Though West Dallas has changed dramatically since our school first opened its doors in 1995, over the last month the Dallas Morning News has reminded me that we still serve a neighborhood of need whose residences are susceptible to the caprices of poverty and violence.
First there was news of the mass evictions in West Dallas, a major disruption in the lives of over 300 families. This battle between a larger corporate landlord and city hall has impacted several of our school families, leaving them panicked and scrambling for a new place to call home. One of our families paid rent on their property for nearly 30 years.
Then there was this. Despite the efforts of ousted DISD superintendent Mike Miles, even with dedicated local campus leadership (whom I’ve met and greatly admire), and regardless of the support of The School Zone, three of the schools in our neighborhood were flagged as multi-year “Improvement Required” campuses of major concern. There are five other schools with the same designation in DISD which triggered a stern warning from the Texas Education Agency, threatening possible school closures or a “temporary dissolution of the school board.”
Lastly, our community was set to enjoy our annual Fall Fair a week ago. The weather was ideal, with bounce houses and games at the ready, and hot dogs and Kool-aid pickles on the menu. I was preparing for a fun-filled event when I received a phone call alerting me of this development. We promptly cancelled the fair as the police were promptly on the scene investigating a possible homicide. The man’s body (whom we now know was 64-year old Bolivar Salazar, murdered for his debit card) was found not 10 yards from our property, clearly visible from our playground fence.
The violence, the failing schools, the evictions (and growing suspicions by some that the city is culpable and hoping for accelerated gentrification), they all add up, leaving our neighbors suffering from “toxic stress.” But I’ve seen that it also leads to an erosion of trust in the civic order. In moments of despair our families are likely to feel forgotten: neglected by DISD, the Dallas Police Department, and City Hall. This past week, in the wake of the election, I saw the fears that are borne out of their experience. Some might fear deportation of a loved one. Others fear loss of benefits and fewer opportunities. Cutting across racial boundaries, fear is the common experience. You can argue whether these fears are rational or not, but they are the felt reality of many in our community.
This past month has convicted me afresh that there is still significant work to be done here in our neighborhood. The articles, the election, conversations with our students, they serve as a potent reminder that political solutions and government programs are not enough; the church has a significant role to play, we are to be the “light of the world.” West Dallas Community School is a daring response to God’s call to seek the welfare of the city (Jeremiah 29:7) and to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God (Isaiah 61:1,2 and Luke 4: 17-21).
If you feel fatigued after this election season, if in the midst of rising racial tension and social unrest you wonder how to wisely and meaningful respond, if you worry about the role of the church in our culture and society, then please consider partnering with West Dallas Community School. We provide a Christ-centered education of excellence to the families in the 75212 zip code. We provide community. Here, children are more than a number or even a name. Our graduates experience a small, tightly knit community for 10 years; it is a community that seeks to encourage strengths and strengthen weakness. It is a school that views education as “life on life discipleship” where students learn to face their failings and the sin that is common to all human beings, as well as their God-given uniqueness and the imago dei inherent within them. In short, our students are known, and here they come to know their worth as beloved children of God.
Several years ago, sometime before I arrived at WDCS, the school adopted the tag line: Changing Lives for Generations to Come. After nearly 4 and half years, I can confidently proclaim that this is true. By God’s grace children’s lives are being changed, their parents’ lives are being changed, their grandparents’ lives are being changed…those of us who work here and serve here as volunteers and Board members, our lives are being changed. Join us, and be prepared to have your life changed.
Head of School
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