Thursday, January 31, 2013

The challenges facing our children. . .and us

Consider the statistical dimensions of our challenge in Dallas County:
  • 2.5 million people live in the County
  • 800.000 students aged 0-22
  • 500,000 children in grades K-12
  • 91% attend public schools
  • 70% qualify for free and reduced lunch program
  • 12 of 15 school districts have more than 50% of children in poverty; 70% are economically disadvantaged
  • Only 13% of students graduate college/career ready with only 4% of our African American/Hispanic students who represent 80% of all 1st graders
  • By 4th grade only 1 in 3 students read at a level on track for college
  • Only 1 of 7 early childcare centers have any type of quality rating
  • Every year 5,000 students fail to graduate from high school
  • Fewer than 50% of higher ed students graduate with a degree
  • $5 billion of lifetime income loss to our region of each annual class of high school dropouts
  • 344,314 total students not attaining post secondary readiness by high schcool graduation
--Source:  Commit!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Corner Journal 1/24/2013

My friend, Wendy, is a frail, almost toothless, very slight woman, likely younger than my oldest daughter. 

I’ve never seen her clean. 

She lives beneath a matted, stringy, filthy head of brown hair. 

Her clothes are tattered and ill-fitting. 

Wendy is a street beggar.

When I first met her, she responded to my presence much like a wild animal.  She circled my space, throwing me an occasional glance as she tried to figure out who I might be.  

She talked to herself.  Constantly, as if negotiating her next move in life before some listening court. 

More recently, she has warmed up to me.  I think the fact that I’ve spotted her $5 a couple of times helped with that.  And, I expect that she’s been on her meds more regularly than when we first “met.” 

Wendy is always hungry. 

Everybody knows her. 

Everybody likes her. 

We're working hard to get her into housing.  At this point she can’t imagine how that would be possible, so it’s hard to set appointments that she will keep.

 I’m driven by two facts.

First, she is a delightful soul whose life is being poured out in front of my eyes, and it could be so much better.

Second, and more immediately important, she will die on the street if we don’t get her inside.  Time is not friendly here.  

Today I was able to hook her up with a CitySquare neighbor advocate.  We started working more diligently on getting her a home.  

She is a real hoot. 
She deserves so much better.

Tonight, Wendy will sleep in an abandoned house on Malcolm X Boulevard. 

 I pray that she will survive. 

I met Charlie for the first time today. 

He’s an ex-con, I bet about 50-years-old.

He is a proud man and very wise.

All he wants is a job.  If you have one to offer, I'll vouch for this dude. 

He doesn’t drink.

He believes that his time served in prison should settle his debt and not forever block his return to work. 

 Charlie told me, “It’s like if we are playing football.  If I hold a person, the team gets a 15 yard penalty.  It is assessed.  And, that is it!  No one brings it up again.  The penalty is paid.  It should be that way with prison.  Time served should square the debt!” 

 Did I say Charlie is wise? 

He rides a bike.  

He rejects charity, hates shelters, loves people and just wants a shot to get back in the game. 

He told me that he doesn’t hate anyone nor does he resent his situation. 

He is black.  He doesn’t hate white people.

He wants a job.

He is responsible.

He is a good man.  He has no home. 

“I can sense a man’s spirit.  I don’t talk to anyone who is not ‘open,’” he explained to me.

He volunteers in our Thrift Store. 

He wants a job.

He is a son of the Kingdom of God. . .whatever  exactly that means.


Thursday, January 24, 2013

Rich and Poor Connected for Good or Ill

[Interesting analysis of the current flu outbreak from The Huffington Post.  Notice how even human disease sets establish our common link to one another across class and income lines!  Lessons??? LJ]
Flu In Poor Communities Shows Inequality Of 2013 Outbreak
Posted: 01/14/2013 6:47 pm EST
The 1918 flu killed more poor people than rich. The same affinity for inequity may be raising the 2013 flu's toll -- on the rich and poor alike.

Boston health officials have reported that low-income communities are bearing the brunt of the city's outbreak.

"What you see with flu activity is the same as what we see with health outcomes in general. Unfortunately, communities of color and low-income communities tend to share a disproportionate effect," Nick Martin, a spokesman for the Boston Public Health Commission, told The Huffington Post.
But as experts warn, such a disparity may not only be an issue of social justice. Elevated rates of the flu in poor communities may threaten the health of people who live in wealthier communities as well.
"We've found that getting lower-income neighborhoods covered with vaccines benefits higher-income neighborhoods," said Bruce Lee, an infectious disease expert at the University of Pittsburgh and lead researcher on a 2011 study of access to flu vaccines.
Based on computer simulations of 7 million "virtual people" in the Washington metropolitan area, Lee's team found the fewest infections at an epidemic's peak resulted when flu shots were allocated to the poorest counties. Delaying vaccinations in the poorest counties also increased infections among the wealthiest.
"This drives home the fact that we are all connected," Lee said.
To read the entire report click here

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Gun Violence

Preventing Gun Violence in Our Nation

By Neera Tanden, Winnie Stachelberg, Arkadi Gerney, and Danielle Baussan | January 13, 2013

After last month’s senseless shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut—in which 20 children and 6 adults were shot and killed—we need to immediately address the gaps in our current law that enable mass shootings, as well as the everyday shootings that on average claim the lives of 33 Americans each day.

In this issue brief we recommend 13 legislative proposals and executive actions to prevent gun violence in our nation.

These actions are targeted in the following three key areas:
  • Better background checks 
  • Taking military-grade weapons off the streets and out of criminals’ hands 
  • Better data, better coordination, and better enforcement 
  •  We discuss these actions in further detail below.
To read the entire report click here.  

Monday, January 21, 2013

Dallas News Column: Recalling the values of Martin Luther King, Jr.

The following Op-Ed piece appeared just after Christmas in The Dallas Morning News:

Larry James: Cold rain’s clear message about our homeless

On Christmas Eve, more than 500 homeless men, women and children spent the night downtown in the Omni Dallas Hotel. The annual event, sponsored by David Timothy and the SoupMobile, extends joy and a sense of community to everyone involved, both hosts and guests.

The next morning brought rain — hard, cold rain. Like the story of Cinderella, the magical dream-come-true evening gave way to reality, with no glass slipper left behind. With gratitude for the night’s lodging still intact, these fellow citizens of ours rode buses back to their meager living conditions. Some returned to the Bridge, our community’s homeless assistance center. Others sought warmth and safety in one of the homeless shelters meant to be emergency — not permanent — solutions for homelessness.

Over the past five years, Dallas has made great progress in addressing the problem of chronic homelessness, and the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance reports that the data is moving in the right direction. But there is much work to do.

On Christmas morning, as I listened to the rain falling on my rooftop, as I considered the amazing gift of a dry, warm home, as I pondered how to keep the dog dry, I heard a challenge, a call, a charge: House your homeless brothers and sisters!

It was almost as if the rain pounded out the lyric “No room in the inn!”

House them. That is, provide each homeless person a place to live, a home to call his or her own.

I didn’t hear in the rain a plan for night-by-night, emergency short-term solutions. The rain was beating out a different, seemingly impossible song: Find a way, in the ultimate can-do city, to place every last man, woman and child into permanent housing, and do it before next Christmas!


That depends on us.

What if we began by working with the leaders of the various emergency night shelters to provide housing for every one of their customers before Christmas 2013? What would that take? Simply put, the community will and political insistence to support such an endeavor. We need a determined, patient policy and the funding commitment to get it done.

If we target the first 2,000 homeless people, we could place all in housing for the year and surround each person with high-touch care with a budget of less than $25 million. Once housed, these friends of ours could receive orderly case management. One short-term outcome would be the discovery that a number of the chronically disabled homeless currently receive some public benefit, a part of which could go back into underwriting rent and services. The scale of our effort would drive costs down.

Read entire article here

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Justice at work: Living wage jobs?

This Week in Poverty: The Fiscal Cliff and the Janitors Who Are Already on It

“I really want people to understand that we all work just as hard as the next person that’s in a business suit,” says Tamika Maxwell, mother of three, describing her work as a janitor in Cincinnati, her hometown.
Along with 1,000 colleagues in the city, Maxwell hopes that current negotiations between SEIU and the city’s cleaning contractors will raise their $9.80 hourly wage—which, for annual full-time work, still leaves a family of three below the federal poverty line and relying on food stamps and Medicaid. In essence, the state ends up subsidizing corporations to continue paying people a non-living wage.
“My paycheck is the same amount as my Duke Energy bill,” says Maxwell. “And you know they don’t care—they will cut you off if you don’t have their money.”
Maxwell works part-time while also pursuing a business degree at Cincinnati State. She’s now employed byScioto Services, which recently won the contract for the Public Defender’s office building that she has cleaned for four years. The company retained Maxwell but cut back all of the janitors’ hours. Instead of working the 5–10 pm shift five days per week, Maxwell now works only four.
“That’s a big deal when you’re only making $9.80 an hour,” she says.
But perhaps what is most frustrating to Maxwell and her colleagues is that among the cleaning contractors’ clients are some of the richest companies in the world. Macy’s, for example, made $1.25 billion in profits last year; Fifth Third Bancorp took in $1.3 billion; and Kroger netted more than $600 million. In all, thirteen Fortune 1000 companies with their corporate headquarters in Cincinnati earned combined profits of nearly $17 billion in 2011. If any of them told the cleaning contractors to pay a living wage, the contractors would do so, and would pass the additional cost onto the multibillion-dollar corporations.
Indeed, Procter & Gamble instructed its cleaning contractor, Compass, that the janitors who clean its headquarters should earn a living wage. Compass then offered the workers healthcare and guaranteed full-time hours, as well as an hourly wage increase of $0.30 in the first year, $0.25 in the second year, and $0.30 in the third year. That would result in a $10.65 hourly wage in 2015, and an average annual salary of $19,863 (just over the poverty line for a family of three). In contrast, the other contractors involved in negotiations with SEIU are offering next to nothing: a wage freeze for two years and a ten-cent increase in 2015.
“We just want to be paid fairly, and treated fairly. And the big businesses need to know that we have families that we want to take care of too,” says Maxwell. “I’m struggling right now, trying to figure out what I’m going to do for my kids’ Christmas. I know the big businesses aren’t worrying about their Christmas.”
Maxwell takes her son to school every morning at 7:45, then gets on a bus to go to school herself. After classes, she is home to help her son with homework, and then takes the kids to day care at 4:30—in time to arrive at work at 5 pm for her five-hour shift.
“By the time we get home it’s bedtime,” she says. “So the only time I really get to spend with my children is on the weekends. It sucks, really. But hopefully it will all be worth it when I finish school and won’t have to struggle as hard.”
Maxwell believes that part of the reason for the plight of the janitors is that “people really don’t understand the work that we do.” In her shift, she cleans forty-three bathrooms on thirteen floors. Half of the bathrooms have two stalls, half of them are singles. That’s about sixty-five toilets a night, or thirteen an hour—about four and a half minutes per toilet. That’s hard enough to do in five hours, and of course the job involves a lot more than cleaning toilets.
“I stock the bathrooms—paper towels, tissue, soap, seat covers. I clean them all, mop them all, and dust them all. Clean the mirrors, the countertops, the sinks, the stainless steel,” she says. “It’s really hard work. I go through more gym shoes than anyone can imagine.”
With so much stress over their reduced hours, one way Maxwell and her colleagues try to make up their lost income is by working overtime to fill-in for someone who can’t make it to work. But she says collecting the extra pay can be a challenge.
“I worked two extra hours over four weeks ago and still haven’t gotten paid,” she says.
She has also been waiting for three months for Scioto to fill out a job verification form that she needs so that her family will not be cut off of food stamps.
“Every time I see the manager and ask him about it he says he’ll get it back to me or the office hasn’t sent it back yet—gives me the runaround,” says Maxwell.
A look at the Scioto website and this kind of treatment of employees—in terms of poor wages, reduced hours and irresponsibility—flies in the face of the image the company is projecting:

It is our human resource investment, however; [sic] that makes us most proud. Scioto Services associates are encouraged to become volunteers with community organizations including the local Chambers of Commerce, Project Parks, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, YMCA, Meals on Wheels, youth sports programs, regional food banks, adult literacy programs and youth tutoring, just to name a few. At Scioto Services, we’re convinced that community involvement is the best way to show our pride in who we are, what we do, and in the communities where we do business.
Another way to invest in human resources and the community is by paying workers enough so that they can eat.
In the meantime, Maxwell hopes that people will rethink their assumptions about janitors and their labor, and get involved in the fight for better pay.
“People think janitors are people who either aren’t trying hard enough, or didn’t try hard enough back when they [were younger], and that’s simply not the case,” says Maxwell. “Somebody has to do these jobs. Workers couldn’t function without our work.”

Friday, January 18, 2013

2013 Homeless Count and Census

2013 Homeless Count and Census

It is once again time to conduct the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance (MDHA) annual homeless count and census. The census is conducted each year in the last ten days of January so that Dallas and Collin Counties can collect information on homeless residents.

With MDHA's renewed commitment to end Chronic Homelessness by 2015 and the Homeless Count and Census allows us to monitor our progress in achieving this goal. The Census helps us to complete a needs assessment for the community and encourage the development of programs to fill identified gaps. The information compiled during the census is also used by several other interested groups, including non-profit organizations, faith-based groups, media outlets and various departments in Federal, State and local government.

DATE:                          Thursday, January 24, 2013
 TIME:                           5:00 P.M. sign-in

SIGN-IN TRAINING LOCATION - New: Dallas City Hall – Cafeteria 7th Floor – Supper will be available

SURVEY RETURN LOCATION:   L 1 F North Auditorium-Dallas City Hall

HOW TO HELP: Volunteers must be at least 18 years of age.  Those conducting the census should remember to wear clothing appropriate to the weather, comfortable shoes, bring a flashlight, writing pen, and clipboard.
Indoor Volunteer Team Member: Conducts the Homeless survey in an indoor location, such as an Emergency Shelter or Transitional Housing facility. Law enforcement professionals are not assigned to these teams, but a staff contact will be provided for teams who visit these locations and agency staff will be present.

Outdoor Volunteer Team Member: Conducts the survey outdoors in teams of two or three. Law enforcement personnel are assigned to each team for safety reasons. 

Setup and Sign-In Volunteers: At 4:00 P.M. on January 24, help setup the location and/or assist with sign-in and distribution of materials to all volunteers.

Data Entry Volunteers:  During the month of February fifteen days are scheduled for data entry.  If you are interested in assisting with this day-time opportunity; a schedule of dates and times will be emailed to you to register for one or more of the three-hour work sessions.


Training on how to conduct the census will be provided for volunteers on the night of the Count. Volunteers will sign-in from 5:00 – 5:45 p.m., and training will begin promptly at 6:00 p.m. in the 7th Floor Cafeteria.

Contact Information

Thank you for your interest! In order to volunteer or to receive more Information, please contact Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance at Phone: 972-638-5627 or E-mail:

Comprehensive Immigration Reform: Big Deal for Inner City USA

This report appeared last week in The New York Times.  Great, great news for many of my friends, people I love and respect.

January 12, 2013

Obama Will Seek Citizenship Path in One Fast Push

WASHINGTON — President Obama plans to push Congress to move quickly in the coming months on an ambitious overhaul of the immigration system that would include a path to citizenship for most of the 11 million illegal immigrants in the country, senior administration officials and lawmakers said last week.
Mr. Obama and Senate Democrats will propose the changes in one comprehensive bill, the officials said, resisting efforts by some Republicans to break the overhaul into smaller pieces — separately addressing young illegal immigrants, migrant farmworkers or highly skilled foreigners — which might be easier for reluctant members of their party to accept.
The president and Democrats will also oppose measures that do not allow immigrants who gain legal status to become American citizens one day, the officials said.
Even while Mr. Obama has been focused on fiscal negotiations and gun control, overhauling immigration remains a priority for him this year, White House officials said. Top officials there have been quietly working on a broad proposal. Mr. Obama and lawmakers from both parties believe that the early months of his second term offer the best prospects for passing substantial legislation on the issue.
Mr. Obama is expected to lay out his plan in the coming weeks, perhaps in his State of the Union address early next month, administration officials said. The White House will argue that its solution for illegal immigrants is not an amnesty, as many critics insist, because it would include fines, the payment of back taxes and other hurdles for illegal immigrants who would obtain legal status, the officials said.
The president’s plan would also impose nationwide verification of legal status for all newly hired workers; add visas to relieve backlogs and allow highly skilled immigrants to stay; and create some form of guest-worker program to bring in low-wage immigrants in the future.
To read the entire report click here.  
I hope you'll contact your congressional leaders in the House and Senate today to urge their support of the reform effort.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

ROI: housing, the best deal

For some time now we've known that the cost incurred to "maintain" people on the streets is not an economically effective approach.  If some of the funds currently deployed to serve people who attempt to live on the streets were shifted to pay for the development of permanent housing with supportive services, the community's return on investment would amaze everyone. 

National data reveals that placing the most expensive homeless persons in permanent housing brings a cost-savings stability that dramatically reduces costs to public sector agencies.  We have seen this play out among the residents who live in the properties managed by CitySquare. 

Consider the following data collected by public agencies with whom CitySquare works to address the needs and realities of our homeless neighbors: 

Charges amassed by the Dallas City Detention Center (CDC)’s top 25 serial inebriates from 6/2010- 8/2012

Dallas Police Department:
The CDC’s top 25 serial inebriates were responsible for a total of 634 visits to the CDC from 6/2010- 8/2012. (This spans a range of 15-76 visits per person over this time period.)

Chief Golbeck estimates per arrest, an average of two hours for two officers (includes arrest, transportation, and book-in) at $42.50 an hour. Therefore, 2 hours X 2 officers X $42.50/hr X 634 visits = $107,780.  (This is simply a cost of officers’ time, and does not include vehicle wear, fuel costs, and maintenance of the CDC facility and its employees. Most importantly, this is 2536 hours that officers could have otherwise been spending patrolling neighborhoods and responding to emergencies in the community.)

Dallas Fire Rescue  (DFR):
Charges amassed by DFR transports of the top 25 serial inebriates on the CDC’s list from 6/2010- 8/2012:  $408,000 (calculated based on approximately $1,000 per run)

Of this group the top three DFR users have required 82, 54, and 36 transports each, respectively during this time period. This totals $172,000 for three individuals.

Only one of the top 25 serial inebriates has never been transported by DFR. The remaining 24 have each been transported multiple times.

Parkland Memorial Hospital:
Amongst the top 25 utilizers of the CDC from 6/2010- 8/2012, 19 of these individuals were cumulatively responsible for $1,285,358.54 in charges at Parkland during this same time period. Amongst the top 25 visitors to the CDC, 3 have never been registered as a patient at Parkland. An additional 3 patients did not visit Parkland during 6/2010- 8/2012, but were transported by EMS to other local hospitals.

Patients with the most frequent Parkland visits during 6/2010- 8/2012 have charges of over $200,000 per person during this two year time period.  

Of note, this is NOT a list of patients with the highest charges amassed at Parkland due to alcohol-related visits. For example, one individual who was responsible for $450,000 in Parkland charges (and $50,000 in EMS charges) during the calendar year of 2011 does not appear on the list of the top 25 utilizers of the CDC. This individual is typically too medically ormentally unstable for the CDC. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Gun violence: Enough

Anyone who lives or works in an inner city community understands something of the problems created by the presence of so many firearms.  Factor in the growing number of rapid fire, semi-automatic weapons, equipped with 30-round clips and you begin to visualize the terror of the problem we face with a gun policy that doesn't provide enough regulation.  

I know the problem extends beyond just controlling the trafficking of weapons.  Cuts in mental health services funding over the past 30 plus years plays a role as well. 

But there is no denying, guns are a huge part of the public safety crisis.  

What follows is a statement  appearing in USAToday on January 7, 2013 from former Arizona U. S. Representative Gabby Giffords and her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly about their new effort to press for real reform in the nation's gun control efforts.  

What do you think?  

Giffords and Kelly: Fighting gun violence

Our new campaign will launch a national dialogue and raise funds to counter influence of the gun lobby.

This country is known for using its determination and ingenuity to solve problems, big and small. Wise policy has conquered disease, protected us from dangerous products and substances, and made transportation safer. But when it comes to protecting our communities from gun violence, we're not even trying — and for the worst of reasons.
I was shot in the head while meeting with constituents two years ago today. Since then, my extensive rehabilitation has brought excitement and gratitude to our family. But time and time again, our joy has been diminished by new, all too familiar images of death on television: the breaking news alert, stunned witnesses blinking away tears over unspeakable carnage, another community in mourning. America has seen an astounding 11 mass shootings since a madman used a semiautomatic pistol with an extended ammunition clip to shoot me and kill six others. Gun violence kills more than 30,000 Americans annually.In response to a horrific series of shootings that has sown terror in our communities, victimized tens of thousands of Americans, and left one of its own bleeding and near death in a Tucson parking lot, Congress has done something quite extraordinary — nothing at all.
An ideological fringe
Special interests purporting to represent gun owners but really advancing the interests of an ideological fringe have used big money and influence to cow Congress into submission. Rather than working to find the balance between our rights and the regulation of a dangerous product, these groups have cast simple protections for our communities as existential threats to individual liberties. Rather than conducting a dialogue, they threaten those who divert from their orthodoxy with political extinction.
As a result, we are more vulnerable to gun violence. Weapons designed for the battlefield have a home in our streets. Criminals and the mentally ill can easily purchase guns by avoiding background checks. Firearm accessories designed for killing at a high rate are legal and widely available. And gun owners are less responsible for the misuse of their weapons than they are for their automobiles.
Forget the boogeyman of big, bad government coming to dispossess you of your firearms. As a Western woman and a Persian Gulf War combat veteran who have exercised our Second Amendment rights, we don't want to take away your guns any more than we want to give up the two guns we have locked in a safe at home. What we do want is what the majority of NRA members and other Americans want: responsible changes in our laws to require responsible gun ownership and reduce gun violence.
We saw from the NRA leadership's defiant and unsympathetic response to the Newtown, Conn., massacre that winning even the most common-sense reforms will require a fight. But whether it has been in campaigns or in Congress, in combat or in space, fighting for what we believe in has always been what we do.
Let's not be naive
We can't be naive about what it will take to achieve the most common-sense solutions. We can't just hope that the last shooting tragedy will prevent the next. Achieving reforms to reduce gun violence and prevent mass shootings will mean matching gun lobbyists in their reach and resources.
Americans for Responsible Solutions, which we are launching today, will invite people from around the country to join a national conversation about gun violence prevention, will raise the funds necessary to balance the influence of the gun lobby, and will line up squarely behind leaders who will stand up for what's right.
Until now, the gun lobby's political contributions, advertising and lobbying have dwarfed spending from anti-gun violence groups. No longer. With Americans for Responsible Solutions engaging millions of people about ways to reduce gun violence and funding political activity nationwide, legislators will no longer have reason to fear the gun lobby. Other efforts such as improving mental health care and opposing illegal guns are essential, but as gun owners and survivors of gun violence, we have a unique message for Americans.
We have experienced too much death and hurt to remain idle. Our response to the Newtown massacre must consist of more than regret, sorrow and condolence. The children of Sandy Hook Elementary School and all victims of gun violence deserve fellow citizens and leaders who have the will to prevent gun violence in the future.
Gabrielle Giffords is the former Democratic U.S. representative from Arizona. Mark Kelly is a former astronaut.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Street rod for sale: 1953 Chevy 5-Window Pick Up



Call 214.418.2799 or 214.824.2440 today!


Todd Williams, Executive Director of the public education advocacy and reform non-profit Commit!, published the following editorial in The Dallas Morning News about a week ago.   

Todd is on target as usual.  

What will we do? 

We are failing Dallas County’s schoolkids

I left the private sector three years ago to volunteer my efforts full time toward education. I’d realized that whatever success I’d had was owed principally to teachers and mentors over the years who’d convinced me I could do anything in life if I studied hard and gave my best.

Growing up within a family living, at best, paycheck-to-paycheck in East Dallas, my access to a quality public education from Dallas ISD substantially changed my life trajectory. Austin College and 100 percent financial aid transformed it. I was blessed to live the American Dream.

Growing up in the 1960s and ’70s, my story was very common. Today, it’s increasingly unique. And we, our collective community, must ask ourselves: Why?

Today, Dallas County has 500,000 K-12 students. Ninety-one percent of those students attend a public school. Poverty is pervasive; 70 percent of those students qualify for free or reduced lunch.

Most importantly, only 13 percent of public school students who start ninth grade across Dallas County graduate four years later academically ready for higher education. For our Hispanic and African-American children, who collectively represent 80 percent of all first-grade children regionally, that number is 4 percent. These tragically low numbers represent our community’s future — and that future is increasingly worrisome.

We are collectively failing our children. Regardless of their ethnicity or ZIP code, they are our children and our region’s future depends on the success of all of them.

Too many of us have stopped fully supporting our public school system, believing that if we pay our property taxes, we’ve somehow done enough. But our educators and children need more than our dollars; they need us to share in the collective accountability for each child’s future, regardless of whether our own children are grown or attend school elsewhere. Educators cannot, and must not, be asked to stem the cycle of poverty alone.

When is the last time each of us did the following? Encouraged our own offspring to consider becoming a public school teacher. Asked our company to adopt a school. Personally mentored a child, volunteered or provided an internship. Thanked a school board trustee for serving countless hours in an unpaid role. Voted in a school board election? Held our representatives truly accountable for working meaningfully to improve our education system.

Within DISD, we pay over $1.4 billion in taxes, yet less than 2 percent of us vote in school board elections. The 2011 elections were canceled due to lack of candidates. We allow select media to focus more on reporting scandal and conflict among educators instead of discussing academic progress, best practices and remaining challenges.

We watched the state decimate pre-K funding in 2011 while concurrently growing prison expenditures. We watched legislators cut $5 billion of resources for public K-12 education (taking us to the bottom 10 percent of the nation in per-pupil funding while college readiness levels remain wholly inadequate) and said little.

We do this because we either believe public education can’t be improved or we just turn away in disbelief or denial that our collective failure won’t significantly impact our community’s future in terms of workforce or neighborhood vitality. The sheer size of the numbers states otherwise.

But there is real hope. Proof points abound that all children are absolutely capable of learning, regardless of parental involvement levels. Countless effective teachers throughout our region are achieving outlier results with children from the same challenging demographics. Hundreds of best practices are worth spreading.

Businesses, foundations and individuals are increasingly getting involved. Thousands of volunteers are asking how to serve. While our community resources are not inexhaustible, they are plentiful, and if invested wisely could have dramatic impact on the lives of our children.

But most importantly, all of us need to collectively recommit to ensuring quality, universal public education by holding ourselves (and not just parents or educators) mutually accountable. The often well-publicized but ultimately unproductive finger pointing among adults, while the collective lives of our children, and our community’s future, wither on the vine, must stop. The problem is urgent, it is solvable, and it is ours.

Todd Williams is the education adviser to Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and the executive director of Commit!, a nonprofit focused on supporting education throughout Dallas County. He can be reached at

Monday, January 14, 2013

Twitter wisdom from Mayor Cory Booker

Newark, NJ mayor, Cory Booker will headline CitySquare's annual community breakfast on Thursday, April 18, 2013.  More details will follow. 

For now, consider the string of wisdom that the good mayor posted to Twitter recently.  Each entry reveals something grand about the heart of this special leader:

When they heap scorn upon you, love them for helping you discover your resiliency.

When they doubt you, love them for giving your dreams greater courage.

When they point out your faults, love them for their accuracy.

When they wound you, love them for showing you your capacity to forgive.

When they try to stop you, love them for making your resolve even stronger.

When they cast you into darkness, love them for helping you discover your inextinguishable light.

And when your love has conquered the impossible challenge, invite them to stand with you so they too can see love’s power and possibility.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Roll casting: art meets beauty

My dear friend, Kevin Thomason put me on to The Ozark Fly Fisher Journal after a trip we made to the Ozarks trout fishing. What follows is a great clip on roll casting. Since today is my 63rd birthday, I posted this one for myself! Forgive my selfishness, but the fish and their surroundings are beyond terrific.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Atticus Finch and fund development

My good buddy, Jeremy Gregg, affectionately known to me as "Captain," recently reflected on his blog about the fundraising ideas and values to be found in Harper Lee's amazing To Kill a Mockingbird.

It's more than worth your time.

Read Jeremy's wisdom here!

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Another chance. . .

Occasionally, the corner offers up more than I can handle emotionally.

That was the case last Thursday as I talked to people in the cold.  We huddled up for conversation in the cold wind, drinking coffee to cut the chill as much as possible.

My friend "Blue" came by.

Blue is a chronic inebriate.

Strangely though, he seems to handle his life fairly reasonably and with good affect.

Thursday he seemed somehow different.

He never asks me for anything.  Usually he will accept a bottle of water, which he did on this day.

Out of character, he said to me, "Will you help me?"

Surprised, I answered, "How can I help you?  What do you need, Blue?"

He smiled at me and then grew sober, as if he were embarrassed by his request.

"You don't have to help me," he informed me.

"If I give you money, if I help you, tomorrow you won't be any better, will you?" I asked.

"I'll be the same Blue," he answered honestly.

Our conversation shifted to a longer term view of life and options.  I reminded him of previous conversations about a job in the new Opportunity Center, possibly in the new kitchen.

"But, I've got to have you sober, Blue.  If you want a job, I'll be depending on you to be sober and able to stay on the job," I reminded him.

I told him that I believed that he didn't need anyone to "give" him anything but a shot, an opportunity, a second chance.

As I spoke those words, he broke down.

"Do you know that I am in love with a dead woman?" he asked with tears in his eyes.

"What do you mean?" I inquired.

"My lady died.  I still love her," he explained.  He told me her name, but not much else about her death.

Still, I began to understand a bit more about my friend, about how he got our here and about his problem with alcohol.

I expressed my sympathy to him.

With tears streaming down his face, he begged me, "Give me a job, please, give me a job!  What I need is a second chance."

Who doesn't?

We continued talking about the options that were ahead, including possible housing in our Cottages development just down the street, a vast improvement on the driveway in front of the Merindeno's filling station next door where he beds down each night.

He lingered longer than normal.

As I was picking up my stuff to leave, he helped me load up.

As I prepared to leave, he wrapped me in a bear hug and said, "I love you, Mr. Craig James [oh, yeah, I forgot to mention he calls me Mr.Craig James!], I love you man!" 

"I love you, too, Blue!  I love you too," I told him.

I drove away, emotionally spent and thinking about a job and a house for my friend who deserves a "second chance" every bit as much as I do.

Trouble is, if he's anything like me, just one more chance won't be enough.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Hardest of the Hard!

Last week, as usual on Thursday afternoon,  I sat out in the cold on "the corner" with water, hot coffee and cookies to share with whomever decided to wander by.  The wind blew steadily, making the damp, cold day more miserable than most.

It was a very "slow day" as compared to most of my times out there.

"Slow" is usually good.  I've noticed that when the numbers are slim, the conversations go deeper.

One gentleman came by and blustered at me in the cold, "I'm the hardest of the hard, when it comes to being homeless and out here!"  

"Well, I expect that's right," I replied as we shared a cup of coffee.  "You gotta be tough out here, I can see that!"

"Yep, that's me," he went on, shaking his head between sips of the steaming coffee.

"Yeah, I know you're tough. . .but on the outside only," I went on.  "I bet you're not hard on the inside where it really counts."

He looked directly into my eyes.

A smile slowly broke across his face.

"What would you say if I offered you a small house where you could live?  Do you think you could handle that and help us build a new neighborhood?  Are you tough enough for that?" I asked.

"What do you mean?" he asked.

"Well,we're building 50 small cottages just down the street.  Each will have a bedroom, a bath, a kitchen and a nice living space with a large front porch.  We're going to 'screen folks in' to these houses, rather than screening them out." I explained.

"What does that mean?" he asked.

"Well, to live in one of the houses a person has to be chronically homeless, disabled and with some sort of criminal background," I explained.

The fellow drew closer to my face.

"That's me right there!" he exclaimed.  "I'm homeless for years, disabled and been in prison four times."  

"You see, it's that soft part of you inside that I need to make this new community work," I returned to our earlier conversation.  "If residents don't own it, buy into the mission, it won't work.  We need your help," I explained.

"You got a card," he asked.

"Sure do," I said, as I dug through my jacket pockets.  "Let's just stay in touch about the house."

"We will," he promised as he turned to catch the bus.

The hard outside can be managed as an asset, so long as the inside of a man is still soft.  I could read that essential softness in this new friend's eyes.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Spent: play the game

CitySquare team members worked with well over 50,000 different people during 2012.

The vast majority of these neighbors are not homeless.  Rather, they are people who work, but who don't earn enough to make ends meet, or they are children, disabled and/or elderly.

The challenges facing these individuals and families define our work and our mission.

During 2013, we've set an audacious goal for ourselves:  to move at least one person onto the road out of poverty or to see a person move above the poverty line every day during the year.  For a family of four success will mean the ability to earn more than $23,050 annually or $1,921 per month.  For a single individual the goal is to earn more than $11,170 a year or $931 monthly.

The benchmark of success for us is objective.  Still, there are a couple of matters that we must keep in mind as we venture out into the new year.

First, earning $1 above the dividing line doesn't really mean that a person is not facing the challenges of poverty any longer!  But $1 above the line is real progress for a family currently earning less than $20,000 per year, which is true of a sizable portion of the inner city population in Dallas.

Second, we must work hard to capture the stories and the data necessary to document success in our rather ambitious goal:  1 person every day above the poverty line during 2013.  But, we are willing to do the work to document the progress and to evaluate our effectiveness.

Most of us have no understanding of the day-to-day realities that poverty delivers to thousands and thousands of our neighbors in a city like Dallas.

To get a sense of the difficulty factor try playing a game of "SPENT" by clicking here.