You can’t change things from the outside

Casey Thomas | 2/24/2014, 5:41 a.m.
This weekend at my church, True Lee Missionary Baptist Church, we made plans to go immediately after service and walk ...
Casey Thomas

The Dallas Examiner

This weekend at my church, True Lee Missionary Baptist Church, we made plans to go immediately after service and walk the neighborhood. Since the church is located in the South Dallas community, many people have preconceived notions about not only the community, but the people that live there. Fortunately, our pastor, Donald Ray Parish Sr., decided that our theme this year would be: Going from Good to Great in our Outreach.

This set the tone for the importance of us to get outside of the walls of the church and get to know the people who lived there. We met in our Fellowship Hall, and had a light lunch prior to our outreach training. Since we are members of the Dallas Area Interfaith, a coalition of faith-based communities that come together to solve problems in the area surrounding the house of worship. The training was very good and for those who had never gone door-to-door it provided an opportunity to role-play talking with someone at the house.

This experience reminded me of the fact that you cannot change anything from the outside. You have to be a part of the community that you would like to see change. Oftentimes, we will see a situation that we think should be different. We may visit a friend and look at the conditions of their neighborhood and complain about the way things look. However, if we are not going to either move to that neighborhood or spend time working to improve it, it is better for us to keep our comments to ourselves.

While we were walking the streets of sunny South Dallas, we saw trash, beer bottles and other high weeds. We also saw boarded up houses and abandoned buildings. These things did not happen overnight and they will not be solved overnight. As we went door-to-door and talked with residents, we found out several things.

First, they really do care about their neighborhood. Many of them are now seniors and have spent their entire lifetime in that community. They have seen it change from a place of love and concern to somewhere people feel trapped and threatened by crime and violence. Their concern has become paralyzed by fear. They need help from others who will stand beside them and protect them from those who mean them no good.

Second, they feel ignored. There are many vacant and abandoned homes on their street and they don’t think the city really cares if they are knocked down or replaced. They feel that these are eyesores for their neighborhood and would like to see them torn down. Without a relationship with their local election officials, they don’t see how this will get done.

Finally, they want their children to have better. With the recent closing of schools in the South Dallas neighborhood, residents in the community don’t feel that the education of their children is a priority by those elected to represent their concerns. Mostly, when decisions are made, the community is the last to know about it. They feel the needs of their children should be the driving force in decisions that are made. Until better communication exists between the residents and those elected to represent them, they feel hopeless.

While many people are concerned about the needs of those who are less fortunate, few people are willing to invest the time and energy to get to know the people first before trying to address concerns. Dr. Cornell West is quoting as saying, “You can’t lead the people if you don’t love the people, and you can’t save the people if you don’t serve the people.” It’s important to know that if we want to see real change, we have to change things from the inside. The question is if we are willing to make that sacrifice.