Saturday, September 29, 2007

Harkin's Confession

Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Chairman of the powerful Senate Agriculture Committee, admitted in an interview with CNN today that America does not have enough fresh fruits and vegetables for everyone to follow the time honored dietary dictum of five servings daily.

He was asked about the connection between the Farm Bill and the rise of obesity in the U. S. He acknowledged that there was a direct connection between farm legislation and the growth of American waistlines.

Consider these facts.

Most fruits and vegetables are considered "specialty foods" by Congress. As a result, they are not subsidized like corn, for example. Subsidies mean production. Their absence leads to underproduction in the face of growing need.

Scarcity drives prices up. Result: the well-to-do in this country eat a more healthy diet than the poor.

Add to this the fact that low-income communities, especially in our inner cities, don't enjoy easy access to good supermarkets and you have the public health reality fairly well in view.


I'd suggest a healthy increase in the Food Stamp program for the working poor. In addition, Congress should find ways to incentivize the production of increasing amounts of fruits and vegetables and the development of good retail markets among the urban poor. These three steps along would begin to take a healthy bite out of obesity and all of the public health issues associated with it. The savings to the American tax payer in health care costs alone would be enormous.

We need to wake up to the fact that most things aren't the way they are today by accident.


Friday, September 28, 2007

Solutions. . .real solutions

Frustrated as you consider the problems and challenges associated with homelessness in the United States?

Need even just a glimmer of hope?

Then, please watch this:

Common Ground provided us the model we needed here in Dallas as we began thinking, dreaming, planning and now implementing our first major permanent supportive housing development.

This video will knock your socks off.

There is hope. . .

. . .if we are willing to move beyond many of our preconceived ideas and biases.

Homes for the homeless. Homes, not shelter beds, outdoor camp grounds or sidewalks.

What a concept!

Thursday, September 27, 2007


It always happens. No matter where I am, it happens. It has been happening for as long as I can remember. For years and years now.

I've noticed that it often happens when things are complicated or when I have been distracted by something selfish or when I am supposed to be "away" from things.

My family has grown so accustomed to it that it has become a family joke of sorts--not exactly the right language, but I struggle to describe it. My daughters grew up watching it. My wife has seen it everywhere we go.


It happens to me again and again.

And, it happened again last Friday night when I stopped to get gas just across the street from the hospital where my dad is recuperating from surgery.

Now get the picture. This gas station is located in an extremely affluent part of our region.

For some reason the credit card reader on the gas pump wasn't working. So, I had to go inside to pay in advance. I first noticed the gentleman as I walked inside. He saw me and I realized that he saw me.

But, I thought, "Here I am in northwest Plano. This is one of the wealthiest parts of the Metroplex. . .surely there aren't panhandlers up here!"

I knew I was wrong, as I rehearsed my foolish logic with the little person living inside my head. Do you have one of those annoying little creatures in your life/head?

When I returned to my car to complete the fueling process, he approached me.

"Sir, good evening," he began. "I was telling that other gentleman that I'm trying to get enough money to get home to Greenville, Texas. I was wondering. . . ."

I cut him off.

"Don't go there, friend," I told him. "I am going to help you out, but don't give me any 'baloney' (not exactly what I said) because I know game and I'm not needing any game tonight!"

"Where you from, man?" he asked me with a smile breaking across his face.

"I live in Downtown Dallas in the 'hood," I replied. "I know game. But, tonight I'm not playing. So, why don't we start again and you just tell me what's going on and what you are trying to do tonight."

"I just got out of prison," he told me, as he pulled out his Texas Department of Corrections identification card. "I'm trying to get a bus pass, something to eat, and a job."

At this point I was encouraged by his complete candor. Refreshing for us both, it seemed.

"I run an inner city ministry Downtown," I told him. "You need to come see us because we have lots of possibilities for you."

I explained all of the options we could make available to him, if he chose to take advantage of them.

"When you say housing, you aren't talking about the shelter are you?" he asked with a frown of concern.

"No, no," I assured him. "I'm talking about an apartment of your own--permanent supportive housing."

"That's what I need. . . and a job, but when you get out and tell people what I've told you, man, people just turn away and won't give you the time of day."

I didn't have a business card. Drat! So, I wrote down contact information and handed it back to him, explaining that I was only out in Plano because of my dad's hospitalization across the street.

"You don't want to go back to prison," I told him. "You and I know one slip up and you are going back. Black folks end up inside a lot more often than people like me!"

He laughed a long laugh.

"I haven't met a white man who talks like you," he said.

"Thanks to friends like you, it has developed over the years, believe me. What were you in for?" I asked.

"Robbery," he confessed. "It's hard without a job. You can make so much more doing bad. I don't want to go back, man."

We talked about racism, faith, Jena, Louisiana; prison, friendship and finding a new chance.

I handed him a twenty and he shook my hand and smiled a huge smile.

"I ain't going back," he declared.

I watched him walk away. He retrieved his backpack from the side of the station. He walked away into the night with what appeared to be a confident stride.

It always happens to me.

I wish it didn't.

I wish people weren't facing what that gentleman faces. I hope he will come by and hook up with us. It is good to imagine what we could discover together. I hope he believed me.

I wonder if he has any real reason to take me at my word.

We'll see.


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Show biz for "the poor"

LeAnn Rimes brought down the house Monday night during our sixth annual "A Night to Remember 2007" concert at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center in Downtown Dallas (event pictured here).

It was a great night.

The house was packed.

The music was emotional, moving and unbelievable in terms of range and quality.

LeAnn Rimes is an incredible talent. Everyone seemed to enjoy a night of fun and philanthropy. A successful night in every respect.

I'm grateful for everyone who purchased tickets and for every sponsor who helped underwrite the event--we had more sponsors this year than ever before.

I enjoy these efforts. I love working with our staff and everyone involved, including the talent to turn a spotlight on what we are trying to do.

Still, at the end of the day, it makes me incredibly sad that our organization even needs to exist. Families trapped in poverty deserve much more than we are able to deliver at this point.

As Ms. Rimes sang last night, maybe the best approach is to be committed to "change the things I (we) can." I continue to believe the list of things that can change to the great benefit of us all is long and eminently doable.

Any ideas on who we should invite to perform next year? I'd love to hear your ideas.


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Lighting up Feliz Navidad or Farmers Branch revisited

Imagine my surprise at a television news report last Saturday night picturing the beginning of the Christmas season, and just as fall arrives!

According the the story, a Christmas lighting company has already begun hanging decorative holiday lights in Highland Park and in Farmers Branch. Millions of lights will be put in place over the next 10-12 weeks, the lighting company owner reported.

Highland Park Village and a public park in Farmers Branch were pictured as examples of the several places the work is underway.

Seems like the Christmas season arrives earlier every year.

But, that's not my point here.

Care to guess who was hard at work stringing those lights up in the branches of trees right there in the Farmers Branch park?

Mexican workers.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm sure all of those gentlemen had the proper papers to document their "legal status" in the country. What do you think?

Of course, I can think of nothing the political leadership in Farmers Branch needs more than a little of the Christmas spirit!

Feliz Navidad!

Turn on the light, and hurry!

Action item: Call your U. S. Senator today to urge passagge of "The Dream Act" that will allow immigrant children to gain "legal" status to stay in the U. S. while going on to pursue a college education or to serve in the U. S. Armed Forces. Find out the information you need here:


Monday, September 24, 2007

"Throwing money"--NOT!

Often when I meet with groups who express an interest in either helping us do our work or in developing their own strategies for responding to the challenges of poverty, someone will say something like, "We want to do more than just 'throw money' at the problems! We really want to get involved. You know, hands on to make a real difference."

Every time I hear this sentiment, I cringe. Sometimes, depending on my mood, I challenge this thinking.

In the first place, let me be clear here, no one that I know of is "throwing money" at poverty or its presenting problems and challenges. If anything, people are extracting their funds, cutting back and trying not to spend money on the urban poor. This is true of both the public and private sectors.

Many thoughtful and committed individuals, groups, foundations, corportations and government bodies are deciding to invest their limited funds in people, groups and initiatives that make a measurable difference.

Second, there are times when hands-on involvement by outside volunteers is very helpful.

But, let's be honest here. Often when people of material means, who live outside the communities where poverty rules, talk about "making a real difference," they are unwittingly referring to the difference such involvement makes in their own lives more than in the life of an impoverished community. At their best, these desires have to do with making an authentic connection with the poor and the forces of poverty. Such connections can be transformative.

More common is the "feel good" experience of a service project--a clearly defined event with a beginning and an end.

Years ago some wag told me, "After all is said and done, more is said than done!"

I've observed the truth of this proverb in the inner city.

So, let the volunteers come. Let the projects move forward. Let's work together on mutually agreeable terms, understanding that at the end of every day much will remain to do.

And, in the mean time, let the money flow! As a matter of fact, I'm hoping someone will step up and throw all the money they can our way!

As Sister Catherine McAuley, founder of the Sisters of Mercy, said, "You can't do much good, or avoid much evil wihtout money."


Sunday, September 23, 2007

Church as conscience

"The Church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the Church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority."

Martin Luther King, Jr.
Strength to Love (1963)


Saturday, September 22, 2007

Ideas, change and patience

Years ago a wise person impressed upon me the truth that funding follows people and ideas. Relationships and clear thinking often combine to create the resources necessary for change and renewal.

Still, this wisdom lacks one other element that, when present, usually seals any deal designed to make things better. Simply put that element is time.

Good ideas and strong friendships or working relationships mature over time. Neither is automatic.

U. S. Navy Admiral Hyman Rickover, father of the "nuclear navy," put it this way:

"Good ideas are not adopted automatically. They must be driven into practice with courageous patience."

Change usually occurs when people are determined to "stay at it."

Friday, September 21, 2007

Taste of Deep Ellum tomorrow!

Thank you to our neighbors in Deep Ellum for naming CDM the beneficiary of this event. I hope to see you all at the show!

A Taste of Deep Ellum
Saturday, September 22, 2007
Sons of Hermann Hall, 3414 Elm Street at Exposition
4pm to 7:30pm.

Admission $25 benefitting Central Dallas Ministries
Tickets available at, or locally at Bill's Records, S. Lamar OR at Good Records, Greenville Ave.

A Taste of Deep Ellum will be "family friendly" and feature Live Music by a diverse group of Dallas musicians including a group of students from Zounds Sounds School of Rock, as well as local Country, Folk and Rock bands.

Food Stations by each participating restaurant/business will be spread throughout the entire building and admission will grant attendees food samples from all.

Confirmed participants:
AllGood Cafe
Baker's Ribs
Chateau de Fromage
Daddy Jack's Wood Grill
Dallas Mozzarella Company
Deep Sushi
Golden Desserts
Istanbul Grill
Monica's Aca y Alla
Murray Street Coffee
Rudolph's Meat Market
Rush Patisserie
Santiago's Taco Loco
Sol's Taco Lounge
St. Pete's Dancing Marlin
Vern's Soul Food Cafe
and the
Deep Ellum Association

Musical Entertainment by:

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Our very poor neighbors

Last April, our staff conducted a survey of persons who came to our Haskell Avenue Resource seeking some sort of assistance, referral or intervention. The survey was conducted on one day only.

The results below represent the responses of just 37 participants who were heads of household--a low number of those actually in the center at the time (representing approximately 16% of the family units served during the day).

The high number of children present on the survey day likely contributed to the low number of households who felt undistracted enough to answer our questions! It also seems that a disproportionate number of respondents report homelessness of one kind or another, which also affects the results here.

Here's what this small sample revealed about this particular set of our neighbors on this one day:

Basic Demographic Data

Number of adults 18 years of age or older in household: 1.8

Percentage of households with children 17 years of age or younger: 31% (Note: from other research data we know that this result is artificially low and reflects an anomaly in our survey)

Average age of respondent: 45

Percent working at a paying job: 32%

Total hours worked in a week: 9

Amount paid for housing costs, monthly: $350; high $750; low $0

Amount paid for utilities, monthly: $37; high $600; low $0

Amount spent in an average week on food: $58; high $200; low $0

Household's current total monthly income from all sources: $622; high $2,000; low $0

Percentage of respondents with no income: 17%

Percent who have no permanent home: 49%

Number of months in current place: 6 months

Number of times moved in last 2 years: 1.5

Percentage with less than a high school education: 42%

Association with CDM and the Resource Center

Average number of miles traveled to Resource Center: 4.5

Number of months visiting the Resource Center: 7

Number of days that the food received will last: 7

Percent provided information about other needed services from a case manager: 59%

Percent that used the agency(s) referred to: 38%

Percent who have used another CDM program: 26%

Percent who have used Community Health Services: 0%

Percent who have used the facilities at Roseland Homes: 7%

Percent who have used the Technology Learning Center: 11%

Percent who have used the LAW Center: 11%

Percent who have used other CDM programs: 8%

Financial Strength

Percent who say the assistance received at the Resource Center has helped them deal with their financial crisis: 91%

Percent who visit a food pantry--CDM's or any others--at least once a month: 47%

Percent who cut the size of meals or skip meals because there wasn't enough money for food in the last 12 months: 61%

Percent who ate less than they felt they should because there wasn't enough money for food in the last 12 months: 66%

Percent who were ever hungry but didn't eat because they couldn't afford enough food in the last 12 months: 41%

People who ever had to choose between buying the food they need and paying for medicine or medical care in the last 12 months: 42%

People who ever had to choose between buying the food they need and paying for utilities in the last 12 months: 50%

Percent who ever had to choose between buying the food they need and paying for rent or mortgage in the last 12 months: 47%

The results of our "picture in time" study reveal the struggles facing low-income individuals and families living in the inner city communities of Dallas, Texas. Trying to visualize what life would be like for me if I were facing similar circumstances and limitations is sobering indeed.

Update on my father: thanks for all who have inquired about my dad's condition following his surgery. He is doing very well. His surgeon was pleased with the outcome. Now, the challenge is regaining enough strength to be able to return home. Please continue to keep him and my mother in your prayers. Thanks so much!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Surgery for my dad

Today will be spent at The Heart Hospital--Baylor, Plano.

My 87-year-old father will undergo carotid artery surgery early this morning.

The care he is receiving here is nothing short of amazing. His doctors, nurses and all of the others attending him are the very best. We are most grateful for having access to such high quality care delivered by such caring people.

My experience here lines up with the experience we've had while working with the entire Baylor Health Care System in providing community-based health and wellness services in inner city Dallas to thousands of patients who do not enjoy the benefit of health insurance coverage.

Class and caring people, these Baylor folks!

Please remember my dad today.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

One American city leads the way

"San Francisco to Offer Care For Every Uninsured Adult"

That was the eye-catching headline of Kevin Sack's report printed in the upper left corner on the front page of last Friday's edition of The New York Times (A1, 17).

The City of San Francisco now offers "Healthy San Francisco" to all 82,000 adults who have no insurance. After a two-month pilot period focusing on two community clinics in the Chinatown area, the initiative rolled out to every part of the city yesterday.

The program to provide health care coverage to all uninsured adults in San Francisco is paid for mostly by the city itself.

The rationale back of this bold move on the part of city leaders? Officials believe that the city can provide "universal and sensibly managed care to the uninsured for about the amount being spent on their treatment now, often in emergency rooms."

Sack's report documents the unique nature of San Francisco as a community, including its political atmosphere, compact geography, unified city-county government structure, and a network of public and community clinics, as factors contributing to the innovative and aggressive public policy benefiting the city's uninsured. Until November, enrollment of patients in the plan will be limited to those with incomes below the federal poverty level. After this initial period of enrollment, the program will be open to any uninsured adult living in the city. The goal is to sign up 45,000 during the first year. The city will test the capacity of its medical infrastructure as it expands the enrollment.

By forging stronger connections between public and community-based, non-profit clinics, the city hopes to create a strong system of managed care for the uninsured. The goal is to turn the readily accessible clinics into medical homes for the uninsured.

What a bold move by a great city!

Possibly San Francisco will discover the secrets to making available universal health care coverage to all Americans. One thing seems clear at this point: this city cares about all of its people and it is taking a reasonable approach to solving pressing "bottom line" problems at the same time.

Sounds like a win-win to me.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Illness, care and life

The weekend has been a bit unusual. It's also been frightening at times.

It all began Saturday morning. I'd been out for a haircut and had just arrived at home, ready to settle in for some college football, when my mom called.

She reported that she thought my dad was having a stroke. I told her to call 911 immediately and that I was on the way.

When I arrived at the ER in Richardson, my dad was dealing with a nurse and was very confused about where he was and what was happening.

Thanks to a couple of really attentive doctors and some good nurses--especially true of one of his nurses who became his advocate the moment he made it out of the intensive care environment of the ER--my dad "came back" over the course of the next 24 hours.

Now we understand his problems. He likely suffered a mild heart attack, possibly earlier in the week. Compounding that reality are carotid arteries that are 77% and 98% blocked. Surgery could be indicated. But then, my dad is 87-years-old.

Today we will move him to Baylor's hospital in Plano so that his surgeon can evaluate him and they can decide what, if anything, to do next.

Friends have been coming and going since he entered the hospital, mostly from his church and his neighborhood.

He has and will continue to receive lots of care from many people. The nature of his recovery will depend, at least in part, on this caring connection with others, both personal and professional

Illness and life just go together. As life unfolds, illness just shows up. We can count on it.

Care is another matter.

People with deep personal connectons can cash in on the social capital they have in their "account of relationships" when they need to. People are important. Everyone deserves respect, connection and attention. People who enjoy the wealth of these basics of being human just get along better than those who don't.

I've watched low-income folks amass this special variety of capital just as effectively as those who have more income. People can take care of each other in wonderful and amazing ways, whether rich or poor.

Still, my dad enjoys a decided advantage over lots of other people. In addition to lots of friends who care deeply, his high quality health care is guaranteed. He is insured thanks to Medicare and AARP.

Unfrotunately today, almost 50 million other Americans don't have the benefit of such protection and professional care.

Health depends on both varieties of care: personal and professional.

Everyone deserves both.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The neighborhood

I live in a great, old, two-story frame house built in 1922. It sits on sort of a "boundary" block between the Munger Place Historic District (of which we are a part) and the rest of the neighborhood. During the mid-1980s, it faced demolition, but somehow was spared. I have a photo of the place shot in 1986--talk about a mess!

At least three owners prior to our purchasing the house in 1999 put a lot of effort into restoring the place. We have been working on it off and on since we moved in. I am convinced it will be a never ending job!

The movie "Money Pit" comes to mind just here!

A big part of community development and, in my view, "urban ministry" always includes renewing the physical environments.

The photos below were taken not long ago in the neighborhood where we live. It is very different from the suburban community where we lived prior to our last move to the inner city. But, it is great, eclectic and never boring!

Photo 1: Zaragoza Elementary School

Photo 2: Corner "grocery store"

Photo 3: City park adjacent to the elementary school--often filled with soccer players

Photo 4: Boys and Girls Club just behind our house

Photo 5: A bungalow down the street

Photo 6: Apartment building around the corner

Photo 7: Apartment building near elementary school

In the near future, after I have my camera repaired, I'll post some photos of the wonderful, old prairie style homes up the street from us. Most date from the first decade of the 20th century. Many have been completely restored.

Sandwiched in between many of these homes in our neighborhood are old brownstone apartments and newer multi-family units (circa 1960s) in various states of repair or disrepair, as the case may be.

Of course, neighborhoods are all about people. Ours if very diverse in every respect. And, as a result, very interesting.

More on this later.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Teresa's tormenting darkness and the poor

Disconnected diary ramblings at the end of a difficult week with a view to recent revelations of the "darkness" surrounding the inner life of Mother Teresa, evidently for decades:

--Her call to serve the very poorest of the poor evidently came 61 years ago this month. Her mystical experience held out the most important question of her life: "Wilt thou refuse?" She did not refuse.

--By the 1950s, she was walking into a deep darkness that would remain with her for over 50 years. I found these words from the nun's journal quoted in an insightful essay that was posted on and appeared in The Washington Post by Michael Gerson ("The Torment of Teresa," September 5, 2007, A-21):

"Lord, my God, who am I that You should forsake me? The child of your love--and now become as the most hated one--the one You have thrown away as unwanted--unloved. I call, I cling, I want--and there is no One to answer--no One on Whom I can cling--no, No One. Alone. . .I am told God loves me--and yet the reality of darkness & coldness & emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul."

--I find it unsurprising that, called to be among the world's poorest people, the little nun falls into darkness--the suffering of the poor, the unfairness, the lack of hope, the continual and unrelenting road blocks to progress, to improvement, to life--no surprise that darkness is the result.

--The life of the poor in this world is beyond tough. Those who go there--invited or uninvited--will encounter darkness--darkness in their own lives. I have come face-to-face with this darkness, often. It has no explanation. There are no clear ways to the other side. The darkness must be set aside to allow for the work of justice and compassion with those who suffer needlessly.

--The little nun decided to believe, at times against all rational evidence. She decided to love her God, as her lover, in spite of the coldness, the fear, the abandonment that she felt and knew at that deepest place in her life. Only believers can know this sort of "doubt."

--Those who decide not to believe do not face this burden of hers. To say "no" to the idea of God is to simplify the struggle. God complicates everything about poverty and injustice. This nun's ever present smile, her joyful encouragement says to me, "I believe in the face of a darkness you will never be courageous enough to face."

--Her path in life was hard. It begs questions of God, whatever one's view of God.

--I like Gerson's essay. I like his point of view and his questions. Especially these words: "Assuming. . .that she was not self-deluded in her calling, what kind of God would set such a difficult path--ministering to lepers and outcasts for a lifetime--and then withdraw his presence? Mother Teresa herself seemed to struggle with the unfairness: 'What are you doing My God to one so small?'"

--Is it possible that God revealed to one of his most trusted friends the very darkness he faces while watching the madness of our world. Did this one, very simple but incredibly strong and lonely nun come to terms with the truth that hers was a God of the darkness? In the agony of her honest, unrelenting doubt, do I discover the ultimate expression of faith's deep places, its immovable center?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

"Humanity" from The Pioneer Woman

[Readers, you've got to take in the following story that I found on The Pioneer Woman blog. Sometimes the issues we face as we make a serious attempt to improve the quality of life in our city can get fairly complicated. The work is hard. Hope can be lost. The story of this little girl brings me back to reality, back to basics. Read it. It will be more than worth your time, I promise! Larry]

Having never been to a large city in all of her almost-eight years, my younger daughter spent her four days in Chicago positively fixated on the homeless people on the sidewalks. Since I went to school in Los Angeles and street bums were such a regular sight for me for so long, I doubt I ever would have thought twice about them had my little pixie-haired daughter not stopped dead in her tracks every time we passed one on our walks around the city.

"Mommy, can I pleeeeeeeease borrow a dollar?"

This became her standard question. And the first time she asked it, I almost gave my standard answer: No, they'll just use it to buy drugs. It's the answer that was drilled into me during my time in L.A., the answer I hadn't spent much time second guessing until my daughter stood before me in Chicago with her plaintive plea.

For some reason, I just couldn't say it. There was something about the purity of her compassion that sent a dagger of guilt plunging into my gut. And she was unwavering in her desire to help the poor souls. She might have been casually strolling down Michigan Avenue, swinging her new American Girl doll and whistling happily, but as soon as she saw one of the downtrodden sitting on the street, her demeanor would totally change.

So I started "loaning" her a dollar at a time, every time it came up. The first time, on our way to Starbucks the first morning of our stay, the emaciated, bearded homeless man accepted her dollar with a weak smile. And my daughter simply stood there in a trance. I had to take her hand and say, "Come on," to get her to leave, and as we walked away I noticed a single tear rolling down her sweet little cheek. This made me well up with tears, too, but I swallowed hard and focused on the Venti Half-Caf Cappuccino that awaited me. It's important to stay on task.

Later, we passed by another homeless guy who had parked himself outside Water Tower Place. His plumber's crack was shocking and way past the point of no return, but to his credit, he'd strategically parked it against the cold marble of the building's exterior---a good thing, as I don't like cracks very much and I might not have let my little girl approach him had it been overwhelmingly visible.

In any event, when my girl put the dollar in the man's coffee mug, he smiled and began singing praises to the heavens. "Oh, God is so good...Thank ya, Jesus...Thank ya, Lawd..." Then, fixing his eyes on my daughter's face, "Thank ya, angel...Thank ya, angel." And as we walked away, more quiet tears rolled down her cheeks.

This all affected me on a very deep level. Suddenly I remembered every single time I'd walked by the bums in L.A. and hadn't even looked in their direction, probably yapping with my friends, probably reapplying my Estee Lauder All Day Cinema Pink lipstick for the hundredth time that day. I'd felt compassion for them once upon a time, right after I'd arrived at college, but my new friends had quickly warned me not to give those bums a red cent: They'd Just Use it to Buy Drugs, or They Didn't Really Need It, or You Might Get Hurt. And indeed, when one of my college friends once gave a homeless man all the change in her pocket, he'd violently thrown it back, telling her "Keep your chump change, bitch." Or so went the story.

Seeing the homeless men lying on the sidewalk in Chicago on their soiled quilts and holding their chipped and stained coffee mugs, and seeing them through the eyes of my little girl punk, a wash of newfound compassion came over me. I saw them not as drug addicts---though many of them surely were---but as fellow humans, as someone's child, brother, uncle. And as I handed my daughter dollar after dollar---dollars that meant very, very little in the grand scheme of our four-day trip to Downtown Chicago---I gave little thought at all to how they'd eventually be used.

Because who cares? If some of them wound up using their dollar to procure a fix, maybe it numbed their pain a little bit that day. If they used it to buy a hot dog, maybe it gave them a moment of much-needed satiation. If they used it to wipe their nose, I feel really silly right about now. But whatever it was used for, I have to think the sight of a sweet, skinny seven-year-old girl gently handing them a crumpled dollar must have injected a much-needed dose of humanity and warmth into their needy souls.

I know it did mine.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Truth is not easy for us

It has been awhile since I read a book more fascinating than Nassim Nicholas Taleb's The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable.

Taleb forces his readers to face hard facts about how we generally play fast and loose with the truth of things.

A stock trader turned empirical philosopher, Taleb is concerned that we understand that no one really knows what is happening or will happen next in our world. We are set up for the "Black Swans" of life--the highly improbable, but high impact truth, development or event that will define life for many of us going forward.

Lots to consider in this slow read!

Here's a sample related to our tendency to confuse important questions about the world we live in and how to navigate it:

Many people confuse the statement "almost all terrorists are Moslems" with "almost all Moslems are terrorists." Assume that the first statement is true, that 99 percent of terrorists are Moslems. This would mean that only about .001 percent of Moslems are terrorists, since there are more than one billion Moslems and only, say, ten thousand terrorists, one in a hundred thousand. So the logical mistake makes you (unconsciously) overestimate the odds of a randomly drawn individual Moslem person (between the age of, say, fifteen and fifty) being a terrorist by close to fifty thousand times!

The reader might see in this round-trip fallacy the unfairness of stereotypes--minorities in urban areas in the United States have suffered from the same confusion: even if most criminals come from their ethnic subgroup, most of their ethnic subgroup are not criminals, but they still suffer from discrimination by people who should know better. (page 52)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

"Black Swans" and community

What we are up to here in inner city Dallas is the pursuit of a “Black Swan,” to use the term made famous by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of the best-selling book, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable.

Taleb’s study of the strange world of truth and probability takes its title from the world of birds.

Until the discovery of Australia, Europeans were convinced that all swans were white. This Old World belief was based on observation and empirical evidence. All swans were white. . .until black swans were seen on the new continent.

The concern of the book is not bird watching, but to demonstrate the “fragility of our knowledge” drawn both from personal observation and firsthand experience.

The book is a must read, at least in my view.

So, back to our pursuit of “Black Swans.”

Every day we pursue what is usually seen by others as the improbable.

We believe that communities can experience significant breakthroughs that contain the potential to change just about everything. We believe in people and their capacity, no matter if they are trapped in poverty. We believe that inner city youth who grow up in very low-income neighborhoods can go to college. We believe public health outcomes can improve as community connectivity and leadership improves. We believe poor people can make significant contributions to the improvement of life in our communities. We believe that mixed income neighborhoods and development plans are better than economically segregated neighborhoods with their exclusionary approaches.

We believe strongly in all sorts of possibilities that more normal people, living in more routine circumstances would surely consider "long shots."

As a result, we think differently about just about everything around here. From education, to housing, to banking, to work, to spirituality, to what is ultimately most important.

I suppose this explains my affinity to a section of Taleb’s book dealing with community. Here’s part of what he believes about the importance of groups:

We are local animals, interested in our immediate neighborhood—even if people far away consider us total idiots. Those homo sapiens are abstract and remote and we don't care about them because we do not run into them in elevators or make eye contact with them. Our shallowness can sometimes work for us.

It may be a banality that we need others for many things, but we need them far more than we realize, particularly for dignity and respect. Indeed, we have very few historical records of people who have achieved anything extraordinary without such peer validation—but we have the freedom to choose our peers. If we look at the history of ideas, we see schools of thought occasionally forming, producing unusual work unpopular outside the school. . . . A school allows someone with unusual ideas with the remote possibility of a payoff to find company and create a microcosm insulated from others. The members of the group can be ostracized together—which is better than being ostracized alone.

If you engage in a Black Swan—dependent activity, it is better to be part of a group.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Help us sell out the Meyerson!

Two weeks from tonight, Central Dallas Ministries brings the 2007 edition of "A Night to Remember" to our city!

Monday, September 24 at 7:00 p.m. the doors will open for the 8:00 p.m. concert at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center in the Downtown Arts District here in Dallas.

This year our night of celebration will feature country music song stylist and Grammy Award winner LeAnn Rimes!

In addition to the great music, CDM will name the 2007 winner of the Hazel E. Brown Community Builder Award.

It will definitely be a night to remember!

Help us sell out this great music hall!

For ticket information visit right now!

Your participation will be such an encouragement to our important work of human and community development in the inner city neighborhoods of Dallas!


Sunday, September 09, 2007

Dangerous words

"The Book of Isaiah is strong stuff for these post-revolutionary days. It is only left in hotel rooms because nobody bothers to read it. If those who deposit it there had any idea what it contained, they would be well advised to treat it like pornography and burn it on the spot."

Terry Eagleton, After Theory


Saturday, September 08, 2007

Merton on atheism

Do not be too quick to condemn the man who no longer believes in God: for it is perhaps your own coldness and avarice and mediocrity and materialism and selfishness that have chilled his faith.

Thomas Merton

Friday, September 07, 2007

Ad campaigns, public health and the U. S. health care system

Whenever anyone begins seriously considering health care reform, a national health care system or universal health insurance coverage, critics will begin talking about the horrors of "socialized medicine." Someone else will begin to tout the superiority of the American health care system as the very best in the world--no matter what the hard data reveals to the contrary.

The fact is our health care system is the best in the world for those who can afford to access it fully.

The experience of the uninsured is quite different, and the effects on public health realities and outcomes is not what our current national investment should expect in return.

We get the results one might expect from a people who regard health care as a commodity, rather than a basic human right.

Now comes this report from The New York Times last Friday ("Cancer Society Focuses Its Ads On Uninsured," August 30, 2007, A1, 18). What follows is from the paper's on-line edition. The print version is even more exhaustive. Any objective reading of the current reality reveals that change is long, long overdue.

I find the report startling.

Please take the time to read on!

ATLANTA, Aug. 30 — In a stark departure from past practice, the American Cancer Society plans to devote its entire $15 million advertising budget this year not to smoking cessation or colorectal screening but to the consequences of inadequate health coverage.

The campaign was born of the group’s frustration that cancer rates are not dropping as rapidly as hoped, and of recent research linking a lack of insurance to delays in detecting malignancies.

Though the advertisements are nonpartisan and pointedly avoid specific prescriptions, they are intended to intensify the political focus on an issue that is already receiving considerable attention from presidential candidates in both parties.

The society’s advertisements are unique, say experts in both philanthropy and advertising, in that disease-fighting charities traditionally limit their public appeals to narrower aspects of prevention or education.

But the leaders of several such organizations, including the American Heart Association, the American Diabetes Association and the Alzheimers Association, said they applauded the campaign’s message that progress against chronic disease would be halting until the country fixed its health care system.

As in the past, the heart association is using its advertising dollars these days to promote more rigorous exercise and healthier diets. The most recent cancer society campaign encouraged screening for colon cancer, including a memorable commercial in which a diner plucked — and then ate — a lima bean polyp from the intestinal tract he had carved in his mashed potatoes.

But John R. Seffrin, the chief executive of the cancer society, which is based here, said his organization had concluded that advances in prevention and research would have little lasting impact if Americans could not afford cancer screening and treatment.

“I believe, if we don’t fix the health care system, that lack of access will be a bigger cancer killer than tobacco,” Mr. Seffrin said in an interview. “The ultimate control of cancer is as much a public policy issue as it is a medical and scientific issue.”
The two 60-second television commercials that form the spine of the campaign make that point.

One features images of uninsured cancer patients, appearing hollow and fearful. “This is what a health care crisis looks like to the American Cancer Society,” the narrator begins. “We’re making progress, but it’s not enough if people don’t have access to the care that could save their lives.”

The other commercial depicts a young mother whose family has gone into debt because her insurance did not fully cover her cancer treatment. “Is the choice between caring for yourself and caring for your family really a choice?” the narrator asks.

Census figures released this week show that the number and percentage of people in the United States without health insurance rose last year, to 47 million and 15.8 percent. A 2003 study estimated that one of every 10 cancer patients was uninsured.

Other surveys have found that one of every four families afflicted by cancer, which is projected to kill 560,000 Americans this year, is effectively impoverished by the fight, including one of every five with insurance.

The cancer society plans to buy time on network and cable channels from Sept. 17 to Thanksgiving, said Greg Donaldson, the group’s vice president for corporate communications. There will also be advertisements in magazines and on Web sites.

With nearly $1 billion in revenues, the cancer society is the wealthiest of its peers and has spent about $15 million annually on advertising since 1999. By comparison, Geico, the automobile insurer with the “Caveman” advertisements, spent about $14 million on network advertising in the first quarter of 2007, according to TNS Media Intelligence, a tracking firm.

Advertising about the health insurance crisis is not uncommon among more broadly based medical organizations and other interest groups.

Last week, the American Medical Association kicked off a three-year campaign called “Voice for the Uninsured” that will begin with $5 million in advertising in early primary states. AARP, in conjunction with the Business Roundtable and the Service Employees International Union, recently began a similar effort called “Divided We Fail.”

Thursday, September 06, 2007


Poverty cannot be effectively challenged without collective action of one kind or another.

This in one of the obvious reasons why some sort of public commitment, involving public funding, will always play an important role in improving life for the urban poor in the United States. Churches and charities simply cannot achieve the scale needed to deliver substantive change.

But, we live in a time of limited public commitment for these purposes.

One thing my work teaches me is that without power or funding, you are forced to adopt highly leveraged strategies.

Being poor as an urban housing developer, for instance, means that you are forced to accept higher interest rates, shorter and more onerous loan terms and more organizational encumberment just to keep advancing, usually extremely slowly and, you pray, surely toward your goal.

As the real life situations facing the urban poor grow more desperate and as the numbers of people continue to increase, you find yourself stretched out thinner and thinner--"leveraged to the max" and still trying to find more space for the creation of hope, the gaining of some small measure of traction into the next month or week or day!

The same issues face us when we turn to community health improvement, workforce training, public education, legal services and advocacy for a better way of life for a larger percentage of our friends.

At every turn, you find yourself holding on to what you have, no matter how meager, and attempting to connect that resource in hand to another that you can see in a new relationship, partner organization or unique opportunity. You keep believing that the sum of the parts is greater than the whole.

For the leveraged life and organization, the status quo is not only unacceptable, it is the greatest enemy you face.

"Oh, come now," it shouts out from the sideline in its cherished security, "you can't do it that way! It's never been done before. It's far too risky. It's just too complicated. You can't hold it together. After all, there are limits here."

I know there is a bit of truth and wisdom buried in that sentiment somewhere. I also know the rest of what's there needs to be kept far away from everyone serious about affecting real change in a city like Dallas, Texas.

Any special investors out there willing to join a new sort of partnership with and among the poor, while we keep working together for a new day of public commitment that surely will arrive eventually? Whether we ever do business together or not, we'd love to hear from you! We find encouraging in simply meeting believers.

Footnote: as our organization attempts to do more and to respond more effectively to the plight of the urban poor, we find ourselves able to identify much more clearly with our very low-income friends who understand the tough art of living highly "leveraged lives" with the little they actually possess.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Enough with the study and the talk!

Okay, I'll be the first to admit the obvious: we spend a good bit of time here talking about, studying, debating poverty and the various issues orbiting around its hard reality. Our mission here is to provoke thought, educate those interested and, hopefully, inspire new and more effective action.

That said, it is also true that words are limited in their value. Compassionate hearts and minds are never enough.

If we are serious, we must take action.

This Thursday, at another talking event--our monthly Urban Engagement Book Club--we will discuss Jawanza Kunjufu's book, An African Centered Response to Ruby Payne’s Poverty Theory (African American Images, Chicago 2006). Educators will be familiar with Payne's now famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) best-selling "red book" on poverty and educating the children of poverty, A Framework for Understanding Poverty.

Kunjufu has heard enough of the talk, seen enough study. He points us in a different direction:

"I don’t want to study poverty. We now have “poverty pimps.” {Robert Woodson, Sr., The Triumphs of Joseph). They can talk about poverty, make money off of poverty, and write books on poverty. They can do everything but solve poverty. . . .

We will instead study economic empowerment. If people are so concerned about poverty, then we should teach poor people how to acquire wealth in America. We should explain to poor people how it came to be that 1 percent of the population owns 57 percent of the wealth and 10 percent own 86 percent of the wealth. The remaining 90 percent only owns 14 percent of the wealth"
(p. xii).

Strong, challenging words, huh?

Tuesday, September 04, 2007


There is a scene toward the end of the classic 1947 film, The Bishop's Wife, that really got to me last week when I watched it again.

The Bishop (David Nevin) and his wife (Loretta Young) look in on their little girl who is sleeping peacefully in her bed. On one of the bedposts hangs a new doll. The couple notice it and realize they have no idea where it came from.

All of this occurs after the departure of Dudley, the angel (played by Cary Grant) sent to help the Bishop realize that his mission is not to build a gigantic, mega-expensive Gothic cathedral in honor of the departed husband of an initially very unhappy widow who seeks to control the entire process. His mission is to serve the poor, work for justice and peace and extend the love of God where it is needed most.

Problem is, once Dudley departs, no one will remember anything about his presence, influence or work. Thus, the doll left behind by the angel for the little girl.

Great movie. Okay, okay, I'm sentimental and enjoy old movies with a point!

As I watched these closing scenes, I recalled my experience with another angel.

We were living in Richardson, Texas at the time. Our daughters were probably about 8 and 4. We had become friends with a very unusual fellow, Eugene Morcile or Clay Foulks--there was this dispute and/or discrepancy about his birth certificate that he worked to resolve the entire time we knew him.

Eugene, that's the name I settled on, had not enjoyed an easy life. He was about 30-years-old when we met. He had been homeless, actually was homeless when he came to us. We helped him get a place to live and he worked at various jobs, off and on. We picked him up for church often, until he got his own transportation.

One Christmas Eve, about 8:00 p.m., he showed up at our door.

I can still remember, even feel the knot in my stomach when I saw him at the door.

"It's Christmas Eve for Pete's sake! Can't I ever get a break?"--that's what I felt and thought, but didn't say.

In retrospect, I've realized that, to me, Eugene was fundamentally a part of my work, a bit of a project.

He saw our relationship entirely differently. To him, I was his friend.

He had come to bring us presents. Toys for the girls.

He had no family, no place to go on Christmas Eve, so he came by our house to share the joy he had. He came in and had something to drink, didn't stay long, but accomplished his mission.

I've thought about him often over the years. We lost track of one another after he moved back to Pennsylvania, his home. He came back once for a visit almost 20 years ago. I haven't seen him since.

I thought of him as I watched that old movie, the story of Dudley the angel and the Bishop and his wife.

I wouldn't be at all surprised if Eugene was an angel sent to teach me about friendship and its superiority to "service" and "programs" with clearly defined professional limits.

An angel? Sent to teach me about the real nature of community? It makes sense to me.

I bet he never did get that birth certificate thing worked out. Likely there was no birth certificate at all.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Work in my world

Across America Labor Day means. . .

. . .for most a holiday for working people, including students.

. . .for some a time to celebrate the American Labor Movement.

. . .for others a time to reflect on the challenges facing laboring people in this nation.

In my neighborhood, on this Labor Day, work . . .

. . .means needing more than one job to make the household even marginally functional and secure.

. . .is a very valuable resource that is in short supply--when work disappears, neighborhoods suffer and decline.

. . .means lots of people need more training, more education to move up and to do better.

. . .is something many people are looking for without much success in terms of livable wage opportunities.

. . .is a job a guy I met last week hopes to land this week.

. . .is a job a woman with two children wishes she could get out of, but can't until she gets a line on a better one.

. . .is something just about everyone really wants to do.

. . .is something lots of people, in spite of their best efforts, just can't seem to find.

. . .is a reality that many find most discouraging.

. . .is what every family needs for parents and other adults to secure.

. . .is the means by which people stay off the streets of Dallas.

. . .is what prison took away.

. . .is all about dignity, self-respect and making a contribution.

. . .is a tough issue.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Worth watching

I'm not much on linking to devotional material, but this one is worth watching--the photography is wonderful:

Hope your day is a good one.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Vacations past. . .

Speaking of vacations, renewal and the benefits, luxuries and privileges of the middle class. . .

For years, when our girls were young, we spent at least a week or two each summer in and around the location pictured here.

Great memories!

Great scenery.

Pretty good trout fishing across the years.

Wonderfully relaxing.

Can anyone tell me where these photos were taken?

By the way, the really old shot was taken long before my birth!