Loving the San Francisco Bay Area... Community development, urban ministry, trying to defeat poverty, faith, religion, politics, good music, the quest for the perfect pizza, the Yankees, motorcycles... All in a 'day's life'

Friday, December 30, 2005

House bill that makes it a crime to help illegal immigrants

This bill just passed the house. It would make it illegal for anyone to provide assistance to illegal immigrants. This is scary stuff. Priests or clergy, nurses, social workers and others could face 5 years in prison for helping immigrants. Not sure if this will pass, but it is an indication of the climate in America. Maybe these folks should read the inscription on the Statue of Liberty!

Read the article here.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Finally Starting to Slow Down

Christmas Eve morning.... Finally.

I'm glad to have a week of somewhat down time. What a week it was last week - what a year it was!

Calvin came back last week from Hampton university - James from Tuskegee. What a joy to see them! Both came through BCM's programs and now are studying in university. I love both of those guys. The are awesome examples of emerging leaders. Now if we can just keep them in school! Most of the BCM staff is headed out of town: Amy in Washington, Andy H. in Texas, Emily in NY... Our staff work so hard, when the down time comes they scatter.

We had a great strategic planning meeting for the Credit Union project last Thursday for most of the day. The good folks from Stanford CU hosted. Michael Hilliar from their staff facilitated. The goal is to have an operational CU by the end of '06. It's an ambitious goal to say the least, but with the quality of folks that are behind this project, I think it's do-able. I've been really impressed by the CU folks I've been getting to know. They seem to be people who genuinely care about people and have whole heartedly gotten behind the EPA project. Special thanks to Anita from Patelco. Stanford and Patelco have really brought support to this project. Without them we wouldn't even be in the conversation. Pastor Bains is an angel. I've been specifically impressed by his spirit and passion for the community. Joe Duran has been one of my best friends for years. We wouldn't be where we're at if it wasn't for he and Linda. I'm grateful to Joe for his support and friendship.

So today Melissa, Samuel and I head to San Francisco for our yearly Christmas Eve tradition. On Christmas Eve we go up into the city together, see a movie (this year the The Chronicles of Narnia) Then dinner together and a leisurely stroll through the city. Tomorrow morning we open presents! Since Christmas is on a Sunday and AUF isn't meting - we're going to go to St. Samuel and fellowship with them. Afterward head to the Melissa's family in the Valley. Monday through Wednesday, while Samuel hangs with his grandmother, Melissa will go out of town for a couple of days together.

What a year. Looking forward to slowing down, catching up... I can already see some of the exciting challenges that are ahead. For now - I think I'll relax and thank God for his kindness, blessings and grace.

Hope you all have a blessed Christmas... God is Good!

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Another Violent Week in EPA

KInd of disappointing - we had another homicide and shooting this week. More lives ruined by violence. I know we have to keep praying, working for change. Please pray for our city.

Read about the incident here.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

100 Arrested in Capital Protest

Jim Wallis, John Perkins and others were arrested in a protest in Washington yesterday. Check it out here. They were protesting the propsed cut of $50 billion dollars out of social services.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Prayer Walking

Yeaterday we participated in a prayer walk in EPA. It was one of the 'tangible' action items that came out of the EPA Summit on Violence we participated in a couple of weeks ago. While we will work for social change - in the end we believe that our efforts must be infused by the power of the Holy Spirit. We walked in scilence from City Hall to a location where there was a triple homicide earlier this year. We spent a few moments praying for the city, the families of those who have been lost. We had the chance to pray specifically for the Chief of Police and his staff.

The violence in our community has slowed down somewhat in the last month - praise God. The Christmas holiday has traditionally been a violent season - we're praying that this year peace will reign.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

New Book by Phil Jackson / Efrem Smith

Haven't read it yet - but Phil and Efrem are quality folks... Pick the book up here.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Anti Violence Summit in EPA

Over the past months a group of us have been workign on a summit for preventing violence in our community. The ultimate goal was to call pastors and leaders of faith to take responsibility for the community on a 'street' level. The summit was a resounding success! We had over 75 people attend - including three city council members, the chief of police and others. We received a good amount of press for the event, here are a couple of the articles:

Police tap religious groups in campaign to stem violence
By Rebekah Gordon, STAFF WRITER
Inside Bay Area

EAST PALO ALTO, CA Fourteen homicides here this year have sent the Police Department into overdrive to stem the violence, and on Saturday they looked to some 75 local religious leaders for help.
"We've got a high level of violence and we need a different outlook," said Lt. Tom Alipio, a patrol commander who helped organize the day's summit of leaders. "We've never done anything like this before."

Called "Promoting Life, Thwarting Crime, Preventing Violence," the summit was sponsored by the city, its police department, the East Palo Alto Chaplaincy and the Peninsula Community Foundation to engage the faith-based community in the violence discussion through workshops and speakers. Spanish translators were on hand as well.

The Rev. John Liotti, lead pastor at Antioch Urban Fellowship Church and director of Bayshore Christian Ministries' program for youth, said violence is a "huge issue" church leaders must help address.

"This community is old-school in terms of the pastors really have a lot of weight," he said. "We have the ability to reach kids on a whole different kind of level."

Reaching them, Liotti said, is by providing resources to establish or maintain programs that meet community needs. It also means being a presence on the streets, even going door-to-door, he said.

"Primarily, we need things that can engage our young people on an everyday basis," said the Rev. Paul Bains, senior chaplain and founder of the East Palo Alto Chaplaincy.

The Boys & Girls Club and YMCA under construction are a start, Bains said.

Gail Ortega, a community volunteer and director of multicultural student affairs at Menlo College in Menlo Park, likened this effort to the civil rights movement, which was largely faith-based, he said.

"The faith-based community is the only community that can witness unconditional love," he said. "We've got to open the doors. We've got to be out there.

"This is the hard work of transformation," he said.

In addressing the gang problem, Chief Ron Davis said churches can work to fill the need for a family that newly recruited gang members often seek.

"It's the community at-large working together to solve problems," he said.

He said the goals are aggressive.

"We're going to strive for a year without homicide in this community," he said.

Constance Burgess, the summit facilitator and an East Palo Alto native, said that in devising solutions church leaders must look at ease of accessibility, training levels, how to provide effective counseling and types of services offered. Services might range from media education to remedial programs for youth who violate the 11 p.m.-to-6 a.m. curfew ordinance.

"This is the time that we answer the call to action," she said.

The next summit will be held Feb. 25 at the East Palo Alto City Hall.


Pastors tackle crime in East P.A.
By HongDao Nguyen
Mercury News

Pastor Larry Scurry, the chaplain at Hillcrest Juvenile Hall in San Mateo, said he nearly fell over when he found out there are 50 churches in East Palo Alto's 2 1/2 square miles.

In 16 years, he said, only one African-American church has joined him to minister the troubled kids at San Mateo County's juvenile hall and only two East Palo Alto pastors have offered their help. That's despite the fact that many of the African-American youth he works with at Hillcrest are from East Palo Alto, he said.

``We basically have got to step up,'' Scurry told dozens of leaders from East Palo Alto's faith community on Saturday during a violence prevention summit in a city where the homicide rate has doubled since last year.

East Palo Alto police joined clergy from more than a dozen churches to hear from a panel of law enforcement, community members and survivors of the streets to explore the root of the crime wave and find ways to stop it.

Rallying against crime isn't new in East Palo Alto. In 2004, a shooting spurred a peace march. In 2003, a spate of violence led to a prayer vigil -- yet homicides in 2005 have so far doubled to 14. But police and faith leaders said Saturday's effort was different.

``In past events, we reached out to one or two churches,'' said Lt. Tom Alipio, commander of East Palo Alto's police investigations division. Saturday's event wasn't just rhetoric but a meeting of leaders who will turn words into action, he said.

``It's a group that will not let it fall on its face.''

In recent months, gang violence has spiked throughout San Mateo County, said Loren Buddress, the county's chief probation officer. Right now, 13 juveniles are in Hillcrest facing charges for murder or conspiracy to commit murder, Buddress said, and each is linked to gang violence. However, the whole state is dealing with increased gang activity, he said.

Other panelists also shared hard realities.

Doug Fort, who founded For Youth By Youth, an organization to reach out to at-risk youths in East Palo Alto and east Menlo Park, said he knew about half of the 14 homicide victims this year in East Palo Alto. He also experienced violence as a youth.

At 13, Fort was shot in the face twice when a gunman aimed for someone else and accidentally hit Fort instead. He hustled drugs as a kid.

Faith leaders are facing a generation whose parents weren't around because they were in jail or on drugs, said Fort, 28. In turn, the kids gravitate toward street life and violence.

``There is no therapy for us,'' Fort said.

Fort said another obstacle is how young people view churches: As stodgy, traditional and judgmental.

But panelists also encouraged the group.

After a recent spate of violence among some Tongan youths in San Bruno and San Mateo, Tongan faith leaders teamed with police agencies to fight the crime, said Alejandro Vilchez, who works for the Peninsula Conflict Resolution Center.

Out of that relationship, Tongan youths were offered rope-climbing courses to build character, and Tongan clergy joined police on weekend ride-alongs.

``We really have to be intentional about this,'' Vilchez said.

East Palo Alto's summit suggested inviting youth to hang out at houses of worship on Saturdays and getting more churches to participate in youth mentoring programs.

Summit organizers also asked for more people to volunteer with the city's police chaplain program and youth groups, or help plan the next summit in February.

They hope a more formal plan of action will come out of that gathering.

``There's enough people to do the work,'' said Katie Fantin, the executive director of New Creation Home Ministries in East Palo Alto. ``But it's about empowering them to do it.''


Friday, December 02, 2005

700 Sundays

I just finished Billy Crystal's book 700 Sundays. I picked it up in Indy for the trip home from CCDA. I REALLY want to see the play now - the book is at times laugh out loud funny. While certainly not a Christian book - it hits on some interesting points - family, priorities, grief and loss, perspective. He likens the grief to a 'boulder' that you carry around with you. Many of us have seen people carrying boulders around -some of us carry boulders.

Good book...


Melissa and I went to see Ozomatali last night at the Fillmore in SF. What an amazing show! Noel C. always talks about the concept of Mestizo - the mixing of cultures and experiences. I couldn't help but think of this during the show. Ozo has latin, funk, eastern, hip hop, rock... It's kind of what we've been envisioning as we've planed AUF.

check out Ozo.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Regional stuff - Fragmentation among urban leaders

I've been in the Bay Area for over five years now and in Northern California since 1995. The contrast from Modesto to the Bay has been start. Rick and the guys at YFC in Modesto had great success in creating a level of synergy and community amongst youth leaders in the area. Here in the Bay there seems to be a real disconnect between churches and ministries. We've seen it present in our little community of East Palo Alto (although things are getting better here through the work of Larry Moody and others).

So - sort of by default I've been involved in a couple of regional events, working with Larry Acosta on Reload (http://www.uywi.org) and Noel with the CCDA Institute (http://www.ccda.org). I've been surprised by a couple of things: 1) The amount of transition / burnout in urban leaders in the Bay and 2) How difficult it is to get folks to the table.

Now - I have a couple of working theories. The first is that we are a region of 'micro-climates'. The weather is freaky here! I can wear a parka in the morning in San Francisco and have a Hawaiian shirt on for lunch in San Jose. This I think is indicative of the spiritual climate also - each region has it's own 'climate' and situation. San Fran is a different world than East Palo Alto - it feels like we don't speak the same language. However - we do deal with many similar issues, drugs, gangs, violence, gentrification...

My second theory is that we live in area that is prone to the independent spirit. It is an area of phenomenal innovation and drive. There is much competition to get a product to market before anyone else. We work with others with suspicion - wondering if they will steal our 'glory'. Sadly - I think this spirit creeps into the church.

The result of these and other issues is that we are one of the least churched regions in the country - with (from what 'they' tell me) less that 7% of the population regular attending church.

So - what do we do? How do we create unity? What is my part? How do we build community in a fragmented world?

Larry Acosta is coming up in a couple of weeks to promote the Reload event - and talk about these issues. Here is the text for the invite:

You are cordially invited to attend a special gathering of Northern California urban youth ministers and pastors on Tuesday, December 13th, 2005 from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm in Castro Valley, CA.

Our special guest is Dr. Larry Acosta of Urban Youth Workers Institute. Larry topic will be: “The Greater Bay Area: Creating Unity in a Fragmented Region”. He will be leading a discussion regarding the unique characteristics of urban leadership in the Bay Area, helping us to define strategies to decrease the fragmentation that exists in relationships and between local ministries. We will talk about ways to create and promote unity, accountability and partnerships. Larry and his team have identified proven strategies and best practices for training, networking and developing strong accountability relationships between leaders.

DrDr. Acostata is a nationally recognized urban leader. He is the founder / president of Urban Youth Workers Institute (UYWI). UYWI is the nation's leading urban youth leader training conference and equipping ministry based in Santa Ana, CA. UYWI regularly gathers over 1500 youth workers each May for a training event in Azusa, CA and will soon be expanding to the US East Coast for a second annual event. UYWI also hosts the ‘Reload’ one day regional training events in over 20 cities nationally (coming to the Bay Area on 1/21!) and ‘learning communities’. Learning communities are small groups of leaders who gather for accountability and personal development. Local communities are currently in formation.

Larry will also be discussing the upcoming Reload training event on January 21st in Oakland.

Please plan on joining us for this important event.

Date and Time: Tuesday, December 13th, 2005.
10:00 am to 2:00 pm ( lunch will be provided)

Location: 17234 Cull Canyon Road
Castro Valley, CA 94552

To RSVP or for more information please contact: John Liotti

National Network of Youth Ministries
Urban Youth Workers Institute
Northern California Urban Development Corporation
Bayshore Christian Ministries
Urban YoungLife
St. Samuel Church of God in Christ – East Palo Alto (Pastor Paul Bains)
Project WeHope
Antioch Urban Fellowship of East Palo Alto

Friday, November 25, 2005

Dream Act

This is an important piece of legislation. We're worked with some young leaders over the year where this is an important issue. Whateve your political view - let's not let the children of the undocumented suffer for the choices of their parents...

DREAM Act Introduced!

Take Action!

Thank key senators for their support and urge your senator to cosponsor!

On Friday, November 18th, a bipartisan group of Senators officially introduced the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act of 2005, S. 2075, giving new life to legislation that has been in a holding pattern since the beginning of the year.   The features of the DREAM Act of 2005 are nearly identical to the version that passed the Senate Judiciary Committee last Congress by a 16-3 vote.

The sponsors of the DREAM Act of 2005 are Richard Durbin (D-IL), Chuck Hagel (R-NE) and Richard Lugar (R-IN).

The other original cosponsors are Norm Coleman (R-MN), Larry Craig (R-ID), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Mike DeWine (R-OH), Russ Feingold (D-WI), Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), John McCain (R-AZ), and Barack Obama (D-IL).

It will become law if passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the President before the end of 2006.

Please act now to thank the DREAM Act sponsors and co-sponsors, and urge your senator to cosponsor the bill.

If enacted, the DREAM Act, S. 2075, would transform the lives of persons who were brought to the U.S. years ago as undocumented children and who have stayed in school and out of trouble since their arrival.  Currently these individuals have no pathway to legalize their immigration status and get on with their lives.  The DREAM Act would correct this flaw.  Upon high school graduation, these individuals — who have grown up in the United States — would be able to apply for six years of conditional legal immigration status, which would be made permanent if they continue on to college or to serve in the military. 

Those helped would include Marie Gonzalez who grew up in Jefferson City, Missouri.  A Latina Magazine Mujer of the Year, she became a symbol for thousands of others in similar situations, last year, when she was able to stave off deportation with the help of thousands of supporters.  Now she is quietly attending college, but has only been given a reprieve until July of 2006 and could again face deportation if the DREAM Act is not enacted.

Introduction of the DREAM Act comes at a time when Congress will also address the issue of comprehensive immigration reform. Despite the outcome of that debate, the DREAM Act must be addressed on its own merits because it will have a positive impact on education, fairness to children, and American competitiveness.

Young people facing high school graduation and major decisions about college or work should not be asked to wait until Congress resolves all of the other vexing immigration issues.  Rather, Congress should act now and take these young people off of the field of battle of the immigration wars.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

A little background about the economic development project we're working on...

This is a little 'formal' - but it gives a clear overview on the project we're currently working on... The bottom line issue is that we're focused on dealing with systematic and generational poverty that keeps people in bondage. I'm tired of dealing with issues that are the outcomes of povety - violence, anger, dispair. I feel that the power of the Gospel lies with the ability to deal directly wiht the heart of people - and the root causes of their dispair.

NCUDC is a non profit, faith based organization. Our mission is to transform Northern California’s urban communities by addressing systemic and generational poverty through economic and community development projects.
Our Board was formed in 2005 by a group of seasoned professionals. Its members are experienced leaders in business development, banking, marketing, administration, community service, and management of non-profit and for profit organizations. NCUDC is presently focused on an economic development project for East Palo Alto and eastern Menlo Park.

With a population of roughly 40,000, having only one bank has been financially challenging to the community, 93% of which is composed of Latino and African-American residents. Identifying challenges such as poor education, deteriorating family structure, endemic poverty, and all forms of racial discrimination is not as difficult as one might expect. These issues are well known and well documented. Finding the solutions to meet underlying needs and provide for positive outcomes are the issues on which NCUDC is focused.

An economically distressed community like East Palo Alto has needs most commercial banks are ill-equipped to meet. Banks are not accustomed to entry level financial products that deal with barriers common to a minority demographic. Barriers include; communication with non-English speaking customers, consistent patterns of high spending and low savings, and a delinquent or nonexistent credit history. This is the gap in services NCUDC will address by starting a credit union that will focus on breaking the cycle of poverty in this community.

By employing models that have been proven to work with a similar population make-up and economic history; the Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) will provide savings and checking accounts, check cashing, international money orders, car loans and mortgages. Despite a variety of benefits, this endeavor will instantly provide an alternative to the often-predatory check cashing and payday loan services widely used in the community. For example, it is common for a payday loan to charge over 600% interest (APR). Check cashing fees add up to hundreds of dollars annually, a burden for many with low- income occupations. This has developed into common practice due to the lack of affordable and pertinent financial services. Our goal in the end is to place more money into the hands of the people who earned it. The credit union will also provide a mechanism offering courses in financial management thus developing better financial practices that will lead to self-sufficiency among its patrons.

On a community level, the CDFI will foster initiatives that encourage self–dependence, entrepreneurship, and personal initiatives such as micro-enterprise loans and small business development. We will provide technical assistance and consulting services to existing community organizations, emerging organizations and local businesses.
NCUDC’s focus on East Palo Alto and eastern Menlo Park has garnered the support of the community itself. Over 20 faith-based and nonprofit community leaders have pledged their support for NCUDC’s initiative. We fundamentally believe that a group of dedicated people, committed to working together can solve any problem.

Growing savings and investment accounts, owning homes, and reducing financial stress on families is the reason we are working towards the goal of opening a CDFI branch by the end of 2006. In spite of having the overwhelming support of the community, the immediate need requires the raising of start up capital. The community’s needs are obvious, the plan identified, now we look forward to those who will step up, catch the vision, and help make it a reality.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Getting Going!

OK - watching guys like Rudy Currasco do the blogging thing sucessfully over the years - I feel like it's time to start this thing. Hopefully this will be informative about my life and ministry in the Bay!