Who is TMO

The Metropolitan Organization (TMO) is an organization of institutions dedicated to developing power and leadership among citizens in order to transform democracy. TMO was formed in order to give a voice to people who are usually excluded from the major decisions that affect their lives. TMO offers people the opportunity to develop the leadership skills necessary to be full participants in society. TMO is a part of a larger network of organizations known as the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF). The Industrial Areas Foundation is a nationwide network.

This blog, it’s posts or comments do not necessarily reflect the positions of TMO (The Metropolitan Organization) in Houston Texas. However, the administrators make every effort to ensure that the post are compatible with TMO’s positions and address issues of families in Houston.

TMO Alief–A New Vision

TMO has a long history of working in Houston creating a relational culture that believes that all persons are a gift from God and that they have worth and can participate in the decisions affecting their families.  For the past year and a half TMO has been working in Alief schools helping parents develop agency and leadership.  What started as a model has now expanded into TMO working in six schools.  Over the next year watch our activities and how parents and members of the community interact to create an organic community that links people and their multiple voices.

Youens Elementary Parents House Meeting


This morning (July 27, 2014)  I was drawn to an article in the Houston Chronicle entitled, “Literacy plan at HISD is the districts third in the last six years.” It’s been 55 years since Houston began addressing the issue of school desegregation.  The reality we faced was that many minority students, if they graduated, got out of school without being able to read or do basic math.  In Texas and most other parts of the country there was a move to create an educational environment where minority students would be able to excel educationally, thus enhancing their chances of success in life.   Many minorities have been successful academically and professionally, as a result of these efforts.  However, the education achievement gap still stubbornly exists in spite of efforts to level the playing field through high stakes testing, remedial interventions and periodically changing the curriculum and the methods of teaching.  But low achievement persists.  In the past twenty years or so the state of Texas has gone through the TAKS, TASS, STARR and talk is afoot concerning the new national testing regime Common Core.  The newest move is to link test scores to teacher effectiveness.  And as yet nothing seems to work.  The irony is that with each new testing regimen upper middle class anglo students seem to do well on the tests regardless of the testing regimen, while minority and low income students  stubbornly underperform.

Our work with TMO in Alief and elsewhere has discovered that a major factor effecting this low performance often has little to do with the teaching or testing regimen.  In many cases it has more to do with family stability and poverty.  In the Chronicle article a clue to this underperformance may be in the following statement concerning a young man in their new remedial reading program:  “He attended six schools in three school districts….and repeated first and third grades.  Because the mother had critical financial and personal problems she allowed her son not to attend school for months at a time.”  This reflects more of the norm than the exception.  I would suggest that NO TESTING REGIMEN OR TEACHING METHODOLOGY WILL WORK IF A DEGREE OF STABILITY DOES NOT EXIST IN THE HOME.  This is one reason why TMO in our work in Alief  is not just focusing on working with the district’s family engagement program.  We believe that a critical piece to school success is this missing element of family stability.  Some of our initiatives include developing small cohort projects in apartment projects.  Two such programs are a family game night at Alief Square apartments and a mother’s quilting project at Sun Blossom Woods apartments.  Additionally, we have  developed a children’s ballet class at Liestman elementary that begins in the fall.  All three of these projects’ purpose is to encourage parental engagement with their children, the community and the school.  In addition to having fun and learning something, TMO will also be teaching leadership and community involvement.  It is our hope that the district and local churches and non-profits will see the benefits of parental engagement beyond to school grounds and develop cohort groups of parents in the community.  On another front, we are also concerned about the high rate of mobility and poor employment opportunities.   So, we are exploring ways of helping families remain in stable living conditions and expanding our Capital Idea–Houston program which is available to low income persons.

But there is one other area of concern that we are exploring; the high rate of adult functional illiteracy.  Persons not being able to read, end up being those living in hard core poverty.

“In Texas, 3.8 million people need the services of an adult education program, but only 100,000 are being served (TWIC 2010, A Primer on Adult Education in Texas). Texas has slipped from 45th to last among states ranked by percent for citizens in 2005 (age 25 and older) who have a high school diploma or GED (Murdock, 2007). Dropouts cost Texas $9.6 Billion (United Ways of Texas). It is estimated that more than $2 billion is spent each year on students who repeat a grade because they have reading problems (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). There are 3.8 million adults in Texas without a high school diploma (Texas LEARNS, 2005). One in three adults cannot read this sentence (National Assessment of Adult Literacy, 2003).” Literacy Texas

From those eligible adults and engaging them in remedial programs that will  make them more productive and stable is a monumental task.  In order to engage these persons it will take not only the schools but also churches and other non-profits to ferret them out and develop more relational communities.  There are numerous non-profits such as Literacy Advance, Westside Homeless and Harris County Education that are already doing work in the area of literacy.  But as the statistics show Texas is far behind the rest of the country and we have a lot of ground to cover to make an impact.

TMO has made great progress in Alief in the last three years and are looking forward to more success in the future.


I’m Being Nickeled and Dimed to Death


For those of us who consider ourselves as upper middle class, who have a bank relationship and pay our credit cards off every month, we don’t worry too much about check cashing fees, ATM fees, and debit card fees.   But more and more many of us are looking at the fees on our bank statements and wonder about how much we’re paying.  But what if you’re not able to pay off your cards at the end of the month or you have a couple of debit card overdrafts.  It makes you begin to wonder what it’s like for persons who don’t have a bank account, who come up short at the end of the month and have to go to a pay day loan store and end up having to pay the equivalent of 400% annualized interest rate on a loan for only a few hundred dollars.

American Express has produced a really great documentary on the plight of the poor and middle class and the cost of banking.  You may know someone who is affected by this issue.


TMO is proud to have been one of the supporters of a city ordinance that put restrictions on pay day loan and title loans to make them more transparent.  And as the video presents, there’s more that can be done.  The video gives a number of suggestions where communities can become involved and make some real changes.  If your church, school or organization wants to embark on financial education or financial assistance program, contact me and we’ll work together to help folks be more financially stable.

What Kind of World Does God Want?

This is an effort by Abiline, Tx. to develop and bring the community together to live into “loving God, loving neighbor. TMO has as one of its goals to create community where people can not only develop meaningful relationships, but in the process transform their communities.

Seeking Shalom


This blog article, even though not specifically about Alief goes beyond the typical interpretation of the term shalom. I think it is something that can have great meaning in our isolated and sometimes hostel world.  With the diversity in Alief this article is particularly apropos.

Originally posted on Sharing a Sip with Dusty Garison:

One of the most fascinating Hebrew words in that language’s vocabulary is the word for “peace:” shalom. It can be used as a greeting, both at the meeting of friends, as well as leaving; when someone wants to ask, “How are you?”, the question is literally phrased, “How is your peace?” And a typical blessing would be, “Shalom aleikhem” – “Peace be unto you.”

Far more than just the absence of conflict, “shalom” can mean wholeness, health, or even prosperity, depending on its context. It refers to a sense of completeness and well-being in every phase of one’s life, but especially in terms of one’s relationships with others.

That’s why it’s so interesting to me that when God was warning the Israelites about the impending Babylonian captivity, God told them, “Seek the peace (shalom) of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD…

View original 453 more words

I Lift My Lamp Beside The Golden Door

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

by, Emma Lazarus

Central American Children hopeful they can stay

Central American Children hopeful they can stay

Since humans walked upright and decided that there was a better home than where they were, there has been migration.  Not everyone agrees on when humans began migrating from Africa but it is theorized that the first effort to move was 1.8 million years ago.  The real migration came in waves starting about 80,000 years ago and continues today.  In most cases evidence shows that if the area was inhabited, this movement was disruptive to the environment and to other humans.

Immigrant children hopeful of being able to stay

Immigrant children hopeful of being able to stay

As a result of poverty, oppression and lack of resources, this disruptive migration continues today.  And with conditions throughout the world today, there is little evidence that this will change any time soon.  Whether it was the drawing of new boundaries  in the Arabian peninsula by the English and French in the early 20th century or the support of oppressive regimes in Central America by the United States, history shows that this kind of disruption has far reaching results and is often impacted by outside influences.

Our current situation on our southern border with thousands of children coming from Central America seeking the American dream seems to be a problem with no solution.  For some the solution seems easy.  As one Facebook contributor wrote, “When you see them coming across the border, have your gun ready and just tell them to turn back, and if they don’t obey just solve the problem in the “Texas way”.  When asked what he meant by that, he was unable to give an answer, saying only that he didn’t mean that he would shoot them.  This is a complex problem and is not just the U.S.’s problem.  It was born in those Central American countries that developed an oligarchy culture where the rich hid behind high fences and had personal militia that allowed the cartels to act with impunity and where the politicians and the church were in the pockets of the rich.  And when that system seemed to be threatened, the U.S. aligned themselves with the oligarchies and came to protect what were perceived as U.S. interests which resulted in keeping the peasants poor and hopeless.

As we sit here today as Americans, we see the thousands of children streaming across the border.  We know that we cannot just send them all back without a plan that is based on some kind of compassion.  Maybe they keep coming because we’ve done too good a job of selling the world that we live behind the “golden door” and that it’s a land of opportunity.  And maybe our American poverty and lack of good education and healthcare for the poor is better that what they come from.  And maybe we should tell them that there are those who would still restrict the vote to our citizens.  But I’m not ready to advocate that.  As I look at Alief I see the positive possibilities of this wonderful land of opportunity, where immigrants came to America in small boats with only the clothes on their back, where persons walked hundreds of miles in the desert after spending years in a refugee camp, or as a young child riding on the top of a train for over 1500 miles only to be raped, kidnapped, or killed. Even with the diversity in Alief, it works, which gives me hope that what exists in Alief can work elsewhere.

The challenges of human migration have been with us since our human beginnings, but I hope that in our current crisis we acknowledge that we are all God’s children and that we are able to find solutions that show compassion for the sacredness of all human life.  We will not find a perfect solution but there’s got to be something better than the “Texas way”.   As a Texan, I’m  appalled  and insulted by that characterization.  We can do better than that.

Are you going to the DACA? No, I’m Not Even Sick!

I am somebody and I am a success

I am somebody and I am a success

Okay, so I’m terrible at making puns.  But if we go a little deeper we’ll see that there are some sad realities to this awful pun.  For many young undocumented immigrants, DACA could be the answer to prayer.  It could be the answer between poverty or a middle class existence here in the USA.  DACA could be an answer to employers who are looking for competent and hard working employees.

What Is DACA

“On June 15, 2012, the Secretary of Homeland Security announced that certain people who came to the United States as children and meet several guidelines may request consideration of deferred action for a period of two years, subject to renewal. They are also eligible for work authorization. Deferred action is a use of prosecutorial discretion to defer removal action against an individual for a certain period of time. Deferred action does not provide lawful status.”


“You may request DACA if you:

Were under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012;
Came to the United States before reaching your 16th birthday;
Have continuously resided in the United States since June 15, 2007, up to the present time;
Were physically present in the United States on June 15, 2012, and at the time of making your request for consideration of deferred action with USCIS;
Had no lawful status on June 15, 2012;
Are currently in school, have graduated or obtained a certificate of completion from high school, have obtained a general education development (GED) certificate, or are an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States; and
Have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor,or three or more other misdemeanors, and do not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.
Age Guidelines
Anyone requesting DACA must have been under 31 years old as of June 15, 2012. You must also be at least 15 years or older to request DACA, unless you are currently in removal proceedings or have a final removal or voluntary departure order.”

Early College HS students working together

Early College HS students working together

Basically, this program is for young people who came to the U.S. with family, were not born here and cannot gain citizenship through traditional means and want to go to school, get a productive job, or join the military.  It’s a program that makes sense.  In Houston there is a need for over 20,000 skilled labor jobs with thousands more in the pipeline as older workers retire.  With the influx of immigrants in Houston, many of those jobs could be filled.  If these jobs could be filled it would result in more taxes being paid, more homes being sold, more families being created and more persons attending our congregations.  Without some form of documentation such as DACA these persons cannot legally be employed.  Without DACA and the ability to get an education that will give young people a marketable skill many of these young people will drop out of school and will end up working in the underground economy at or below minimum wage.    It now appears that congress will not pass a meaningful immigration reform act, so DACA is the best that can be had for young people to build a life here.

The complications surrounding immigration reform are serious, but not hopeless.  In the next few months TMO will be conducting workshops to assist persons in  obtaining DACA approval.  Throughout the US, thousands of young people have been approved through DACA to gain  higher education and become gainfully employed.  TMO is in need of persons to be navigators to help people fill out the paperwork necessary to obtain DACA certification.  If you would be willing to become trained to help persons fill out the necessary paperwork, e-mail me at franklinolson@sbcglobal.net  .

Hispanic Immigrants comprise a majority of residential workers


There is much spiritual sickness in our world and as people of faith there are many opportunities for us to put that faith into practice through God’s healing grace.  We know that God’s healing grace comes in many acts of mercy and justice.  Spending a few hours to help a person gain self worth through being able to get an education that will translate into becoming gainfully employed through meaningful work is one way to be a part of that healing process.  Please join us and pray for our efforts.

Where Can a Guy Get a REAL Massage in Houston?

TMO congregations begin to map out crime abatement strategy

TMO congregations begin to map out crime abatement strategy

12 TMO congregations gave up Saturday morning to map out 2014 strategy

12 TMO congregations gave up Saturday morning to map out 2014 strategy

Last Sunday four MDUMC Sunday School classes had Marilyn Green of Chapelwood UMC talk about human trafficking in Houston.  She gave alarming statistics concerning numbers of women and men who are caught in the web of crime brought on by sex trafficking and labor trafficking and how insidious the results are for those caught in this web of crime and degradation.  It is estimated by Children at Risk that there are over 300 massage parlors in Houston and hundreds of cantinas where sex, drugs, and other crime is common place.

I wondered how many of these establishments were in the Memorial, Alief, East and North Houston.  Interestingly a preponderance of establishments were in about a three mile circle around Galleria, but you can rest assured that at least one is close to you.   These activities don’t include street prostitution and the Hot Sheet motels that exist throughout Harris county.  And if you want to know what goes on in a massage spa, just go to the internet headings on Houston Massage Parlors and pull the articles on “spa etiquette “.

At the end of the lesson most everyone wanted to know what could be done since we understand that this is not a victimless crime and that along with the trafficking there is also other crime including drug dealing, murder, and organized crime activities.  Numerous workshops are being conducted in Houston and Texas.  They are quite informative but lack much in the way of specifics for dealing with the issue whether it be labor trafficking or sex trafficking.  And it can be quite frustrating trying to close down one of these establishment.   I have a friend who lives in the county and some homeowners found out about a massage parlor doing illicit activities.  There was a sting conducted and the place was shut down, but within a week it was open again.  This is only one example of the difficulty in policing such activities.

One action that has worked in the past is that neighborhoods have banded together to change the neighborhood.  In the Best elementary area of Alief ( see “Six Brave Mothers and Grandmothers”) the neighborhood was successful in getting prostitutes off the streets around the school.  In Spring Branch families were able to shut down for good, a cantina where there was prostitution, drug dealing, and violent crime.  Both of these efforts were done with the help of TMO to organize the community to make changes that would make families safer.  But it took working together and a belief that people were entitled to live in a safe and affirming environment.  And you can’t just do it once.  You have to be persistent and keep working to keep the neighborhood safe.

Over the past few months TMO congregations have been conducting house meetings around issues affecting their neighborhoods and families.  The main concerns that emerged were crime and safety issues.  Last Saturday about fifteen TMO congregations met to discuss these concerns and to map out a strategy to address them.  As a next step congregations will continue to have house meetings to enlist a larger constituency that is willing to work for change.  The first action step beyond Saturday will be to invite the Captain of the different policing districts where citizens can lay out concerns and work with the police to develop a strategy.  Next steps after that will be as a result of those discussions.  Here are some possible ways to address the issues.  None of these will be easy to accomplish by a small group and they may take years to accomplish.  And as you will note it may be necessary to go to the state legislature to get action.

1. Tear down abandoned houses and buildings that are a haven for elicit activities

2. Develop strict rules on licensing of masseuses and check on ages of these persons, immigration statues, and state credentialing.

3.  Stiffen occupancy standards for Massage parlors.

4. Stricter restrictions on gaming parlors.

5. Work for more rehabilitation for sex workers including drug and alcohol rehab, housing and job training.

The question we all have to ask ourselves is whether these issues are important to us.  It’s not enough to say that we don’t like it that little girls are becoming sex slaves at twelve or thirteen or that immigrants are indentured and may never work off what is asserted that they owe to their captors.  Houston is a wonderful city, but we have a lot of issues that effect the quality of life for us all.  We may run to the perceived safety of the suburbs and allow some of our neighborhoods to be hollowed out with poverty and crime.   We know that as the faith community we are taught that God has created us all as sacred, and even though we do not personally know these least among us, we are still called to not only be compassionate, but also to be angry enough to seek justice.