I’ve been working with East Dallas teenagers ever since I was one of them.
During the summer of 1985, when I worked as a lifeguard for the City of Dallas at Tietze Park, I met a nine-year-old boy named Jim (not his real name). Jim was my favorite, always smiling a bashful smile and always willing to help the lifeguards.
After four summers as a lifeguard, I went away to college and to work. Honestly, I didn’t expect to see Jim again, but he seemed like the kind of kid who would turn out OK.
Six years later, I work for the East Dallas YMCA, developing “high-school club” programs for kids from 12 to 17 years old. Two weeks ago, I was at an East Dallas high school recruiting students for the YMCA programs.
While talking with one student, I spotted a familiar face.
“Who is that guy over there?” I asked the student. “I know him. Is his name Jim?”
“Yeah, that’s him,” the student said.
“Should I invite him to join our club and to go to the Rangers game with us?” I asked.
“No, Miss, you don’t want him,” the student said, shaking his head. “He’s a wimp. He’s in a gang.”
“Oh,” was all that I could say. A gang recruited Jim before I did.
Last week, I visited the same high school again. While I waited in an empty hall for the final bell to ring, Jim was escorted past me to the principal’s office by the truancy officer.
I don’t know if truancy is the only crime on Jim’s record. But I do know this is a familiar story for hundreds of children growing up in East Dallas.
It angers me that human beings such as Jim, who are by nature sweet, caring, helpful and bashful, can become uncaring and aggressive while growing up in our neighborhood.
Perhaps this angers you, too. It might even make you so angry that you would feel compelled to do something about it. Most likely, you would do something about it – if you knew how.
One day, I told a friend of mine about my anger that so many teenagers get “lost” in our society.
“Why don’t you do something about it?” he asked me. “Why don’t you get a group of people together, and lead them to make a change?”
“I couldn’t do that,” I told him. “I’m not a specialist in that area. Nobody would listen to me.”
My friend then said something that has forever changed the way I react to almost every situation:
“Margery, leadership has nothing to do with ability. A leader doesn’t have to be the smartest person, the loudest person or the most charismatic person.
“Leadership has nothing to do with ability. It has everything to do with inability. Leadership is the inability to stand around and do nothing while you watch the world go to pieces around you.”
Because I have worked in social service agencies for the past five years, I know there are hundreds of successful programs throughout the country designed to help junior high and high school kids. And foundations are trying to give millions of dollars to help neighborhoods such as ours.
Our neighborhood can become one of those success stories. All we need is the inability to stand around and watch our neighborhood go to pieces around us.
I don’t want you to think I’m an alarmist, but I am trying to set off an alarm. I love East Dallas. And I just want to help make it a better place.
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