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Friday, February 27, 2009

Van Jones is worth hearing

If you care about jobs creation. . .

Or, the environment. . .

Or, national energy independence. . .

Or, the renewal of urban, inner city communities. . .

Or, re-energizing our national economy in a sustainable manner. . .

Then, you need to hear Van Jones.

Go here to see what he says!

Reactions appreciated.

By the way, we hope Mr. Jones will join us in Dallas in the not too distant future for a conversation. We'll keep you posted.

By the way-2, Mr. Jones' book, The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems, will be the subject of our Urban Engagement Book Club next week, Thursday, March 5, noon until 1:15 p.m. at the Highland Park United Methodist Church. Join us!

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Latest news on the Plaza Inn: CDM steps back. . .homeless likely the losers


Dallas Morning News' reporter, Roy Appleton published an update story on the Plaza Inn in today's edition. Read it here.

As the story reveals, Central Dallas Ministries stepped out of the project in face of neighborhood opposition. Hopefully, Hamilton Properties Corporation will be able to carry forward the tax credit process that we began. The application that the Hamiltons now pick up received the highest preliminary score in the state of Texas for this year's round of credit awards.

If successful, it appears that the project will result in many, much-needed units of affordable housing for working people who desire to live Downtown.

The only downside from my point of view is the fact that it is now doubtful that any of the new units will be set aside for permanent supportive housing, a type of housing Dallas must find a way to develop if we are to realistically address the problem homelessness in our city.

As Appleton's report notes, we wish Larry and Ted Hamilton well, and we'll do whatever we can to assist them. At the same time, we'll roll up our sleeves and continue working to develop needed housing for our community's poorest citizens.

Thanks to Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert for stepping in to get the proposal at least another month for consideration before the final City Council vote on March 25.

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Regulation: Wall Street versus Back Streets

Many of my friends often complain of how wasteful public spending always turns out to be.

I expect they have a point about how some public dollars are expended.

Who can forget the thousand dollar toilet seats installed on some battleship somewhere via a contract that didn't go out to bid in proper or competitive fashion?

More recently, recipients of the first round of federal "bail out" money evidently used some of it to fund luxurious retreats, underwrite lucrative retirement packages and purchase state-of- the-art corporate jets.

I think I can suggest a remedy.

Move the overseers of public grants, like the ones we receive and administer here at Central Dallas Ministries, to Wall Street and turn them loose on those who must now manage and spend public dollars. Once the crisis is over, leave these regulators there!

Every single dollar we receive from AmeriCorps, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Juvenile Justice, the City of Dallas, Dallas County, the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). . .take your pick!--must be accounted for in triplicate. Auditors show up unannounced to investigate our books and records and program sites. There is no room for fraud or rip off.

People who blast government and public spending don't seem to realize that much of the work funded via public sources is done by community-based organizations like ours. And we are accountable, believe me, we are held, gladly held accountable.

What I realize is that we are the government.

Now, if we could just get the Wall Street crowd under this same intense scrutiny. What works on the countless Back Streets of the nation ought to work on that short span we know as Wall Street.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Cowboys of Color Rodeo this Saturday!


Check out this great opportunity coming our way in Dallas this Saturday!

Thanks to Dallas City Councilman and Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway for his hard work in bringing this event and its accompanying Teen Summit to Dallas.

Kids attend FREE!

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30 Things Out of 100 That Tarak Believes


Take the time to listen to 7-year-old Tarak McLain share 30 of 100 things that he believes right here.

The class assignment on the 100th day of school was to bring 100 of something to class. Kids brought all kinds of things. Little Tarak brought a list of 100 things that he believes.

NPR did a story as a part of its "This I Believe" feature.

I'm going to list the 30 things that he shared on the radio segment so you can read them. But the best way to take in the child's wisdom is to hear them in his own words at the link above.

Here is his list of 30 beliefs:

I believe life is good.

I believe God is in everything.

I believe we're all equal.

I believe we can help people.

I believe everyone is weird in their own way.

I believe hate is a cause for love.

I believe that when I meditate I feel peaceful.

I believe we should be generous.

I believe brothers and sisters should be kind to each other.

I believe kids should respect their parents.

I believe I should not whine.

I believe people should wake up early.

I believe people should go outside more.

I believe in nature.

I believe people should use less trees.

I believe we should help the Arctic and rain forest animals.

I believe people shouldn't throw litter on the ground.

I believe people should not smoke.

I believe God is in good and bad.

I believe in magic.

I believe people should not give up.

I believe love is everywhere.

I believe that God helps us to have a good time.

I believe we live best in a community.

I believe we can protect people in danger.

I believe we should help the poor.

I believe it's OK to die but not to kill.

I believe war should not have started.

I believe war should stop.

I believe we can make peace.

Pretty good basis for community development, I'd say. How about you?
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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Ray's testimonry

Saturday night was so cold.

Had my money held out, I could have stayed another night at the Army shelter, but I didn't have the $7.00 I needed to get in.

Maybe the worst of the cold is over now.

Hope so.

But, who knows.

The pavement in the alley back of the abandoned office building was about as hard as usual, but I managed to avoid the cold wind most of the night. Funny though, how the wind finds ways around the corners of buildings, even close to the ground.

Spent the night alone, last night. Don't know what happened to Bobby. He and I try to stick close. There's safety in togetherness. But, made it through to sunrise. Seems coldest right before dawn breaks.

Another day I wasn't promised. Thank you, Lord.

Sunday morning and I was flat broke.

Decided to go down to the church. Standing in the parking lot as folks go in and come out about an hour later sometimes works out okay for me.

My clothes were dirty, my hair pretty much a mess. All my stuff packed away in the old backpack someone gave me awhile back. I carry all that I own.

I've learned the best thing to do is just stand out in clear view of everyone and beg for help without shame or pride.

"Sir, could you help me out today?" is about as good as I can do. That was my speech this Sunday morning.

Church was out about 20 minutes and I see this fellow and his wife walking across the parking lot. I call out to him, but he keeps walking toward his car. He's not going to let me think that he saw me, but I know he did.

I turn and begin to call out to others, and I'm surprised when the fellow I thought would ignore me calls back to me as he walks up. He kinda scared me. I'm not used to his style.

He asks me what I'm doing, where I stay. He asks about The Bridge. He asks what I want, what I plan to do, how much I need.

I tell him that I don't make demands, I just ask people to give me what they think best. After all, I'm responsible for myself and I got myself out here. I take what I'm given and live thankful.

He asks about me, seems to care.

So, before I know it, I'm telling him about my wrong turns, my problems with drugs, my time in prison and my last two years, clean and sober. I tell him I know that I have no one to blame for my current situation, but my own stupid mistakes that go way back to my family and my failure at school.

I hear myself admit to him, "You know, I didn't do what my momma told me to do."

This guy listens like I matter. He seems to understand.

I'm encouraged no matter what he gives me.

At the end of the conversation, he drops $20 on the plate of cake I'm holding, the gift of a lady who brought it out of the church earlier. Don't usually get cake or a twenty! But, I'm so grateful.

This fellow left me information about how to contact him. I tell him, "I'll remind you that I'm Ray from the church parking lot."

I really need to call that guy.

Life can be better than it is for me right now, I know that for sure. I've just got to find my way back.

Ray

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Monday, February 23, 2009

home

I suppose all living things possess the instinct to "nest." Everyone wants a home--a place that provides rest, safety and renewal, a place for young to arrive and thrive.

A family of Mockingbirds built this nest in a tree just outside our front door. Throughout the year I've watched and listened as the birds would come and go from the home they built for themselves and their young.

Home.

Powerful idea.

Nothing shapes a child more than the environment in and around a house. And, I am coming to understand that the physical environment plays an extremely important role in the development of children and communities.

Here are some sobbering facts of life about housing in the city of Dallas.

9,386 families (1.71%) in our city are classified as "extremely low income"--meaning they earn below 30% of the Median Family Income (MFI) of the area or less than $19,500.

72,406 families (13.19%) in Dallas are classified as "very low income"--meaning their earn between 30 and 50% MFI or between $19,500 and $32,500.

164,946 families (30.05%) in the city are classified as "low income"--meaning they earn between 50 and 80% MFI or between $32,500 and $52,000.

Of course, income levels tell only a small part of the story. Another key consideration involves the concentration of poverty in dense pockets across the inner city. Ironically, in many of the neighborhoods where poverty is the most dense, there are opportunities for more people to return, to live and to help renew such areas. People would enjoy higher quality lives for themselves and their children if we learned how to create mixed income neighborhoods all across the city.

One thing is certain: we must face the challenges of inner city housing together if we are going to make progress as a community.

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Sunday meditations. . .

"If you lessen your anger at the structures of power, you lower your love for the victims of power." --William Sloan Coffin

"May we always be patient and loving to others, and may God continue to gift us with anger at any injustice that supports the infrastructure of powers in the world that ignore the plight of the poor and steal people's lives and dignity."
--Don Thomas
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Confession: I struggle at times with my emotions when it comes to seeking the rights of those who have little if any voice in the processes of the community. I feel anger rising when I see the poor being shut out because of unfair social and political structures. Seeking to walk in patience and kindness with others who don't seem to understand the issues, who have opposing opinions and interests, or who don't understand me and my reactions is very difficult at times.

On the one hand, I know that anger, especially without understanding or explanation, can be counterproductive, offensive and negative. (I've been reminded of that again this week.) On the other, my experience with so many extremely poor friends and the crowds who come to us combine to provide me with a very short fuse at times when folks oppose what I consider to be the "rights of the poor."

Keeping myself and my ego out of things is a battle. Trying to live in a purity of spirit about these values is where I seek to stay, often unsuccessfully. I know the values are correct when it comes to people who struggle with poverty and the forces that press against them and their interests.

So, I find myself praying very simply: "God have mercy on me a sinner. God bring relief, hope, understanding, real community and justice to your people."
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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Help us with your "junk"!


In August, 2008, the Central Dallas Ministries Thrift store opened for business with three objectives:

(1) generate income to sustain CDM’s many programs,

(2) provide quality, low-cost merchandise to our neighbors, and

(3) create job opportunities for our neighbors.

Over the past 7 months we have begun to meet all three of these objectives.

Even at this early stage, the store is generating enough revenue to meet its operating expenses, while employing six of our neighbors and providing both low cost goods for sale and even free goods to neighbors in need (providing dishes for an empty kitchen or clothing for a family who has lost everything in a fire).

Our challenge these days is to continue to build up our donation stream so that we are able to recycle the goods that some families no longer need and provide them to our neighbors at low or no cost.

Furniture, household goods, toys, sporting goods, clothing – even cars, motorcycles and boats – are all resold to generate revenue that allows us to provide food in the pantry, medicine in the clinic and tutors for the children, to name just a few aspects of our efforts in the inner city.

If you have items you would like to donate you can drop off smaller items at the Thrift Store (located at the southeast corner of Washington and Live Oak near Baylor University Medical Center) or call us to pick up bigger items.

For a larger impact, please consider partnering with us to organize a donation drive at your church/work site or in your neighborhood. There are a myriad of ways this has been done and if you have the inclination we can fully support you in this effort.

To help, to ask questions, or just know more about this effort, please call Theresa Cissell at 214-823-8710 ext 151 or email us at donations@centraldallasministries.org.

If you have been involved, please post a report on your experience!

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Friday, February 20, 2009

More housing for the homeless--likely a round we lose

You can have a look at the current status of our plans to upgrade and renovate the old Plaza Inn at I-30 and S. Akard here in Downtown Dallas on last night's Channel 11 CBS TV.

From the start we knew that without neighborhood support the plan would not be possible due to the scoring rules imposed by the Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA) in Austin on the one hand, and the local political reality on the other.

As it turns out, our application received the highest score in the entire state for this round of low-income housing tax credit funding. So, we might have gotten the deal funded without neighborhood backing, had that been our attitude and style.

Then, there is the question of what constitutes "the neighborhood" and "the neighbors" in this case. I'm not at all sure that the Cedars Neighborhood Association (powered by an "overwhelming" 54 total votes in the poll to determine the fate of our deal--we received 15 favorable votes) is very representative of the community in question. Hundreds of people live and work in the area.

Several hundred of our neighbors call the Dallas Life Foundation emergency shelter home every night. Wonder how they would vote on the plan to create homes for those who don't have them? Or, how about those who walk the streets of the Cedars area daily and nightly? I wonder about the hundreds of police officers who work at the new Dallas Police Headquarters building. How would they feel about an upgrade for the old Plaza Inn, now shut down by its owners and soon to be boarded up?

We are of the opinion that the state rule ought to be changed in regard to the weight given community responses to solid real estate plans, especially those benefitting very low income homeless persons. And, frankly, I should have done a better job thinking this all through before we started. Like most deal opportunities of this nature, there just wasn't enough time to cover all the bases. We never had the intention of ramming something through, though some charged us of employing such tactics.

Then, there is the political reality. Without the supportive vote of Council Member Pauline Medrano, we will not get the City Council approval we need next Wednesday when our leaders take up the issue.

I continue to wish that we could find a way, acceptable to all parties, to get just one more month for conversation with the neighborhood.

If we could get a positive vote on Wednesday, February 25 from the City Council, the Cedars Neighborhood Association could send their letter of opposition to the TDHCA. We would continue to negotiate in good faith until the next and final council vote on the matter on March 25. If we couldn't convince the community to support us by then, we would commit to withdraw our proposal and go away. If we did convince the Cedars' group, they could withdraw their letter of opposition and we could all go forward together to improve the neighborhood.

Nothing lost in this approach but one month, and $10,000 in contract costs on our part and lots of additional effort. Those are losses we are willing to incur.

The way it looks today, everyone loses:

. . .the city that needs 700 new units of permanent supportive housing according to its recently approved plan will turn down the first viable project since their vote to go forward with this new housing commitment less than a month ago. . .

. . .the homeless who need a place to call home. . .

. . .the Cedars community that needs to see the old hotel re-done before it deteriorates even further. . .

. . .and Central Dallas Community Development Corporation. We just want to see the heart of Dallas changed for everyone who works and lives there, including the extremely poor.

I wish I could hear some positive vibes from Cedars' folk.

It is not too late, but you are in control.

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Recognition: Who shapes the immigration debate?


In going through records left behind following the death of my father a little over a year ago and, now, my mom about two months ago, I've found all sorts of interesting "evidence" of their values.

My father was a big supporter of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a civil rights, legal organization founded by Morris Dees. It meant a lot to me to find dad's string of support and the recognition coming back to him and mom.

Now the SPLC is out with a new report documenting the fact that three leading, well-known, seeming "mainstream" anti-immigration groups share extremist roots that appear racist at the core.

Here's what I found on the SPLC website about the report:

Three Washington, D.C., organizations most responsible for blocking comprehensive immigration reform in 2007 are part of a network of groups created by a man who has been at the heart of the white nationalist movement for decades, according to a report issued today by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The Nativist Lobby: Three Faces of Intolerance describes how the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) and NumbersUSA were founded and funded by John Tanton, a retired Michigan ophthalmologist who operates a racist publishing company and has written that to maintain American culture, "a European-American majority" is required.

"These groups have infiltrated the mainstream by presenting themselves as legitimate commentators, when, in reality, they were all conceived by a man who is convinced that non-white immigrants threaten America," said Mark Potok, director of the SPLC's Intelligence Project. "They have never strayed far from their roots."

The report examines how Tanton, who still sits on FAIR's board of directors, founded the racist Social Contract Press and has corresponded with Holocaust deniers, white nationalist intellectuals and Klan lawyers for decades — correspondence documented by his own writings stored at a University of Michigan library.

It also shows that FAIR has been aware of his views and activities for years.

FAIR, whose members have testified frequently before Congress, has hired as key officials men who also joined white supremacist groups. It has promoted racist conspiracy theories. And it has even accepted more than $1 million from the Pioneer Fund, a racist foundation devoted to proving a connection between race and intelligence, the report found.

FAIR has been designated as a hate group by the SPLC.

The report also examines how the Center for Immigration Studies — which bills itself as a scholarly think tank — began its life as a FAIR program and continues to produce dubious studies furthering FAIR's anti-immigration agenda. It's a vision described by Tanton in a 1985 letter in which he wrote that CIS would produce reports "for later passage to FAIR, the activist organization, to remedy."

Similarly, NumbersUSA, a group that has achieved dramatic policy successes, began its life as a Tanton foundation program, the report found. NumbersUSA Executive Director Roy Beck has even been described by Tanton as his "heir apparent." He also edited The Immigration Invasion, a book by Tanton and a colleague that was so raw in its immigrant bashing that Canadian border authorities have banned it as hate literature.

Hmmm.

Checking the background and the sources on suppliers of information and the content of same is very important. Some of the major American media networks need to do a bit of digging on these organizations before putting them out there to all of us as so-called "experts." Experts in what? Hate? Racism and race baiting? Xenophobia? Classic nativism?

It is long past time that we entered a serious conversation about comprehensive immigration reform in this nation. And, such a discussion does not need to be informed by people whose entire worldview is defined by bigotry, discrimination and racism. At least that's how I see it.

Come to think of it, I know my dad and mom would agree.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

We usually get exactly what we intend. . .

Homeless people continue to roam our streets with no acceptable place to "land" on a permanent basis in large part because of decisions we've made and continue to make as a community.

They overcrowd our new homeless assistance center, The Bridge, because of the limitations we've decided to impose on funding community and housing development and the overall spirit and soul of our city.

Our intentions--you know, the things we determine in the places and moments of decision--drive our city's real and growing need for more decent housing stock for our neighbors at the very bottom of our economy.

Make no mistake about it: Things are the way they are because of our intentions, our decisions and the application of our true philosophy.

Talk is cheap.

Actions speak.

Votes determine reality.

Policy shapes and, at times, limits possibilities.

Here's my latest example.

We're trying to purchase and redevelop another building in the Downtown area of Dallas. Our plans for financing this next project include applying for 9% Low Income Housing Tax Credits from the State of Texas. Not long ago, we learned that our preliminary application scored the highest of any submitted to the state this year, a tribute to John Greenan and his great team!

In exchange for this equity investment, we would deliver over 300 new, high-quality, professionally designed, built and managed units of both market and a nice mix of various levels of affordable housing so that people who work Downtown could also live Downtown. The affordable units we propose would allow tenants making between 30% and 140% of area median income to lease a great home. A portion of the new development would include beautiful, live-simple studio apartments for our formerly homeless neighbors who currently populate temporary shelters and our sidewalks, this in response to the city's commitment to end chronic homelessness by 2014 or thereabout. A good number of the units would allow single parents of young children to lease a place nearby one of the finest child care centers in the city that caters to homeless families.

Our proposal includes major outside improvements in both the building and its environs, a robust 24-7 security plan, full-service concierge services, work-lease units, an art studio, employment center for tenants, and professional property management services, to name just a few aspects of the property amenities.

We've worked very hard with residents who live in the neighborhood around the property. Many of the changes and improvements in our plan have come directly from a list of demands and suggestions offered by local residents, for which we are very grateful.

Great plan.

Exciting possibility.

Right?

Well, sure, if you're asking me.

But, not everyone agrees, which comes as no surprise at all.

In order to be successful with our financing we must have community support. Real support, as in votes and formal letters of endorsement, the hard stuff of intention. We have to have the endorsement and support of the City Council member who represents the district where the property is located.

So far, the sledding has been pretty rough on the "community intention" side.

While we get lots of high sounding, compassionate, do-gooder rhetoric from some leading voices in the area, the influence (including some of these same noble-sounding leaders) that crafts actual policy is trending away from us. . .and our low-income neighbors who need the housing.

The arguments ring in my ears.

"This will really affect my property values to the negative."

"You can't build that here. You'll set us back twenty years!"

"Don't get me wrong. I'm concerned about the homeless, but not here. Why not go somewhere else?"

People don't understand that projects like we propose actually create a space for mixed-income communities to thrive. Instead of spreading single units indiscriminately across an area or a neighborhood, our concentrated development becomes a sort of self-contained community, complete with its own sustainable life and personal relationships. The spill over into the larger community is measured, based on authentic new connections, and positive, especially from a diverse housing and economic development standpoint.

In other words, our planned development makes life better for everyone.

People don't think clearly on this issue.

They intend to exclude the very poor from their lives. Thus, they oppose projects like ours and they work hard to see their true intentions and values protected and executed.

Ironically, the homeless and the very poor don't go away. As a matter of fact, they stay in place, but out in the open, on the streets and in the public common areas of the very neighborhood that opposes our plans that would address the problem head-on and in a manner proven to be successful across the nation.

Our vision would first move folks inside their own homes so that they could literally "get a life" before re-engaging the larger community on more positive terms. And, of course, this particular development would only house 50 formerly homeless persons--50 units out of 304.

Our intentions are very clear. Let's build healthy, productive, sustainable communities.

The intentions of our opposition are just as clear, at least to us:

Maintain the status quo out of fear.

Keep the streets as they are today, crowded with the very poor.

Change nothing.

Ironically, the unintended consequences of their very clear intentions result in exactly what we have in our city today. Dallas takes great pride in its continuing belief that it is a cutting edge community, when it fact we remain decades behind best practices in housing policy and neighborhood maturity.

But, hey, if that's what we intend, I suppose you can count us amazingly successful.

[Update on the project: on Tuesday, February 17, the Housing Committee of the Dallas City Council voted to recommend to the full council at its meeting next Wednesday, February 25, that the city withhold support for our planned development. If the full Council votes to withhold support, our deal is dead. This action was taken by the Housing Committee after the local neighborhood association voted 39 to 15 to withhold support of the project.

An interesting fact about this Council District: over 20,000 of its residents live at or below the poverty line.

It is the district in which I reside.

Think about it.

Thirty-nine (39) relatively affluent people may be able to deny decent, high-quality housing to some of the residents in the district who need it most.

Like I say, we get what we intend and, sadly, not everyone's intentions are weighted the same.]

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

What if things changed?

I'm in and out of giant church buildings on a fairly regular basis.

Not long ago I walked from one end of such a building to the other. It was quite a trek! This particular "campus" is enormous. No doubt the structure cost several hundred million dollars.

That's a long way from the "upper room."

The architecture was beautiful. The construction excellent. The looks of everything betrayed the continual presence of a hard-working, full-time staff devoted to tending to the property. It was an amazing operation, to say the least.

Church buildings much like this one cover the landscape of the nation. Not all turn out as grand, but still church real estate holdings boggle the imagination in terms of scale and investment costs.

This is not intended as a tired, diatribe against church buildings, I promise. While serving churches in New Orleans and Richardson, Texas, I oversaw building renovations and new construction, the cost of which ran in the millions of dollars.

It is, rather, a reflection, a "what if" of sorts on the nature of faith communities in general at the beginning of the 21st century.

People often post here about how the church should be the front-line and primary responder to the needs of poor people in the United States and around the world. As I've said before, the economics just don't add up on that vision. Too much of the church's resources and wealth goes to facilities and professional staff for anything approaching that to be possible.

But, what if things changed for churches and denominations?

What if a life of faith meant less organization, less institutional support and structure and more individual action and small group engagement? What if people of faith got together in homes, in small groups instead of in buildings designed mainly for larger groups and gatherings only a few times a week?

I wonder what might happen if just a few churches that owned large real estate holdings sold out? Literally sold their property, banked the funds, organized more organically and then developed new and effective strategies for pursuing lives of faith that involved new kinds of contact with the community around them--how would that look?

What would it take to do that? What would it mean? What would be the potential impact? What would be lost? What gained? What major obstacles and objections would such congregations face?

This notion has been in my head for years. The idea that a network of smaller cell groups could blanket a city, nurture the faith of members, commit to serve those around them and work for a more just and equitable community. . .it may not be easy or even practical, given our long experience and our typical expectations, but I can't help but think the impact could be enormous.

I do know one thing. The income from the sale of just one building like I walked through not long ago, placed in the hands of capable leaders and community developers, would go a long way toward leveraging the start of the renewal of an entire inner city neighborhood that sits in ruin today.

From house-to-house for the sake of the cities.

Might sound really "out there," but, as I say, it's not a notion I can shake very easily.

Go ahead, call me Alice, as in Wonderland.

(Isaiah 58:1-12)

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Monday, February 16, 2009

14th Annual Urban Ministries Prayer Breakfast


Great news to share today!

Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins has agreed to keynote Central Dallas Ministries' 14th Annual Urban Ministries Prayer Breakfast!

This special, annual gathering of community leaders from every sector--business, political, non-profit, neighborhood and community organizing, donors and folks from every corner of the city--will gather on Tuesday, April 21, 2009 at 7:15 a.m. at the Hilton Anatole Hotel to share in a morning of inspiration and challenge.

Mr. Watkins, elected DA in 2007 and named "Texan of the Year" by The Dallas Morning News, has led a courageous and ambitious effort to re-open a significant number of criminal cases in which DNA evidence and new technology indicated erroneous verdicts by judges and juries here in Dallas County. Working in cooperation with The Innocence Project, Mr. Watkins' efforts have resulted in the exoneration of more than 20 wrongfully convicted individuals.

CDM's own Gerald Britt has been working closely with this wonderful group of men as they work hard to rebuild their lives in our community. We are hoping to hear from one of them during this special morning.














Mr. Watkins will address the importance of pursuing and ensuring integrity and fairness in the administration of criminal justice in a community like Dallas. He will also be discussing the clear link between his own important work and his personal faith walk.

It will be a wonderful event!

Save the date today. Contact us for further information by emailing event director, Lisa Goolsby at lgoolsby@CentralDallasMinistries.org or by calling her at 214.823.8710 ext. 138.

More details soon! Please help us spread the word about this important event.

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Full circle

Cleaning out the house my parents called home for almost four decades feels a bit like a long road trip to visit all of my relatives, my own personal history and the inner recesses of the mind and heart of the two people who gave me life.

There have been more than a few tears along the way.

Also, a few surprises!

Here's one that combines amusement and romance.

I've found hundreds of "love notes" scribbled on paper dinner napkins, mainly from my dad to my mom, stashed in drawers all over their house. Mom returned the favor a few times herself, leaving dad notes in his desk. The notes were written and left for the other, but few seem to have been discarded. Touching, sweet stuff. No surprise they were married over 68 years!

I've also found lots of stuff that relates to me, their only child. Some of it surprising.

I found these toy trucks hidden away in a large plastic container out in their garage. When I discovered them, I was instantly transported back to the magic period between age 6 and about age 10. There is no way to know the number of hours I spent playing with these trucks.

I remember loading them down with toy soldiers and reenacting the fiercest battles of World War II! The red truck had been converted to a Nazi troop transport. The U. S. Army green, of course, carried all American troops.

I remember my best buddy, Eddie Wilson, and I dug a "fox hole" in the vacant lot beside our house. There we fought so many battles, the trucks and our toy soliders always present. My dad, who was beyond meticulous about his yard, never objected to our exploits or to our digging projects.

Rain or shine, I played with these trucks.

Recently, I brought the trucks home to share with my grandchildren.

When Wyatt first saw them, he stopped everything to explore their possibilities. To my delight, he loves the trucks and during a recent visit, we played with them on the living room floor. I have a hunch that Owen will feel the same. Gracie found them curious. She laughed watching us play.

Taking care of my memories and, hopefully, creating more.

Life has a way of coming full circle.

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Friday, February 13, 2009

A President's Message

Last week President Barack Obama addressed the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC. I believe his message was very important.

At one point he observed that no major world religion has as its central tenet hatred of others. That very positive observation is something to keep in mind as we move forward. It certainly is important here in the inner city.

I found the President's call for "a living, breathing, active faith" extremely refreshing.

Action is essential.

Practice trumps debate.

Improving life and expanding opportunity forms the basis of our mission. And, we do all that we do every day because of our living faith.

Can we, as our new President asked, "allow God's grace to occupy that space that is between us?"

If we do, our faith will exhibit a power to change the world.

The "sermon" is well worth your time.



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Thursday, February 12, 2009

In the shoes of another

Here is a great example of attempting to place oneself in the shoes of another. Take a look.

So, what do you think?

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Hunger moving closer to us all


Did you see the CNN story on last Monday about the growing number of Americans signing up for the Food Stamp program?

Here's a taste of the report, "Touigh Choices for America's Hungry":

As Walter Thomas knows, it's hard to look for a job when your stomach is rumbling. The 52-year-old from Washington, D.C., started skipping meals in early January when his savings account was running dry and his kitchen cabinets were almost empty.

Thomas at first didn't want to turn to the United States' food safety net, the food stamp program, for help.

But after being laid off in July from what seemed like a steady job in sales at a furniture store, Thomas swallowed his pride and applied for the monthly food aid.

"It lets me think, 'OK, well, tomorrow I'll be able to eat. If nothing else, I'll be able to eat,' " he said.

With the national economy in meltdown, more Americans than ever are relying on the federal aid program to keep from going hungry. In October, more than one in 10 people -- about 31 million -- were using the food stamp program to get by, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

More recent numbers are not available, but advocates for the poor say the number of those in need of aid probably has increased since then.

Read the entire report here.

The report contains the photo above of little Samirah, 2, who asked her mom to take her picture to show that hungry people "are like everyone else."

Mounting an effective national response to the growing numbers of our fellow citizens who falling into poverty will be a challenge.

What do you think?

Are we up for the challenge?

What about your church or other faith community?

Is your group ready to get involved?

What do you intend to do personally?

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

So, where's the pork?

Talk radio and political pundits continue to fill the airwaves with talk about all of the "pork" in the President's economic stimulus package that he is urging Congress to enact.

I'll be the first to fess-up: I haven't read the 600+ page document. [Note: I'm trying to get a copy for further review.]

What I have seen relates to Dallas, Texas and it comes from a listing of "shovel-ready"projects that the City of Dallas has requested be included in the funding measure. The total tab on these projects: $1,235,145,000.00.

So, how would our fair city spend over $1.2 billion?

Mainly on infrastructure improvement. You know roads, bridges, public safety, water and drainage, sanitation and transportation matters, including airport improvements.

There are also provisions for energy conservation, creation of "green" jobs, and additional police officers (20).

Closer to my world, there is funding to cover demolition of two public housing developments, Turner Courts (where we've been working since 2000) and Rhodes Terrace, just up the street from Turner. Big, big neighborhood improvement here.

Then I found funding to build 55 additional dwellings at Roseland Homes, another public housing development where we have worked since 1996. Again, major improvement for the community.

I suppose one of the largest and most controversial projects involves $386,000,000 for a new convention center hotel, a major community endeavor being pushed forward by our Mayor, Tom Leppert.

Of course, this list is not just about money. It is about jobs and jobs in the short term. If my math is correct, we are talking about the creation of almost 12,000 new jobs that pay a livable wage.

For the life of me, I can't find any pork, not even an "oink," at least not in the portion of the bill that has to do with Dallas, Texas.

Yesterday, I had the privilege of meeting with one of the chief assistants to a member of the U. S. House of Representatives. He informed us that President Obama had called a meeting of Democratic leaders last week to chastise them for including items in the legislation that did not relate directly to stimulating the economy. According to this source, the meeting was very direct and challenging. That sounds like good news to me.

The situation we face today cannot be about politics. Far too much is at stake. It is time for a renewal of community spirit in this city and nation.

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Monday, February 09, 2009

Check out Central Dallas Community Development Corporation's New Website!

Web tip of the day: check out the new website for the Central Dallas Community Development Corporation!

The site is still under construction, but done enough to be live for you.

When you have a moment, tell me what you think.

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Robert Emerson Glaze


My dear friend, Bob Glaze passed away on Tuesday, February 3 after a long and courageous battle with cancer.

I cannot begin to say how much he will be missed by so many people here in Dallas. And, I count myself among that number.

Bob had a distinguished career in the Dallas business and philanthropic community. He was Trammell Crow's lifelong friend, right hand partner and CFO in the early days of that amazing enterprise. As Dallasites know, Crow died about two weeks ago.

Bob was a consummate business man. His vision, talent and ability to see through complex problems and challenges with hard-nosed practicality and a can-do attitude inspired those around him.

He was one of my most important mentors.

He listened to John Greenan and me make our very first "pitch" on the 511 N. Akard project in Downtown Dallas. We brought him a pretty concept book. We were so proud of that book! He looked through it. Carefully set it aside and began to question us about our proforma projections and our financing plans. He challenged us to "put it on a page or two" and have the background to answer the tough questions. We kept coming back to Bob because we knew he cared and he would give us the guidance we needed.

Bob lived his faith. He cared for the poor. He loved his family. He loved his work. He loved this city.

Over the past year, I would call him from time to time, and he did the same for me. It always helped just to check in and hear his voice. His questions were always spot on. His concern for me never faultered, no matter how bad he felt.

Several years back Bob sent me one of his trademark letters inviting me to join him and others of his many friends for a Thanksgiving Luncheon. I gladly accepted the invitation. When I arrived, I found scores of his friends gathered to be thankful over a wonderful meal and reflections by our host on how important we were to him. I learned that first year that the meal was an annual tradition with Bob that he had hosted for years. It was a great honor to be on his guest list.

Bob Glaze blessed my life. He made this city better. He enjoys a well-deserved rest today. The rest of us have a ways to go yet. I find myself looking forward to our reunion.

Thanks, Bob. You will be missed and never forgotten.

Read more about Bob's amazing life here.

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Sunday, February 08, 2009

James A. Harding "got it"


James A. Harding, for whom my college alma mater was named, possessed a deep spirituality that is still reflected in many of the faculty and students of the school.

Harding certainly understood the centrality of a concern for the poor and the marginalized in his faith system. Bobby Valentine reminded me of this when he posted the following quotes on his blog:

“Christ is personified in his poor, helpless brethren. Matt xxv.40. In them, Christ appeals for help to himself. Who realizes this? . . . Let us realize that every helpless, needy one of our brethren is the personification of Christ to us appealing for help. He is our Christ, to be kindly welcomed and generously treated. Shall we cast our Christ from our doors and let him become a beggar from others? Let us be careful, ‘Verily I say unto you inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.’

“We must sacrifice our luxuries, our comforts, our wealth and pride, to relieve our brother’s distresses, just as Christ sacrificed his honors, glories, joys and possessions in heaven, to help . . . . This was the fellowship of God to man. I will give of my honors and joys to you, and take of your weaknesses, sufferings, and sorrows to myself, is the language of Jesus to man . . . Our fellowship for one another must be of this character. I’ll give of my plenty, and partake of your privations and self-denials, is the language of Christian fellowship.”

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Saturday, February 07, 2009

Winter blue























The stars seem close tonight
Closer than my neighbors
Closer than the town
Five miles down the road.

Snowshoeing at night
In winter woods
The way lit by moonlight.

Down to the beaver flow
Down to the gurgle where black water
Forces its way up through clear ice.

To listen for a few minutes
To the winter woods
There is nothing much to hear.

Maybe I go so that
When I return to cabin and woodstove
I appreciate them more.

It is so still out here
So still, so quiet, so white, so blue.

Roderick W. MacIver, Heron Dance
[Note from MacIver about the painting above--"When I started Northern Goshawk Looking, I planned to do a semi-abstract painting much in the style of Coastal Cougar, but with a blue background. As I painted, I got more and more into a realistic representation, inspired by the Goshawk’s interesting facial patterns and powerful gaze.]
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Friday, February 06, 2009

600,000 more jobs disappear. . .

The news came out of Washington today: 600,000 additional Americans lost their jobs over the last month. Since the recession began, over 3.6 million jobs have been lost.

Observations for Central Dallas Ministries:

1) Our numbers will continue to skyrocket on the front lines of our primary relief enterprises.

2) The formation of authentic community will be more important now than ever before in our history. This recession will be long and deep. People must learn to count on each other in new and creative ways.

3) CDMWorkPaths should receive more of our attention. Hopefully, our leaders will come through with an economic stimulus plan that creates new jobs. CDM needs to increase its efforts to train people for work.

4) Our faithful donors--individuals, faith communities, foundations, corporations, public sources--must continue to provide the funding we need to continue our work.

Times are challenging and not good.

This is why we are here.

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Couincil on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships

President Obama spoke Thursday morning at the National Prayer Breakfast about his plans for the Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. A good summation report can be found in The Los Angeles Times article here, complete with a short video of the President's remarks.

The President's new Council continues the work of President Bush's Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives

The new Director of the Council will be Joshua DuBois, a 26-year-old Pentecostal minister who headed the President's religious outreach during the campaign. The 25-member council will advise the President on policy development and the coordination of public engagement with faith-based and neighborhood groups working on the front lines to improve communities and lift people out of poverty.

It's a good start!

What do you think?

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Thursday, February 05, 2009

It's EVERYWHERE!



My friend, Jimmy Dorrell pastors The Church Under the Bridge in Waco, Texas.

Jimmy's congregation is just as it sounds, a church that meets every Sunday under the I-35 bridge that runs through the heart of Waco. Several years ago, Jimmy invited me to speak there. Unforgettable experience!


Jimmy's congregation is made up of the poor, the homeless, the sick and the marginalized, as well as college students, middle class wage earners and the affluent. Quite a mix!

No one has done more for the homeless population of Waco than Jimmy and his team. No one care more about seeing poverty wiped out of this Central Texas community than Jimmy Dorrell.

Last Sunday's edition of The Waco Tribune-Herald carried a front page story about poverty and Waco, Texas. Worth reading right here.

Sadly, it's EVERYWHERE. . .poverty is everywhere.

How about where you live?

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Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The "spirit" of my homeless friends

Lots of people continue to assume that very poor people find themselves in their poverty because they are much in need of an experience with God. The poorer the person, the more it would seem to these folks that what's called for is a good, old-fashioned conversion experience in the life of the poor person.

I've heard it again last week a couple of times.

Very well-meaning people, who really care, want to learn all of the details about our "discipleship programs."

Again, the implicit assumption is that the poor are doing something wrong, that they haven't dealt with their moral failure, that this lack of religion or faith or a "walk with God" explains why they do so poorly with life. Assumptions can be deadly, especially if your concern revolves around total, positive community impact.

It reminds me of the story of the blind man found in St. John's Gospel, chapter 9. The crowd asked Jesus, "Who sinned this man or his parents?"

Surely, life can't go this bad for a person without our being able to pin the current, presenting circumstances on some sinner, some ethical failure on the part of someone.

In the midst of my latest round of inquiry about how we plan to reach these lost souls on the street, my homeless friend "Johnny" interrupted my afternoon.

You know.

I'm behind.

I'm in the middle of something really important.

Now Johnny's standing outside my door.

Why me?

Why today?

Why now?

Why can't I ever have a moment's peace to do my work?

Johnny missed a doctor's appointment.

He needs a bit of help with bus passes. As a matter of fact he needs a monthly pass so he can look for work.

We're trying to help him receive Social Security disability income because his mental illness prevents him from holding a steady job. He likely missed the appointment because he feels some level of shame for actually needing the public assistance. Johnny wants, above all else, to stand on his own two feet. He's not playin' about that, I can assure you.

Johnny wants to talk. . .to a friend.

The importance of "my work" evaporates in just a moment or two of talking to Johnny.

What am I thinking?

God, have mercy on me, the sinner!

Not, Johnny, me!

Life on the streets for years and years, with nothing but God, is likely the "seminary" we all need.

I know Johnny's working as hard as he can at the curriculum. His effort puts all the judgment in its proper place.
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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Food funds help everyone

President Obama' economic stimulus package, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan, will pass the Congress in the near future.

It appears likely that a portion of these funds will be allocated for increasing the depth and the reach of the Food Stamp program, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), for Americans at the lower end of the nation's economy, and that number is growing.

Before the end of 2008, over 31 million of our fellow citizens received Food Stamps. However, for many the benefits were meagre compared to the need for food products among these families.

For a good analysis of the issue take a look at the most recent edition of "Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity."

Hungry, struggling families aside, we need to remember that every dollar set aside for the Food Stamp program is a dollar that gets spent in a local grocery market. The continuing circulation of these dollars improves the bottom line of grocers, provides jobs for workers, enhances the health and productivity of recipients, and puts dollars into the local economy. Better health and wellness outcomes affect performance at school and at work. Overall, this effort of our national community is a proven producer.

Dollars spent in this manner turn out to be a great, enduring investment in the recovery of the nation's economy.

The requirements for certification and re-certification need to be streamlined to meet the growing demand. Community centers, like the ones we operate here at Central Dallas Ministries, should be enlisted as "points of entry," complete with high-tech, user-friendly kiosks for folks to gain access to this essential and smart benefit. I've been "pitching" this notion for several years without much success. Possibly the new climate, coupled with the national need, will shake things loose!

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Monday, February 02, 2009

Systemic decisions. . .systemic results

The children of Dallas, Texas grow up in at least two very different communities.

At a meeting not long ago, I sat transfixed, staring at the E. T. look-alike outline of the map of our city. The red portion of the city map indicated areas of high poverty. The green sections marked out the affluent parts of town.

The red overwhelms the green, as well as the "in between" sections of blue.

The facts back of the colors startle anyone who cares about quality of life issues and the city.

Consider:

Poverty among households with children--almost 50% of the households in South Dallas proper; over 25% in the much larger Southern Sector; and a little above 15% in the Northern Sector.

Jobs per 1,000 people--a little under 300 in South Dallas; right at 200 in the Southern Sector; almost 900 in the Northern Sector.

Annual payroll (in billions)--way, way under one in the South Dallas; a little above 4 in the Southern Sector; a bit above 35 in the Northern Sector.

Houses older than 50 years--over 60% in South Dallas; just under 40% in the Southern Sector; 20% in the Northern Sector.

People with less than a high school diploma--right at 50% in South Dallas; 45% in the Southern Sector; a click above 20% in the Northern Sector.

Average SAT scores--to the north, 1102; in the south, 777.

Care to venture a guess as to which sector is doing better?

Our city's history of racism, classism and segregation, as well as our unwillingness to confront our past and to craft just policies and provide adequate resources to address these crippling problems, explains much of this hard reality.

We've much work to do. Much needs to change in the way things are set up and systematized.

[SOURCE: Institute for Urban Policy Research, University of Texas--Dallas]

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Sunday, February 01, 2009

Lest we forget. . .

As we prepare for Super Bowl XLIII , a battle between the Arizona Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Steelers, I couldn't stop thinking about another Steelers team and another unforgettable game.

As a matter of fact (and here I really date myself!), I can remember exactly where I was when this happened. I know Clyde is somewhere grinning at me even as I enjoy one of the greatest football plays of all time.

Hope you will as well!



So, who will win the game this evening? I'm pulling for the Steelers, but I gotta tell you, don't count Arizona out!

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