Tuesday, January 31, 2012

More than a month. . .

Should there be a Black History Month in the U.S.?

Some would answer "No."

Filmmaker Shukree Tilghman among them, sets out to end Black History Month with his film, More Than A Month. The film will be seen on PBS in February during Black History Month. 

View the video below.  Read the backstory on Tilghman's work here.  Tell me what you think.

Monday, January 30, 2012

100,000 Homes Campaign

Over the past couple of years, 100 communities across the country have joined a collaborative effort, led by Community Solutions, to find permanent housing for 100,000 of the most medically vulnerable homeless Americans by July of 2013.

Together, these communities, including over 3,000 volunteers, are part of a growing movement known as the "100,000 Homes Campaign,"  and have  helped 11,751 homeless people into permanent homes already available in the communities. 

CitySquare is leading the effort here in Dallas.  Later this year, likely in March, a large team of trained volunteers will fan out across the central business district to meet and to "register" as many of these very poor and typically medically weakened neighbors.  The goal:  to get to know who they are, document the health status of each, and to assist them in securing permanent housing along with the stability that having a place to call home provides.

Our partners in this effort include Downtown Dallas, Inc., Hamilton Properties, Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance and many other individuals and groups. 

More information will be coming soon. 

Interested in joining the team?  Email me at ljames@CitySquare.org.

Watch an informative video here.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Rain not slowing us down!

This video was shot last Thursday morning after the all night rain. Sun reappeared and the guys from ConReal hit it again with water pumps and big Cats!

Oh, and congratulations Dan Hopkins and Happy Birthday!  You are now officially as old as rocks!

Friday, January 27, 2012


Frankly, too much of my time gets spent trying to raise money, balance tight budgets and squeeze efficiences out of every cent and process. 

There.  I feel better now!

Actually, there is a very warm, human side to fund development. Those who fund our work, be they foundation leaders, government decision makers, churches and faith communities on mission, individuals who care, businesses wanting to engage the community, all come to the process as human beings.  Often, and when things align as they should, funders come seeking significant relationships, sometimes even friendship. 

So, a big part of my life is a true blast.

But, back to numbers.  You can't escape numbers, I've learned.

In looking over 2011, I discovered more data that confirms a consistent trend in our funding at CitySquare. 

Get this. 

"Poor folks," those who come to us seeking service, assistance and friendship contribute in gifts and/or fees 56% as much as the individuals who contribute dollars as donations only.  I find that fairly amazing. 

Translation:  in 2011 individual donors contributed $1,087,758.59 to support our efforts in the inner city.  During the same period, our neighbors/customers contributed $605,916.18.

Consider this.

During 2011, churches donated $214,740.31 to our efforts.  Again, "poor folks" provided almost three (2.8) times as much from their income. 

Funding remains a challenge.  But working at it exposes me to some amazing folks, rich and poor.  And, the numbers continually instruct.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Dallas Business Journal spotlights new "Opportunity Center"

CitySquare celebrates construction launch
Dallas Business Journal by Bill Hethcock, Staff Writer
Date: Wednesday, January 25, 2012, 1:31pm CST

Construction is under way on the $12.5 million CitySquare Opportunity Center at the southeast corner of Interstate 30 and Malcolm X Blvd. in Dallas.

Public officials including Mayor Mike Rawlings and other project supporters will get a bus tour of the site at a breakfast Thursday to celebrate the start of construction.

The 52,000-square-foot campus will include a food distribution center; a teaching and production kitchen; a wellness center; and a large employment training center that will house new offices for Workforce Solutions of Greater Dallas and CitySquare’s WorkPaths employment training department. The center also will house the AmeriCorps headquarters/offices and a staging area for a summer and after-school lunch program funded by the Texas Department of Agriculture.
The services are all under one roof with easy access by Dallas Area Rapid Transit Dallas Area Rapid Transit.

The opportunity center, scheduled to open in 2013, will serve low-income residents of East and South Dallas. The center has been a dream of CitySquare’s President and CEO Larry James, a longtime leader in efforts to end poverty in the heart of Dallas.

"The opportunity center will create both enhanced synergy among a vital group of nonprofit partners and convenience of access for the neighbors who come to us seeking to take positive, proactive steps toward a better, more stable life for themselves and their families," James said.

About half of the $12.5 million in development funds for the facility has already been raised, and a public fund-raising campaign is under way.

Omniplan provided the architectural design and Con-Real serves as general contractor for the Opportunity Center.

Bill covers health care, law, education and nonprofits.

Lord of the Dance

This old Shaker hymn moves me.  There's just "something" about dancing!   Be sure that you view all the way to the end. . .there is a pause before the "resurrection" verse!

What do you think?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Working, but still poor. . .

Here at CitySquare, we've known the hard truth for a very long time.  Most of the low-income people with whom we work also work at a job, often more than one job. 

The problem is not work. 

The problem is pay and earning power. 

Consider the analysis of Bill Quigley that follows.  Take time to go to the complete text of the report.  Then, tell me what you think. 

Is it realistic to think that everyone who works should be able to sustain themselves by that work?

Working and Poor in the USA
Sunday 22 January 2012
By: Bill Quigley, The Center for Constitutional Rights

"Our nation, so richly endowed with natural resources and with a capable and industrious population, should be able to devise ways and means of insuring to all our able-bodied men and women, a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.” -Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1937

Millions of people in the US work and are still poor. Here are eight points that show why the US needs to dedicate itself to making work pay.

To read the entire report click here.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Opportunity disparity

The following article appeared in the Atlanta Journal Constitution.  The author, Margaret C. Simms is a senior fellow and director of the Low-Income Working Families project at the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan policy research organization based in Washington, D.C.

Opportunity still has racial hue

At the march on Washington, Martin Luther King Jr. spoke these now famous words: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

While King made the statement about racial equality and racial justice, at some level, it is a sentiment to which all parents can relate. All parents want their children to reach their potential and not be held back by anything other than their willingness to work hard.

Children are more likely to succeed if they have a stable home environment, adequate nutrition and the opportunity to get a good education. Unfortunately, nearly 50 years after the march on Washington, opportunity still has a racial dimension. That is not to say that progress hasn’t been made in breaking racial barriers. Advancement can be seen in every dimension of American life — education, politics and economic achievement. The percentage of African-Americans that have a college education has gone up from 3.5 percent to 18 percent. The number holding political office, including the presidency, has risen from about 1,400 to more than 10,500. Black men and women have held corporate CEO positions.

Yet in many areas, African-Americans have made little progress relative to their white counterparts. Median household income for African-Americans is only 58 percent of the median white household income, little different from the ratio in the late 1960s. This disparity reflects the fact that African-Americans are more likely to be unemployed regardless of how the economy is faring and that African-American families are more likely to be headed by women. Even when you compare households with the same family structure and educational level, African-Americans aren’t as well off.

A recent Pew Research Center study showed the recession and housing market crash hit African-Americans hard, as those with any assets at all were most likely to have them in the form of homeownership. The Pew report shows that between 2005 and 2009, African-American wealth fell by 53 percent compared with a 19 percent drop for white households. As a result, the typical white household had 20 times the net worth of the typical black household in 2009, up from 11 times in 2005. This is the biggest gap seen in the 25 years that the data have been collected.

To read the entire article click here

As always, reactions invited. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Beyond charity, building justice into systems

“On the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life's roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring."

From a sermon entitled "A Time to Break Silence," at Riverside Church”

― Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

"Toxic Stress," children and poverty

We've known it for years here at CitySquare.  Our young children live in a noisy, stress-filled world, even chaotic at times.  We are now learning what this means in very practical and often frightening terms.  The article from Nicholas Kristof that follows challenges me.  What it calls for, in my view, is a national covenant, something much more serious than a media campagin.  Rather, we need to step up, sign up and show up when it comes to providing for the well-being of our children.  That means all of us:  rich and poor, educated nad undereducated, parents and teachers, ministers and politicians, right and left and all the in between!  We've got to do better. 

Read on and see if you don't agree. LJ

A Poverty Solution That Starts With a Hug

January 7, 2012

PERHAPS the most widespread peril children face isn’t guns, swimming pools or speeding cars. Rather, scientists are suggesting that it may be “toxic stress” early in life, or even before birth.

This month, the American Academy of Pediatrics is issuing a landmark warning that this toxic stress can harm children for life. I’m as skeptical as anyone of headlines from new medical studies (Coffee is good for you! Coffee is bad for you!), but that’s not what this is.

Rather, this is a “policy statement” from the premier association of pediatricians, based on two decades of scientific research. This has revolutionary implications for medicine and for how we can more effectively chip away at poverty and crime.

Toxic stress might arise from parental abuse of alcohol or drugs. It could occur in a home where children are threatened and beaten. It might derive from chronic neglect — a child cries without being cuddled. Affection seems to defuse toxic stress — keep those hugs and lullabies coming! — suggesting that the stress emerges when a child senses persistent threats but no protector.

Cues of a hostile or indifferent environment flood an infant, or even a fetus, with stress hormones like cortisol in ways that can disrupt the body’s metabolism or the architecture of the brain.

The upshot is that children are sometimes permanently undermined. Even many years later, as adults, they are more likely to suffer heart disease, obesity, diabetes and other physical ailments. They are also more likely to struggle in school, have short tempers and tangle with the law.

The crucial period seems to be from conception through early childhood. After that, the brain is less pliable and has trouble being remolded.

“You can modify behavior later, but you can’t rewire disrupted brain circuits,” notes Jack P. Shonkoff, a Harvard pediatrician who has been a leader in this field. “We’re beginning to get a pretty compelling biological model of why kids who have experienced adversity have trouble learning.”

This new research addresses an uncomfortable truth: Poverty is difficult to overcome partly because of self-destructive behaviors. Children from poor homes often shine, but others may skip school, abuse narcotics, break the law, and have trouble settling down in a marriage and a job. Then their children may replicate this pattern.

Liberals sometimes ignore these self-destructive pathologies. Conservatives sometimes rely on them to blame poverty on the poor.

The research suggests that the roots of impairment and underachievement are biologically embedded, but preventable. “This is the biology of social class disparities,” Dr. Shonkoff said. “Early experiences are literally built into our bodies.”

The implication is that the most cost-effective window to bring about change isn’t high school or even kindergarten — although much greater efforts are needed in schools as well — but in the early years of life, or even before birth.

“Protecting young children from adversity is a promising, science-based strategy to address many of the most persistent and costly problems facing contemporary society, including limited educational achievement, diminished economic productivity, criminality, and disparities in health,” the pediatrics academy said in its policy statement.

One successful example of early intervention is home visitation by childcare experts, like those from the Nurse-Family Partnership. This organization sends nurses to visit poor, vulnerable women who are pregnant for the first time. The nurse warns against smoking and alcohol and drug abuse, and later encourages breast-feeding and good nutrition, while coaxing mothers to cuddle their children and read to them. This program continues until the child is 2.

At age 6, studies have found, these children are only one-third as likely to have behavioral or intellectual problems as others who weren’t enrolled. At age 15, the children are less than half as likely to have been arrested.

Evidence of the importance of early experiences has been mounting like snowflakes in a blizzard. For example, several studies examined Dutch men and women who had been in utero during a brief famine at the end of World War II. Decades later, those “famine babies” had more trouble concentrating and more heart disease than those born before or after.

Other scholars examined children who had been badly neglected in Romanian orphanages. Those who spent more time in the orphanages had shorter telomeres, a change in chromosomes that’s a marker of accelerated aging. Their brain scans also looked different.

The science is still accumulating. But a compelling message from biology is that if we want to chip away at poverty and improve educational and health outcomes, we have to start earlier. For many children, damage has been suffered before the first day of school.

As Frederick Douglass noted, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Pictured below are two options for signage on a large, ClearChannel billboard located at the edge of our property where we are constructing the new CitySquare "Opportunity Center."

The billboards have been provided at a great price and point to our new development.

Here's the question: which one do you like the best and why? Your responses will help us make our selection!

Snow. . .

What is it about snow?

I don't know about you, but I'm fascinated by it every time it comes! 

I suppose it goes back to my childhood.  Nothing was better than an unexpected, "snow day" in Texas that put an end to school and turned everyone out into the white wonderland. 

I also expect that somehow I'm "hard-wired" to appreciate the white stuff.  I'm told that the afternoon I was born, Spokane, Washington took the assault of the worst snow storm the city had seen in about 25 years!  So, I got here in the snow, and I've always loved it.  The more the better. 

As I've grown older though, snow has pushed me down and along a more contemplative path every time it shows up.  Over the past few years my experience with snow prompted more time with a camera in hand, as if the magic and mystery of the snow would somehow escape me before I could savor it adequately. 

And the amazing, deep, unexpected snows of the last 2-3 years have brought amazing experiences of appreciation, celebration and self-reflection, as if snow signals my way farther down a very important pathway I'm meant to take. 

Call me crazy, but there is something about the snow. 

I caught the image above earlier this month when I was in Colorado speaking to and working with about 150 business majors from Abilene Christian University and Lubbock Christian University.  The corner post on the porch of the cabin where I slept found itself adorned with the beautiful stuff on the morning my trip came to a close.  Dare I say a special blessing to point me in the right direction once again?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The complications of prayer. . .

Prayer can be complicated. 

Denver Broncos quarterback, Tim Tebow sees the NFL as a platform for witness in the form of an "in your face" display of religious action at the end of most successful touchdown drives and games.  The popular young player even displays biblical passages etched on his no glare, black eye strips. 

Hey, to each his own, I suppose. 

Still, Jesus did say on one occasion, "But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.  Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you" (see Matthew 6:5-8 for statement and context).

Even thanking God for the blessings of life can get complicated.  Don't you think? 

It seems important to be very thoughtful about how we pray and about those things for which we pray.  Prayer should be a time of deep reflection, a private alignment of human life with the values of faith as we come to understand the agenda of God.  What do you think?

Friday, January 13, 2012

A prayer. . .

Oh, God, when I have food,
help me to remember the hungry;
When I have work, help me to remember the jobless;
When I have a warm home,
help me to remember the homeless;
When I am without pain,
help me to remember whose who suffer;
And, remembering, help me
to destroy my complacency
and bestir my compassion.
Make me concerned enough
to help, by word and deed,
those who cry out.

(Printed on a card from Salesian Missions, New Rochelle, NY.)
for what we take for granted.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

First Church--out in the Arkansas woods. . .

My experience with "pastoral ministry" began in the backwoods of central Arkansas. My members emerged from the woods on Sunday mornings.

We had no town, just a small, white building.

Composed of Pooles and Barnetts for the most part, the members farmed soy beans, hunted in the woods and fished in the streams. They were solid, lovely, sweet people.

Best of all, they put up with me.

They taught me a lot about friendship. 

They were warm, gracious people.  And, they loved humor!  I could tell stories about things that happened among these folks, all hilarious! 

I remember leaving this church as one of the hard things of my life. There is no doubt in my mind that, ironically,  these sweet people prepared me for life and ministry in an urban context.

I loved them.

They loved me.

Does anything else really matter?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

"The journey" as the point. . .

"But where is what I started for so long ago?  And why is it yet unfound?"

Walt Whitman
(quoted by Chris Johns, Editor, National Geographic, December 2011)

Could it be that the point is not "finding," but the search, the journey? 

Just wondering.

Monday, January 09, 2012

High impact, human need, great hope

From time to time in the New Year I intend to share the stories of the real people we encounter every day here at CitySquare. What follows here is the first:

A 36-year-old single mother with a 7- year- old daughter came to CitySquare in January 2011 in need of rental assistance. The woman and her daughter were previously homeless before moving into their apartment in September 2010.

In November 2010, she lost her job and fell behind on her rent. CitySquare provided rental and utility assistance through the Homeless Prevention Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP) that we administer for the City of Dallas. The woman remained in the program and received intensive case management and financial assistance for 9 months.

During this time, the woman gained full time, permanent employment. She applied for and received childcare services and transportation vouchers). She also attended CitySquare’s Money Management Class and Employment Workshops. She opened a checking account and is now able to budget her money. In addition, we were able to change her electric provider to TXU (who waived her deposit) and enrolled her in Light-Up Texas. More recently, she moved into a cheaper and safer apartment.

She completed the HPRP program and is now stably housed. Last October she paid her rent on her own and still had over $400 in her bank account! As of December 2011, she continues to be employed and stably housed.

This woman worked hard and made significant achievements in becoming self-sufficient. She continues to meet with her case manager here at CitySquare, Krystal Lotspeich, to work and strive to meet her future goals.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

My favorite artist. . .

My favorite artist, Gracie Bea Toombs is headed to the state art competition with her latest masterpiece! 

The fact that she is my granddaughter has absolutely nothing to do with my objective assessment of her wonderful work! 

I'm thinking Picasso. 

How about you?

Friday, January 06, 2012

Apparel for the New Year!

Need some casual apparel as we head into the New Year? 

Visit the CitySquare Store here.

You'll be able to pick up some nice items and support CitySquare's work in the inner city in the process!

Happy New Year from CitySquare!

Thursday, January 05, 2012

2012 image provoking reflection

Reflections on Poverty: A Photograph of a Desolate Man in Casablanca

Posted on December 27, 2011

By The Activists Photography Collective

Outside of the medina in central Casablanca, Morocco, a man rested shamefully with his back turned to the public whilst shoppers went about their daily duties, bags in hand, ignoring this man’s existence. His face was hidden, but it wouldn’t have mattered even if it wasn’t: globally, we have become so desensitized to the suffering of our fellow human beings that we walk past those perched on street corners, laying in the gutters, begging for money, or bundled up during fridgid weather without giving them a second thought. If they do something that catches our attention in any particular way, annoyed looks or words of disdain are usually cast in their direction. They are just like you and I and deserve to be treated as such, regardless of the amount of money in their bank account, the clothes on their back, or whether or not they have roofs over their heads. From Casablanca to Kalamazoo and everywhere in between, the revolution of compassion must start today. Be a revolutionary by honouring human dignity.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

A simple thought for a new year

Poverty provides context for much/most of Chrisitan "revelation." Embracing the struggle versus poverty is a faithful option that connects us to God.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Embracing poverty?

Reading the Gospel of St. Luke challenges me every time I open myself to its message.  Again and again Luke shows just how much Jesus said about poverty and the suffering of the impoverished.  He calls those who want to follow him to take poverty seriously and to respond to it with generosity, compassion and seriousness.  He challenges followers to divest themselves of their wealth and "lay up treasure in heaven," seeming to indicate that assisting those trapped in poverty will result in some eternal return on investment.  On at least one occasion he counseled a very rich many to sell all he had, give his assets to the poor and then come and follow. 

Luke's second volume, Acts of the Apostles, reveals that the earliest Christian community got Jesus' message as members sold possessions and gave to the communal fund that wiped poverty out among his early followers. 

Most of the time though, I don't embrace poverty as a spiritual discipline that both assists the poor more completely and witnesses to the evil of impoverishment.  Few contemporary expressions or understandings of the Christian faith call followers to intentionally embrace poverty as a style of lfie.

Consider the following thoughts:

Poverty is an act of love and liberation.  It has a redemptive values.  If the ultimate cause of human exploitation and alienation is selfishness, the deepest reason for voluntary poverty is love of neighbor.  Christian poverty has meaning only as a commitment of solidarity with the poor, with those who suffer misery and injustice.  The commitment is to witness to the evil which has resulted from sin and is a breach of communion.  It is not a question of idealizing poverty, but rather of taking it on as it is--an evil--to protest against it and to struggle to abolish it.  As Ricoeur says, you cannot really be with the poor unless you are struggling against poverty.  Because of this solidarity--which must manifest itself in specific action, a style of life, a break with one's social class--one can also help the poor and exploitated to become aware of their exploitation and seek liberation from it.  Christian poverty, an expression of love, is solidarity with the poor and is a protest against poverty.  This is the concrete, contemporary meaning of the witness of poverty.  It is a poverty lived not for its own sake, but rather as an authentic imitation of Christ; it is a poverty which means taking on the sinful human condition to liberate humankind from sin and all its consequences. (page 172)

Gustavo Gutierrez
 Theology of Liberation

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Ring out the old, ring in the new!

Ring Out , Wild Bells

Alfred Lord Tennyson

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more,
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.