Tuesday, November 16, 2021
Tuesday, November 02, 2021
Any way you cut it, as a nation, we now face a huge opportunity to strengthen our country, to include more neighbors, to prepare our grandchildren for what lies ahead. President Biden's plan presents a very practical response to national issues. His vision seeks to make America better and more prepared for competition in our shrinking world.
The first half of the current opportunity has to do with physical infrastructure improvement and literal rebuilding--bridges, highways, lead-lined water pipes, climate change curtailment, railways, internet accessibility, etc.
To build our national, social infrastructure by really investing in our people, consider these real, tangible, very doable strategies to share the opportunity of America to a wider segment of our people:
- Lower child care costs to no more than 7% of a household's income
- Expand parental leave benefits
- Two years of post high school community college costs
- Fully fund early childhood education
- Increase maximum allowed for Pell Grants
- Lower prescription costs by allowing Medicare to negotiate costs with big pharma
- Add vouchers for Medicare participants that cover vision, hearing and dental costs
- Expand Medicaid for the extremly impoverished
- Use tax credits and government financing to bolster affordable and resilient housing, supporting the construction or rehabilitation of more than two million homes
- Extend the Child Tax Credit expansion in the American Rescue Plan, providing 39 million households and nearly 90 percent of American children a major tax cut and cutting child poverty nearly in half
- Increase the Earned-Income Tax Credit from $543 to $1,502. This will benefit roughly 17 million low-wage workers, including cashiers, cooks, delivery drivers, food preparation workers, and child care providers
- Aggressive jobs training program, including green jobs and education careers
- Invest in nutrition improvement by expanding SNAP benefits
- Pay for it all with equitable tax reform that asks the very rich and U. S. corporations pay their fair share.
Tuesday, October 26, 2021
Spoken word, crafted on the spot at our annual retreat by Michael Guinn, from CitySquare staff's single word descriptions of the CitySquare experience over the past 18 months! "Amazing" was my word. Look for it below!
Friday, October 08, 2021
The following post comes from one of our Case Managers at the Cottages (CitySquare's "tiny homes" community):
Because there are no staff on property at night, it made it difficult to help this neighbor with taking her medications at night.
Thursday, June 03, 2021
1. Gun deregulation to the extreme places more weapons on the streets of cities and in the hands of extremists. People die.
2. Evictions allowed in Texas ahead of national/federal guidelines. People move into homelessness.
3. Politicizing vaccines and their delivery. People get sick and paranoid.
4. Needlessly, and dishonestly disputed,national election results. People lose trust in democracy.
5. The "Big Lie" that Joe Biden "stole" the eleection. People doubt our system.
6. Vote recounts ad nausem. Wasted funds. More doubt and division.
7. Voter suppression legislation passes in many states. People ask why worry?
8. Texas Legislature does NOTHING to promote, discuss or consider racial equity strategies. People feel abandoned.
9. Bizarroo conspiraccy theories disseminated by the so-called "Q anon" crowd. People are duped.
10. The more than 100 U. S. House members who voted against election results and refused to seat their electors. . . .on January 6! Faith in our union lost.
11. January 6, 2021. New precident for rebellion.
12. Violence rooted in racism perpitrated against people of color. Fear spreads.
Troubled by all of these things and more for my own sake and that of my family, not to mention the vulnerable impoverished.
Strange times, right? Possibly not. Thus, I remain troubled.
Wednesday, April 28, 2021
The notion of being "offended" by Jesus interests me. Jesus' words in Luke 7:23 pull me up short: "And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” The word here is related to the idea of scandal or being scandalized. It means to "stumble."
This incident arises because John finds himself rotting in Herod's prison. He wonders if he's on the right track or not. Glad to pay the price of disruptive, civil disobedience, so long as the cause is right and the leader for real.
Here's how Luke records it:
Luke 7:18b So John summoned two of his disciples 19 and sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” 20 When the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’” 21 Jesus had just then cured many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and had given sight to many who were blind. 22 And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them."
Reading this story makes clear the major focus of Jesus' mission. He intervenes to interrupt human suffering.
He cares about sick people and their suffering.
He cares about behavioral health and mental illness.
He cares about people who can't see.
He cares about those who can't walk.
He cares about the incurable and the stigmatized.
He cares about those who can't hear.
He cares about bringing the dead back to life.
And on that long list of radical interventions into very difficult life situations he ends by reminding these investigators that "the poor have good news brought to them."
Given who Jesus claimed to be, his lifestyle often offended people, often religious people who were in power and often addicted to power.
We find the same dynamic at work today.
I'm not sure exactly when the current fragmentation of the faith began. ActualIy, it has been with us since the earliest days of the Church. I remember how in the early 1970s, the so-called Christian Right known then as "the Moral Majority" stepped forward to articulate an extremely mean-spiritied theology of exclusion and judgment. Before that the Civil Rights Movement, grounded in the teachings of Jesus, faced stiff opposition from, of all groups, Southern, church-going Christians. Before that transformative era, lynchings were justified by Christian racists.
No doubt, these groups, and many others, found Jesus extremely offensive. Surprisingly, they found ways to step away from this offensive Jeusus while remaining people of religion and ritual. Some chose to remake Jesus in their own image, much like Bruce Barton did aboout a century ago in The Man Nobody Knows.1925. Barton made him into the ultimate businessman or salesman and avoided the offensive, socially engaged version of Jesus.
If you keep your eyes on the Jesus of scripture, at some point you'll want to know if it is true that he really put the pain and suffering of others above the rules of religion and the socially accepted
staus quo of the day. Given the limits of our compassion and our continuing refusal to fully embrace the commitment to justice our leader modeled, being offended makes a lot of sense.
Some of what he did and said trips me up in the worst way. But, I know he is right. God help me to follow no matter how offensive he may seem.
Monday, April 26, 2021
So, I've faced it: I've been working on this job for a long time! And, it's time to shift gears and think carefully about the time and space I have left.
Thanks to CitySquare's leadership (Executive team and board), I now have the great privildge to serve in a new space. My new business cards will declare me "CEO Emeritus."
What does that mean?
I can see that my new role could easily jettison real meaning and legitimate purpose and leave me vulnerable to being tossed in the rat maze searching for meaning.
So, I've been fairly deliberate about my next steps.
Here's my assignment.
Function as Ambassador for CitySquare. In other words, I'll represent our efforts and our interests across the city, much like I have done for over 25 years.
Be an Adviser to the CitySquare team. I'm eager to work with our executive team and other team members to process new ideas, provide access to available counsel on a wife variety of issues and opportunities. I'll continue to be working with Dr. John Siburt as a supporter and colaborator.
Stand as an Advocate for justice and equity issues in our city. This has been my life passion for over 50 years in Arkansas, Memphis, Shreveport, New Orleans, Richardson and Dallas. The issues will arise as always in the course of our work but now I'll have time to work on them. And, I think I have at least one more book in my soul somewhere!
One more thing. I will now have more time to connect with neighbors. The prospect of going deeper with my friends in the community really excites me.
It helps me to document this. Written words indicate reality, commitment and prospects for purpose. We'll see how it goes.
Tuesday, April 20, 2021
Notes for speech to Dallas Rotary Club
February 3, 2021
The Hard Data/Truth: We have a major poverty problem in the USA
You likely know the data well enough without my needing to repeat it all. Everyone has witnessed the growing divide between a shrinking minority at the top and a growing underclass at the bottom. Even during this pandemic, the rich have grown wealthier at the expense of the poor, who are disproportionately people of color.
Here’s a sad truth: your longevity is linked directly to your ZIP Code! Go on line to find how your zip code area compares to others in Dallas—up to as much as 16 years difference in life expectancy! Economist, Raj Chetty developed the Opportunity Atlas to plot these differences—for example, residents of a Preston Hollow neighborhood can expect to live 15 years longer than a person living in 75215.
Consider the scale of problem in Dallas and in our area: In DISD all students receive free and reduced lunches; in Dallas County ISDs it’s between 70-75% qualify to receive these meals.
During the year, 25-30% of our children experience hunger; thousands are homeless.
As of 2020, black families have a median household income of just over $41,000, whereas white families have a median household income of more than $70,000. Blacks earn less than whites for same job.
Racism and implicit bias remain as huge problems.
So, how do we begin to mount a “Marshall Plan”-type response?
We are the people who rebuilt Europe and Japan after WWII!
We are the people who, via the GI Bill, educated an entire nation! (though too white)
We are the people who through the FHA created housing stock for an exploding middle class! (again, too white)
We are the people who dealt with a marginal tax rate of 91% the year I was born to invest in a new nation!
I’ve been thinking about the weapons at our disposal today to engage in the fight against poverty.
What can we do just for starters?
· Raise the national minimum wage to $17 an hour (need to earn $16.81 an hour to rent a one-bedroom apt in Dallas!)
· Expand the EITC program and bury in IRS filing process automatically in the tax reporting process by employers where possible
· Expand WIC, SNAP and the federal child care tax credit—make recertification on line possible and easy
· Criminal justice reform—get serious
· Fully fund public education, including early childhood education
· Support comprehensive immigration reform that is sane and allows hard working people to come out of the shadows and move into citizenship—this used to be a bi-partisan point of agreement!
· Housing incentives to developers and buyers that reverse consequences of generations of redlining
· Expand LIHTC tax credit program
· Reward mixed income housing development and developers
· Track impact of public investments on private profits to remind ourselves that this partnership will be key to much progress
· Make public transportation more useful to mobilize the poor in our workforce
· Mobilize and reorient AmeriCorps to a single- purpose effort: poverty elimination
· Expand health care for all, and in Texas, do it in this legislative session
One last fact: every one of the public weapons at our disposal benefit our economy directly and immediately.
· For example, where do SNAP and WIC benefits go? Right back into the economy through Tom Thumb, Target and Walmart to create jobs and profits!
· But Texas does such a poor job of enrolling SNAP recipients—less than ½ eligible and Texas loses $1B a year to the grocery industry as a result. And, that number has been locked in there for over 20 years!
TThere is no doubt we can turn this nation around if we have the will. We’ve done it before We can do better and we can do it again.
If you are interested in continuing this conversation, email me at ljames@CitySquare.org.
Monday, April 19, 2021
It has become so commonplace that we awake to the same news virtually every day.
We expect it.
Black people have good reason to be afraid.
My God! Last week a baby lost his life at the hands of police. He was 13-years-old.
An officer in the U. S. Army filed a law suite against the state of Virginia. He brought video. The policeman who stopped him back in December sounded and appeared out of control. The soldier had the good sense to stay in his car with hands visible. Still, he was pepper sprayed in the face.
How does this go on hapening again and again?
A significant part of any answer must recognize that something baked into law enforcement today acts as a delivery system of horror The fear arises every time a traffic stop occurs or a young black kid walks out in public after dark wearing a hoodie. The atmosphere is super-charged by blackness and a standard set of false assumptions that have become all but universally and automatically applied by the police to black people to one degree or another.
Whlle a member of a predominately Black church here in Dallas, we offered a Sunday School class series that taught our youth how to interact with police when encounters occurred. We regarded the class as life saving necessity.
It is as if we inhale racism as a nation.
Our current situaiton goes beyond systemic to metastatic even for those of us who fancy that we've made progress, that we've moved beyond. But, then the horror returns.
Can it be that we need racism to persist?
The late James H. Cone argued in his classic book, God of the Oppressed that "Jesus is black." Think about that for a while. Allow the implications to settle in. Finding God today seems a real challenge. Cone's road map contains possibilities that few of us have considered. The theological construct woven in this comparision contians the therapy we need, especially in faith communities. The faith we so eagerly share must contian fierce commitment to anti-racist lives, organizations and actions. Leaders need to present a radical message to congregants that equip them for encounters that lead far too often back to the horror we dread but find completely unsurprising.
At one level it is not that complicated.
Stop killing black people!
Wednesday, November 04, 2020
Certainty turns out to be largely elusive in these times.
But, not completely. Values--bedrock, non-negotiable, pre-selected--values offer us reasonable certainty on how life ought to be lived.
So, here is what I know for sure near the conclusion of our recent political convulsions:
- People must be honored, loved, valued--all people.
- Children must be cared for, loved and supported in families.
- Parents must be supported in their responsibilities to their little ones.
- Children must never be separated from their parents.
- A nation as wealthy as this one must take seriously its responsibilities to its citizens and those who seek to be citizens.
- A nation without fair, just, clear policies regarding immigrants and their desire to become a part of the nation lacks integrity, and is not living up to the values that created and sustain this nation of immigrants.
- Black lives matter.
- Due process trumps police brutality.
- Protest provokes progress.
- Prolife is a much broader life philosophy than pro-birth.
- No one should know hunger.
- Food scarcity and food deserts should be banned outright.
- Economic opportunity should never be denied or segregated..
- Health care is a human right. This nation should see that every man, woman and child receives such care.
- Public health is more than an idea, it is a practice.
- Pandemic infections call for public leadership, honesty and sacrifice.
- Adequate, decent, affordable housing is a basic human right.
- Work is sacred. Everyone who works should be paid a living wage. No one who works full-time should fall into poverty because of inadequate pay.
- Education is a human right and should be afforded to everyone at public scale.
- The earth is our home. We should care for it, preserve it and engage it.
- Climate change is real.
- As a value proposition, progressive tax policy is a plus.
- Charity is good. Equitable investment better still.
- Religion is not the point. Most divisive policies find root in it. Radical love, generosity of spirit and soul is everything.
Thursday, August 27, 2020
Tuesday, August 18, 2020
This just in from our friends at the DFW Hospital Council:
The Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council wants to remind you of public health considerations as we approach the fall and have three viruses ( COVID-19, West Nile and Influenza ) in North Texas.
Please pass this information to your friends, family and business associates, especially on social media. These three diseases display many of the same symptoms, so prevention is key in reducing the spread.
Wear a mask
Wash your hands
Watch Your distance
Get your flu shot early
Remove standing water on your property
Wear long sleeve shirts
Utilize insect repellent
We need to be prepared for the triple threat and we can help tap down the community spread of these viruses if we all work together to protect each other.
Thanks for your cooperation and support.
Sunday, August 16, 2020
Reliable postal service in urban neighborhoods anchors vital communications, business enterprise and community organizing. Of course, the same remains true for suburban and rural settings. The local post office serves as an essential gathering place, a crossroads of sorts for residents and business owners and operators.
Economically and historically, the postal service has opened a pathway into the middle class for millions of workers of color. The postal service must not be regarded as just another business. In fact, it is much, much more. The ongoing subsidy required to keep the mail moving is a vital investment in the nation's life and well-being.
But now we notice a marked change in postal service quality. At least we do here in inner-city East Dallas.
Our experience with the postal service over the past 3 years or so presents a marked change in quality, reliability and scheduling. Our bills must be mailed much earlier to assure they make the payment deadline in many cases, both for local delivery and for out of city and state obligations.
We've noted that much more often than ever before days with no mail delivered to our home.
It reached the point for us that we asked one of our letter carriers what was up. She described exactly what recent news reports indicate. The Trump administration's management combines the removal of automated sorting machines with a new policy of no overtime pay for postal workers. Our carrier reported to us that, thanks to this policy, mail backing up for several days is not uncommon.
Frankly, this erosion of service and reliability aggravates me. It is downright annoying.
It also concerns me more and at a deeper level as we consider the potential impact of this new policy on mail in ballots for the coming general election in November 2020.
It may be past time to get on the phone, fire off an email or, yes, write letters. If you decide on a letter, just factor in a couple of weeks for delayed delivery!
Friday, August 07, 2020
So simple. Yet, so obvious.
Problem is, I seldom think correctly about the urban "poor."
I don't see clearly.
I rush to "help," to "fix," to "solve."
I don't hear clearly.
I've known for years that I'm not always the sharpest knife in the drawer. However, I've also noticed over the last 50 years that when I get to know a person, really know them behind authentic effort, and hard work on my part, I begin to get the picture--often a very different picture.
Usually, growth in understanding follows time spent together. In the connection of simple, but genuine friendship, I come to realize important lessons.
Recently, a friend who is homeless, brought me to parade rest with this comment:
"Larry, I just want to live like you. You know, a house, a job, options, family, friends, good health, safety. I don't want to be out here asking people for money every day. I just want my life to be like yours."
It's not rocket science.
Everyone wants a life like mine and most of my friends.
He doesn't want my service.
His understanding, and willingness to tell me, ought to cause me to think very differently about extreme poverty in my community.
Tuesday, August 20, 2019
- Walking out of a downtown building, I noticed an elderly woman seated on a comfortable bench waiting for her ride to pick her up. "Good morning, mam," I said to her. "Have a nice day!" Her eyes twinkled, as she replied , "Oh, angel, you're just too kind! You have a good day too."
- Got into a conversation with an employee about his weekend. "Have a good weekend," I asked him in passing. "I did, but about all I did was work," he explained. "Right now I have three jobs--this one and two more!" "You better watch that burning the candle at both ends," I quipped."Yeah, I know, but I have two kids in college," he explained. "Someday, they will rise up and call you blessed," I offered.
- A wisp of a man whom I've known for a long time, looked at the impossibly long line of people come to get food, and remarked simply, "I'm starving. Don't you see, I'm starving. I can't stand in that line."
- A volunteer, a young man, approached me as I double parked on an extremely busy day in our food center. "You dropping off something, sir?" he asked. "No, I'm trying park. I work here," I tried to explain, a bit defensively, thinking, "This this guy doesn't know me from Adam All-Fox!. "Well, we don't let people park here," he kindly informed me. As I was thinking what to say by way of explanation--as in "I need to get inside, I work here!" He appeared again and told me, "Park over here," as he pointed toward a cone-bordered space he had "made" for me. Before I could thank him, he told me, "I didn't want your car to get hit." What's to say but thanks?
Tuesday, July 02, 2019
Equally difficult, and linked in a causal manner to the suffering I envision, is simple, but maddening delay.
When you live in poverty, everything seems to slow down in the face of complicating distractions.
Take my friend "John."
I met John over a year ago at our Opportunity Center. He came seeking medical attention for his gigantic, abdominal hernia that protruded from his tight t-shirt. After we visited for a while, I referred him to CitySquare's health clinic. He ended up in the ER at a local hospital after which he made his way to Parkland, our public hospital in Dallas County.
Several weeks later, John shows up at my office looking as if he had lost 50 pounds, a step his physician recommended as a pre-surgery precaution. He had a ways to go on his diet plan. Again, a goal made more difficult to he extreme because he lived on the streets.
He signed up for housing and languished for weeks on our jammed packed waiting list (just here read "more delays").
Then, he reappears two days ago.
He had gained back the weight that he had shed, and then some. He explained that he just gotten of jail behind warrants for tickets that actually were not his.
As we discussed his dilemma, many more defeating, delaying details surfaced. Of course, not the least of these worries included his hernia, now larger than before. He also informed me that he battled severe diabetes, a fight made almost impossible by his homelessness.
He looked sick and felt worse.
I took him to see our community health expert, J. R. Newton, RN, MDiv. Next thing I know I have a text from J. R. telling me that she has John at the Parkland ER. Today she updated me, saying that John was admitted to the hospital where he was receiving treatment for his diabetes.
When admitted to the hospital he was "very, very sick." His blood sugar on admission read 723 (normal is 95-110). He was lucky to be alive.
I feel compelled to record his story. Not to make anyone feel bad, but to describe what people trapped in poverty face on a daily and often prolonged basis.
Pray for John, please.
Think of him as you think of our city and our collective response to deep, extreme poverty. Think of how we might effective ways to at least decouple "needless" from "suffering."