June 29, 2009
Community involvement can start with the simplest of gestures, such as bending down to pick up a candy wrapper that someone else dropped on the sidewalk. With any luck, another person sees the gesture and thinks, "I should start doing that, too."
That's how Daidrielle Cravin, 17, grew up in her southern Dallas neighborhood, picking up telltale litter on her street and wondering if anyone else cared enough to follow her lead. "It's important. You can't do it alone," she says.
Cravin and 49 other high school students fanned out in her Dixon Circle neighborhood of South Dallas on Friday to show what can happen when young people, City Hall and a major North Texas corporation join forces to set an example. They picked up litter, painted and did some fix-up work while encouraging some of Dixon Circle's older residents to join in.
When this newspaper talks about "bridging the north-south gap," this is the kind of effort we hope to see on a massive scale across southern Dallas.
The students, chosen from all over the city, are part of ExxonMobil's Green Team, an eight-week work-study program that inspires youths to pursue higher education and become problem solvers. They participate in neighborhood improvement projects and attend weekly classes at Southern Methodist University to learn job-interview skills, environmental awareness and conflict management.
Why is this important for southern Dallas? Clearly, a large part of its problems resulted from decades of developmental neglect by local officials and the business community. But other problems are rooted in apathy, lack of parenting and poor leadership within southern Dallas' own neighborhoods. Generations of children have grown up learning that they should have no reason to care about how bad their streets or homes look, Cravin says.
"People feel they came from nothing, so they're going to be nothing," says Ashton King, 17, who grew up in South Dallas and participated in Friday's cleanup. "We're not being taught the right things."
As a result, the message many northern residents receive is: They don't care, so why should we? Indifference breeds indifference.
The $6.3 million that ExxonMobil has spent in Dallas on the Green Team program since 1981 should help inspire other corporations to get more involved. Better still would be actual corporate investment to create jobs in southern Dallas. City Council member Carolyn Davis was on hand to dedicate Friday's cleanup. That's also a good start, which we hope she and other council members will build on with greater street-level organizing efforts.
Friday's effort might not seem like much to folks living in spiffy-clean neighborhoods elsewhere, but for southern Dallas, this was an all-too-rare yet important lesson in community involvement. We need to see much more of it, because a little inspiration can go a very long way.
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