Leave a spoiled spot on a peach, and soon the entire fruit will go bad. A deteriorating inner city is a little like that rotten spot. Stop paying attention and shortly, the entire area is dealing with issues of poverty, drugs and crime.
"A Conversation about Community" is the theme of the fourth annual Operation Shoestring "Roots and Wings" dinner, on Thursday, Sept. 6, from 7-9 p.m. at the Mississippi Museum of Art. With featured speakers Oleta Fitzgerald of the Children's Defense Fund, Rev. Ross Olivier from Galloway United Methodist Church and Dolphus Weary of Mission Mississippi, the event will begin the conversation and devise next steps toward resolutions. Operation Shoestring Director Robert Langford and Deputy Director Rev. Dr. Martha Alexander spoke about their work.
What is Operation Shoestring?
Langford: Forty years ago a group of people came together—really out of the Civil Rights Movement—to provide services to kids and families in this community. ... One of the things that came out of that meeting was figuring out what we can do to make a difference. ... We run programs for kids and families, but we're aware of the bigger issues related to poverty and race—issues that have been traditional dividing lines for generations.
Alexander: We made a lot of progress, but we failed to confront some of the issues from a systemic perspective. We still see many of the problems today that we saw 40 years ago. This conversation is about trying to revitalize the concept of community—making sure that we recognize that community doesn't stop with a geographic location. What we have to do ... (is) confront some of the issues that we have comfortably denied over the years. Poverty doesn't just affect a poor community. ... Crime crosses all boundaries—it's everywhere. … Talking is the first step. We're naming (the problems), and once you name, you can begin to confront, and once you confront, you can constructively think about ways to address those issues so that we can get rid of them.
Tell me about your programs.
Langford: Kids from economically disadvantaged communities do better in school if they have (quality) after-school and summer enrichment activities. We offer that. ... They're getting more academic focus; they're getting to do arts, (which help) cognizant development, academic performance, problem solving, (and) self-esteem issues. We're taking our kids ... to (places like) New Stage and the art museum or to learn how to ride horses. It's about doing interesting, amazing things and expanding their horizons. Giving kids a vision of, "Wow! Look at this world out there. I can be part of this bigger world."
What are some of your successes?
Langford: There's a young man, Monte Ellis, who graduated from Lanier high school two years ago … now he plays for the Golden State Warriors. … What he said was that we kept him off the streets.
Alexander: When you make a difference in Monte's life, you make a difference in his families' life. It's hard to quantify those successes. ... I personally don't worry about 'how many.'
Tell me about your challenges.
Alexander: One challenge is that we have so many who want to get into the programs. ... (The challenge is getting) resources to expand and still provide quality services.
Langford: We're serving a quarter of the kids at Galloway Elementary. ... If we're serving 25 percent, what's happening to the other 75 percent? Some of them may have after-school care, a lot of them don't. ... Another issue is that ... the people who support (charity) organizations are increasingly a minority of our population.
Alexander: What's important is to identify the issues, explore them briefly, and talk about how (to) move up to the next step. ... I really wish people who talk about faith will begin to be prayerful about what he or she can do individually and then collectively, to start being brave enough to name and confront issues—whatever they are—that impact us.
For more information, call 601-353-5369, or go to the Opereation Shoestring's website. Tickets to the annual dinner are $25.
It seems like Melton would just send kids to this program instead of doing whatever it is he's doing.