Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Race Matters. . .

On and on it goes.

A group of Clemson University students--white students--threw a "gangsta" theme party the weekend prior to the Martin Luther King, Jr. national holiday.

The party invited participants to dress and behave in a manner that could politely be described as a night of parody of African American racial stereotypes. Dress and behavior poked fun at blacks who were not present for the event.

A similar party took place at Tarleton State University here in Texas. Another convened at the University of Connecticut School of Law.

On each campus the events in question set off a backlash of disgust, disappointment and hurt feelings. In addition, on each campus formal talks and forums have been organized to discuss race, racism and the nature and current condition of America's racial psyche.

To a person the students involved in the parties claim they meant no harm or disrespect. And, above all, they denied any suggestion that racism was involved.

I must admit I have a hard time with that claim.

Further, it is the ease with which the group uses this sort of disclaimer as an easily accessible, default "fall back" position, when caught in an act of blatant racism, that continues to really bug, irritate and anger me. University students with, at a minimum, no more sensitivity than this is a phenomenon that I find preposterous.

We should not be fooled.

Racism and all that goes with it is very much alive and well in this nation.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Mother's Choice

Several months ago a bright, young marketing guy produced and gave us this video. "Mother's Choice" gets at the choices facing low-income parents who struggle to make a positive life for themselves and their children.

The spot has aired several times thanks to WFAA TV Channel 8 here in Dallas.

Our work is all about engaging people like the mom behind the sounds you will hear as you read of her dilemma.

Remember her today.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Brace yourselves, poor folks. . .one more time

Just about every time the State of Texas decides it's time to "reform" anything related to health and human services, poor folks should prepare to take it on the chin.

That's why the headline in the "Texas & Southwest" section of Saturday's edition of The Dallas Morning News caught my eye: "State plans Medicaid experiment" (Saturday, January 27, 2007, page 3A).

On Friday, Governor Rick Perry, "key GOP lawmakers," and Albert Hawkins, Texas' health and welfare czar, met with U. S. Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt. No doubt Medicaid financing poses a formidable challenge to the state, given that 25% of the state budget is earmarked for funding the health care delivery system designed to serve the poorest of our residents.

According to the report, the Governor wants to:
  • Offer subsidies to small businesses to fund the purchase of health insurance for their employees.
  • Give "customized" benefit plans to certain groups of Medicaid patients.
  • Transfer part of the funding to "savings accounts" for the patients.

I will reserve judgment until all of the details are revealed and worked through during this session of the Texas Legislature, but I have noted a trend following the announcement of these kinds of plans.

First, the cost involved is often covered by reducing overall benefits to the poor, and sometimes those who need help the most are cut off.

The last time Medicaid was "reformed" in Texas, benefits were cut, people found it harder to be certified and private industry got involved in trying to administer programs. The result to date has been a disaster, and I happened to be in on one of the original planning groups for Accenture, the private company contracted to "improve service and access" to the poor. Hasn't happened.

Second, whenever government begins suggesting private insurance as a remedy for bulging health care costs, I counsel my low-income friends to head for cover!

President Bush's current plan for a health care overhaul includes inducements in the form of tax breaks to motivate more Americans to buy private insurance. According to Dr. Ron Anderson, President and CEO for the Parkland Health and Hospital System, Dallas' public health care institution, the costs associated with these tax breaks would be covered by cuts in funding to hospitals like Parkland that treat the poor and uninsured. Dr. Anderson estimates that under such a plan the loss in Medicaid revenue to Parkland could be up to $83 million annually.

One note of concern for me, as I read the report, is the fact that our Governor asked Secretary Leavitt for "as much leeway as states can be given to tinker with Medicaid." I'd love to know the definition of "tinker" here. One thing I do know, shifting around already limited Medicaid funds never seems to benefit the poor.

I'll stay tuned, but I'm not optimistic.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Shane Claiborne on "Hell"

If you've read any of Shane Claiborne's stuff, you won't be surprised by what follows. His insights are refreshing in an unsettling sort of way! My friend here in Dallas, Al Garrett made me aware of this particular essay.

Meditate on his words this Sunday.

The Gates of Hell

C.S. Lewis understood hell, not as a place where God locks people out of heaven, but as a dungeon that we lock ourselves into and that we as a Church hold the keys. I think that gives us new insight when we look at the parable of Lazarus or hear the brilliant words with which Jesus reassures Peter: “The gates of Hell will not prevail against you.”

As an adolescent, I understood that to mean that the demons and fiery darts of the devil will not hit us. But lately I’ve done a little more thinking and praying, and I have a bit more insight on the idea of “gates.”

Gates are not offensive weapons. Gates are defensive—walls and fences we build to keep people out. God is not saying the gates of hell will not prevail as they come at us. God is saying that we are in the business of storming the gates of hell, and the gates will not prevail as we crash through them with grace.

People sometimes ask if we are scared of the inner city. I say that I am more scared of the suburbs. Our Jesus warns that we can fear those things which can hurt our bodies or we can fear those things which can destroy our souls, and we should be far more fearful of the latter. Those are the subtle demons of suburbia.

As my mother once told me, “Perhaps there is no more dangerous place for a Christian to be than in safety and comfort, detached from the suffering of others.” I’m scared of apathy and complacency, of detaching myself from the suffering. It’s hard to see until our 20/20 hindsight hits us—but every time we lock someone out, we lock ourselves further in.

Just as we are building walls to keep people out of our comfortable, insulated existence, we are trapping ourselves in a hell of isolation, loneliness and fear. We have “gated communities” where rich folks live. We put up picket fences around our suburban homes. We place barbed wire and razer-wire around our buildings and churches. We put bars on our windows in the ghettos of fear. We build up walls to keep immigrants from entering our country. We guard our borders with those walls—Berlin, Jerusalem, Jericho.

And the more walls and gates and fences we have, the closer we are to hell. We, like the rich man, find ourselves locked into our gated homes and far from the tears of Lazarus outside, far from the tears of God.

Let us pray that God would give us the strength to storm the gates of hell, and tear down the walls we have created between those whose suffering would disrupt our comfort. May we become familiar with the suffering of the poor outside our gates, know their names, and taste the salt in their tears… then when “the ones God has rescued,” the Lazaruses of our world—the baby refugees, the mentally-ill wanderers, and the homeless outcasts—are seated next to God, we can say, “We’re with them.” Jesus has given them the keys to enter the Kingdom. Maybe they will give us a little boost over the gate.

And in the New Jerusalem, the great City of God, “on no day will its gates ever be shut.” The gates of the Kingdom will forever be open. (Revelation 21:25)

[For more, hit the link from which I got this essay at:

Saturday, January 27, 2007

"Strategic Masculinity"

The role of men in the revitalization of inner city communities is something we talk about a lot at Central Dallas Ministries.

Coach Joe Ehrmann (the guy with the white hair on the right) has something to say about the entire matter.

Best thing about the Coach is the fact that he "says" it with his life.

He Turns Boys Into Men
By Jeffrey Marx
Published: August 29, 2004 Parade Magazine

Young faces usually filled with warmth and wonder are now taut with anticipation and purpose. Eyes are lasers. Hearts are pounding. This is nothing unusual for the final minutes before a high school football game. But a coach and his players are about to share an exchange that is downright foreign to the tough-guy culture of football.

The coach, Joe Ehrmann, is a former NFL star, now 55 and hobbled, with white hair and gold-rimmed glasses. Still, he is a mountain of a man. Standing before the Greyhounds of Gilman School in Baltimore, Ehrmann does not need a whistle.

“What is our job as coaches?” Ehrmann asks.

“To love us!” the Gilman boys yell back in unison.

“What is your job?” Ehrmann shouts back.

“To love each other!” the boys respond.

The words are spoken with the commitment of an oath, the enthusiasm of a pep rally.

This is football?

It is with Ehrmann. It is when the whole purpose of being here is to totally redefine what it means to be a man. This is lofty work for a volunteer coach on a high school football field. It is work that makes Ehrmann the most important coach in America.

In his eighth season at Gilman, Ehrmann’s résumé is anything but ordinary for a defensive coordinator. After 13 years in professional football, most of them as a defensive lineman for the Baltimore Colts, he retired in 1985 and began tackling much more significant challenges.

As an inner-city minister and founder of a community center known as The Door, Ehrmann worked the hard streets of East Baltimore. He also co-founded a Ronald McDonald House for sick children and launched a racial-reconciliation project called Mission Baltimore. Now he’s a pastor at the 4000-member Grace Fellowship Church and president of a national organization that supports abused children.

“He’s a lot of things to a lot of people,” says Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. “He’s really an opinion leader. And what I love about Joe—it’s not just the messages. It’s the messenger. He’s a very unique man. Gentle. Principled. Committed. And effective.”

The Challenge for Men

Aside from the X’s and O’s of football, everything Ehrmann teaches at Gilman stems from his belief that our society does a horrible job of teaching boys how to be men and that virtually every problem we face can somehow be traced back to this failure. That is why he developed a program called Building Men for Others, which has become the signature philosophy of Gilman football.

The first step is to tear down what Ehrmann says are the standard criteria—athletic ability, sexual conquest and economic success—that are constantly held up in our culture as measurements of manhood.

“Those are the three lies that make up what I call ‘false masculinity,’” Ehrmann says. “The problem is that it sets men up for tremendous failures in our lives. Because it gives us this concept that what we need to do as men is compare what we have and compete with others for what they have.

“As a young boy, I’m going to compare my athletic ability to yours and compete for whatever attention that brings. When I get older, I’m going to compare my girlfriend to yours and compete for whatever status I can acquire by being with the prettiest or the coolest or the best girl I can get. Ultimately, as adults, we compare bank accounts and job titles, houses and cars, and we compete for the amount of security and power that those represent.

“We compare, we compete. That’s all we ever do. It leaves most men feeling isolated and alone. And it destroys any concept of community.”

The Solution

Ehrmann offers a simple but powerful solution. His own definition of what it means to be a man—he calls it “strategic masculinity”—is based on only two things: relationships and having a cause beyond yourself.

“Masculinity, first and foremost, ought to be defined in terms of relationships,” Ehrmann says.

“It ought to be taught in terms of the capacity to love and to be loved. It comes down to this: What kind of father are you? What kind of husband are you? What kind of coach or teammate are you? What kind of son are you? What kind of friend are you? Success comes in terms of relationships.

"And then all of us ought to have some kind of cause, some kind of purpose in our lives that’s bigger than our own individual hopes, dreams, wants and desires. At the end of our life, we ought to be able to look back over it from our deathbed and know that somehow the world is a better place because we lived, we loved, we were other-centered, other-focused.”

The Way We Learn

How is all of this taught within the context of football?

From the first day of practice through the last day of the season, Ehrmann and his best friend, Head Coach Biff Poggi, bombard their players with stories and lessons about being a man built for others.

They stress that Gilman football is all about living in a community. It is about fostering relationships. It is about learning the importance of serving others. While coaches elsewhere scream endlessly about being tough, Ehrmann and Poggi teach concepts such as empathy, inclusion and integrity. They emphasize Ehrmann’s code of conduct for manhood: accepting responsibility, leading courageously, enacting justice on behalf of others.

“I was blown away at first,” says Sean Price, who joined the varsity as a freshman and is now a junior.

“All the stuff about love and relationships—I didn’t really understand why it was part of football. After a while, though, getting to know some of the older guys on the team, it was the first time I’ve ever been around friends who really cared about me.”

Helping Others

Four hours before each game, the Gilman players file into a meeting room for bagels, orange juice and Building Men for Others 101. Ehrmann and Poggi tell their players they expect greatness out of them. But the only way they will measure greatness is by the impact the boys make on other people’s lives.

Ultimately, the boys are told, they will make the greatest impact on the world—will bring the most love and grace and healing to people—by constantly basing their actions and thoughts on one simple question: What can I do for you?

That explains the rule that no Gilman football player should ever let another student—football player or not—sit by himself in the school lunchroom.

“How do you think that boy feels if he’s eating all alone?” Ehrmann asks his players. “Go get him and bring him over to your table.”

There are other rules that many coaches would consider ludicrous. No boy is cut from the Gilman team based on athletic ability. Every senior plays—and not only late in lopsided games. Coaches must always teach by building up instead of tearing down.

As Ehrmann puts it in a staff notebook: “Let us be mindful never to shame a boy but to correct him in an uplifting and loving way.”

Whenever Ehrmann speaks publicly about Building Men for Others—usually at a coaching clinic, a men’s workshop or a forum for parents—someone inevitably asks about winning and losing: “All this touchy-feely stuff sounds great, but kids still want to win, right?”

“Well, we’ve had pretty good success,” Ehrmann says. “But winning is only a byproduct of everything else we do—and it’s certainly not the way we evaluate ourselves.”

Win for Life

Unless pressed for specifics, Ehrmann does not even mention that Gilman finished three of the last six seasons undefeated and No. 1 in Baltimore. In 2002, the Greyhounds ranked No. 1 in Maryland and climbed to No. 14 in the national rankings.

Much more important to Ehrmann is the way that his team ends each season when nobody else is watching. Before the last game, each senior stands before his teammates and coaches to read an essay titled “How I Want To Be Remembered When I Die.”

Here is something linebacker David Caperna—reading from his own “obituary”—said last year: “David was a man who fought for justice and accepted the consequences of his actions. He was not a man who would allow poverty, abuse, racism or any sort of oppression to take place in his presence. David carried with him the knowledge and pride of being a man built for others."

The most important coach in America sat back and smiled. Win or lose on the field of play, Joe Ehrmann had already scored the kind of victory that would last a lifetime.

To Be A Better Man:

Recognize the “three lies of false masculinity.” Athletic ability, sexual conquest and economic success are not the best measurements of manhood.

Allow yourself to love and be loved.

Build and value relationships.

Accept responsibility, lead courageously and enact justice on behalf of others.

Practice the concepts of empathy, inclusion and integrity.

Learn the importance of serving others.

Base your thoughts and actions on “What can I do for you?”

Develop a cause beyond yourself.

Try to leave the world a better place because you were here.

[Pulitzer Prize-winner Jeffrey Marx is the author of Season of Life, a book about Joe Ehrmann, just published by Simon & Schuster. ]

Friday, January 26, 2007

Anxieties of the Rich

Advancing Philanthropy magazine published an enlightening report recently on worry and the rich ("What Worries The Wealthy," September-October 2006, page 46).

Quoting The U. S. Trust Annual Survey of Affluent Americans, AP reported the top "worries" of the rich this way:

1. Terrorism in the U. S. and abroad will negatively impact the economy and the securities markets (right at 90% ranked this concern first, up from 86% in 2003).

2. Concerns for the next generation's financial difficulties (75% cited this as a major worry, down from 82% in 2003).

3. Fear that taxes will rise steeply in the next few years (70% expressed this worry, up from 59% in 2003).

U. S. Trust, a New York-based financial management company conducts the annual poll that seeks information and opinions from a representative sampling of the top 1% of the wealthiest Americans. The "wealthiest Americans" by this poll's definition are individuals with adjusted gross incomes of more than $325,000 annually or net worth of greater than $5.9 million.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Just one more thing. . .

Yesterday morning on my way home from the Downtown YMCA, well before 7:00 a.m., I passed a large group of people massed on the sidewalk and steps in front of the Baylor University College of Dentistry on Gaston Avenue. No doubt these good folks were lined up waiting for the doors to open to the community dental clinic the school operates to benefit low-income patients and the dental students who train there.

Across the years we have referred many people to the Baylor dental clinic. The prices patients pay are considerably below what one might expect to pay in a private dental practice, but often the costs even here remain beyond the reach of many, if not most, of the people with whom we work.

Central Dallas Ministries operates a dental practice. We have two dentists who each work 20 hours each week. We need more volunteer dentists to increase the number of hours our practice is open each week.

Our practice is limited though. We do extractions, simple fillings and routine dental hygiene and education. We can't do more extensive procedures due to cost and limitations of equipment and staff. Still, we try to relieve pain and help low-income patients do the best they can with their dental health and that of their children.

When's the last time you had a tooth ache?

Remember how much fun it was?

I thought of that as I drove past the large group waiting to get into their chosen place of relief.

Most of us don't think about it, but dental care for the poor is almost non-existent in a place like inner city Dallas. Medicaid benefits stop once a person becomes an adult and don't pick up again until retirement age. During that long middle passage of life, without care, teeth have a way of failing and failing terribly.

Just one more thing with which the poor must contend.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Messages from the edges. . .

Yesterday, in the monthly meeting of the Dallas area Continuum of Care group that administers and utilizes U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Affairs funds to serve the homeless locally, a representative from Plano,Texas informed us that the shelter in her city was full and that it had been for over a year. No weather related cause explained the situation. When asked, she also told us that the surge in shelter population was not Katrina related either.

For a number of years Plano, Texas was at or near the top of the list of America's most affluent communities. I am sure it is still way up there, but something else is obviously going on in Plano and, I would argue, around the nation.

There really are "two Americas" today.

A small group of people are growing more and more wealthy.

At the same time, a large and growing group are losing ground with many falling off into poverty. The Plano, Texas shelter report is just the latest piece of data to confirm what I am seeing.

The extremes are at once disturbing and bewildering.

This morning NBC's Today Show aired a story on a mattress company in New York City. Did you catch it?

The company specializes in handmade mattresses. The least expensive mattress in the store sells for something over $4,000. The top of the line mattress that is their best-seller--are you ready for this?--goes for a bit over $49,000.

The top-of-the-line mattress is considered "an investment in your health and your sleep."

Wonder what my buddies who spent last night on the curb or in a Downtown shelter, or out in that Plano shelter would think about that pitch?

I suppose the extremes are always like this.

But I've noticed across the years, we would be wise to watch the extremes because after awhile they begin to tell us really important things about where we actually are.

A bulging homeless population in suburban, North Dallas and mattresses worth more than many homes in South Dallas. What do you think?

Monday, January 22, 2007

Kashia. . .too good to miss--please try again!

I just realized that the video link to the story of Kashia wasn't working properly.

Take it from me, this is more than worth your time. So, I intend to leave her story up through the remainder of the day today and all day tomorrow, January 23.

Kashia represents thousands of precious children who live in the areas where we work. Talk about an asset to our city!

We cannot afford to fail to invest in these promising, incredible young lives.

Sorry about the foul up on my first attempt at this post.

Please, do try again! Just scroll down to the post just below.


Things stay real around here almost continually.

Since 2000, Central Dallas Ministries has been operating what we call our "After School Academy." The after school, exploratory learning and homework center is nestled right in the middle of the Turner Courts community in South Dallas.

If you've been here over the last week, you've seen several photographs of this neighborhood, a community in real crisis. If you haven't seen the photos, I suggest you run back through my recent posts to catch a glimpse.

To be frank, the neighborhood is about as bad as it gets for Dallas.

Average annual family income is at or below $10,000. The housing stock is worse than deplorable. Crime is a real problem, especially the violent kind that so often accompanies drug use and trade.

Tough, tough neighborhood. Hard place for little children to grow up and maintain hope.

Kashia is a 9-year old girl who is enrolled the After School Academy,

Click twice on the "play" button below to watch her story! I think you will be impressed and inspired.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Bears, Saints. . .I love this game!

So, the Chicago Bears are on to Super Bowl XLI!

Hard to believe, but the last time the Bears played in the NFL Championship Game was 21 years ago following the 1985 season. Talk about time flying!

The last time the Bears made it to a Super Bowl Ronald Reagan was President.

Remember Buddy Ryan's amazing defense? Remember how William "Refrigerator" Perry was a household word? Or, how about the slashing tackling of Mike Singletary, the Bear originally from Baylor University? How about head coach Mike Ditka, the quintessential Bear up until then.

But the Bears of 2006 put it together in an equally impressive manner. They dominated the NFC with lesser known players. Notably, Lovie Smith will become the first African American head coach to lead a team to the Super Bowl. Smith kept his team together all season in spite of all the controversy and second guessing centered on Bear quarterback Rex Grossman.

Then, there are my beloved New Orleans Saints! Last year the team posted a 3-13 record. This year new head coach Sean Payton led the team to the NFC Championship Game and a 11-7 record. Reggie Bush, Duece McAllister and Drew Brees, along with the entire team represented their beloved and beleaguered city about as well as anyone could have imagined. One of the great things about the Saints is how involved they have been in the life of this still struggling city.

The game itself was a good one until the fourth quarter when the Bears, who never trailed, finalized their domination.

I know this game and this team meant a lot to both cities.

I am just happy the teams and the communities got to face each other.

I love this game!

Until Easter. . .

My Sunday mornings between now and Easter will bring me to Southlake, Texas.

The Southlake Boulevard Church invited me to speak each Sunday during their two morning services through the first three months of 2007.

Southlake, Texas is located on Highway 114 just past (northwest of) DFW International Airport and on the road to Roanoke, Rhome and parts beyond.

Over the last two decades or so, this community has gone through an amazing metamorphosis.

The new home construction continues to boom, along with the population. Retail outlets spring up everywhere. The schools are expanding rapidly. Folks are employed at jobs that pay more than a livable wage. I am sure that Southlake is a great place to call home.

On the surface of things, Southlake seems a world apart from where I live and where I spend most of my time. Just about every category of growth that characterizes Southlake is not true of inner city Dallas.

East Dallas, at least parts of it, is growing with new home starts and a few new retail opportunities. Of course, nothing like Southlake. The pace is much slower and the problems associated with driving low-income families out of rebounding areas continue to challenge us.

South Dallas is the polar opposite of Southlake in terms of economics, growth, resources, investment and opportunity.

Beneath the surface of things though, down at the human level, I find so much that is the same.

The folks in the church where I am speaking confess many of the same fears, have many similar personal and family issues with which to contend and depend on their faith to make life workable. Like in so many East and South Dallas churches, the worship at Southlake Boulevard Church is lively, engaging and motivational.

While my impression is that the economic differences are great when I compare the communities, the spiritual resources are likely more nearly equal. I wouldn't be surprised if the low-income faith communities of Dallas don't have a bit of an edge in terms of faith and spiritual resourcefulness and opportunity.

Great, good people in both parts of the Metroplex--that is very clear to me.

I find myself wanting to get everyone together! I know such an experience would be mutually beneficial. What affects one part of the city affects every other part. If one person or neighborhood is diminished, all are diminished.

Segregation is never good.

So much is lost when people are kept apart. So many possibilities missed. So many solutions unrealized. So many friendships never forged.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

"What You Give Away"

Vince Gill recently released a 4-CD, boxed set of brand new music! Quite an accomplishment.

We were fortunate enough to have him join us on October at our annual "A Night to Remember 2006" celebration at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center here in Dallas.

The acoustics in the hall are amazing. To say the least, Vince and his 17-piece band filled the place with music!
Vince played a good portion of his new music.

Among my favorites is "What You Give Away," written with Al Anderson and performed on the album with Sheryl Crow.

You read the business page, see how you did today
Life's just passin' by
You live up on the hill, you've got a view that kills
Never wonder why

After you've counted everything you saved
Do you ever hit your knees and pray?
You know there's gonna be a judgment day
So what will you say?

No matter what you make
All that you can take
Is what you give away
What you give away

There's people on the street
Ain't got enough to eat
You just shake your head
The measure of a man is one who lends a hand
That's what my father said
After you've counted everything you've saved
Do you ever hit your knees and pray?
You know there's gonna be a judgment day
So what will you say?

No matter what you make
All that you can take
Is what you give away
What you give away

It's what you give away

After you've counted everything you've saved
Do you ever hit your knees and pray?
You know there's gonna be a judgment day
So what will you say?

No matter what you make
All that you can take
Is what you give away

You know it's not too late
It's all for Heaven's sake
What you give away
What you give away
What you give away

Thanks for the reminder, Vince!

Friday, January 19, 2007

What if this were your grocery store?

We shop at a huge, Super Target grocery store.

It is located quite a bit further from our home in Old East Dallas than was true when we live in suburban North Dallas. But, hey, we have cars and it is no big deal to drive over to shop.

Such options aren't available to most people in South Dallas.

Here's a photo of one of the two or three combination quick stop, liquor stores that are the closest shopping options for the people who live in Rochester Park--the same neighborhood I posted on yesterday, complete with photos of the horrible housing stock (if you missed it, go back and take a look at the lay of the land!).

Several years ago we organized the community against this "grocery store."

At the time the owner was charging our friends sales tax on grocery items that were exempt from any taxation. Of course, this allowed him to add an additional 8.25% on every food item, most of which were already priced far too high. But when there is no competition and no way to get to the nearest real grocery store that is miles away, consumers don't have much choice or say. We were able to put a stop to the illegal activity by mass protest.

The inventory in this store is extremely limited. No fresh fruit, vegetables or meat. Not much variety of anything. Lots of small packages of processed food, along with alcohol, cigarettes, etc.

Most people don't understand the day-to-day problems facing the very poor who live in inner city communities like this one. Food prices are far too high. Options don't exist. The quality of the food contributes to obesity and other chronic health problems, such as diabetes and hypertension, both of which run at epidemic levels here.

The poor remain powerless.

Often those who look on from a comfortable distance simply hurl judgments and insults. Public policy makers ignore the situation.

What if this were your grocery store?

What if you had no other options?

Put yourself in the shoes of the mothers, fathers and children who live here because they have no other choice.

We can do better than this.

God help us if we don't.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Shameful housing situation

Talk all you want to about "personal responsibility" and taking advantage of opportunities that come your way, but if you are a child and your neighborhood looks like this and operates in a totally dysfunctional manner largely due to its infrastructure failings, what real chance do you have of moving forward in any truly productive manner?

I took these photos in one of the South Dallas neighborhoods where we work every day.

Three realities are very, very clear here.

First, with a few rare exceptions and excluding the Habitat homes, the majority of the housing stock is in terrible disrepair. Much of it is uninhabitable, even though folks are trying to make homes in some of these structures.

Second, vacant lots where homes once stood are everywhere. In one section of this neighborhood many contiguous lots form large open spaces that are ripe for new development, but for the horrible surrounding properties.

Third, when a neighborhood "tips over" like this to the negative side of the ledger, nothing will change until public policy solutions are agreed upon and implemented. Only a major commitment from the public institutions of our larger community will allow this community to live again.

The City of Dallas should be ashamed to continue to carry this "housing" in its community portfolio. The City should muster the political and economic will to bring this area back. Such a move will involve the investment of millions of dollars in mortgage assistance funding and in infrastructure improvements and developers' incentives.

While the cost will be high, the price of doing nothing will turn out to be much more expensive in terms of human loss--crime, delinquency, deteriorating health, educational failures and dropouts and environmental impact.

The City has ignored this neighborhood long enough.

Take a look again.

Can you believe this is Dallas, Texas, the "can do" city?

Sadly it is.

We can do better than this.

Surely we can.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Segregating the poor and the rule of NIMBY

Recently, the Central Dallas Community Development Corporation submitted a proposal to the City of Dallas for the redevelopment of an old, abandoned Army Reserve base located on Northwest Highway out in the Lake Highlands community in North Dallas.

Those of you who check in here frequently will recall what I posted last Friday, January 12, 2007 ("Fear of the poor") to provide the details.

[Let me confess just here that it is very hard for me to refrain from a rather cold-hearted, cynical rant in response to the neighborhood's reaction to the plan, a plan that was very creative, if I do say so myself.]

This situation raises all sorts of questions about how a community coordinates its efforts to deal with the unique problems associated with homelessness and extreme poverty.

What should our collective approach be?

It is clear from our experience here that a group of vocal and organized neighbors can "peel off" the voice and leadership of a good council member simply because he or she is willing to listen--not endorse, just listen-- to an innovative proposal.

If this is standard operating procedure, is there any location in our community where the very poor will be welcomed? Where is the voice for the poor?

If you take the Lake Highlands' folks who were quoted in The Dallas Morning News at their word, they want to help out.

In fact, they are on record as loving the poor, especially the very poor who are homeless. It's just that they feel certain there is a better place to extend a hand to these folks than in their area of town.

You can read what they said for yourself at:

About one thing they are not right. The article seems to imply that the homeless in Dallas are all residing Downtown. That is not true.

For years there have been, and there remain today, homeless "camp grounds" along White Rock Creek right in the middle of the Lake Highlands community.

That is the point, it seems to me.

Homelessness is not a problem isolated to just one area of town.

In view of this reality, it seems only reasonable that every area of the city should be willing to take responsibility for responding to at least a part of the problem--their fair share, if you will.

The typical response in Dallas has been to point South.

The message seems pretty clear to me: Let's keep poverty where it belongs, down there with the other poor people.

Such an answer is not acceptable.

So, the Lake Highlands community is on record as saying they want to help the homeless.


Now, let's get down to practicality.

What would that look like?

How do these good church-going, PTA-participating, upright folks intend to get involved with providing a solution?

I'm very eager to hear from them.

At present, it seems they want to see the property in question turned into a city park. Who could be against that?

Why, I bet even the homeless living down in the creek bed would vote "yes" on that one. They might even end up using the park themselves when the weather warms up, especially since there will be no permanent housing development on the site.

Short of some really creative ideas, what we are left with is another victory for "not in my back yard" with the clear result going forward to segregate the poor even further.

Shame on all of us.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Partners. . .

John Greenan and I have been partners (some would say "in crime") in one fashion or another since 1999. That was the year that John and Ken Koonce founded Central Dallas Ministries' public interest law firm. John had practiced law with both large firms and in his own firm before leaving that career track to work with low-income folks full-time.

Then, about five years ago, John made another shift. This time inside the world of CDM.

Responding to a short "white paper" I had written about our community's expressed desire for improved and affordable housing, John went to work to found the Central Dallas Community Development Corporation. These days John leads that organization as its Executive Director.

I don't mean to embarrass him, but Greenan is an amazing guy. He can turn a wild idea--and the two of us seem to have no shortage of those--into a feasible reality quicker than any person I've ever known!

He's the brains behind our Downtown project, CityWalk@Akard. He's guided that deal through every exciting, torturous step so far! If we prove successful in this endeavor, it will be because of John's leadership.

More recently, John proposed a gated community of small, single-family cottages for the homeless at a perfect location out in a North Dallas neighborhood. The neighbors didn't much like it, but it was a fantastic plan. No telling what might have happened if they had given him a chance to explain!

John is a great lawyer. He also has a graduate degree in comparative literature. And, he seems to know something interesting about just about everything! He also is a canoe addict! When under stress, John simply buys another canoe. At last count, I think he had nine! Not long ago he was considering buying a canoe factory to bring to inner city Dallas as a jobs center!

Pragmatic, smart, hard working (never seen anyone work harder) and creative, I'm glad to call this guy friend and partner!

By the way, if you ever meet John ask him about the craziest thing he ever did while a student at Michigan State!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Letter from Birmingham Jail

In April 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. found himself locked up in the Birmingham, Alabama city jail. He was arrested while taking part in civil rights demonstrations in the city. While there, he read a statement that had been published in the local newspaper by eight white, "liberal" ministers. The ministers called into question Dr. King's timing and his strategy as being too impatient and ill-advised.

King began writing the letter in the margins of a newspaper and concluded on a pad that his attorneys were able to get to him.

The letter is one of the most significant documents of the American Civil Rights Movement. I post these historic and sacred words here in honor of Dr. King's birthday and, even more, his heroic life.

The letter is rather long. I considered pulling out excerpts, but decided that would be unfair to the original intention and to you who read. If you consider yourself a person of faith, if you have a love for the church, I beg you to take the time to read this letter.

April 16, 1963

While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities "unwise and untimely." Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statements in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.

I think I should indicate why I am here In Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the view which argues against "outsiders coming in." I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operating in every southern state, with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. We have some eighty-five affiliated organizations across the South, and one of them is the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights. Frequently we share staff, educational and financial resources with our affiliates. Several months ago the affiliate here in Birmingham asked us to be on call to engage in a nonviolent direct-action program if such were deemed necessary. We readily consented, and when the hour came we lived up to our promise. So I, along with several members of my staff, am here because I was invited here I am here because I have organizational ties here.

But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their "thus saith the Lord" far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco-Roman world, so am I. compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

You deplore the demonstrations taking place In Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city's white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.

In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action. We have gone through an these steps in Birmingham. There can be no gainsaying the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community.

Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of brutality is widely known. Negroes have experienced grossly unjust treatment in the courts. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation. These are the hard, brutal facts of the case. On the basis of these conditions, Negro leaders sought to negotiate with the city fathers. But the latter consistently refused to engage in good-faith negotiation.

Then, last September, came the opportunity to talk with leaders of Birmingham's economic community. In the course of the negotiations, certain promises were made by the merchants --- for example, to remove the stores humiliating racial signs. On the basis of these promises, the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and the leaders of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights agreed to a moratorium on all demonstrations. As the weeks and months went by, we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise. A few signs, briefly removed, returned; the others remained. As in so many past experiences, our hopes bad been blasted, and the shadow of deep disappointment settled upon us. We had no alternative except to prepare for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community. Mindful of the difficulties involved, we decided to undertake a process of self-purification. We began a series of workshops on nonviolence, and we repeatedly asked ourselves : "Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?" "Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail?" We decided to schedule our direct-action program for the Easter season, realizing that except for Christmas, this is the main shopping period of the year. Knowing that a strong economic with with-drawal program would be the by-product of direct action, we felt that this would be the best time to bring pressure to bear on the merchants for the needed change.

Then it occurred to us that Birmingham's mayoralty election was coming up in March, and we speedily decided to postpone action until after election day. When we discovered that the Commissioner of Public Safety, Eugene "Bull" Connor, had piled up enough votes to be in the run-oat we decided again to postpone action until the day after the run-off so that the demonstrations could not be used to cloud the issues. Like many others, we waited to see Mr. Connor defeated, and to this end we endured postponement after postponement. Having aided in this community need, we felt that our direct-action program could be delayed no longer.

You may well ask: "Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches and so forth? Isn't negotiation a better path?" You are quite right in calling, for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent-resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word "tension." I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, we must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.

The purpose of our direct-action program is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.

One of the basic points in your statement is that the action that I and my associates have taken in Birmingham is untimely. Some have asked: "Why didn't you give the new city administration time to act?" The only answer that I can give to this query is that the new Birmingham administration must be prodded about as much as the outgoing one, before it will act. We are sadly mistaken if we feel that the election of Albert Boutwell as mayor will bring the millennium to Birmingham. While Mr. Boutwell is a much more gentle person than Mr. Connor, they are both segregationists, dedicated to maintenance of the status quo. I have hope that Mr. Boutwell will be reasonable enough to see the futility of massive resistance to desegregation. But he will not see this without pressure from devotees of civil rights. My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was "well timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant 'Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied."
We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God-given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we stiff creep at horse-and-buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging dark of segregation to say, "Wait." But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking: "Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?"; when you take a cross-county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading "white" and "colored"; when your first name becomes "nigger," your middle name becomes "boy" (however old you are) and your last name becomes "John," and your wife and mother are never given the respected title "Mrs."; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you no forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodiness" then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.

You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court's decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may won ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that there fire two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the Brat to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all."

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distort the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an "I-it" relationship for an "I-thou" relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and awful. Paul Tillich said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression 'of man's tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong.

Let us consider a more concrete example of just and unjust laws. An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal.

Let me give another explanation. A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law. Who can say that the legislature of Alabama which set up that state's segregation laws was democratically elected? Throughout Alabama all sorts of devious methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters, and there are some counties in which, even though Negroes constitute a majority of the population, not a single Negro is registered. Can any law enacted under such circumstances be considered democratically structured?

Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest.

I hope you are able to ace the distinction I am trying to point out. In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.

Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.

We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was "legal" and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was "illegal." It was "illegal" to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler's Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country's antireligious laws. I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fan in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with an its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion? Isn't this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn't this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock? Isn't this like condemning Jesus because his unique God-consciousness and never-ceasing devotion to God's will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? We must come to see that, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber.

I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth concerning time in relation to the struggle for freedom. I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: "An Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth." Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely rational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this 'hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to 6e solid rock of human dignity.

You speak of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. At fist I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist. I began thinking about the fact that stand in the middle of two opposing forces in the Negro community. One is a force of complacency, made up in part of Negroes who, as a result of long years of oppression, are so drained of self-respect and a sense of "somebodiness" that they have adjusted to segregation; and in part of a few middle class Negroes who, because of a degree of academic and economic security and because in some ways they profit by segregation, have become insensitive to the problems of the masses. The other force is one of bitterness and hatred, and it comes perilously close to advocating violence. It is expressed in the various black nationalist groups that are springing up across the nation, the largest and best-known being Elijah Muhammad's Muslim movement. Nourished by the Negro's frustration over the continued existence of racial discrimination, this movement is made up of people who have lost faith in America, who have absolutely repudiated Christianity, and who have concluded that the white man is an incorrigible "devil."

I have tried to stand between these two forces, saying that we need emulate neither the "do-nothingism" of the complacent nor the hatred and despair of the black nationalist. For there is the more excellent way of love and nonviolent protest. I am grateful to God that, through the influence of the Negro church, the way of nonviolence became an integral part of our struggle.
If this philosophy had not emerged, by now many streets of the South would, I am convinced, be flowing with blood. And I am further convinced that if our white brothers dismiss as "rabble-rousers" and "outside agitators" those of us who employ nonviolent direct action, and if they refuse to support our nonviolent efforts, millions of Negroes will, out of frustration and despair, seek solace and security in black-nationalist ideologies a development that would inevitably lead to a frightening racial nightmare.

Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained. Consciously or unconsciously, he has been caught up by the Zeitgeist, and with his black brothers of Africa and his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South America and the Caribbean, the United States Negro is moving with a sense of great urgency toward the promised land of racial justice. If one recognizes this vital urge that has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily understand why public demonstrations are taking place. The Negro has many pent-up resentments and latent frustrations, and he must release them. So let him march; let him make prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; let him go on freedom rides-and try to understand why he must do so. If his repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways, they will seek expression through violence; this is not a threat but a fact of history. So I have not said to my people: "Get rid of your discontent." Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist.

But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." Was not Amos an extremist for justice: "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: "I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." Was not Martin Luther an extremist: "Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God." And John Bunyan: "I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience." And Abraham Lincoln: "This nation cannot survive half slave and half free." And Thomas Jefferson: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that an men are created equal ..." So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we viii be. We we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremist for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary's hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime---the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jeans Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

I had hoped that the white moderate would see this need. Perhaps I was too optimistic; perhaps I expected too much. I suppose I should have realized that few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action. I am thankful, however, that some of our white brothers in the South have grasped the meaning of this social revolution and committed themselves to it. They are still too few in quantity, but they are big in quality. Some-such as Ralph McGill, Lillian Smith, Harry Golden, James McBride Dabbs, Ann Braden and Sarah Patton Boyle---have written about our struggle in eloquent and prophetic terms. Others have marched with us down nameless streets of the South. They have languished in filthy, roach-infested jails, suffering the abuse and brutality of policemen who view them as "dirty nigger lovers." Unlike so many of their moderate brothers and sisters, they have recognized the urgency of the moment and sensed the need for powerful "action" antidotes to combat the disease of segregation.

Let me take note of my other major disappointment. I have been so greatly disappointed with the white church and its leadership. Of course, there are some notable exceptions. I am not unmindful of the fact that each of you has taken some significant stands on this issue. I commend you, Reverend Stallings, for your Christian stand on this past Sunday, in welcoming Negroes to your worship service on a non segregated basis. I commend the Catholic leaders of this state for integrating Spring Hill College several years ago.

But despite these notable exceptions, I must honestly reiterate that I have been disappointed with the church. I do not say this as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church. I say this as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who 'has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of Rio shall lengthen.

When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, a few years ago, I felt we would be supported by the white church felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leader era; an too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows.

In spite of my shattered dreams, I came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause and, with deep moral concern, would serve as the channel through which our just grievances could reach the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand. But again I have been disappointed.
I have heard numerous southern religious leaders admonish their worshipers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers declare: "Follow this decree because integration is morally right and because the Negro is your brother." In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: "Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern." And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, on Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.

I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at the South's beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious-education buildings. Over and over I have found myself asking: "What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where were they when Governor Walleye gave a clarion call for defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?"

Yes, these questions are still in my mind. In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? l am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great-grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.

There was a time when the church was very powerful in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being "disturbers of the peace" and "outside agitators"' But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were "a colony of heaven," called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God intoxicated to be "astronomically intimidated." By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide. and gladiatorial contests.

Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Par from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent and often even vocal sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it vi lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ekklesia and the hope of the world. But again I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom, They have left their secure congregations and walked the streets of Albany, Georgia, with us. They have gone down the highways of the South on tortuous rides for freedom. Yes, they have gone to jai with us. Some have been dismissed from their churches, have lost the support of their bishops and fellow ministers. But they have acted in the faith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. Their witness has been the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the gospel in these troubled times. They have carved a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment.

I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour. But even if the church does not come to the aid of justice, I have no despair about the future. I have no fear about the outcome of our struggle in Birmingham, even if our motives are at present misunderstood. We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham, ham and all over the nation, because the goal of America k freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with America's destiny. Before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth, we were here. Before the pen of Jefferson etched the majestic words of the Declaration of Independence across the pages of history, we were here. For more than two centuries our forebears labored in this country without wages; they made cotton king; they built the homes of their masters while suffering gross injustice and shameful humiliation-and yet out of a bottomless vitality they continued to thrive and develop. If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands.

Before closing I feel impelled to mention one other point in your statement that has troubled me profoundly. You warmly commended the Birmingham police force for keeping "order" and "preventing violence." I doubt that you would have so warmly commended the police force if you had seen its dogs sinking their teeth into unarmed, nonviolent Negroes. I doubt that you would so quickly commend the policemen if .you were to observe their ugly and inhumane treatment of Negroes here in the city jail; if you were to watch them push and curse old Negro women and young Negro girls; if you were to see them slap and kick old Negro men and young boys; if you were to observe them, as they did on two occasions, refuse to give us food because we wanted to sing our grace together. I cannot join you in your praise of the Birmingham police department.

It is true that the police have exercised a degree of discipline in handing the demonstrators. In this sense they have conducted themselves rather "nonviolently" in pubic. But for what purpose? To preserve the evil system of segregation. Over the past few years I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. I have tried to make clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or perhaps even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends. Perhaps Mr. Connor and his policemen have been rather nonviolent in public, as was Chief Pritchett in Albany, Georgia but they have used the moral means of nonviolence to maintain the immoral end of racial injustice. As T. S. Eliot has said: "The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason."

I wish you had commended the Negro sit-inners and demonstrators of Birmingham for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer and their amazing discipline in the midst of great provocation. One day the South will recognize its real heroes. They will be the James Merediths, with the noble sense of purpose that enables them to face Jeering, and hostile mobs, and with the agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer. They will be old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy-two-year-old woman in Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride segregated buses, and who responded with ungrammatical profundity to one who inquired about her weariness: "My fleets is tired, but my soul is at rest." They will be the young high school and college students, the young ministers of the gospel and a host of their elders, courageously and nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for conscience' sake. One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judaeo-Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

Never before have I written so long a letter. I'm afraid it is much too long to take your precious time. I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he k alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers?

If I have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patience that allows me to settle for anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me.

I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. I also hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an integrationist or a civil rights leader but as a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother. Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.

Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood,


Sunday, January 14, 2007

Ice, housing, poverty. . .

It is so cold this morning! So cold.

I'm wondering what it feels like on the street today. I can only imagine what it was like last night for hundreds of folks without housing here in Dallas.

What were the actual experiences in the "camp grounds" under our bridges, down along the banks of our creek beds, behind buildings on loading docks and in all of the other out-of-the-way places were people were "hiding" last evening.

What is it like today in the ice cold rain? Where to go? What to do? How to eat?

Wonder what it will be like tonight when it really turns cold?

Last Thursday afternoon I took a couple of my trusted partners on a driving tour of two huge South Dallas neighborhoods. The housing stock is way below sub-standard. As we drove through the areas again--I've done this so often, it became hard to realize that people are actually trying to live in houses like these in Dallas, Texas!

Outrage seems appropriate this morning as I think about the cold and those homes. Wonder how many people huddle around open flame heaters as I write these words? Wonder how the open cracks in the walls or the leaks in the rooftops are being managed?

Dallas considers itself a "can do" city.

This morning in the cold, with clear images of the poor in my mind, I find that claim laughable or, at best, a cruel, cruel marketing hoax.

Put yourself in out in the cold today.

How does it feel? How would it feel if you had no warm, dry, comfortable option into which you can easily retreat whenever you choose?

What does your faith tell you about our current circumstances in this city of amazing wealth and opportunity?

Saturday, January 13, 2007



Now there is a concept that is difficult to get your soul completely around.

But, one thing is certain: when it is not present, life tends to unravel to the extreme.

Authentic hope is not a matter of wishful thinking. No, hope must be grounded in reality, in reasonable expectations and clear human connections.

Life doesn’t always go the way we desire, but if hope is present, roadblocks and setbacks function as merely delays or temporary disappointments, rather than major defeats.

For years it has been clear to me that human development issues like the ability to read at grade level is grounded largely in the presence of hope. If a child has a healthy sense of hope-inspired direction, that child will learn to read for that reason alone.

Hope affects health in major ways. If a person feels valued, connected to others and in possession of enough power to control her environment to some extent, she will exhibit better health than the person who has no hope or sense of choice and control.

Food security, housing, health, neighborhood safety, education, work, livable wages, access to options—these are the clear “makers” of hope for the urban poor.

A major part of our strategic plan for the next five years involves hard work in several “target neighborhoods” in the inner city. Our overarching objective in each will be to nurture hope.

The privilege and sheer joy of working alongside our inner city neighbors who are devoted to improving their lives engenders hope in all of us. The longer I work on the issues confronting poor communities, the more certain I am of the essential nature of hope for individuals and neighborhoods.

John W. Gardiner once noted that “the first and last task of a leader is to keep hope alive.”

He was correct.

Being surrounded by hope-inspiring leaders, I get to see it every day!

A couple of good reads on hope are Hope Dies Last by Studs Terkel and the new book by Senator Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope.

Speaking of hope: I remain very hopeful in spite of the fact that today I turn 57!

Friday, January 12, 2007

Fear of the poor

You'd think I'd learn.

But, for some reason my naivete overwhelms my street smart almost every time.

Most people live with an irrational fear of the poor.

Latest example?

A project idea we had to build a gated community for very low income persons, most of whom are currently homeless.

I emphasize it was an idea, strictly in the conceptual stages. Before we could even discuss it thoroughly or enter into conversations about it, a well-organized neighborhood group came together to make sure it never saw the light of day.

Let me explain with more detail.

Last year the Jules E. Muchert United States Army Reserve Center was declared surplus property by the federal government. The City of Dallas made the property available for a public benefit conveyance to organizations working with the homeless, as required by the McKinney-Vento Act. The process began when the City of Dallas issued a request for proposals regarding possible future uses for the property.

Central Dallas Community Development Corporation made a proposal, along with a number of other organizations, including the City of Dallas Parks and Recreation Department and the Dallas County Sheriff's Department.

The City is currently reviewing the various proposals. No decision has been made about which proposal would be endorsed or which organization would be awarded the property. We aren't even sure about the timetable for the transfer, but believe it could be over a year or more from now.

The property is located in Lake Highlands, a part of North Dallas, at 10031 E. Northwest Highway next door to a public safety facility.

When we submitted our response to the City's RFP, we also informed Bill Blaydes, the Dallas City Council Member representing the district in which the property is located. In our communications with Mr. Blaydes we noted the short timeline for responding to the request for ideas and assured him that we would not go forward without his support.

Mr. Blaydes did not endorse our plan, but, as any good representative should do in my opinion, promised to hear us out at the appropriate time. He also informed people in his district about the future of the property in question.

Mr. Blaydes has a reputation as a tough leader with strong opinions, but we have found him to be very fair. In the case of the homeless in Dallas, Mr. Blaydes feels strongly that every area of town needs to do its part in addressing the need for appropriate, permanent housing. He is committed to not locating all such housing in the Southern Sector. We agree with him on this.

I feel like our proposal, created by my partner and Central Dallas CDC Executive Director, John Greenan was very unique.

It called for creating a small, gated enclave of cottage-style houses on the southern two thirds of the property. The plan saw us using the north third of the property as a green space/buffer zone. Entrance to the property would be only from Northwest Highway and cut off from any surrounding neighborhoods. If it had been selected, one of the current structures on the property would have been used as a community center. The remaining current structures would have been demolished, allowing for a good bit of green space in the development.

Let me be clear here. Central Dallas CDC does not build, run or own shelters, halfway houses or any type of transitional facilities. Central Dallas CDC develops permanent housing, including housing for those who have formerly been homeless.

Our proposal left lots of room for negotiation, discussion and open debate with elected officials and community residents.

We envisioned a development limited to 25 to 30 cottages. Our plans for these single-family or single-person houses can be seen at the following website:

Our CDC doesn't work with people moving directly out of homelessness. Instead we partner with agencies that work at helping people make the transition out of homelessness. Typically these agencies run eighteen to twenty-four month programs and then move graduates of those programs into permanent housing.

Central Dallas CDC is interested in providing that permanent housing, for which there is a critical shortage in our city.

The property in question here would have most likely been developed to house a specific segment of the homeless population--perhaps families, seniors or veterans, but many of these details were to have been worked out with the neighborhood if, and when, Central Dallas CDC was awarded the property, a decision that remained far from certain.

Back to the neighborhood and the neighbors.

Word got out that we were building a "homeless shelter" in Lake Highlands. As I have said, no such thing was ever even considered.

In spite of fairly good media coverage explaining that this was not the case at all, the rumors were not to be quelled and petitions began to circulate based on the same misinformation.

With a few exceptions the neighborhood said, "Don't confuse us with the facts! We don't want homeless persons in our area."

For the life of me I don't know how a person can be homeless if they live in a house!

People are afraid of the poor. Lots of the fear is simply irrational.

People mention their children to us as a concern. I wonder how many convicted molesters in Dallas County over the past 20 years have been homeless? My hunch is few or none. By the way, for the sake of full disclosure, two of my grandchildren live in Lake Highlands!

People worry about property values. Our project was designed to add value, not diminish it.

People are afraid of the poor.

We just have to face that fact and keep working.

People think we are crazy.

We're not.

We just know lots of low-income folks.

As a result, we aren't afraid.

One more thing. At the request of Mr. Blaydes, and in line with what we promised him initially, we will be formally withdrawing our proposal from consideration in the next few days.