Building real community: jobs, jobs, jobs

About a month ago, I heard a local preacher tell a story that showed we have a long way to go to build a real community.

I’m not sure his story resonated around the city the way that it should have — it certainly resonated with me — but that could partly be my fault.

When local civil rights leaders organized a summit for law enforcement, I was assigned to cover it. Denton hasn’t seen the kind of unrest that Ferguson, Mo., and other cities have, but no one wants to see that kind of unrest either if issues can be addressed proactively. I live-tweeted the event and reported the conversation for the Denton Record-Chronicle. I didn’t get to write the Rev. Chambers’ story in my report, but I’ve lost count how many times I’ve retold it in my own conversations with friends who ask how Sam’s job hunt is going.

The Rev. Cedric Chambers came to lead Mount Calvary Baptist Church from West Dallas recently, after the Rev. Logan passed away. A few members of his church told him their concerns about several young men who were on the wrong path. Without some intervention and, frankly, some help, the future for these four young men wasn’t good, Rev. Chambers said.

The church community put together some social supports for these young men, but what these fellows needed most was summer jobs. Chambers sat down and wrote letters to many Denton business leaders and made a proposal. The church would help make sure these young men would be successful if given a chance of employment. Chambers told the crowd that he had pursued this tactic in West Dallas before and it had been successful. But he was surprised when not a single business leader in Denton contacted him about the church’s proposal.

I very much wanted to stand up and tell the rest of the room that what Chambers experienced in Denton was not unusual.

Sam graduated from North Central Texas College with his associate’s degree two years ago. He also has a certificate in computer information and technology. But he still works the job he got when he graduated high school in 2006, sacking groceries part time in a Denton store.

It took a year, but finally, the state agreed he was underemployed and re-opened a case to help him get a job. In other words, he’s got the right social support he needs to be successful.

Yet, for two years now, the business community hasn’t given him a real chance at bat. (He’s suited up twice thanks to friends who knew him well and wanted to put him in the game.)

Time and time and time again we hear that prospective employers just don’t want to take the chance — even in the tech sector which is scrambling for dependable workers.

A city can have a lot of creative, hard-working people, and their efforts can, and do, go a long way toward building community, but as the Rev. Chambers and my son know all too well, fear forfeits the game every time.

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