on a relationship.

Here's a rule to apply for all of us "do-gooders": forget service.

Just be human. Don't assume anything. Don't fret or worry. Be human.

I had a very well-meaning woman tell me last week that she was "feeling called" to get involved with the homeless and that she had decided to do so. But, she went on, "I
m nervous about it. I'm not sure what I will do or should do." She had earlier told me that she taught first grade. She went on to say, "I guess I'll just treat them like I do my students." Wrong.

Just be yourself. Just care. Just communicate. Just be human. It's not rocket science. And one person or a small group can't do it all anyway. But everyone can be human. And, let's not forget, being human is a very good thing, at least as originally conceived!

Chad Matthews said...

Great Post Larry.

Your above comment on how to approach people who are in need could not be any more on target.

I agree with you 100% - just be yourself. Love people by listening to them, and embracing them as friends and neighbors. People were created for community, and it's the most natural thing we can do as humans.

Loved the post. It's one of those things I have to think about for awhile.

I greatly appreciate what you are doing. It encourages me and excites me!