“What has segregation cost us?” I could write every data point; but we can look across the country at our current state and in any major city see what segregation has and is doing today. It is costing us relationships. It is costing us neighborhood development. It is costing us, most importantly, trust.
If you google “definitions of segregation”, you will find 7.8 million results. To set the stage, it is literally defined as “the action or state of setting someone or something apart from other people or things.” I cannot read that definition and it not crawl through my skin. It bothers me. It feels wrong. It feels divisive. But – it is absolutely our reality both in Dallas and across the country.
Throughout my tenure in Dallas, I have committed a large portion of my volunteer time to high school students, from both the north and south side of the city. Segregation, and its impact, is a major part of where we spend our time of discussion. When one student was asked what segregation has cost her, she answered:
"Segregation cost me exposure. I lived five minutes from downtown but never really had the chance of seeing it growing up. There was public transportation to connect us; but we never really felt connected.
Segregation caused me to limit my dreams. Rarely did I ever see African Americans in high powered positions; I only saw them sweeping the floors of my school or serving my food through a fast food window. This caused me to believe that the ‘American Dream’ was not feasible for people who looked like me.
Segregation cost me opportunities. In schools with surrounding impoverished communities, opportunities came once in a blue moon. There were not a lot of people to come and invest in us. This has caused generational curses of broken dreams and hopelessness. Students often saw themselves as a nonentity and their aspirations reflected such."
But where do we go from here? How do we, as leaders in the classroom, cities and country truly move past a reality of segregation into a place of unity and productivity?
Relationships. Neighborhood Development. Trust.
RELATIONSHIPS | Rooted in history, Biblically, we have been taught to “Love our neighbors”. Over the last several years, I have spent more and more time truly understanding what that means and the impact that is had when you treat communities you are trying to serve, as neighbors rather than a group of people who “need” you. True community development, regardless of your profession, is identifying what it means to be a good neighbor and living it out in every way.
Additionally, we must start looking at our youth as our next generation, from within the communities they are raised. Leaders must be raised up from within. From early on, instilling in children the value and power of their community. Author John Perkins states, “Those who stay behind are the glue that holds together and help rebuild”.
NEIGHBORHOOD DEVELOPMENT | Go to the people. Learn from them. Build with what they already have. Love them well. And empower them with the resources you have been given. We must remove the notion that driving through a community, looking from our safe protected car, grants us the opportunity to be the Savior, but rather a resource for hope, willing to work alongside them.
Last year, a nonprofit I was working with was given a sizable grant to try and deploy a two-generation approach to a community in Southern Dallas. In short, offering programming to the students through their school and adults through programming. One of the women raised her hand and said, “in all due respect, this is not the first time we have been asked to do a program tied to some grant.” She went on to say, “why don’t you spend that money creating a book of our stories of survivorship, stuck in generational poverty?” To date, there has not been more impactful words spoken to me.
Imagine that, a community, who is known on a map for being poor and left behind, wanting to share their stories to empower other communities and generations behind them, to think and know their strength despite circumstances.
TRUST | I am a white woman. Being a young, white woman in the city of Dallas is no short feat. On one side it’s a white man’s world and on the other side it’s a prominently black and brown world whose wounds build barriers to avoid letting any white in. Why should they? So many have come before me. Come with all the answers and all the promises in the world. And often, delivering nothing but broken promises or opportunities for anyone but those who actually live in the community.
Then I met Ms. Mrytl. As always, I went around the room and I shook hands and introduced myself. I came to Ms. Myrtl and she didn’t want a thing to do this me. Nothing. Did not speak to me. I extended my hand. Nothing. I said “well my name is Christie. Nice to meet you”. Oh, it bothered me so much. Months later I tricked her into meeting with me. Literally. Through a friend. We sat and talked. She raised her voice. I raised mine. She stopped and said, ‘well damn Christie - you aren’t kidding”. I said, I know I have been trying to tell you that.
Months later, she became my biggest cheerleader. Every project. Every meeting. That woman sat next to me and proudly promoted all that I was trying to bring to southern Dallas. She believed me. She TRUSTED me.
You are likely wondering why I am speaking in past tense as if I must have lost her trust. But that sweet woman passed away suddenly February 23, 2018. When her funeral was being arranged her daughter called and said “Christie. I’ve seen my mom with you.” She went on to ask if I would speak at her funeral, to which I said “absolutely.” I stood amongst 22 others, the only white speaker because Ms. Myrtl and I built a relationship, rooted in trust for one another.
Relationships. Neighborhood Development. Trust.
They are three words we use and teach about regularly. They are the pillars of how we believe children should be taught and raised. I challenge each that reads this, that we must begin to truly look inside and reflect how we, the adults, are prioritizing these three things to eliminate the segregation that exists in our communities, cities and country and how we, collectively, are working to love, serve and empower those around us.