Tag Archives: Central Dallas Ministries

People Are Just Too Big In This Country – We’ve Got To Shrink A Little, Now, Fast (We’re living in “Generation Extra Large”)

Ok – let’s state the obvious.  We’re too big. Really – we’re too big.  Way too big.  For example, the average person riding mass transit now weighs 200 pounds – up from 164 pounds just a couple of decades ago.  We’re too big!

Or, to put it another way:  When Dandy Don Meredith was the Dallas Cowboys quarterback, the average American weighed 166 pounds.  Today, the average American weighs 196 pounds (191 in 2002.  The average mass transit passenger is heavier, 200 pounds, because the level of poverty for these riders is higher than the average population).  By the way, the average lineman in the NFL is now 48 pounds heavier since  the early 1970s – with the average offensive lineman in the 2010 season weighing in at 312 pounds.

(Read many specific figures, from the CDC, here).

Why are we so big?  Because we eat more than we need.  The more we eat, the more we weigh  (it’s not rocket science).

And this is a big, big “we’re too big” problem. We ought to at least know a little more about it, don’t you think?

So, read these excerpts from this book:  Generation Extra Large:  Rescuing our Children from the Epidemic of Obesity by Lisa Tartamella, Elaine Herscher, and Chris Woolston.  This is the selection I am presenting for today’s Urban Engagement Book Club, which matters to the folks at CitySquare (formerly Central Dallas Ministries) because obesity is exacerbated by poverty.  (CitySquare exists to fight the root causes of poverty by partnering with those in need).

Sometimes important changes have a way of sneaking up on you.  One afternoon you’re at a busy airport, and you realize that a third of the people waiting for a plane will have trouble fitting into a regular seat.

In just one school, Gina Castro (Texas school administrator) finds eight fourth graders who weigh more than 200 pounds,   “My God, we had five-year-olds who weighted 100 pounds.”  “Twenty years ago you didn’t have a lot of obese kids, and then gradually it was more and more.  Then, after a while, I could look down my blacktop with one hundred kids in line, and thirty of them were obese.  I’m not saying just a little overweight.  I mean obese.”

It is worth wondering what would have happened if Castro had found eight fourth graders in one school with leukemia.  For starters, we’d all have heard about it.  Teams of epidemiologists would have come barreling into town to study the outbreak.  Medical specialists would have begun treating the children and would have reported daily on their condition.  Reporters would be locked in combat to be the first to describe just who these nine-year-olds are, how they live, and how they are coping with their heartbreaking disease.

But no busloads of scientists or reporters are sprinting to any of these kids’ front doors.  It’s just another day in the fourth grade.

One of the most disquieting things about obesity is how quickly and accomodatingly we’ve settled into it, towing our kids along with us. In as little as twenty years we’ve eaten our way into the record books.  Americans now rank among the fattest people on earth.  Two thirds of us weigh more that we should…  The country’s issue with weight caused some 400,000 adult deaths in 2000, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and obesity is poised to overtake tobacco as the leading cause of preventable deaths, possibly as soon as 2005.

The U. S. food industry produces 3,800 calories a day for every man, woman, and child in the United States (says Marion Nestle, New York University nutritionist and author of Food Politics).  Women need approximately 2,200 calories, men approximately 2,500 calories.  Food manufacturers can’t sell all those extra calories without increasing portions and seducing people to eat more…  “There’s something about human psychology – if a lot of food is put in front of us, we eat it.

Clearly, people are responsible for what they eat, but they can’t be held accountable for keeping a level playing field between themselves and the food industry.

Did you read that figure? – 3800 calories per day.  It’s an old problem, and I am defenseless in is presence– put me in line at a buffet, and I will eat more than I need to, more than I should, more than is good for me.  And if there is a dessert bar – it’s all over.  I eat a little (ok – more  than a little) of everything.  Everything!

So – we’re too big.  We’ve got our work cut out for us.

(Personal note:  I’m really glad I lost a fair amount of weight these last couple of months before I read this book.  If I hadn’t, I would have been so depressed that I would have headed straight for the Golden Corral).

Listen to Larry James, CEO of CitySquare (formerly Central Dallas Ministries), interviewed by Krys Boyd on Think (90.1, KERA)

Larry James, CEO, CitySquare

I have written often about the event I speak at for CitySquare (formerly Central Dallas Ministries), the Urban Engagement Book Club.  Today, at the noon hour, Krys Boyd interviewed the CEO of CitySquare, Larry James.  Larry is a walking encyclopedia about many aspects of unmet and under-met human need, and through his leadership, CitySquare is truly making a difference, in Dallas, and in an ever-growing circle outward.

Go here to listen to a podcast of the interview.

{North Texas in Need
[2010-12-08 12:00:00] North Texas may be weathering the current economy better than many U.S. cities, but what’s the climate like for those who help the needy in our community? We’ll talk this hour with Larry James, President and CEO of City Square, which recently changed its name from Central Dallas Ministries.
Download MP3 File}

By the way, Public Radio has a true all-star line-up of world class interviewers.  They are able to let a guest speak clearly, giving us real insight into the message and the concerns of each guest.  We are familiar with the nationally known names:  Terry Gross, Diane Rehm.  Locally, Krys Boyd is a key part of that all-star line-up, and her interview with Larry was terrific.

Interested in Race and Politics? – Here’s a Book Worth Reading

Today, I am presenting a synopsis of the book Running on Race:  Racial Politics in Presidential Elections, 1960-2000 (New York:  Random House – 2002) by Jeremy D. Mayer.  This is this month’s selection for the Urban Engagement Book Club, an event sponsored by CitySquare (formerly Central Dallas Ministries).

The book selections (made by a group of leaders at CitySquare, with my recommendations and input) have provided me quite a mini-education in social justice and poverty.  Here’s the bad news:  the needs are growing greater in this country, and the progress…well, there’s not enough.  And in this current economic climate, the needs are getting greater, as donations are harder and harder to come by.

This book is worth reading.  The author acknowledges other racial divides as worthy of careful study, but his emphasis is on the black-white divide…

Here are some quotes from the book:

Race and the array of issues surrounding it have been crucial to every presidential election since 1960…  Every presidential candidate during this period has had to take positions on racial matters, and each campaign’s strategic choices were influenced by the racial environment of the election year… Race affected the presidential contest in years when race was central to the nation’s agenda and in years when race was submerged by a host of other issues.  Race always mattered in presidential campaigns…

Racial tensions will not disappear anytime soon, as long as segregation characterizes many of our neighborhoods, as long as racial profiling remains a problem in so many police departments, as long as some whites believe, openly or secretly, in black inferiority, and as long as racial preferences inflame racial animosities.

“The prejudices of centuries die hard, and even when they wane, the institutional frameworks that sustained them are bound to linger.”  (Sociologist Orlando Patterson).

The book has chapters, with fascinating details, on every presidential election from 1960 through 2000.

If this subject interests you at all, I commend this book.  It is a good, somewhat disturbing read.


If you live in the  DFW area, and are looking for a place that responsibly and effectively serves the needy among us, please consider a donation to CitySquare.  Click here to start that process.


Thoughts About Change From A Book About Racial, Ethnic, And Class Tensions

For the Urban Engagement Book Club for Central Dallas Ministries tomorrow, I am presenting my synopsis of There Goes the Neighborhood:  Racial, Ethnic, and Class Tensions in Four Chicago Neighborhoods and Their Meaning for America by William Julius Wilson and Richard P. Taub.  At this book club, we focus on books related to social justice and poverty issues – quite a different focus from what we normally choose for the First Friday Book Synopsis.  And this book takes a careful look at some social justice and poverty issues.

In this book, which looks at four neighborhoods that felt the impact of racial change, and all of the implications of that change, I found this insightful paragraph:

Albert Hirschman argues that when people become dissatisfied with changes in their surroundings they can exit – move or withdraw from further participation – or they can exercise voice.  Hirschman defines “voice” as any attempt “to change, rather than to escape from,” an undesirable situation.
The more willing people are to try to exercise voice – that is, to change, correct, or prevent a particular situation – the less likely they are to exit.

This seems to be useful as we think about all kinds of change:  if a change is threatening (and most change is), then people will either “exit,” or they will “speak up” to seek to make their own voice heard in the midst of change.

And when will people most likely speak up?  According to Hirschman, people will speak up when one’s “loyalty” to a neighborhood, or an organization within the neighborhood, is deep, and genuinely matters to the individual.  In such instances, things are worth “fighting for,” and a person will do whatever he or she can to maintain the ties.

So – put this in a business context.  The more loyal people are to a company and its mission, the more likely they are to speak up to protect what is important, and seek to shape the change in a workable way for all.

It seems to me that we want people who are loyal enough to speak up for what is important to them!

Declining Creativity: Holy Mackerel, This is a Big Problem!

First, a quick “how did I find this?”  One of the blogs I read almost every day is Larry James’ Urban Daily.  Larry is the CEO of Central Dallas Ministries, and though he writes most often about social problems and social justice (poverty, homlessness), he also has some great surprises.  This morning, he excerpted this article from Newsweek. — his colleague, Dr. Janet Morrison, (who works with “underprivileged inner city students” – she is a marvel!) pointed him to the article.

The article: The Creativity Crisis: For the first time, research shows that American creativity is declining. What went wrong—and how we can fix it.

The article describes how CQ (Creativity Quotient) may be more important than IQ in determining future success.  And the article gives details about data regarding this truth, going back to some legendary tests conducted with the “Torrance kids,” a group of nearly 400 Minneapolis children who completed a series of creativity tasks newly designed by professor E. Paul Torrance.

The correlation to lifetime creative accomplishment was more than three times stronger for childhood creativity than childhood IQ.

  Like intelligence tests, Torrance’s test—a 90-minute series of discrete tasks, administered by a psychologist—has been taken by millions worldwide in 50 languages. Yet there is one crucial difference between IQ and CQ scores. With intelligence, there is a phenomenon called the Flynn effect—each generation, scores go up about 10 points. Enriched environments are making kids smarter. With creativity, a reverse trend has just been identified and is being reported for the first time here: American creativity scores are falling.

The entire article is a terrific read.  Here are more excerpts:

The accepted definition of creativity is production of something original and useful, and that’s what’s reflected in the tests. There is never one right answer. To be creative requires divergent thinking (generating many unique ideas) and then convergent thinking (combining those ideas into the best result).

With creativity, a reverse trend has just been identified and is being reported for the first time here: American creativity scores are falling.

“It’s very clear, and the decrease is very significant,”

The necessity of human ingenuity is undisputed. A recent IBM poll of 1,500 CEOs identified creativity as the No. 1 “leadership competency” of the future. Yet it’s not just about sustaining our nation’s economic growth. All around us are matters of national and international importance that are crying out for creative solutions, from saving the Gulf of Mexico to bringing peace to Afghanistan to delivering health care. Such solutions emerge from a healthy marketplace of ideas, sustained by a populace constantly contributing original ideas and receptive to the ideas of others.

Overwhelmed by curriculum standards, American teachers warn there’s no room in the day for a creativity class.

Creativity has always been prized in American society, but it’s never really been understood. While our creativity scores decline unchecked, the current national strategy for creativity consists of little more than praying for a Greek muse to drop by our houses. The problems we face now, and in the future, simply demand that we do more than just hope for inspiration to strike. Fortunately, the science can help: we know the steps to lead that elusive muse right to our doors.

A few comments from me:

Creativity and Innovation are different, but related.  Creativity precedes innovation, and both are critical to future business and societal success.  By the way, in the article, the definition ties the two together: “To be creative requires divergent thinking (generating many unique ideas) and then convergent thinking (combining those ideas into the best result).”

Recently, I spoke to a man who helps people start and buy businesses, and he observed that a much, much higher percentage of business purchases these days are franchise businesses than they used to be.  He offered a few implicaitons of this trend.  Here’s one – there’s more of “the same” and less of “ the different.”  Different comes from creativity and innovation  The same is… the same.

It really does appear that we have a need for a creativity and innovation resurgence.  And, the article warns us, it has to start with the right training in school and family at a pretty young age.  So, this may take a while!

Read the article.  Really.  And then… work, more, more often, on nurturing creativity.


Let me remind you that my favorite book from the 12+ years of the First Friday Book Synopsis is by Twyla Tharp, the award-winning choreographer:  The Creative Habit:  Learn It and Use it For Life.  You can order my synopsis, with handout + audio, at our companion web site, 15minutebusinessbooks.com.  But, I strongly recommend that you actually read the book for yourself.

Saul Alinsky + The Starfish and The Spider – Wisdom for a New Generation, on both sides of the Aisle

The basics transcend all differences.

I generally shy away from anything political on this blog.  But this morning, there is an article on Politico that is worth a little attention on a blog focused on business books.  The article is entitled The new tea party bible, and it describes how the Tea Party Movement has used two books as “Bibles” for their purposes.  The first is the most unlikely choice, the “liberal’s” guidebook for organizing, Rules for Radicals:  A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals by Saul Alinsky.  Politico had earlier written specifically about the Tea Party’s use of this book in the article The Right loves to hate – and imitate – Saul Alinsky. The second is the more recent The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations by Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom.

First, a few excerpts from Alinsky (I presented a synopsis of Alinsky’s book at the Urban Engagement Book Club in Dallas for Central Dallas Ministries, a couple of years ago):

As an organizer I start from where the world is, as it is, not as I would like it to be…  it is necessary to begin where the world is if we are going to change it to what we think it should be.

A reformation means that masses of our people have reached the point of disillusionment with past ways and values.  They don’t know what will work but they do know that the prevailing system is self-defeating, frustrating, and hopeless.  They won’t act for change but won’t strongly oppose those who do.  The time is then ripe for revolution.

The building of many mass power organizations to merge into a national popular power force cannot come without many organizers.  Since organizations are created, in large part, by the organizer, we must find out what creates the organizer.

I know that I have communicated with the other party when his eyes light up and he responds, “I know exactly what you mean…” — communication occurs concretely.

And a little about The Starfish and the Spider (from the Amazon page):

The title metaphor conveys the core concept: though a starfish and a spider have similar shapes, their internal structure is dramatically different—a decapitated spider inevitably dies, while a starfish can regenerate itself from a single amputated leg. In the same way, decentralized organizations, like the Internet, the Apache Indian tribe and Alcoholics Anonymous, are made up of many smaller units capable of operating, growing and multiplying independently of each other, making it very difficult for a rival force to control or defeat them.

Here are some lessons:

Lesson # 1:  Learn from anywhere and everywhere to accomplish your goals.  You will find books, companions, colleagues, alliances in many unlikely places.  Embrace wisdom from wherever you can find it.

Lesson #2:  We really are living in a bottom-up world. The top-down leadership structure of yesterday is so yesterday.  The Tea Party on the Right, and community organizers on the Left, have this in common:  no one leader at the “top” is dictating much of anything anymore.  Leadership comes from within, from underneath, from everywhere.  Modern social networking tools have simply accelerated the pace of this remarkable development.

Lesson #3:  As I have often hinted, and stated openly, the more you know, the more you know. Keep reading widely.  Keep learning.  And  remember that you can learn from people who come from very different places than you come from.  The disciplined, ongoing pursuit of learning is the only path to a more effective tomorrow.