Difference Maker

Born and raised in one of the toughest areas of South Detroit, Dante Jackson managed to not only graduate from high school but he made it to the ripe old age of nineteen with no criminal record. In an area where the dropout rate was once 75% and the likelihood of going to prison or college is almost equal, these were remarkable feats.

Dante credits his early success to his grandmother who raised him. She often told him—and anyone else who would listen—that he “was a good boy, a real good boy.” He tried hard to never let her down. She was the only family he’d ever known. His mother died of a drug overdose before he could walk and like many children born into extreme poverty, he never knew his father.

Dante’s life went awry in a series of heinous crimes that began with the rape of his girlfriend by her mother’s live-in boyfriend. Her mother refused to believe her and when the police didn’t either, Dante took matters into his own hands. He pounded on the door of her house. He could see the boyfriend passed out on the couch, a burned-down cigarette hanging from his limp fingers but despite Dante’s best efforts, he could not wake the man. So he left, determined to return another time to set things straight.

Later that night, police showed up at his grandmother’s apartment and arrested Dante for arson. His girlfriend’s house had burned to the ground, killing the boyfriend. More than one neighbor had seen Dante at the home earlier. Motive, means, wrong place, wrong time. Dante was convicted and sentenced to ten to twenty years in Michigan's Jackson Penitentiary.

His girlfriend visited him once in prison but the shame in her eyes was too much to bear and Dante sent her away. She deserved a better life. Unlike him, she had a future and it didn’t include waiting on a man behind bars.

Prison was a merciless place. No one cared that he was innocent. But the one invaluable gift that prison granted him was time. For Dante, it was a period of divine preparation. While incarcerated, he looked beyond his own predicament and earned two college degrees—the highest a master’s in divinity—and helped other men in prison who sought personal transformation. Paroled after eight years, he went on to get a special dispensation from the State of Michigan to teach in the Detroit Public Schools.

Today, he’s a fifth-grade teacher at Harrison Howe Elementary School, located in one of the toughest districts in the state, on Detroit’s south side. He plays basketball at the local Boys and Girls Club and on Sunday nights he leads a growing youth ministry at New Heights Baptist Church. As a teacher, youth leader and mentor, he shows young people that a better life—a Christ-centered life—is within their reach and instructs them on how to make it happen.

From the frontlines, where violence, sex, and drugs are a part of life, Dante Jackson takes an active stance against the depredations of poverty. Determined to be a difference maker, he’s devoted his life to breaking the poverty-to-prison pipeline.

Have you touched anyone lately?

10 Ways to Shine Your Light in 2017

  1. Be brilliant - Every day, without fail, brighten someone's day.
  2. The power of positive thinking - Start each day with an encouraging word in the mirror. Say it out loud. It works!
  3. Surround yourself with positive people. Follow them and make them “favorites” on whatever social media you engage with. Filter out the negative ones (you don’t have to “unfriend” them).
  4. Ask, listen, care. Take the time to ask hard questions and listen, really listen, when someone shares a piece of their life with you. The caring will be automatic.
  5. Be generous to those around you, with words of encouragement, praise, and with your time.
  6. Practice humility in all things. Esteem others above yourself.
  7. Live fearless - Capture that front row seat in life. Go for it! Imagine the worst that can happen. It’s usually not so bad. And it’s almost always worth the risk.
  8. Be persistent - If the door won’t open, bang on it loud and long.
  9. Follow the 10 Second Rule which says, “just do the next thing you’re reasonably certain Jesus wants you to do. (And commit to it immediately—in the next 10 seconds—before you change your mind.)” Live it, share it. Make pre-decisions so you’ll be ready to do the right thing.
  10. Pray for others and ask others to pray for you. And never underestimate the power of prayer.

My Christmas Wish for You

Christmas is a season of giving, grace and love. It’s a time for remembering the past and hoping for the future, a time when we take stock of our blessings and reach out to those who have touched our lives. So it is with heartfelt gratitude that I get to thank you, for following my blog, for your unending support, for your friendship.

My foray into becoming a published author has challenged me in ways I never dreamed of and I’ve made some remarkable friends along the way—readers, publishing professionals, fellow authors. My faith is renewed with a sense of purpose. God, and you, have made me brave.

I don’t write because it’s easy. It’s not. I don’t write because it will make me rich or famous. It likely won’t. I write because I have something to say and it’s worth putting myself out there.

So my Christmas wish for you is this…

May you be brave enough to pursue your dreams. It’s ok to be afraid. Being afraid simply means you’re about to embark on something amazing. Take a breath, say a prayer and go for it! Have faith, trust in Him. He will either catch you when you fall or teach you how to soar.

May you have an occupation or a passion that is worthy of you, one that gives you a sense of purpose and fills not only your days but also your whole heart and mind.

May you have courage and the means to fill a need when you see one. Share your blessings, however small and seemingly inconsequential they may be.

May you find healing if you are ill or hurting.

May you be blessed with someone special in your life, a strong marriage, a close friend, someone who makes you feel like the very best version of yourself, the “you” God made you to be.

May you pause when you feel overwhelmed amidst the hustle and bustle and be reminded of all of the good things around you.

And above all, may you remember the reason for the season – God’s unending love. As you celebrate the miracle of this special time of year, may your heart be filled with joy and peace. And may these holiday blessings linger in your home and stay with you always.

I hope I have touched your life this year, that my words have inspired and lifted you up, if even in a small way.

Have you touched anyone lately?

 

Prayers for America

I have long been a huge fan of American history. From the revolution to the birth of our country, the biographies of the brave men and women who founded our country have always intrigued me. Benjamin Franklin, one of my favorites, introduced the idea of starting each meeting of the constitutional convention with a prayer. And with the frightening precipice our nation is facing with the upcoming election, his words are as needed today as they have ever been.

The Constitutional Convention had been meeting for five weeks, and had hit a perilous deadlock. The large states were insisting that congressional representation be based on population; the smaller states wanted a one-state-one-vote rule. The entire effort to create a stronger union was in jeopardy. Eighty-one-year-old Benjamin Franklin, quiet during most of the deliberations, then addressed the group. According to James Madison's notes, here is what happened next (condensed).

In this situation of this Assembly, groping as it were in the dark to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when presented to us, how has it happened, Sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights to illuminate our understandings? In the beginning of the Contest with Great Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayer in this room for the divine protection. Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered.

To that kind providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need his assistance? I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth-that God Governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid?

…I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the Builders of Babel: We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall become a reproach and bye word down to future ages…

I therefore beg leave to move that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business…

With little deliberation Franklin’s suggestion for prayer was approved and the convention went on to draft and ratify the Constitution of the United States of America, a four-page (yes, only four pages!) document that to this day defines our democracy.

Ben Franklin and our founding fathers touched thousands with the labors of their hearts and prayers. Their legacy has touched millions.

Have you touched anyone lately?

 

The Jonathan Effect

As I researched for my newest novel, looking for inspiration for my male lead, an inner-city man with a heart for kids, I came across Detroit native, Mike Tenbusch. I knew I’d found what I was looking for when I saw the man’s Twitter profile, "Helping young people win their battle over poverty through relationships for the greater glory of God."

With a degree from the University of Michigan Law School, Tenbusch could have chosen a more lucrative career path but with a faith-driven need to serve, he’s given his life to improving opportunities for underprivileged urban youth. He says he became a teacher because he wanted to make a difference, and he certainly has.

In a poverty-stricken world where a child’s zip code defines his destiny, where seventy percent of children grow up in a fatherless home, Tenbusch recognized a dire need for community involvement. He’s led the way and his solutions have produced real results. 

As Vice President of United Way, Tenbusch was instrumental in building a partnership between teachers, administrators, and students to restructure Detroit’s education system. Cody was once a failing school. Under Tenbusch’s leadership, the United Way raised money to pay for a restructuring program that divided the school into three focused academies. The goal was to create smaller, more intimate environments, more conducive to creating relationships between teachers, students, and the community. The result was an incredible increase in attendance and graduation rates.

Student Donniqua Alexander summed it up perfectly, “Every student has somebody who cares about them inside of Cody. Period. I don’t care what school you’re in, everybody has that teacher you can go call on or they can always lean on.” 

Working with General Motors’ executives, Tenbusch also showed how businesses could partner with schools, forming personal connections with students. How the caring capital of a community could provide rewards beyond measure.

 While serving on the Detroit Public School Board, Tenbusch helped a charter school district graduate more than ninety percent of its first high school class and led the effort to turnaround the city's most challenged high schools.

Tenbusch’s plans include a simple formula for churches working with schools to provide mentors and role models, mobilizing Christians to love and serve children. He believes the church is the best source to provide the city’s struggling youth with the relational connections that can help them overcome their circumstances.

While Tenbusch’s life work has touched thousands of Detroit youth, it’s a plan that could prove universal. He has a book coming out in November, The Jonathan Effect, that could take his ideas nationwide, global even. I can't wait to read the stories of the lives he's impacted.

Have you touched anyone lately?