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A Christmas party a few days ago gave me a look at the state of the black community. We had reason to dance, but nothing to shout about.

Every time I get out on the dance floor and make a fool of myself, I am quickly reminded of my advanced case of emphysema. Nevertheless, I danced that Saturday night as if it were my last. I had come for that – but even more, I came to watch that white boy out-dance all of us middle-aged black folk. I made the mistake of boasting that I was the best Electric Slide dancer on the floor. I got myself drafted to partner with a young hip-hop woman who knew nothing about the 1960s cha-cha.

So Couple No. 3 (that’s us) had to exit. The battle boiled down to Couple No. 1 (that white boy and his wife) and Couple Number (Who?). All I could do was watch, in amazement, as Dan and his wife put a spell on the audience, brought them to their feet for one ovation after another – and won.

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This is what I wanted to see, and one of the reasons why I egged Dan onto the dance floor. I know that most white people don’t feel comfortable around black people at parties and wind up blending in with the wallflowers.

But not Dan; he came to “dance with the stars.” And I came to the Near Southeast CDC’s annual holiday party to dance in the light of other stars – people like Shirley and Johnny Lewis, one of the hardest-working couples I know in revitalizing our area. And my friend who works in a congressman’s office. And our state representative, our county commissioner, and a brother who, like me, has served a long-stretch prison sentence – all of us working to bind up the wounds of the community.

Discussing the state of the black community, from top to bottom, was my main reason for attending. Considering that I live on the most desolate street in a city in one of the most economically depressed districts in the United States, I know the depth of poverty of my community. Its revitalization is the quandary of our times.

As usual, the discussions were heavy. The ex-con had once fed a poor family and mentored its young gangbanger – a kid whom I had home-schooled in community-based computer classes. Old School and I exchanged information on that child, who went on to become an honor student in California but was now back in Fort Worth.

Paul David was now 16, back in the same economically depressed neighborhood, for better or worse. An ex-gang leader, he still had the charisma to lead his peers. Essiah, the ex-con, needed to check on the kid. Other party-goers, like Ross and Wallace also knew Paul David. We know that as goes one child, so go all the kids in our neighborhood.

My message to our county commissioner was more urgent. Stay focused: With the recent change in sentencing guidelines, we can anticipate a great influx of ex-offenders here in 2008. So we can’t afford to pussyfoot around. They must be taught to hit the ground running, and that means we need a workable re-entry plan and structure . Otherwise, we face an increase in recidivism. Right now, people are being released from prison with two options on how to self-destruct – suicide by poverty and homelessness or suicide by cop. We need to offer them a message of hope – and a plan on how to succeed once reintegrated. Erik shared some of the congressman’s ideas about revitalizing the southeast quadrant. But most were abstract, nothing specific.

The main problem, as I see it, is not real estate development but reclamation of people – giving them hope and skills. In the community, there is a woeful lack of survival skills and few talented people to teach them in an impoverished and hostile urban environment. The dialogue with Erik did yield some possibilities that Shirley added to the “Weed and Seed” effort. It seems that, although there has been a successful and systematic “weeding” effort to eliminate crime, drugs, and prostitution, there had been very little “seeding” as promised by the government.
Sometimes, people need the chance to talk eyeball to eyeball. The Saturday night party did exactly that.

And now back to the dancing. While everybody else was sliding to the right, old Ed was sliding to the left. I must have stepped on every corn on the dance floor. But I never had so much fun.

It may be time for me to hang up my dancing shoes (after all, a little old white lady named Ann was able to outdo me on the Electric Slide). But it’s time for all of us to put our work shoes on and make it another year of seeding progress in our community.

Eddie Griffin can be reached at eddiegriffinbasg.blogspot.com

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