It was hard to accept what Jorge Perez was telling me last spring at the Lakewood Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

Students in our neighborhood living in shanties without electricity? Without running water? Without floors?

Without hope?

That’s when this month’s cover story, “5 Minutes To Hell,” began taking shape.

I pass through these neighborhoods occasionally on the way to a Rangers game, or when driving Downtown, or while taking a short-cut to Interstate 30.

I’ve seen the cheap, wood structures, generally poorly maintained, and the rather sad-looking people milling around these homes.

I know that, obviously, plenty of people in Dallas don’t have much.

So Editor Becky Bull began talking with a few of the students whose lives are truly a living hell, compared with the way many of us live.

Of course, we’re not writing this story to ruin your Thanksgiving dinner.

Instead, we’re writing about these neighbors because they don’t necessarily need our money, and they certainly don’t need our pity.

They need our respect for the difficult path they’ve deliberately taken to break free from their surroundings, carefully dodging drugs and gangs and sex and booze all along the way.

They need a pat on the back, every so often perhaps, to let them know they’re doing the right thing by foregoing the easy money that comes from selling drugs or signing up for welfare as a teenage parent.

And they need those of us who can afford the things they can’t to stick around this neighborhood and keep trying to make a difference.

Here’s the hitch: There’s a danger to our neighborhood in publishing a story such as “5 Minutes To Hell.”

To me, these students and their families are an inspiration. They are heroes against the odds.

To others, they and their surroundings are all that’s wrong with East Dallas and the greatest reason of all to move north.

That knowledge of our close proximity – or their close proximity – isn’t exactly comforting, is it?

Now that we’re more aware of the issue, we have the opportunity to be role models to these students by sinking our roots deeper into this neighborhood, rather than looking for the quickest way out.

Now that we’re more aware of the problem, however, it’s an awful lot easier to simply pack up and bail out.

“I admire you,” someone moving north told me not too long ago. “You’re really a pioneer, living where you live in East Dallas and starting up a business there, too. I just don’t want my kids to grow up here.”

After reading this story, it’s pretty obvious who the pioneers really are in this neighborhood.

I just hope enough of us have the guts to stick around and help them do what we all want to do – make a better life for us and our children.

I have to believe that my children will be better off having grown up in our neighborhood with these children, who have worked so hard to overcome so much, rather than growing up in a suburban environment where everyone essentially looks and talks and thinks the same.

Patty Galvan said it best in our cover story: “They say one person can make a difference. I hope I’m that one person in East Dallas.”

I hope she is, too. And I hope she isn’t alone.

Works of Artists

This is a good month to make sure you know about the people who make the Advocate a good-looking neighborhood newspaper.

Our freelance photography staff of Robert Bunch, Linda Lux and Donna Robinson work very hard to produce the photos you enjoy every month.

And as you can see from this month’s cover story, good photography can tell a story just as effectively as a well-researched and well-written story.

But the photos our freelancers take of children at the elementary school picnic and Boy Scouts participating in the canned-food drive and church members saluting a new pastor are just as important in telling the story of our neighborhoods every month.

If you see Robert, Linda or Donna around the neighborhood, let them know you enjoy their work.

And when they can’t make it to your event, don’t hesitate to pull out a camera, take a few shots yourself, and send us the photos.

If the photo is important to you, it will be important to us, too.

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