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

Do we have enough bullets?For over fifty years, since desegregation, DREAM-Act-supporters-in-Washington our country has recognized that there was an educational achievement gap between white children and children of color.  In the past few years that belief has changed somewhat to say that there is a distinct achievement gap between those children who are above the poverty level and those children living in poverty.  States like Texas have addressed the issue in numerous ways using testing and associated educational interventions in order to move the needle to more successful outcomes.  But the only conclusion that we can point to is that affluence is more of an indicator of academic success than is race.  And in these years since 1960, we have tried numerous ways of combating drop out  rates, underachievement and deteriorating public schools.  As a result we continue to point fingers at such areas as teachers unions, poor parenting, lack of funding for education, etc. etc.  At the end of the day the one common denominator for lack of success seems to be poverty.

But there may be clues about school achievement among low income families that schools may or may not be about to address.  In a 2012 study by John Hopkins professor Dr. Lingxin Hao, et al made some conclusions about success of “first” generation immigrant children including Hispanic children about why they might be successful in school.

There are several reasons why foreign-born immigrant children show these educational and social advantages, often referred to as the “immigrant paradox” by educators and sociologists.
“The first thing is family,” explains Dr. Hao. “Immigrants who come to the U.S. are self-selective; they overcome difficulties to create a better life, and foreign-born immigrant parents transmit this motivation, values and expectations to their children,” she explains. Children absorb these expectations and their actions demonstrate a ‘mom and dad made all this sacrifice for me, I better do okay’ type of behavior.
The second thing is the tight-knit interaction within immigrant communities. A low-income immigrant parent might not know advanced math or science, for example, but he or she will point to someone else in the immigrant community “who has made it,” explains Dr. Hao, and point that high achiever to their children, expecting they will do well.  The third factor is not about the parents, but about the immigrant children themselves. Foreign-born immigrant children seem to benefit from the “dual culture” inherent in having been born in a different country, absorbing those cultural values, and then coming here and navigating a different culture. “The 1.5 generation is able to combine the best of two cultures to navigate the educational system and the labor market,” says Dr. Hao.

The study also finds Latino immigrant children do not lag behind Asian immigrant children, provided some factors are similar. The more important factors are two parents versus one parent households, better-educated parents, and better school districts, including those which offer more advanced classes, lower class sizes and higher attendance levels. “We found children are very constrained by their educational context; some schools don’t even offer high-level courses, yet 1.5 generation children will still reach higher, even in underperforming schools,” says Dr. Hao.

Can schools provide this kind of environment?  Possibly, but only in a limited way.  In 2012-13 in Alief as well as other Texas schools only about 70% of children passed the STAAR test, the benchmark for a districts success.  The key component in Dr. Hao’s study is family stability.  How then, does a community address the issues surrounding family instability.  We have discussed some of these issues in this blog.  Such issues as raising the minimum wage, affordable housing, adult education, and community safety are key components.  But we also need to consider the spiritual component.   In TMO’s work in Alief we have noted that most people do not attend a church, mosque, or temple.  Families have few roots and connections to those institutions that can help create stability.  Religious institutions may give food and clothing assistance but offer little in the way of spiritual nurturing.  In some cases its as if the religious institution does not want the unwashed and dysfunctional to pass through their doors on the day of worship.  Families are isolated within the community with few connections.

These are a few of the reasons why TMO sees its role to not only address the achievement gap through strengthening the Family Centers in AISD but also developing relationships with other institutions such as congregations and bringing them together to address multiple concerns where developing constructive community power to act for change is important.  Emphasis should always focus on the sacredness of all life from our faith traditions, but to then address these issues that inhibit persons from achieving all the Creator has ordained.  This is a huge job and TMO is always looking for leaders and religious institution that are willing to study and consider this multifaceted challenge and see that acting together is in each of our interests and in the case of congregations is a part of our calling as a faith community.

liestman gardening 2             MDUMC and TMO worked together with families and staff to do spring gardening at Liestman Elementary.   Here’s Gail Olson and Vally Wills getting down into the dirt.

 

 

liestman gardening 4      There were at least 150 families and everyone had a great time building planter boxes, spreading dirt and flowers and vegetables.  Notice Roy Yeager and David Patrick getting into the act.

 

 

 

 

liestman gardening 1          After the plants begin to take hold, the children will continue to weed, water and harvest.                                                                                            liestman gardening 5       John Sauri said he didn’t want his wife to know about his penchant for gardening.  It might lead to something more severe.                            liestman 3           Vally commented that as she moved among the groups she heard multiple languages spoken.  To me, that’s one of the blessings that Houston and the Alief community can be proud of and how these different groups can work together for their children’s future.

 

Liestman Elementary is one of six schools that TMO works with.  In the past year we have conducted workshops on the Affordable Care Act and Immigration.  We have some exciting plans for the fall that will continue the school more closely with parents that will enhance parents ability to develop agency and leadership.  We’ll  keep you informed and in the loop.

 

 

familyUlogocolorLast Saturday over 600 families from Alief schools attended the fourth annual Family U at the 9th grade center on Cook Rd.  Family U is an annual event presented by the district to inform and educate parents on ways to help their children and the role of the schools in the life of families.  In years past only about 150 families attended.  These 600+ families represent about a 20% participation of families in the district.  That’s a pretty spectacular turnout for the district. So, why the increased attendance.  Shancellor Terry, the overall coordinator for Family Engagement in Alief attributed the increase to a number of factors.  First,  the district in 2013-14 has developed a new emphasis on Family Engagement.  Even the name has been changed to acknowledge that families come in many different configurations.  The district realizes that families include mother, father, grand parents, aunts, uncles and other extended family.  That acknowledgement creates a more inclusive sense of family and its relationship with the school.

The second factor was the hiring of Ms. Terry and the recruitment of liaisons for each school.  Even though the district was moving in that direction at the end of last year, this was one of the recommendations that TMO presented to the district.  The district also changed the job description of  the liaison to include more responsibility in the overall implementations of family engagement.  Family Liaison’s now have a closer relationship with more parents, thus creating trust and more interest in the schools.  This was evident in the recent walk and orientation turnout at Alief Middle School.  TMO is encouraged by this change in emphasis and is hopeful that each school can take family engagement to the next level by expanding engagement into the community by developing family cohort groups in apartment projects. It is our hope that these cohort groups will move the family engagement piece more toward a leadership model for parent engagement and with less emphasis on the parent service model.

At the event there were tables set up giving families information on services and programs available in the community.  TMO’s table included information on Capital Idea-Houston’s orientations.  We also had information on the Affordable Care Act and other TMO activities.  Breakout sessions focusing on information helpful to families were well attended and TMO lead organizer Elizabeth Valdez presented a break out session in Spanish to about 50 parents on how to help children be a success in school.  One of the items covered was on how to communicate better with a child’s teacher.   The next night, as a result of distributing flyers to families, there were about 50 people who attended the Capital Idea-Houston orientation at Santa Maria Virgen in Alief.  This was the first such orientation at Santa Maria and will be repeated in the future.

All Alief schools have diligently been working on being family friendly by encouraging staff to be welcoming when parents come to the school.  Also, TMO for the last two years has periodically done training for liaisons on how to do “individual meetings” and “house meetings” as steps toward building a relational community.  Here are some very specific programs TMO and TMO affiliated churches have done in just the 2013-14 year.

Liestman Elementary– Affordable Care Act orientations; Immigration workshop; OGDOS gardening program; FAME committee and Shared Decision Committee participation

Youens Elementary– parents leadership training; FAME committee and SDC participation

Alief Middle School– FAME committee and SDC participation; helped organize community walk for fifth grade orientation; MDUMC provided six walkers ;participated in orientation session

Holmquist elementary–Mission Bend UMC developed and carried out one time and on going back pack lunches and Family Center programs.

Grace United Church of Christ–hosted and participated in immunization program; held Affordable Care workshop and pressures on families house meetings.

Santa Maria Virgen–Hosted Capital Idea orientation with 50 persons in attendance; hosted Affordable Care Act workshop

Four Square Fellowship–participated in Alief Middle School community walk; developed and participates in ongoing weekly tutoring initiative at a local apartment project.

Best Elementary–successfully participated in gaining over $3000. in school supplies from Wal-Mart for Best children; on going participation in Family Center parent training.

WHAT’S NEXT FOR TMO IN ALIEF?

1.  TMO will continue participating in the schools and activities where they are currently involved.

2.  Help in developing and implementing apartment cohort groups.

3.  Recruit and train volunteers to be apartment cohort mentors.

4. Continue developing relationships with Alief congregations and to link those congregations to a local school.

5. Continue to offer TMO’s leadership training expertise to the district and schools.

Family Engagement is an important ongoing endeavor requiring relation building between the schools and community stakeholders.  TMO is proud to be a part of that participation and we look forward to continuing to expand the relationship.  In the upcoming year TMO will need to engage more congregations and passionate individuals who believe that public education is worth promoting and who are willing to invest their time and effort to achieve this goal.  We must also offer up our prayers and after we have prayed, then act.

 

 

Teachers and TMO leaders prepare to walk community

Alief Middle School teachers and TMO leaders prepare to walk community

Last night 8 teachers from Alief Middle School, 7 Memorial Drive UMC members and my good friend Pastor Obiri from Four Square  Fellowship walked apartment neighborhoods to invite parents of fifth graders to an orientation about what to expect from their new school in the fall.  Many of the apartment homes had peeling paint, broken concrete drives and late rent due notices on doors.  For some of us, going into these locked and gated communities  was like going into a hostile country where there is often the reality of crime, poverty, and being unwelcome.   We paired up AMS faculty and church folk to do the visiting.  In those massive projects it was often difficult to find the apartment number which added to the anxiety of the walk.  But as we walked and talked we began to build relationships with our fellow walkers.  What was even more fun was that in a number of homes we visited, we were met by children who already attended AMS and knew the teacher who came to see them.  And because many of the parents did not speak English the children had to translate.  And in every apartment where someone was home, we were welcomed with interest and attentiveness to what we had to say.

The more we walked the more I felt this strange presence.  Here were teachers who were willing to take their personal time to walk the community.  They did not get paid extra to do the walk.  I don’t know whether they walked out of duty or love, but they were there and all of us had a good time.  The same motivation might be extended to our church folk who could have easily opted out.   Parents could have chosen not to open the door, thinking we were either trying to sell something or that we were JW’s trying to make new converts.  We made contact with about 60% of the families and were welcomed by most.  As I was experiencing all of this, I thought about some of the prejudices that we confront on a daily basis.  Such enmity as “they don’t belong here”, “they’re illegal”,  “the problem with out schools is….bad and uncaring parenting….poor teachers, bad administration….poor discipline in the schools…and on and on….”  As we walked all of these issues moved out of my consciousness.  The more we walked the more I realized that the presence I felt was the presence of God.  I don’t know whether the others felt the same way, but to me this coming together, this sacrificing of time and attention, the families who welcomed us, and how the walk helped begin the process of beginning new relationships.  Even though small, the evening pointed us towards our faith commitment that not only is embodied in the phrase God is Love, but also that Love is God.  I don’t know about the others, but I felt we were walking with God.

But the moment I got home I was hit with another more brutal reality.  My wife Gail told me that over 100 undocumented men, women and children had just been freed from being held hostage in a small south Houston house, waiting for relatives to pay their ransom.  It again drove home the point that justice is a long way from reality.  My feeling of elation quickly turned from hopefulness to anger.  Over time as I have come to know myself better,  I go deeper to my core  and realize my anger is really about sadness.  Sadness that is expressed in my concern that in spite of those almost mystical events of that evenings walk with God, where a sense of caring, acceptance and hope existed, that I cannot forget the way we humans treat one another.

Then I thought, what if I had not shared that evening with all those wonderful people.  I would never have known the possibility of the Grace that we shared, nor as I reflect on it now, would I have become even more resolute  to do  justice, knowing that we can come together for change and believe that we can overcome the evil that exists all around us.  Otherwise, I would probably have stayed at home watching some stupid cop show and upon hearing about the hostages would have said to myself, “ain’t it a shame”, not thought twice about it, and gone to bed feeling safe and secure.

I’m Going to a New School Next Year!

ams orientation 2014Another record attendance

As a result of our Alief Middle School community walk and other communications to families, Alief Middle School had another record turnout of over four hundred for it’s fifth grade orientation.  Families streamed in to learn about possible academic programs, elective programs, clubs, and sports.   Families then assembled in the cafeteria and TMO conducted a get acquainted session for families to help them learn a little about their neighbors and how to become more engaged in their children’s education.  Staff and teachers then gave an orientation of opportunities and expectations for parents.

But as I was standing there looking at the children and parents eager faces, I wondered about all the other pressures these families face on a daily basis.   I wondered how many of these children would be attending AMS in the fall.  How many would have moved once or twice between now and then.  How many of these children would be considered homeless by the district due to economic factors, most of which are of no fault of the families.  And I wondered how congregations such as Memorial Drive UMC, Grace United Church of Christ, Santa Maria Virgen, Four Square Fellowship, and Mission Bend UMC can impact Alief schools as well as the overall community culture.

I also saw the hope and determination in families faces; determination that despite the odds these children face, they would be successful because of dedication of the adults in their lives.

Successful school events such as these do not happen by accident.  It’s as a result of coordination between the elementary schools in the AMS catchment, the dedication of teachers and staff and the support of volunteer walkers like MDUMC and Four Square Fellowship.  Each piece of the puzzle supports the other and helps create a culture of support for public education.

church

What then will we do?

Having considered the Charter’s declaration of beliefs, we now examine the possibilities of living into our call to do justice.

Therefore, we will:

  • Seek ways to do justice through our church programs and ministries, prayerfully asking God’s guidance in helping us to recognize systemic structures of injustice and granting courage to respond;
  • Step with love into the gap to speak for those who have no voice;
  • Work through our ministries to remove barriers and social conditions that perpetuate injustice, seeking to create an environment where all may live in fullness and wholeness;
  • Pledge to continue to be in respectful conversation with those whom we differ, and to explore the sources of our differences with the goal of reconciliation;
  • Open our hearts and minds as we seek to love all persons with kindness and agape love;
  • Strive to walk humbly with our God, prayerfully asking the Holy Spirit to guide us;
  • Honor our sacred worth of all persons as we continue to seek the mind of Christ and to do the will of God in all things.

The call of the Charter  calls us to look at ourselves, our prejudices, our timidity, and our shortcomings.  The Charter calls us to call upon God for strength and guidance, to remove the scales from our eyes and then to have the courage to do justice.  In the context of the Charter doing justice is not a singular action.  We are called to be the community of the faithful, to trust one another to not just to learn and study, but to then take action with other believers to bring about justice.  Justice is not just about finding what is wrong with the world, but is also about finding solutions and then taking action to alleviate those injustices.  It is not about coming up with a liberal or conservative agenda.  It’s about coming up with Christian solutions that are based on our understanding of our Christian principles.  It’s recognizing that solutions to injustice are complex and that there are no easy answers.  At every step we are called to ask, “what is the roll of the Church in this issue and more importantly, what is God’s will.”

How can we solve the issue of poverty if we do not offer the love of Jesus Christ to them, get to know them personally, build relationships and invite them into our congregations.  We know that many in our culture have no spiritual connections and are often lost in the complexities of life. And what does it say to persons when we are not willing to be inclusive and offer full participation in the life of the church through the covenant of marriage and ministerial ordination.  And does the situation ever arise when it is time for brothers and sisters in Christ to decide to divorce one another when the disagreements on justice are too divisive, thereby limiting the body’s ability to effectively address other issues of justice.

Issues of justice have elements of relationally.  It is therefore important to build relationships with those persons in power whether it be elected or appointed officials, business groups, or civic groups.  These persons and organizations are often the groups that hold power over those who are marginalized.  And they often are reluctant to relinquish their power whether it is a result of their own conviction or that they are merely the puppet of others.  Justice cannot always be achieved in an atmosphere of harmony.  Throughout history we have seen that justice has a price for those who advocate for those who are oppressed.  But it can always be done in an atmosphere of love.  Love is power and sometimes can be contentious.

God calls us to do justice and we believe that God’s will towards justice will prevail.  And we must remember that justice will prevail in God’s time, not ours.  But I believe that it will not occur at all until the faithful join in the struggle and are willing to pay the price.

One last thought.  When someone says something so outrageous concerning justice issues that it catches you off guard and you know you should say something, but you don’t know what, says this, “I don’t agree.   That goes against my Christian convictions.”

Epilogue

For Courage to Do Justice

Lord open my eyes that I may see the needs of others;

Open my ears that I may hear their cries;

Open my heart so that they need not be without succor;

Let me not be afraid to defend the weak because of the anger of the strong,

Not afraid to defend the poor because of the anger of the rich.

Show me where love and hope and faith are needed,

And use me to bring them to those places.

And so open my eyes and my ears

That I may this coming day be able to do some work of peace for thee.

Amen*

*The United Methodist Hymnal #456

As always I encourage your comments and hope that you will develop conversations and actions in your classes, bible studies and with friends on what God is calling us to do in the area of justice.  In the next few months  our  TMO (The Metropolitan Organization) will be offering “pressures on families” to find leaders interested in issues of justice and the issues affecting families in our community.  We will also be discussing how the Justice Charter informs and impacts “pressures on families”.

church

A Short Exposition

In 2011, after over six months of study, prayer and discernment, the board of Stewards at  Memorial Drive United Methodist Church approved the Justice Charter which was our statement of how we would respond as a congregation to Micah 6:8 which states, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and walk humbly with the Lord.  Here are the affirmations of justice:

Because we believe:

  • All persons are created in the image of God, with sacred worth and equal value in the sight of God;  
  • All are blessed with spiritual gifts that differ according to God’s grace;  
  • Social conditions exist that prevent some from exercising their gifts and living in wholeness, and where allowed to persist, these conditions perpetuate poverty and create systemic structures of injustice;
  • Christ’s call to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves consequently requires us to seek justice;
  • As disciples of Christ, we are further called to serve as reconcilers of conflict and disparity;
  • Those who have gone before us have provided clear biblical and historical guidance and a rich tradition of advocacy for those who have no voice;
  • Wishing for justice is not enough–scripture requires that we do  justice.  We are called to respond–to take action.

We all know that loving mercy and kindness is easier than doing justice.  With mercy we can study about justice issues, write a check or do an hour or so volunteering sorting clothes and feel good about ourselves.  On the other hand, justice kicks us in the gut. Justice tells us that as long as there are hungry people, people who cannot make their own way, or are oppressed we are falling short of what Christ called us to do.  It’s not that we’re bad people or that we don’t care.  And God still shines God’s grace on us.  More often than not it’s that we feel so overwhelmed by the need.  Even with our best intentions,  we know that we can’t change the world or do away with poverty or hatred or all the other afflictions in the world so we placate our conscience with our modest efforts and hope that what we do, will make a difference.  We may even appease our conscience with reasons why justice efforts won’t work.  We can blame governments, the rich, big business or the afflicted themselves.  Our attitude then becomes, I can’t solve the problem so I either do nothing or only the minimum.    I’ve even heard that in the past  that the church took care of hunger and poverty in our communities and that then at some point the government took over that responsibility.  Finding reasons for injustice and the result of our unintentional consequences is easy since it absolves us from responsibility to do justice.  The result of all this is that, if we even think about it, we tell ourselves that the problems are insoluble.  Is that all there is?  Or is that our shadow side speaking?  God gives us the freedom to respond or not to respond with justice.  But, I believe that God weeps when God sees how we treat one another.  So, can we get out of this quagmire?

Here is what our Charter says:   

Justice is the dynamic concept calling God’s people to work toward the opportunity for equality and fairness or all.

Let’s look at Part 2 to see what we can do.