Sunday, October 31, 2010

To ponder this Sunday...

A hard stat from the 2009 American Community Survey:

In the city of Dallas, 35.4% of children 18-years-old and below live in households whose income is at or below the poverty level. . .more than one in 3.

Friday, October 29, 2010

What is "CitySquare"?

When people see our new brand, they always ask, "What is CitySquare?" 

Of course, that is exactly the question a good brand prompts!  And, we are all very eager to talk about the meaning back of the new image, as well as the work out in front of it. 

One helpful way to understand CitySquare is to contextualize it, to put it in various places

So, clearly, CitySquare is. . .

. . .a gathering place for the community.

. . .a place of inclusion where everyone is welcome.

. . .a place where the various institutions of a community intersect.

. . .a place where everyone can be heard, known and respected.

. . .a place of community resources and equal access and opportunity.

. . .a place into which the values and priorities of life and faith can be spoken and lived out.

. . .a place for planning and mobilization.

. . .a place for service and action.

. . .a place for working out just solutions to tough challenges.

. . .a place where things are "squared up," reconciled and made right.

. . .a place where hard questions can be asked and plans formulated for providing satisfying answers.

This is CitySquare!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Charity and justice

When it comes to responding to poverty, most of us opt for individual acts of charity and compassion. 

We think of "the poor" as one person after another needing our help today. 

We aren't really put off by the realization that, unless many factors change, these same people will need our help again tomorrow.  By the time we get to day or incident 5 or 6, our charitable impulses begin to wear thin.  We begin to create narratives in our heads that justify our decisions to terminate our charitable instincts, reasoning that if the object of my recent charity would do his or her part, my resources wouldn't be needed. 

We all know the drill, don't we?

Charity is about individuals.  Individuals in need.  Individuals with resources and the freedom to decide as individuals to help or not to help.  Charity maintains the existing power differentials and relationships insuring that those with the wherewithal to "help" decide when to help and when to walk past folks suffering in need.

Charity settles for "poster children" results.  Anecdotal stories and one-off success reports of individuals who, against great odds, manage to work their way out and up from the cruel clutches of poverty. 

Charity concerns itself with the presenting symptoms and results of the presence of poverty.  So, it works best in soup kitchens, food pantries, street feeding and giveaway programs of various sorts. 

On the other hand, justice seeks equity resulting from a systemic response to poverty and the forces that support its existence. 

Justice brings individuals together to work on collective solutions. 

Justice wants to change rules and offer up sustainable, public responses to problems so large that they call for scalable solutions beyond the reach of uncoordinated, individual acts of kindness. 

Justice wants to hit the reset button on a number of institutions. 

Justice calls for new default positions and options. 

If charity puts the spotlight on a few individuals who excel and escape, justice provides a tour through a renewed neighborhood or a high-functioning school system or an open health care benefit plan or a new company that employs hundreds of workers and pays a living wage. 

Charity asks its questions about the  individual.

Justice demands answers concerning scalable solutions to community-wide problems and challenges. 

To be sure, charity and compassion are wonderful.

But, when compassionate people come together--rich and poor--to set in motion big, comprehensive changes that will open doors to new opportunity and pave highways out of poverty, justice and equity can be realized. 

To adequately address the large problems associated with poverty we must move beyond individual acts of charity to work on collective efforts resulting in justice.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Project 50 points the way. . .

"Housing first" works. 

Several months ago, I accompanied a group of Dallasites to Los Angeles to tour a number of housing developments designed to provide permanent housing to chronically homeless individuals, most of whom were also disabled and consumers of high levels of public resources while "living" on the streets of the city.  The fact is, providing housing is less expensive than maintaining the status quo.  Of course, providing housing is much better than shelter or "camp ground" living for the homeless. 

The combination of leading an outreach effort to the homeless with the guarantee of a home and surrounding that home with services unlocks a door to actually reducing chronic homelessness on the streets of our major urban areas. 

LA's approach involves "biting off" 50 of the hardest to house homeless persons in a number of the various cities inside LA County. 

To read fascinating reports on the effort click here and here (with interesting video reports).

Clearly, Dallas can learn from our West Coast fellows. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

I am CitySquare: Our Manifesto

the tried, true, solid BUILDING BLOCK of a better life, of a better city, of a better future.

the RALLYING point for a community that cares for its own.

I am a DOER,
a HAMMER that smashes the cycle of homelessness.
For a life spiraling down, I am a NEW TRAJECTORY.
For a heart given to hopelessness, I am a RESET BUTTON.

I see wealth of opportunity where others see only lack of money.

the embodiment of action, the image of optimism, and the picture of perseverance.
Though I answer a high calling, my feet are firmly on the ground.

I am not afraid to raise my voice, raise some dust, or raise a stink.

a FRIEND who lends a hand, not a stranger who gives a handout.

intolerant of naysayers, impatient with pessimism, and indifferent to obstacles.

I am the DOOR to a better life,
the PATH to a better job,
the LADDER up from despair to dignity.

and I never, never, never give up.

I am HOPE.


Monday, October 25, 2010

CitySquare arrives!

We have a new name!

I suppose an obvious question might be, "Why?"

First, a bit of history. 

We began in 1988 with "Central Dallas Food Pantry." 

As our work in the community expanded far beyond food, and as we prepared for our next steps into the future, that first name yielded to "Central Dallas Ministries." 

So, now we've reached another one of those important moments. 

The further expansion of our work prompted the latest "brand" change.  We are no longer just "central." 
Nor are we only Dallas--our reach new extends across the Metroplex and into San Antonio, Austin and the 19-county North Texas region. 

The word "ministries" continues to confuse people in a couple of ways. 

We aren't a church, though some think we are, while others wish we were!  We have never used our work/resources as hooks to proselytize, though others fear we might on the basis of that one very loaded word. 

Clearly, the time is ripe for a new name. 


The name begs exactly the right question, "Interesting.  What does that mean?"

We worked with world renowned ad agency, The Richards Group here in Dallas for over a year on the new name (at cut-rate, non-profit prices, I hasten to add!).  The marketing pros inside this amazing company led us through their "spherical branding" process with great care and the occasional, thoughtful challenge. 

The final product of our hard work:  our new brand promise.

Our "brand vision" is clear:  changing the trajectory of people's lives. 

Our brand positions us as the right organization for people who want to help "the poor" because at CitySquare we partner with people to see improvement in their lives and ours. 

We discovered our "brand personality":  compassionate, gritty and fiercely committed

Our brand affiliation will attract people who want in the fight against poverty


We are in the middle of the community. 

The space we occupy is an inviting place. 

We seek partners around the square.  Our space seeks to be completely inclusive--everyone is welcome, all are invited to join us on the CitySquare!

In fact, the change we seek, the values we speak cannot be realized without full  participation around the CitySquare.

And, we intend to "square things up," to reconcile relationships and rules for the sake of equity and justice.  We want to make things right wherever we do our work. 

Our new logo communicates the presence of many individuals, numerous efforts and varied groups, all independent, yet assembled with their combined energy focused on the center of the common square, dedicated to the hard work of community renewal.

Welcome to our new identity:  CitySquare!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Practical justice, oft hidden reality. . .

A common, social truth observed"The poor are disliked even by their neighbors, but the rich have many friends." Proverbs 14:20

A hard community fact:  Over 34% of the households in Dallas, Texas live below the federal poverty line (a bit ovr $22,000 annual income for family of four).

A building block for community renewal:  "Those who dispise their neighbors are sinners, but happy are those who are kind to the poor."  Proverbs 14:21

A harsh result of much very hard work:  "The field of the poor may yield much food, but it is swept away through injustice."  Proverbs 13:23

A building block of community and economic development:  "Where there are no oxen, there is no grain; abundant crops come by the strength of the ox. . . .Honest balances and scales are the Lord's; all the weights in the bag are his work. . . . Differing weights are an abomination to the Lord, and false scales are not good."   Proverbs 14:4; 16:11; 20:23

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Time out for celebration! Finally!!!

Time out for a baseball fanatic's core meltdown!

At last!

Finally, after all these years the Texas Rangers won a place in the World Series!

The best thing about the entire season is the obvious strength of the team and the team concept.

The Texas Rangers provide us a living portrait of real "community" at work.

Go Rangers!

(photos from The Dallas Morning News, 10-23-10)

Friday, October 22, 2010

Don't Miss the Party! Don't Miss the Big News!

Don't miss hearing our big announcement about our new brand on this important evening in our history as an organization!

Email me at and, if you are among the first 10 respondents, I'll see that you get free seats to "A Night to Remember 2010!"

Even better, visit the site and purchase tickets to help us in our work! 

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Branding. . .

Today, just about an hour ago actually, we "rolled out" a new name and brand identity for our organization to our team. 

The "internal roll out" and celebration today comes before the public roll out on Monday, an activity that will last all day.  We'll begin with an interesting advocacy action in Downtown Dallas on Monday at 7 a.m. and we'll end with a celebration at "A Night to Remember 2010" at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center during the Kirk Franklin concert.  

I can't reveal the new name or logo. . .not until next week. 

But, today was a precious moment in the history of our evolving and growing team of community builders.  We've been working on this project for 18 months with The Richards Group here in Dallas.  And now, the time for birth arrives!  It's been a fascinating project. 

Our staff showed up in full force and we had a celebration!  Everyone loved the new colors, the bold concept and the captivating logo. 

Our work, our values, our faith and our commitment to compassion and justice in the face of growing poverty has not changed.  Our new brand simply provides us a more accurate and effective tool for communicating our story. 

Stay tuned.  More to come! 

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Overcoming the challenge of "food deserts"

Most urban areas suffer from a scarcity of food purchasing options. 

We see the problem of "food deserts" here in Dallas.  The Southern Sector, particularly South and West Dallas, offers limited options to customers concerned about eating healthy. 

To take a look at a recent report on the crisis and how to overcome it click  here.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Donations down. . .challenging times. . .

Almost everyone who works in the non-profit sector knows the times are very, very tough.  While our donations are actually up from a year ago at this time, we are well under budget in terms of what we expected and planned as we looked to 2010.  As a result, we are in a scramble to cut expenses and trim programming costs as we move into the end of the year. 

But the extent of the downturn was driven home Monday by a report made public by the Chronicle of Philanthropy.  A concise report on the story appeared on The Huffington Post over the weekend: 

WASHINGTON — A new ranking of the nation's 400 biggest charities shows donations dropped by 11 percent overall last year as the Great Recession ended - the worst decline in 20 years since the Chronicle of Philanthropy began keeping a tally.

The Philanthropy 400 report to be released Monday shows such familiar names as the United Way and the Salvation Army, both based near Washington, continue to dominate the ranking, despite the 2009 declines. The survey accounts for $68.6 billion in charitable contributions.

An earlier report by the Giving USA Foundation found overall charitable giving declined 3.6 percent last year. That report included giving to private foundations and to smaller charities, while the Chronicle's survey only includes top charities raising money from the public.

"It shows that charities are really having a tough time, and this is some of the most successful charities in the United States," Chronicle Editor Stacy Palmer said. "Usually bigger charities are more resilient, so that's the part that is still surprising."

Read the entire story here.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Homeless on Twitter. . .

To read and view an amazing report by Mark Horvath, founder of, from the Huffington Post ("Homeless Family Uses Twitter to Escape Homelessness and Help Others" (VIDEO),) on how a homeless family uses social media to reach to and assist others who are homeless click here.

I need to get your reactions after you see this report.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Creating courage

Fear paralyzes people and communities. 

Far too often fear drives people toward a default position of "group think" or, worse, inaction, isolation and debilitating pessimism.  It's not hard to think of many examples of this social dynamic at work today in our society/nation.  Just listen to the political ads from both sides and you'll pick up on the fear tactics.

But, thankfully, there are other options within our reach. 

Challenging situations and times drive imagination. 

Difficulty fuels creativity. 

To be more accurate I guess I should say tough times and circumstances may inspire imagination and creativity if courage rises to the surface.  Finding, inspiring, celebrating and deepening courage in individuals and communities is likely the most important aspect of any transformative effort in tough neighborhoods. 

Some choose to call this essential ingredient "faith" or "hope."  I think "courage" is the best word. 

Courage combines faith, hope, optimism and boldness with a gritty, tenacity that allows folks to persist even in grave situations. 

Genuine courage is not some wispy, emotional aspiration.  Authentic courage finds a way to execute, no matter how tough the circumstances or the situation.  Even in the face of repeated failure, setbacks and mounting opposition, courage keeps at the struggle.  Courage does not surrender. 

When groups of people come together with courage, things change.  At times the movement feels absolutely glacial, but the change still comes. 

Courage has a way of inspiring imagination right in the midst of the struggle for improvement, change and justice.  Imagination routinely pushes the edges and contributes to changing the rules of a community for the better. 

Courage is fundamentally about the motives of the actors on a community stage.  Institutions controlled by and controlling the status quo often insist with great pride on reviewing "outcomes" of a project or an effort.   While important, such a limited approach doesn't allow for the full affect of the courageous work to be realized, evaluated or understood.  Show me a person motivated by courage with a vision for community engagement and improvement and I'll show you a person who will not quit no matter what the difficulty.  They also usually find a way to satisfy the reporting requirements of various observers who remain risk averse in positions of much greater safety. 

Leaders seeking to inspire courage in their communities ask two questions again and again. 

First, "What do you lose sleep over?" 

And second, "What are you willing to do about it?"  

We find ourselves in the midst of those important questions with our friends and neighbors more and more frequently these days. 

I've about decided that our entire work here is all about "creating courage" by discovering the people who want in the fight for a better city. 

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Confidence in opportunity

Forgive me just here for being so personal.  The photo caught my oldest grandson, Wyatt Toombs kicking a soccer ball in the midst of what appears to be a pick-up game in Central Park, New York City.  I can't wait to get the details on this one. 

Wyatt and big sister, Gracie, flew to New York City with Jennifer and Brandon over the past long weekend, made even longer by the fact that the schools were closed on Tuesday as well.  They went to see Lion King on Broadway, made a trip to see Lady Liberty, rode to the top of the Empire State Building, toured the Museum of Natural History, visited what is claimed to be the largest toy store in the world--what a trip it must have been! 

My grandchildren are blessed beyond my ability to describe, and for that I am most grateful.  Experiences like this trip set them up for dreams and learning and success.  No guarantees, of course, but a real opportunity to keep making progress. 

Bringing similar opportunities and options to the children of low-income families is a big part of what we try to do.  Such experiences are vital to academic achievement and to education for life. 

Wyatt's obvious confidence at 6-years-old battling away in a soccer match with perfect strangers, most of whom look older than he, grows. at least in part, from the rich experiences he's already enjoyed in life.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

"9500 Liberty"--free screening

Please join Central Dallas Ministries for a private screening

When: Thursday, October 21, 2010

6:30 pm Check In -- 7:00 pm Doors Open

7:15 pm Movie Begins

Followed by Town Hall-style Discussion

Angelika Film Center & Cafe
5321 East Mockingbird Lane, Suite 230, Dallas, TX 75206

RSVP Tuesday, October 19, 2010 to

Prince William County, Virginia becomes ground zero in America’s explosive battle over immigration policy when elected officials adopt a law requiring police officers to question anyone they have "probable cause" to suspect is an undocumented immigrant.

9500 Liberty reveals the startling vulnerability of a local government, targeted by national anti-immigration networks using the Internet to frighten and intimidate lawmakers and citizens. Alarmed by a climate of fear and racial division, residents form a resistance using YouTube videos and virtual townhalls, setting up a real-life showdown in the seat of county government.

The devastating social and economic impact of the “Immigration Resolution” is felt in the lives of real people in homes and in local businesses. But the ferocious fight to adopt and then reverse this policy unfolds inside government chambers, on the streets, and on the Internet. 9500 Liberty provides a front row seat to all three battlegrounds.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Loneliness and health

Can loneliness really damage your health?

Monday, 23 August 2010
Independent Minds

What is loneliness?

A recent paper in the US journal Public Library of Science: Medicine highlighted how instances of loneliness can increase mortality. But what does it actually mean to be lonely? According to the mental health charity Mind, loneliness is characterised by an unbearably deep sense of separateness.

The organisation's website suggests that people's ability to balance isolation versus social interaction evolves through their lives. "There are bound to be times in our lives when this process of growing up, of becoming separate selves, feels difficult," reads Mind's official advice. "[These are times] when we feel anxious, abandoned, unloved, insecure."

Being alone is not always a bad thing: solitude has been very helpful to many well-known writers, philosophers and composers. Some creative interests developed over a lifetime – painting or sculpture, say – can be an important part of stability and contentment.

How can being alone affect your health?

There is a difference between being alone and feeling lonely. Many people spend time away from other people through choice, whereas loneliness often relates to a lack of support and acceptance within a social context. Removal of social support is almost always to the detriment of our mental and physical health.

It has been shown that loneliness makes it harder to regulate behaviour, rendering people more likely to drink excessive quantities of alcohol, have unhealthier diets, or take less exercise. There is also evidence that loneliness adversely affects the immune and cardiovascular systems, while psychiatric research has demon-strated links to stress and depression.

Who is feeling lonely?

According to a recent report by a British charity, the Mental Health Foundation, loneliness affects men and women of all ages but the younger you are the more likely you are to feel lonely on a regular basis. And women are more disposed than men to feel estranged from society and to experience depression as a result. Factors causing loneliness include: lifestyle changes due to social networking; cheap air travel meaning we may live further from our families; and people delaying the age at which they marry and have children.

In the US over the past 20 years there has been a three-fold increase in the number of people who say they have no close confidants. Someone surrounded by people may still feel desperately lonely. Many people seeking help for over-whelming feelings of loneliness have active social lives, busy jobs, stable relationships or marriages, and family.

How does loneliness negatively affect your health, compared with life-threatening diseases?

The Public Library of Science study looked at data from 148 previous studies and concluded that social relationships lead to a longer life. The negative effect of loneliness on people's well-being is comparable to the impact of excessive smoking and alcohol, and exceeds the effects of no exercise or obesity. The report's authors have called on the media and public, as well as social services and medical professionals, to take loneliness seriously. That said, Mental Health Foundation experts say they "in no way want to pathologise loneliness and describe it at a disease".

What kind of relationships are best for us?

The degree of loneliness relates to the breadth and depth of our social relationships. To what extent do our social networks support and accept us? We are advised to seek and cultivate relationships that make us feel good about ourselves – especially relevant in the age of online social networking.

The Mental Health Foundation suggests that beneficial physiological reactions – chemical processes believed to underpin the link between social contact and good cardiovascular function – occur as a result of physical and intellectual relationships but not when a relationship is virtual. Social networking websites and other technological advances can make it easier for us to keep in contact with people over long distances and long periods of time, but shouldn't constitute a replace-ment for face-to-face relationships.

What can you do to stave off loneliness?

People should look at local opportunities: sports clubs, book groups or volunteer organisations. These are often made available through GP surgeries, mental health services, youth workers, occupational therapists and local authority websites. Mental Health charities support local services that facilitate face-to-face contact, and neighbourhood schemes that encourage people to engage proactively with their communities. Most importantly, the awareness of loneliness needs to be increased through greater public debate.

There is some evidence to suggest that being part of a social network is more advantageous than one-off instances of support, and that help from a friend is better than that provided by a stranger.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

For Sunday: Psalm 82

Psalm 82

A Plea for Justice

A Psalm of Asaph.

1 God has taken his place in the divine council;
in the midst of the gods he holds judgement:

2 ‘How long will you judge unjustly
and show partiality to the wicked?

3 Give justice to the weak and the orphan;
maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.

4 Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.’

8 Rise up, O God, judge the earth;
for all the nations belong to you!

(New Revised Standard Version)

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Gridiron Truisms. . .

Time out for a bit of levity.  Never was much of a player, but I've always loved football.  Consider these moments of truth from sources who really understand or understood the game, or at least love it:

"At Georgia Southern, we don't cheat. That costs money and we don't have any." Erk Russell / Georgia Southern.

"Football is only a game. Spiritual things are eternal. Never the less, Beat Texas" Seen on a church sign in Arkansas prior to the 1969 game.

"After you retire, there's only one big event left....and I ain't ready for that." Bobby Bowden / Florida State

"The man who complains about the way the ball bounces is likely to be
the one who dropped it." Lou Holtz / Arkansas

"When you win, nothing hurts." Joe Namath / Alabama

"Motivation is simple. You eliminate those who are not motivated." Lou Holtz / Arkansas

"If you want to walk the heavenly streets of gold, you gotta know the password,"Roll, tide, roll!" Bear Bryant / Alabama

"A school without football is in danger of deteriorating into a medieval study hall." Frank Leahy / Notre Dame

"There's nothing that cleanses your soul like getting the hell kicked
out of you." Woody Hayes / Ohio State

"I don't expect to win enough games to be put on NCAA probation. I
just want to win enough to warrant an investigation." Bob Devaney/

"In Alabama , an atheist is someone who doesn't believe in Bear Bryant."
Wally Butts / Georgia

"You can learn more character on the two-yard line than anywhere else in life." Paul Dietzel / LSU

"It's kind of hard to rally around a math class." Bear Bryant / Alabama

When asked if Fayetteville was the end of the world. "No, but you can see it from here." Lou Holtz / Arkansas

"I make my practices real hard because if a player is a quitter, I want him to quit in practice, not in a game." Bear Bryant / Alabama

"There's one sure way to stop us from scoring-give us the ball near the goal line." Matty Bell / SMU

"Lads, you're not to miss practice unless your parents died or you died."
Frank Leahy / Notre Dame

"I never graduated from Iowa , but I was only there for two terms -
Truman's and Eisenhower's." Alex Karras / Iowa

"My advice to defensive players: Take the shortest route to the ball
and arrive in a bad humor." Bowden Wyatt / Tennessee

"I could have been a Rhodes Scholar, except for my grades." Duffy Daugherty / Michigan State

"Always remember ..... Goliath was a 40 point favorite over David."
Shug Jordan / Auburn

"They cut us up like boarding house pie. And that's real small pieces."
Darrell Royal / Texas

"Show me a good and gracious loser, and I'll show you a failure." Knute Rockne / Notre Dame

"They whipped us like a tied up goat." Spike Dykes / Texas Tech

"I asked Darrell Royal, the coach of the Texas Longhorns, why he didn't recruit me and he said: "Well, Walt, we took a look at you and you weren't any good." Walt Garrison / Oklahoma State

"Son, you've got a good engine, but your hands aren't on the steering wheel." Bobby Bowden / Florida State

After USC lost 51-0 to Notre Dame, his post game message to his team: "All those who need showers, take them." John McKay / USC

"If lessons are learned in defeat, our team is getting a great education."
Murray Warmath / Minnesota

"The only qualifications for a lineman are to be big and dumb. To be a back, you only have to be dumb." Knute Rockne / Notre Dame

"Oh, we played about like three tons of buzzard puke this afternoon." Spike Dykes / Texas Tech

"It isn't necessary to see a good tackle. You can hear it." Knute Rockne / Notre Dame

"We live one day at a time and scratch where it itches." Darrell Royal / Texas

"We didn't tackle well today but we made up for it by not blocking."
Wilson Matthews / Little Rock Central High School

"Three things can happen when you throw the ball, and two of them are bad."
Woody Hayes / Ohio State

"I've found that prayers work best when you have big players." Knute Rockne / Notre Dame

"Gentlemen, it is better to have died a small boy than to fumble this football." John Heisman

Friday, October 08, 2010

Talking with Kirk. . .

What follows are various snippets of our conversation with Kirk Franklin during his tour of Roseland Homes earlier this week.  Franklin will perform in Central Dallas Ministries' annual benefit concert, A Night to Remember on Monday, October 25 at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center in the Downtown Dallas Arts District. 

Kirk's quotes provides real insights into the heart and soul of the man. 

Enjoy what he says. Then, go to and purchase your tickets for the big night!

"Glad to be a part of “a name that is respected in the community like this ministry."

In thinking about the concert:: “Honor to be here and to stand on stage and hopefully put some money on some great causes.”

“I’m not coming as an outsider to the community. The vision of what you’re doing has always been close to my family and my heart. It was programs like this…that gave survival to me.”

“If there had been programs more like this in the 70s and 80s, some of my friends wouldn’t have gotten so lost.”

“People who get their hands dirty are my heroes”

This is organically me – this is natural me” (on taking the time to hang out at Roseland).

“I’m a product of ministries like these”

“This is hood-born and hood-survived” (about himself).

“What these people are doing is human. And to not do it is inhuman…I’m just here today to be human” (speaking about our organization).
“I’m excited to stand on stage and do something that has long-term value. It’s not just a concert that brings in some money.”

Hearing from CDM, asking to participate in our ANTR event was “just one of those divine phone calls.”

“It’s like a praise party with a purpose” (the concert).

“If any person has any name recognition, they need to realize that recognition was given for a cause” (on using his celebrity to partner with organizations).

"Now, go buy your tickets!"--a quote from Larry James!

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Principal for a day. . .

On Tuesday I enjoyed the privilege of serving as "Principal-for-a-day" at Rufus C. Burleson Elementary School, a DISD school located in Pleasant Grove. 

While it may be true that there are poor schools, bad principals, unruly children and rotten teachers, I certainly did not see anything remotely resembling those characterizations during my day at "Burleson," as the students refer to the school. 

The building is old, but immaculately maintained and cared for. 

The atmosphere conveyed a sense of calm, quiet order. 

Students were well-behaved, teachers well-prepared. 

I visited classes from Pre-K to 6th grade (E. B. Comstock, the middle school in the feeder pattern is too crowded to accept this oldest class at Burleson).  In every setting the students were attentive, actively engaged in their learning activities and very respectful of their teachers and one another.

I sat in on band practice. 

I visited a great computer learning classroom where students worked hard on math skills. 

The PE class was fun. 

The art teacher a real creative sort. 

As I left the building, I ran into Yolanda Knight, the real Principal of the school.  She was walking the property with DISD planning officials who were evaluating the property for improvements.  Ms. Knight was lobbying hard for her kids. 

"Give this lady anything she wants," I counseled as I left.  "She knows what she's doing if what I just saw is any indication of her effectiveness."

What a great experience. . .except for one defining reality with which every one of these students must struggle:  poverty. 

Burleson's atmosphere couldn't be better.  Tweaked maybe, but not made substantially different or better.  The school reminded me of my elementary school experience.  Caring teachers.  Attentive students.  All of it. 

Then, I took a moment to look at their test scores. 

On the TAKS scale of "met minimum requirements," the older students seem to have improved slightly over the past three years, likely a tribute to the Principal and her team. 

The younger children who continue to use the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (I took that test!) and, in terms of performing at grade level, under-perform badly in math and only 61% read at grade level. 

Among older students (3-6 grades) 43% are college ready in math; 34% in reading; 40% in science and 65% in writing skills.  In terms of involvement, 93% attend classes 90% of the time.  Only half of the 5th graders are on track for middle school. 

What's going on here?  I had to ask myself that question. 

I think I know.

It's not the school. 

It's not the kids.

I don't think it's the parents or families, though I know popular wisdom would lay blame at their feet almost exclusively.  While parents must share in any blame game scorecard, they too are trapped in the same web of enduring difficulty. 

It's the entirety of the social milieu, the oppressive fabric of life lived in a complex community of urban poverty that stands behind the test scores, the limited expectations, the shortened personal possibility horizons and the realistic prospects for change. 

The parents of these children work very hard to keep their families housed, clothed and fed.  Most don't really make it, always playing catch up to keep things moving.  Burleson serves breakfast and lunch to its students, an indicator of both the income levels of their households and their persistent struggle with "making ends meet." 

I saw bright-eyed children in very worn clothing. 

Several years ago a candidate of DISD School Board asked me what I thought was the number one issue facing Dallas schools. 

My one-word reply surprised him.  "That one is easy:   poverty." 

My experience as a principal reconfirmed my idea. 

To improve public schools we'd better get serious about eliminating poverty. 

And, our ideas need to be larger than the enormity of the challenges we face in this regard. 

Much larger. 

Who's up for the battle?

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Kirk Franklin and CDM in Dallas Morning News today!

Kirk Franklin's visit to Roseland Homes received great coverage in this morning's edition of The Dallas Morning News!  Thanks to Kim Horner for the insightful story about Franklin and his understanding of our mission.

When he said, "This ministry has made dreaming affordable," I knew he was a person who really "gets it."

Here's the entire report for your convenience!

Gospel star Kirk Franklin visits low-income Roseland Townhomes complex in East Dallas
07:58 AM CDT on Wednesday, October 6, 2010
By KIM HORNER / The Dallas Morning News

Tuesday was no ordinary day at Roseland Townhomes and Estates, with gospel star Kirk Franklin strolling around the East Dallas public housing development.

Franklin arrived at 10 a.m. to tour a program that helps lift families out of poverty, and the Grammy-winning artist quickly started to attract a crowd.

The Fort Worth native said he wanted to learn more about the work of Central Dallas Ministries, a charity that will benefit from his Oct. 25 concert at the Meyerson Symphony Center. But the tour also served as a reminder.

Franklin said he grew up in low-income housing in Fort Worth and was adopted at age 4 by a 64-year-old woman with a fourth-grade education. He said many of his own family members were in prison.

"I am a product of ministries and organizations like this," Franklin said.

The concert is a fundraiser for the Dallas nonprofit, which runs Operation Family Fresh Start at Roseland. The program includes after-school classes, parenting classes, job skills training and counseling.

Franklin visited after-school classrooms and a community garden where kids were learning to grow their own food. He remarked at how glad he was to see all the books available to children.

"Nice to meet you," he told after-school teacher Shaina Rowlett. "You're doing great things."

Franklin hugged Rowlett, leaving her shaking.

"I almost melted in his arms," she said.

Franklin said there was little focus on education where he grew up. He said he was encouraged after seeing the programs at Roseland that help people rise from poverty.

"You see the hope in the kids' eyes," he said. "Dreams were a luxury when I was growing up. This ministry has made dreaming affordable."

Franklin praised the employees and volunteers for their work.

"I don't know if Lady GaGa or Kanye can make this kind of impact," he told them. "They may shake their butt on stage, but what you are doing here is shaking off that negativity ... shaking off generational curse."

Franklin said he came to Roseland because he has a responsibility to help others.

"I am excited to stand on the stage and do what I do for something that has long-term value," he said. "I'm very excited about the 25th. It'll be like a praise party with purpose."

For more information about the concert, go to or call 214-880-0202.

Photos by Jenny Fogel, CDM.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Poverty and the 2009 American Community Survey

The 2009 American Community Survey data is now available and can be accessed on the U. S. Census Bureau's very helpful website.  Take a look here.

Concerning poverty, consider. . .

Nationally, the percentage of households learning below $25,000 annually stands at 24.7% in 2009.  That's up from 23.6% in 2008; 23% in 2007; 23.6% in 2006.

Closer to home here in Texas, the percentage of children under 18-years-old living in poverty in 2009 came in at 24.4 statewide; 27.7 for Dallas County; 35.4 for the city of Dallas. 

These numbers translate to lots of miserable situations for children and families in our communities.

Much work to do.  Many changes needed.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

"Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute. "
Proverbs 31:8

(To learn more about our "1000 Voices Campaign," contact me here or at

Friday, October 01, 2010

Fear of extremely poor and brain function

A couple of weeks ago The Dallas Morning News published an essay written by Adam Brenner, M. D. and associate professor of psychiatry and director of adult psychiatry residency training at UT Southwestern Medical Center ("Why not in your back yard?").  The good professor believes there is more to the fear people express about being near the homeless than we may have realized.  He also counsels that an important part of any progress we make as a community will depend on us all getting to know one another.  Brenner's point of view and his arguments should be taken seriously. Here's how he begins:

Why not in your back yard?
Adam Brenner

After controversy surrounding two initiatives for the homeless in North Texas this summer — one for permanent supported housing met by angry neighbors in Oak Cliff , another for homeless families derailed by anxious residents in Plano — it’s fair to wonder whether any such project can avoid the “not in my back yard” response.

Opposition to housing for the homeless is nothing new; opponents cite an array of understandable concerns about the impact on their communities — fears of crime and violence, lowered property value, disruption of neighborhood life. These objections cannot be blithely dismissed. While research on the local impact of shelters and supportive housing programs suggests that the results are generally neutral or positive, especially large or dense concentrations may have adverse effects if poorly planned or managed.

And yet, attempting to understand the emotional intensity of the opposition through a rational calculation of risks and benefits seems to fall short of capturing the whole picture. Something else, something more basic and less rational, seems to be at work. When faced with the prospect of marginalized and alienated people entering our community, something very primal in our brain is triggered — a categorization into “us” and “them,” along with a heightened sense of the dangers of “them.”

So, even though the “not in my back yard” reaction may draw on realistic concerns, it can simultaneously be driven by a set of neurobiologic processes that lead us to automatically and unconsciously reject those who are outsiders.

To read the entire article click here.