Monthly Archives: January 2015
Thank God for seasons! They provide us with life-giving rhythms that sustain and renew. Perhaps none gets more attention than the transition from one calendar year to the next. The attendant holiday and break from work allows moments for self-assessment and goal setting and has given way to the annual ritual of making New Year’s resolutions. I intend neither to extol the virtues of this resolution ritual, nor ridicule its success rate, but rather to consider it afresh in light of my two and half years working in West Dallas, for I see this ritual with new eyes.
Consider the conversation I had with one of our young students last year. One day during carpool I felt a tug at a pant leg and heard,
“Mr. Craft, will you pray for me?”
“Of course,” is my response. “What do you need prayer for?”
She told me she was scared and I asked her what was the source of her fear.
“I’m afraid I’ll go to prison.”
This was not the response I was expecting. If she didn’t already, she certainly now had my full attention.
Trying to look both genuinely concerned but unphased and unalarmed, I asked, “Why are you concerned about that?”
“Well, most of my family is in jail.”
Tragically, this fear is not uncommon for our students. For many, incarceration is simply a part of life. It is a dim reality that dulls a child’s imagination, robs her hope, and makes New Year’s resolutions like losing weight, saving money in a 401K, or chipping away at a “Bucket List,” seem like trivial luxuries.
Traditional resolutions often fall into one of two categories:
- Re-establishing a discipline or habit I once had and now am suffering for the lack of it (e.g., Exercising, Spiritual Disciplines, Eating habits).
- Establishing a novel habit or accomplishing a goal that I have not yet achieved.
In my mid-40’s, I find myself gravitating towards the relative low-hanging fruit of the goals found in the first group. But for this girl, and for most of our students, the goals we hope they pursue are of the second order—the barrier-breaking sort.
A broken barrier offers the courage and hope needed to persist in the face of formidable obstacles. Sometimes it is a historical figure or contemporary celebrity who offers inspiration, but we also look to those like us, those with whom we rub shoulders; our co-workers, friends, neighbors, or relatives are often the stuff of inspiration and motivation. Those stuck in generational poverty often lack these role models within their circle of proximity. For this young girl, who had abundant examples in her community of those who succeed at being incarcerated, prison is a future easy to envision.
But we cannot dismiss New Year’s resolutions and other rituals of goal setting habits as unrealistic bourgeois practices. Goal setting is important; Jesus himself talked about the importance of planning. Clearly, for our students to “live purposefully and intelligently in the service of God and man,” as our mission statement reads, we need to equip them with the skills and vision to set goals and pursue dreams.
So how do we help those students at West Dallas Community School who are entrenched in generational poverty set and reach their goals?
A complicated problem requires a holistic response, but in brief and at the risk of sounding simplistic and naïve, we offer our students three things: Jesus, Community, and Education.
For the student in front of me, telling me she was scared and asking for prayer, I bent down on one knee and prayed with her. She asked for prayer. She confirmed her belief in the efficacy of prayer. Her request acknowledged God as the source of power and transformation. How could I not pray with her? We offer our students Jesus.
We also offer community. I know this young lady, and I know her mother, and her grandmother, and her siblings. The student is known well by many of us here at the school. In relationship, lies are denounced, words of truth and hope are spoken, and dreams are confirmed. It is in relationship that we know and are known. It is the context of community that we most often come to understand both our need for God and the reality of His mercy and love. The WDCS community also provides the role models many of our students lack. In the early days our students could look to their teachers for inspiration, but now with nearly 75 graduates since 2002, they can also look to former WDCS students like Mariqua Chans who was offered an appointment to West Point but chose to attend Baylor University, or Briesaun Williams who is now in medical school training to be a doctor. The WDCS community offers hope.
Lastly we provide them with a challenging educational experience. Our classical approach cultivates both wisdom and virtue by nourishing their souls with that which is Good, True, and Beautiful. It is rigorous and prepares them for the challenges of high school and beyond, whether it is Townview Gifted and Talented, Ursuline, Cambridge, Hockaday, TCA, or St. Marks.
That moment in carpool, that brief exchange with our young student, provided me with key insight into the hearts and minds of our students and offered me a fresh reminder of the challenges of ministry in West Dallas. And this New Year I was reminded once again how hard it is for anyone to make substantive change and achieve one’s goals (a quick look back at my goals for 2014 was a bit painful). But, more than anything, I was overcome with pride in our students and respect for them and for their parents for the sacrifices they make in their unflagging commitment to breaking the cycle of poverty that has plagued West Dallas for far too long. In doing so they are embracing opportunities to set and achieve those barrier-breaking goals that will impact their lives, the lives of their families, and the life of this community.
Head of School