Saturday, March 31, 2012

Scenes of progress from CitySquare's new Opportunity Center. . .

CitySquare's new Opportunity Center development continues to progress! 

Located at the southeast corner of Malcolm X and I-30, the new 53,000 sq. ft. multi-purpose campus intends to bring many new opportunities to men and women seeking improved lives. 

Here are scenes of our current progress!  To learn how you can become an investor, contact me at

Friday, March 30, 2012

Springsteen's Rock with a Message. . .

Rolling Stone published an interview with Bruce Springsteen conducted by Jon Stewart in its March 29, 2012 edition.  Springsteen spoke of his new album (Wrecking Ball) and of a number of his classic recordings that reflect his own social values and his vision for and concern about America.  His language is the language of community, fairness, compassion and collective will, as well as responsibility.  Here are some of his comments:

The first cut, "We Take Care of Our Own," is where I set out the questions that I'm going to try to answer.  The song's chorus is posed as a challenge and a question.  Do we take care of our own?  What happened to that social contract?  Where did that go over the past 30 years?  How has it been eroded so terribly?  And how is it that the outrage about that erosion is just beginning to be voiced right now?  I've written about this stuff for those 30 years, from Darkness on the Edge of Town to The Ghost of Tom Joad through to today. . . .

So these are issues and things that occur over and over again in history and land on the backs of the same people.  In my music--if it has a purpose beyond dancing and fun and vacuuming your floor to it--I always try to gauge the distance between American reality and the American dream.  The mantra that I go into in the last verse of "We Take Care of Our Own"--"Where are the eyes, where are the hearts?"--it's really:  Where are those things now, what happened to those things over the past 30 years?  What happened to the social fabric of the world that we're living in? What's the price that people pay for it on a daily basis?"  Which is something that I lived with intensely as a child, and is probably the prime motivation for the subjects I've written about since I was very, very young. . . .

You cannot have a social contract with the enormous income disparity--you're gong to slice the country down the middle.  Without jobs, without helping folks with foreclosures, without regulating the banks, without some sort of tax reform. . . .Without addressing those issues in some way, I don't think the country is going to hold together.  . . .at the end of the day, you can't have a society and you can't have a civilization without a reasonable amount of economic fairness, full employment, purpose and civic responsibility. (page 41)

"Bruce Springsteen's State of the Union"
Rolling Stone
Issue 1153, March 29, 2012

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Food Pantry

People ask me over and over again, "Larry, what can I do to help?" 

In the face of seemingly unrelenting poverty it is the right question. 

The best answer when it comes to food and nutrition is simple and for some folks not so satisfying.  But here goes:  send CitySquare a check, and the bigger the better

We obtain 99% of our food products from the North Texas Food Bank, our best partner in food procurement and nutrition.   The cost of the food is a very low "shared maintenance" fee assessed on a per pound basis that averages between 20 and 25 cents per pound, clearly the best deal in the city! 

Every dollar donated to CitySquare for this purpose allows us to deliver 4 pounds of groceries to low-income neighbors in the inner city. 

Below you'll see scenes shot on Wednesday at our Food Pantry/Resource Center on Haskell Avenue.  The lines shout out that thousands of our neighbors simply aren't earning enough to keep their families going. 

We need your help today!  So, if you want to know how to help us, here is a great way! 

To directly benefit hungry fellow residents, neighbors in Dallas County send your checks to CitySquare, 511 N. Akard Street, Suite 302, Dallas, Texas 75201.  Or, go on line and donate there at

For more information call me at 214-303-2116. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Health Insurance for All?

As the Supreme Court of the U. S. hears arguments this week about the constitutionality of the Obama Administration's health care reform legislation, Fareed Zakaria offers up an insightful analysis of the nation's need for comprehensive health care approaches and reform. 

See what you think of his point of view.

Zakaria: Health insurance is for everyone

By Fareed Zakaria,

Two years ago, Barack Obama signed into law the most comprehensive reform of American health care since Medicare. Most of its provisions haven’t been implemented yet. But the debate about it rages on at every level. Twenty-six states have filed legal challenges to it. And this month the Supreme Court will hear arguments about its constitutionality.

The centerpiece of the case against Obamacare is the requirement that everyone buy some kind of health insurance or face stiff penalties - the so-called individual mandate. It is a way of moving toward universal coverage without a government-run or single-payer system. It might surprise Americans to learn that another advanced industrial country, one with a totally private health care system, made precisely the same choice nearly 20 years ago: Switzerland. The lessons from Switzerland and other countries can’t resolve the constitutional issues, but they suggest the inevitability of some version of Obamacare.

Switzerland is not your typical European welfare-state society. It is extremely business-friendly and has always gone its own way, shunning the euro and charting its own course on health care. The country ranks higher than the U.S. on the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom.

Twenty years ago, Switzerland had a system very similar to America’s - private insurers, private providers - with very similar problems. People didn’t buy insurance but ended up in emergency rooms, insurers screened out people with pre-existing conditions, and costs were rising fast. The country came to the conclusion that to make health care work, everyone had to buy insurance. So the Swiss passed an individual mandate and reformed their system along lines very similar to Obamacare. The reform law passed by referendum, narrowly.

The result two decades later: quality of care remains very high, everyone has access, and costs have moderated. Switzerland spends 11% of its GDP on health care, compared with 17% in the U.S. Its 8 million people have health care that is not tied to their employers, they can choose among many plans, and they can switch plans every year. Overall satisfaction with the system is high.

When Taiwan - another country with a strong free-market economy - decided to create a new health care system in the mid-1990s, it studied every existing model. It too chose a model of universal access and universal insurance but decided against having several private insurers, as Switzerland and the U.S. do. Instead it created a single insurer, basically a version of Medicare. The result: universal access and high-quality care at stunningly low costs. Taiwan spends only 7% of its GDP on health care.

The most striking aspect of America’s medical system remains how much of an outlier it is in the advanced industrial world. No other nation spends more than 12% of its total economy on health care. We do worse than most other countries on almost every measure of health outcomes: healthy-life expectancy, infant mortality and - crucially - patient satisfaction. Put simply, we have the most expensive, least efficient system of any rich country on the planet. Costs remain high on every level. Recently, the International Federation of Health Plans released a report comparing the prices in various countries of 23 medical services, from a routine checkup to an MRI to a dose of Lipitor. The U.S. had the highest costs in 22 of the 23 cases. An MRI costs $1,080 here; it costs $281 in France....

The Swiss and Taiwanese found that if you’re going to have an insurance model, you need a general one in which everyone is covered. Otherwise, healthy people don’t buy insurance and sick ones get gamed out of it. Catastrophic insurance - covering trauma and serious illnesses - isn’t a solution, because it’s chronically ill patients, just 5% of the total, who account for 50% of American health care costs....

The Obama bill expands access to 30 million Americans. That’s good economics and also the right thing to do. But it does little in the way of controlling costs. Medicare’s costs have stopped rising as fast as in the past. But for broader costs to decline, there is no alternative to having some kind of board that decides what is covered by insurance and what is not - as exists in every other advanced country. This has been demagogued as creating “death panels” when it is really the only sensible way to make the system work.

When listening to the debate about American health care, I find that many of the most fervent critics of government involvement argue almost entirely from abstract theoretical propositions about free markets. One can and should reason from principles. But one must also reason from reality, from facts on the ground. And the fact is that about 20 foreign countries provide health care for their citizens in some way or other. All of them - including free-market havens like Switzerland and Taiwan - have found that they need to use an insurance or government-sponsored model. All of them provide universal health care at much, much lower costs than we do and with better results....

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Poverty in the extreme. . .

The following report is shocking. 

The data reported sounds like something from a third world nation.  The unseen impoverished in cities like Dallas give a whole new meaning to concepts like "poverty," "the urban underclass," and "recession."  In fact, tens of thousands of our fellow citizens, and their number is growing, scratch out a life with virtually no resources.  Some have been living in depression-like circumstances for over 30 years.  What we're talking about here is "deep poverty."

After you read the report, let me know what you think.

Extreme Poverty In The U.S. Has Doubled In The Last 15 Years

March 12, 2012
By Pat Garofalo

According to the latest Census Bureau data, nearly 50 percent of Americans are either low-income or living in poverty in the wake of the Great Recession. And a new study from the National Poverty Center shows just how deep in poverty some of those people are, finding that the number of households living on less than $2 per day (before government benefits) has more than doubled in the last 15 years:

The number of U.S. households living on less than $2 per person per day — which the study terms “extreme poverty” — more than doubled between 1996 and 2011, from 636,000 to 1.46 million, the study finds. The number of children in extremely poor households also doubled, from 1.4 million to 2.8 million.

While extreme poverty doubled overall, it tripled amongst female headed households. Of course, there’s always the tact taken North Carolina Republican State Representative George Cleveland last week, who simply denied that anyone in his state lives in extreme poverty. As we noted at the time, “the 728,842 North Carolinians who are classified as living in deep poverty might take issue with that assessment.”

Monday, March 26, 2012

100,000 Homes Campaign, an experience

Monday morning, this morning, at about 3:30, we gathered together, about 70 of us.  We teamed up and hit the streets, er, more accurately, the right-of-way under the bridges that form the Downtown Dallas freeway loop. 

For almost two  hours we navigated the hidden, underworld of Dallas' hardcore homeless population.  Our efforts were apart of the "100,000 Homes Campaign," a national effort to house the most vulnerable among our homeless neighbors. 

We met delightful people, almost all of whom find themselves saddled with a host of problems, many related to health.  Our mission:  to administer a health vulnerability survey that could form the platform or basis for future, very determined intervention to assist these new friends and neighbors to find permanent housing. 

During this first morning, we surveyed formally 104 different people! 

What an experience!

The work will continue for the next two mornings.  Just as today, workers will gather at the same early hour at the Stewpot, the historic ministry of First Presbyterian Church located at Park Avenue and Young Street in Downtown Dallas. 

Join the group if you are so inclined. 

The photos here were captured as we moved from "home" to "home" under the I-45 bridge near the Martin Luther King, Jr. exit. 

More on CitySquare's 17th Annual Urban Ministries Prayer Breakfast!

One of the reasons that this year's prayer breakfast promises to be among the best we've ever hosted at CitySquare is our participants' list! 

The morning will be fast-paced and filled with experts and important leaders. 

Our own Rev. Gerald Britt will make an opening statement as he introduces Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, a champion of public education and a leader with a heart for renewal and reform for the sake of every DISD student. 

Following the Mayor's remarks, he and Gerald will join a distingished panel that includes representatives from Commit!, Educate Dallas and the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas.

Be sure and read my post from yesterday.  Whatever you do, don't miss our special morning on April 12!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Just Ahead: 17th Annual Urban Ministries Prayer Breakfast

Each year the CitySquare Urban Ministries Prayer Breakfast turns out to be one of the highlight public events shared in Dallas. This year may be our most important one to date, especially in terms of content, message and challenge.

Public education in our city must improve. With a national search underway to identify the next leader of the Dallas Independent School District and with challenge upon challenge facing our students, the public forum we've organized will be extremely relevant and important.

If you care about Dallas and the children of the city, you won't want to miss this special event.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Kids and trees. . .

What is it about kids and trees? 

You know, climbing trees almost instinctively? 

And, what is it about little brothers trying to come behind big brothers no matter what the subject or assignment?

What is it about kids anyway? 

Sadly, some inner city neighborhoods make it very difficult for children to play outside or to climb in the trees. 

Homes stand abandoned.

Community code standards regulating health and safety go unenforced.

Criminal activity seems out of control. 

In some cases regular, dependable nutrition presents very real health challenges to children and their parents. 

Still, kids try to climb trees!  Little brothers and sisters try their best to keep up with their older siblings. 

I have this theory that the more kids you observe climbing trees the healthier the neighborhood! 

[Pictured here at the top, Owen and little brother, Henry!  Amazing boys, if I do say so myself!]

Friday, March 23, 2012

Context, Experience, Relevance, Meaning--Part II

Again, the theological priorities that shape faith grow out of the experiences of individuals and societies.  How we approach sacred truth is always mediated through a worldview shaped and framed by what we and those around "go through."  That James H. Cone writes regarding the faith formation of African slaves transported to America is a case in point.  These same principles apply and relate to the way "the poor" read and understand scripture and the other formal and informal sources of their faith. 

The theological assumption of black slave religion as expressed in the spirituals was that slavery contradicts God, and he will therefore liberate black people.  All else was secondary and complemented that basic perspective.  But how did black slaves know  that God was liberating them?  Black slaves did not ask that epistemological question.  As with all ontological assumptions, the truth of a prepositional assertion is found in the giveness of existence itself and not in theory.  Black slaves did not devise philosophical and theological methodologies in order to test the truth of God's revelation as liberation.  From their viewpoint it did not need testing.  They had already encountered its truth and had been liberated by it.  Instead of testing God, they ritualized him in song and sermon.  That was what the spirituals were all about--a ritualization of God in song.  They are not documents for philosophy; they are material for worship and praise to him who had continued to be present with black humanity despite European insanity. . . .

The spirituals nowhere raise questions about God's existence or matters of theodicy and it is safe to assume that the slave community did not perceive a theoretical solution of the problem of evil as a felt need.  Rather, their needs were defined by the existential realities which they encountered.  As slaves, they felt sharply their oppression and complete lack of freedom.  In the Bible, the black slaves found the God who liberated the Israelites from bondage and whose will was the liberation of the oppressed.  This same God who came to mankind in Jesus Christ the Oppressed One, who disclosed that God's will from all eternity was not to be reconciled with human slavery.  Moreover, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, God made clear his will to deliver the oppressed.  This biblical disclosure the slaves appropriated as speaking directly to their own condition.  Whether they reasoned correctly about the Bible's message is irrelevant, a question for speculative discussion by those not entrapped in their situation. 

That this theme of God's involvement in  history and his liberation of the oppressed from bondage should be central in black slave religion and the spirituals is not surprising, for it corresponded with the black people's need to know that their slavery was not the divine Creator's intention for them. In fastening on this knowledge, they experienced the awareness of divine liberation.  Their experience of it and their faith in its complete fulfillment became factual reality and self-evident truth for the slave community.  Only those outside the community and the experience could dare question it or remain unconvinced.  To be sure, they did not deny:
          Sometimes I'm up, sometimes I'm down,
          Oh, yes, Lord!
          Sometimes I'm almost on the ground,
         Oh, yes, Lord!

But the certain fact is always that God is present with them and trouble will not have the last word.  Penultimately, white masters may torture and kill slaves capriciously, and the world seem only chaos and absurdity.  But ultimately God is in control and black slaves believe that they have encountered the infinite significance of his liberation.  And so they lifted up their voices and sang:

          Do, Lord, remember me.
          Do, Lord, remember me.
         When I'm in trouble,
         Do, Lord, remember me.

         When I'm low down,
         Do, Lord, remember me.
         Oh, when I'm low down,
        Do, Lord, remember me. 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

This work. . .

Ken Kraybill, training specialist and Director with the Center for Social Innovation and and co-director of t3 wrote the following.

This work. . .

and exhausting

drives me up a wall
and opens doors I never imagined

lays bare a wide range of emotions
yet leaves me feeling numb beyond belief

provides tremendous satisfaction
and leaves me feeling profoundly helpless

evokes genuine empathy
and provides a fearsome intolerance within me

puts me in touch with deep suffeirng
and points me tworard greater wholeness

brings me face to face with many poverties
and enriches me enoucnter by encournter

renews my hope
and dealves me grasping for faith

enables me to envision a future
but with no ability to control it

breaks me apart emotionally
and breaks me open spiritually

leaves me wounded
and heals me

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Health Insurance and employers

Paul Krugman offered up this data set last week in The New York Times. 

Sobering facts. 

For years I've wondered how long American corporations and business can continue to foot the bill for the nation's health care strategy.  The time is coming when thoughtful business leaders will join with consumers to drive forward a more comprehensive, sane plan for providing the health care benefits we all need

The Collapse of Employment-Based Coverage

Reed Abelson at Economix points us to a startling study on the effects of the Great Recession on health insurance. You can see similar trends in the Census data, but for whatever reason this survey — carried out by a highly reputable group — is even stronger. Here’s the key picture:

What this says is that the system that has provided workable insurance coverage to many (but not enough) Americans is coming apart at the seams. And this in turn means that if health reform goes down, we’re going to be looking at a wave of misery spreading across the land.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Context, Experience, Relevance, Meaning

Reflecting on contemporary poverty from the perspective of faith, in other words to reflect theologically, calls for a variety of sensitivity and understanding and humility and caution that most "non-poor" people simply do not possess.  For any number of reasons, the materially wealthy approach "the poor" to "help."   Most often the "helpers" arrive with perspectives on faith, culture and social reality defined, not by "the poor" and their real life experiences, but by their own outsider worldview. 

This reality, this problem of cultural interpretation and communication, or the lack thereof, drives our mistakes, our false starts and our "project evaluations." 

James H. Cone proves helpful just here.  Cone writes about how context and experience shapes thought, while defining relevance and meaning when it comes to, in this case, understanding slave perspectives.  The principles he lays out continues to apply as we grapple with the meaning of poverty in the U. S. as rich and poor persons of faith. 

Paul Tillich once said something that might be worth remembering here:  "Theology moves back and forth between two poles, the eternal truth of its foundation and the temporal situation in which the eternal truth must be received."  That observation may be related to the recent interest in sociology of knowledge and its emphasis on the relation between ideas and the social condition of the people expounding them.  What is important for our purpose is to say that the social and cultural environment of the people determine the kinds of religious questions they ask.  This is not to deny that revelation provided its own questions or has its own integrity (a concern that dominated Karl Barth's theological works).  But the integrity of revelation must be related to the human situation.  The situation of being an American slave created certain kinds of theological problems, but they were not the same theological problems of white slave masters or others who did not live out their lives as slaves.  Therefore, to use European or Western theological and philosophical methodologies as a means of evaluating the significance of black reflections on the slave condition is not only theoretically inappropriate but very naive.  To evaluate correctly the slaves' theological reflection on their servitude in relation to divine justice, it is necessary to suspend the methodology of the enslavers and to enter the cultural and religious milieu of the victims.  What were the theological questions of the slave community?  What were the assumptions that defined the movement of that community? (pages 71-72)

James H. Cone
The Spirituals and the Blues

Monday, March 19, 2012

Bad, bad policy

Editor's note: Bryan Stevenson is executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, an Alabama-based nonprofit that provides legal representation for indigent defendants and for people it believes have been denied justice in the courts. He is a professor of clinical law at New York University Law School. Stevenson spoke at the TED2012 conference this month in Long Beach, California. TED is a nonprofit dedicated to "Ideas worth spreading," which it makes available through talks posted on its website.

Montgomery, Alabama (CNN) -- I'm an attorney and I represent incarcerated people, both in my home state of Alabama and across the United States.

I spend every day with people who are poor, disadvantaged, condemned and marginalized. I am persuaded that we can and should do better to create more hopeful and encouraging solutions to poverty, crime and inequality in this country.

In the last 40 years, our society has witnessed unprecedented technological change, incredible innovation and a great deal of promise and success in many areas.

We have also seen growing inequality, increased levels of poverty and unprecedented rates of imprisonment. I have come to believe that, for all the things we have accomplished, injustice, poverty and mass incarceration are stains on our society. They cannot be ignored.
Bryan Stevenson
Bryan Stevenson

In 1970 there were roughly 350,000 people in our jails and prisons. Today there are more than 2.2 million. That's not counting the nearly 5 million people who are on probation or parole. One in every 31 Americans is subject to some form of correctional control.

This policy of mass incarceration did not come out of nowhere. It was born out of a politics of fear and anger based on now discredited theories. It was our response to problems in our society that we were not creative enough -- or perhaps not courageous enough -- to solve. Public safety is a legitimate priority for any nation, but it does not explain the fact that the United States now has the highest rate of incarceration in the world.

To read on click here.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Man or wireless connection?

It’s A Homeless Man. It’s a Wireless Connection. No, It’s Both!

by Robin Marty
March 13, 2012

When BBH Labs of New York decided to give homeless men in Austin $20 apiece to wander around the city during South By Southwest and offer to be mobile hotspot connections for the music fans and techies descending on the city, they knew they’d get a ton of buzz.

But it appears they didn’t expect it to be so negative.

Read the rest here


Saturday, March 17, 2012


There is a story told, a legend perhaps, about St. Theresa of Avila.

One day the devil appeared to her, disguised as Christ.

Theresa wasn't fooled for even a second. She immediately dismissed him.

Before leaving, however, the devil asked her: "How did you know? How could you be so sure I wasn't Christ?"

Her answer: "You didn't have any wounds! Christ has wounds."

Ron Rolheiser, OMI

Friday, March 16, 2012

I know these people. . .

Homeless persons live all around us.

Unfortunately, they remain, for the most part, invisible people.

Spend just a few moments losing yourself in this gallery of photos

Warning:  be prepared for some emotions.

As you watch, do your very best to simply "see" them, as you imagine the outline of their lives. 

Such power resides in simple attention to others.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Different joy. . .

Litany recited in church last Sunday. . .

Jesus invites us to a way of celebration,
meeting and feasting with the humble and poor.
   Let us walk his way with joy.

Jesus beckons us to a way of risk,
letting go of our security.
   Let us walk his way with joy.

Jesus challenges us to listen to the voices
of those who have nothing to lose.
   Let us walk his way with joy.

Jesus points us to the way of self-giving,
where power and status are overturned.
   Let us walk his way with joy.

Jesus calls us to follow the way of this cross,
where despair is transformed by the promise of new life.
   Let us walk his way with joy. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

From an intern

I received the following letter late last year from a departing, social work intern who had served with us at CitySquare.  She worked in our Resource Center/Food Pantry.  As she left us, she felt the need to communicate some really encouraging things to me about her experience.  I don't know about you, but I'm encouraged by reflections like these.  I'm grateful to her.  I'm grateful to be working with such a great team. 

Of special interest is what she writes about faith and how that works itself out among us.  Let me know what your think. 

Dear Mr. James,

I would like to thank you for the opportunity to serve as a social work intern at CitySquare’s Resource Center. My experience has been enlightening, educational and entirely too short. Admittedly, I was nervous about my first placement as an aspiring social worker since I do not have a social services background. Today, my last day, I count the placement as a blessing not only because I personally support the mission and core values of the agency, but because those concepts are actually put into action through the dedication of each staff member.

Of course, the most obvious thing would be to tell you that Lisa Ciminelli has been an excellent supervisor, professional role model, and personable mentor, but I suspect you already know those things to be true. What I want to share is, well, maybe less obvious and less important to other interns; however, I am an older student, who has had a tough road or two to conquer and as a single mother have oftentimes been forced to depend on food stamps and Medicaid as a means of survival. Although, I have never been homeless (due to the graciousness of my dad), I do understand the devastating effects of poverty and the humiliation, which often accompanies being in poor and in need.

As an intern, our tour of duty begins in the food pantry; under Teresa Castaneda’s gentle, but firm supervision I was able to learn something from every staff member and volunteer. Teresa, Don, Jon, Arnold, Mikel, Irene and Sesh, as well as, all the volunteers enhanced my learning and growth, rather they realize it or not. By observing and working along side these amazing people, I quickly realized the skill needed to reach out and make a difference did not come from a textbook or any level of education. They each taught me how to embrace my own style and be genuine in my efforts because they each bring their own unique personality, characterized by dedication and positive energy, to every interaction they have with our neighbors.

Jackie, Iris and Terri enhanced my first “intake” experiences by their knowledge and willingness to teach me while providing me with new tools to use as I began to engage with neighbors on my own. They all do a remarkable job of gathering information and assessing the neighbor’s additional needs beyond the obvious request for food. I will continually strive to cultivate the skills these women shared with me. Likewise, Michelle Kopel has been a god-send in that she always takes time to share tidbits of information or a thoughtful piece of advice designed to facilitate my skills and maintain consistent, caring service to our neighbors. I learned a great deal from watching her and from every moment she took me under her wing. Her knowledge is vast and she has played a key role in my success here. I consider her to be an irreplaceable mentor.

Krystal Lotspeich, my direct supervisor, has embraced her new role very well especially since she was given the task of supervising women who are considerably older than her and who would be her peers in the school setting. She has been professional, yet remained personable and intuitive about my needs as a student and as a new social worker. I walk away today with exceptional words of wisdom that seem simplistic on the surface, but made a remarkable difference in how I was able to adjust and perform my duties as an intern. I have already shared her advice with others and know that I will draw on it as my career progresses.

I can say with all confidence that every staff member I encountered – Kathy Stewart, Will Goldman, Jerry Sullivan, Janet Morrison, Keilah Jacques and the list goes on – has gone out of his/her way not only to help a novice intern, but to provide exceptional service to our neighbors. Coming to the Resource Center is always a pleasant experience because of the warm and inviting, albeit professional, attitude of every one here. I have been in the workforce for more than 30 years and I can absolutely attest that the morale is the best I have ever encountered in any employment setting.

In closing, I want to acknowledge how my perspective has been changed and enhanced by working with the staff and within the agency as a whole. Early life experiences left me less than thrilled to be going into a faith based agency and I am ashamed to say that I expected the staff to be less caring and certainly less personable to those in need because that has been my experience when I have been in need. My experience with CitySquare has given me not only an enlightened perspective on faith based agencies and those who work to fight poverty, but has also reinforced all the reasons I want to be a social worker and impassioned me to want to fight poverty when previously I was absolutely sure that working to alleviate domestic violence was my only calling. Each staff member exudes the attitude that they do this work because it fills their spirit, which makes for the optimum environment to learn and grow as a social worker. Simply said, I learned that social workers come in many forms without the need for education, licensure or a title. The CitySquare staff epitomizes the mission and value of the agency and I will forever find inspiration from each and every one of them.

Thank you for your time and the opportunity to share in the wonderful work done by those who are CitySquare.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

How does your bracket measure up to the President's?

See how your NCAA Men's Basketball tournament picks stack up against those of the POTUS!  If you do better than Mr. Obama, he'll recognize you on this website! 

Hey, have a little fun!

Go here to go head-to-head with the Commander and Chief! 

Monday, March 12, 2012

ACU Honors College students and "food deserts"

CitySquare enjoys a growing relationship with Abilene Christian University. Over the weekend a group of students from the University's Honors College arrived in Dallas.  Their learning assignment:  develop a better understanding of "food deserts" and poverty in the city's southern sector. 

One of the students, Greg Jeffers, posted what follows to his blog last evening after a full day in the field.  His insights reflect an understanding and, even more importantly, a commitment to addressing the forces that keep so many of our neighbors pressed down. 

(Day 2) Justice and Food: Spring Break with the Honors College
Posted by Greg Jeffers in My Life, Travel

Greetings all!

Today was the second day of my journey with the ACU Honors College as we investigate questions of food distribution and justice. Today was packed full of exciting things.

We went to church this morning at a predominately African American church in south Dallas called St. Paul Baptist Church. This is one of the churches that actively partners with CitySquare. We were enthusiastically welcomed and were announced from the pulpit. Dr. Harbour was even asked to share a few words. It was definitely an experience. The primary focus of the service was on joy and trusting the Lord, even in difficult circumstances as well as on sacrificing what one has for the good of others. That message, in this neighborhood, took on an entirely different character from a similar message in, say, chapel at ACU.


After lunch we went to the headquarters of CitySquare. That’s where we met with Larry James, the CEO of CitySquare. CitySquare owns the building in which its offices are housed. It is a sixteen story building smack in the middle of downtown Dallas. The basement through the second floor is primarily for storage and rented space. The third floor houses CitySquare’s offices. The fourth through the fifteenth floor houses two-hundred apartments which CitySquare uses primarily to provide permanent housing to the homeless. The sixteenth floor has six condos which CitySquare is working on selling.

Mr. James and some of his staff instructed us about food deserts in general and in South Dallas particularly. There was far more information than I can repeat here, but let’s suffice it to say that the problem goes well beyond lack of nutritious food—it goes into health concerns, financial concerns, business concerns, and political concerns. Ultimately, of course, as Dr. Johnson pointed out later in the day, it delves into the way we understand who people are. If people do not have adequate food, then they are sicker. If they are sick, then they cannot work. If they cannot work, they cannot earn money to buy food. If a neighborhood starts to go under, then those who can do so, move. Those who can’t are forced to stay, and the neighborhood gets poorer. As businesses leave, people are left with little means of employment. The problems snow-ball. Our main focus is, of course, access to food, but all of these other things are questions as well.

We then went on a tour of Dallas with Mr. James. He drove us around for two hours as he displayed a masterful knowledge of Dallas and the problems facing its citizens. He would point to various locations or groups of houses and discuss what work was ongoing to restore things. What became readily apparent is that CitySquare is engaged in a Resurrection work. They are heavily invested in the restoration of the broken places. There are a thousand ways they are involved. They do development, health clinics, homeless housing, food distribution, financial training, health education, and so much more. It was actually sort of dizzying to keep up with Mr. James’ easy explanation of what all CitySquare is up to in the city. Something Mr. James stressed, however, is that there is so much more to be done.

To read entire post click here.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The "Grief Buckets" of Turner Courts

“We carry grief in buckets here,” the wrinkled, dried up,

Old woman told me.

“Everbody done lost somethin’ round here. . .everybody!”

“I’m tellin’ ya.”

A job.

A house.

A car.

The lights.

The water.

A marriage.

A child.

A grandchild

A momma.

A daddy.

A man.

A woman.

A brother or a sister. 





Voice, a say.


"And it’s sure ‘nuff real stuff!”

“Everbody done lost somethin’ round here. . .everybody!”

“Did I say to ya, we carry our grief in buckets here?”

"Sure 'da truth, brother."  

Friday, March 09, 2012

A "food desert"

Watch for CitySquare Board Member, Dr. Mark DeHaven in this informative and concerning report on access to healthy food in South Dallas.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

TED Talk: This is the work we do!

Earlier this week I received a link to the TED Talk pasted below.  I'm very proud and encouraged to say that two of the members of the CitySquare Board of Directors, Jon Halbert and Scott Collier, sent me the link.  Both described the talk as, well, inspirational and life-changing. 

As I listened, I realized why they both resonated with the speech:  it presents a call to the same work that we attempt here in Dallas.

Thanks, gentlemen.  You keep me going. 

Take the time to listen.  It's a speech that builds to an amazing finish. 

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Jose in Mexico

If you've been reading here for very long, you've "met" Jose. If you've been around for several years, you'll remember how Jose and his cousin, Monica, while high school students, were picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to be deported to Mexico. Jose and Monica have been through a lot. Their status and situation call for passage of the DREAM Act. Brought to the United States by their parents as minors, they, and countless other young persons, face deportation every day.

Several weeks ago, my friend Jose journeyed back to Mexico by order of the immigration court here in Dallas.

Jose knew no one really when he left home here in the U. S. He managed to arrange for housing in the home of a relative he doesn't really know. The small town where he "lives" offers no employment options, no higher education, no real community life that he feels apart of.

What is very present every day in this fine young man's life is danger.

Here's an email message that I received just last week from Jose:

Good morning Mr James, I was only contacting you to let you know that yesterday March 1st I got beat up when I was on my way to one of my uncles house I had only been driving less than 5 minutes away from home and I got stopped by a truck and four guys started hitting me and warn me not to mess with them and that I didn't know who they where. The good thing is that I'm fine and at home thank God. Ill keep you updated of my situation. Jose

Jose sent me these two photos documenting the assault that he described in  his message to me. 

I'm not understanding the policy of our nation when it comes to fine young people like my good friend, Jose. 

Pray for Jose.

Research the DREAM Act. 

Contact your congressional leaders and the President. 

Speak up for passage of the DREAM Act, as well as comprehensive immigration reform.  I don't think the average American understands what is going on around these important issues. 

[To read more on this site about Jose and his struggle over the past several years use the search tool on the  page or for starters read the entries for these dates:  3/11/07, 3/13/07, 4/13/07,7/16/07, 7/19/07, 10/25/07, 1/4/08, 3/3/08, 4/21/09, 8/19/11, 8/21/11, 8/23/11, 10,17,11.]

Monday, March 05, 2012

Child poverty growing. . .Texas a leading state

Child Poverty Jumps In Poor Areas By A Quarter Over Last Decade
by Saki Knafo

In the last decade, the number of children living in areas of concentrated poverty grew by 1.6 million, according to a new study released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

In 2000, 6.3 million children lived in high poverty areas in the United States, according to the report. By 2010, the number had climbed to 8 million, at a growth rate of about 25 percent.

The increase erases gains made in the 1990s, when the number of children living in high-poverty areas declined.

The study defined areas of concentrated poverty as census tracts where 30 percent of residents or more live below the government's poverty threshold, defined as an income of $22,000 or less for a family of four.

"We chose to look at this data because we know that regardless of the family's income, children who grow up in high-poverty communities are more likely to have their long-term outcomes be hampered by the community that they live in," said Laura Speer, the foundation's associate director for policy reform and data. "They have difficulty finding a good school, they're more like to struggle with getting access to good healthcare providers, they're more likely to be exposed to high levels of stress, and they're more likely to have social and behavioral problems because of that."

The study shows that certain children are more likely to live in areas of high poverty than others. They include children in cities or rural areas, as opposed to the suburbs, and children of color. African-American, American Indian and Latino children are six to nine times more likely than white children to live in high poverty areas.

The city with the highest rates of children living in areas of concentrated poverty is Detroit at 67 percent, followed by Cleveland and Miami. Mississippi, New Mexico, Louisiana, Texas and Arizona rank highest among states in this category.

The study also notes that three-quarters of children living in these neighborhoods have at least one employed parent.

As the federal government prepares a new budget for 2013, the report arguably has important implications for those deciding where to direct resources. Patricia Cole, the director of government relations for Zero To Three, an organization that advocates for policies that benefit young children and their families, said that neighborhood poverty is "of great concern" and could affect the country's future workforce.

"The developing brain is vulnerable to the damaging influences that you'd find in a poverty situation," she said. "The more deprived the neighborhood is, the less access to services, to parent health care, and to early childhood programs. Plus it's more likely to be a dangerous neighborhood, so there's more likely to be greater stress. Anything that increases the stress of young children and decrease their access to resources is going to be detrimental."

Thursday, March 01, 2012

The high cost of "success"

I've been aware of the reality for quite awhile now. 

And, that fact doesn't make it easier or more comfortable to write about it! 

You see, the truth is in my world, the non-profit sector in a city like Dallas, the more success you enjoy the higher the stakes for survival!  Yes, that's right, survival. 

Most entrepreneurial leaders and endeavors understand the risk and the necessity of what I call "strategic over-extension."  You take risks to achieve significant gains.  You decide not to "play it safe."  In my case, the needs of hurting people fuel the risk taking, at least in part.  I'll grant that some portion of the approach is defined and shaped by who we are as individuals.  Personality types, strengths and weaknesses, psychological makeup, experience in life, all play a part in one's leadership style and pace.

Over-extension leads to more funding.  More funding leads to more people engaged both in terms of meeting needs, strengthening communities and organizing low-income folks for action and growth in confidence and self and collective efficacy.  More impact in these areas leads to more attention from other non-profit organizations and leaders and more place in local media. 

Success leads to options for partnerships.  All these factors combine to push growth.  As the growth track continues, you find yourself pushed up and out even more.  In due course, the process repeats itself in something of a dynamic swirl, but with even higher risks and stakes.  The cycle upward can repeat itself again and again, depending on how much risk a leader is willing to take, as well as how much stamina he or she draws upon. 

Outsiders who observe the growth part of the process begin to make assumptions about organizations that grow, innovate and expand.  At the top of this list of assumptions is the notion that the growing, "successful" organization has everything under control, needs very little to continue and can be regarded as established and without need. 

Of course, nothing could  be further from the truth! 

The more an organization grows, increasingly taking on higher stakes risks, the more that organization needs entrepreneurial investors, supporters and partners. Rather than seeing "successful" organizations as the most logical place for continuing investments, many folks turn to smaller organizations or to "start up" efforts, I suppose in the hope that such groups offer new solutions or easier access for personal engagement.  Closer investigation of the older, larger organization will dispel such myths.

Other observers lead their own non-profits.  The smaller nonprofit organizations approach often to investigate the prospects of receiving assistance from larger organizations in one form or the other.  At CitySquare we like to remain open to such collective efforts, but the assumption that we are "flush" with readily available resources is far from the truth! 

We encounter these realities again and again.  As a result, we continue to adjust our approach to resource development.  We keep trying to find new venues for telling our story.  At the same time, we reach out to trusted, long term partners to keep them posted on our successes, but even more on our struggles. 

An example of our dilemma can be seen in our current efforts to develop a new community, one-stop-shop resource center in historic South Dallas-Fair Park.  Located at the southeast corner of I-30 and Malcolm X, we call it the Opportunity Center.  We are in the midst of a $13 million capital campaign.  At the same time, we are attempting to fund an annual budget of even more than that! 

Forget our success to date.  We find ourselves in an updraft of real risk:  we need help! 

Sure, we've enjoyed some success and we've touch and lifted thousands of people since our beginnings in 1988.  But, still, we don't have everything figured out! Not by a long shot.

We continue to need loyal, long term investors.  We need partners.  We need new sources of funding.  We need help building viable, conservative cash reserves--an unheard of luxury in many anti-poverty organizations. 

So, don't be fooled by our appearance or our supposed milestones. 

The game is not over. 

The deal is not done. 

And, most of all, we need the help of people just like you.