Britt and a handful of other church leaders founded Dallas Area Interfaith, with a focus on grass-roots issues such as community policing, educational equity and fair housing policies. The organization also trained and empowered ordinary folks — stay-at-home moms, day laborers and blue-collar workers — to take concerns to government officials.
When a Dallas City Council member tagged Britt and his fellow pastors as belligerent and militant, he acknowledged, “We’re not your father’s civic group.”
Britt and his interfaith co-founders secured council funding for housing in South Dallas and after-school programs at elementary campuses. Britt also led a jobs creation and training initiative that he took with him to CitySquare.
Across North Texas, nonprofits and community groups had already begun preparing last year for the possible roll-out of the public charge rule. They said they had no choice: Families were removing children who are U.S. citizens from public health programs for which they were legally eligible.
In Dallas, Josephine Lopez-Paul, the lead organizer of Dallas Area Interfaith, was blunt in her criticism. The group is planning a free health care fair on March 28 in Arlington at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church. Some immigrants have said they are fearful of going to any location connected to the government. Church complexes are viewed as safe places.
“We are creating a permanent underclass that doesn't care for one another,” Lopez-Paul said.
“The damage has already been done, whether the rule went into effect. Just imagine if they don’t have access to health care. … They don’t have access to immunizations.”
[Photo Credit: Brian Elledge, Dallas Morning News]
Almost three dozen clergy, religious and lay leaders from Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona and Mississippi convened at Holy Trinity Catholic to learn how to teach key pieces of the Recognizing the Stranger curriculum.
Sponsored by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), 'Train the Trainer' sessions like these are designed to expand the training capacity of the effort as the strategy reaches into nineteen dioceses across the US.
Sessions were led by senior organizers of the Organizers Institute of the South and West IAF and included in-depth discussion of theological reflections on the Eucharist at Corinth and the Beatitudes.
Last week, at the General Assembly of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in Baltimore, the outgoing chair of the Committee on Migration (and Catholic Bishop of Austin), Most Reverend Joe S. Vásquez, concluded his report with "good practices for helping immigrants." Topping the list was the IAF parish identification strategy.
Parish identification emerged as a strategy in Dallas after passage of Texas Senate Bill 4, which allows law enforcement officers to ask residents about their immigration status. With no access to state drivers licenses, undocumented immigrants were concerned that otherwise benign traffic stops could result in deportation. Police departments were worried their officers would not be trusted in immigrant communities. As a way to address both concerns, 1,500 Dallas Area Interfaith leaders and their Bishops negotiated acceptance of parish ID cards with five North Texas police departments.
The parish ID strategy soon spread to Baltimore in collaboration with IAF sister affiliate Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD) and, most recently, to the Diocese of Brownsville (along the US-Mexico border) in partnership with Valley Interfaith, Catholic Charities and the police departments of Brownsville, McAllen and Edinburg.
Bishop Vasquez recognized the Catholic (Arch)dioceses of Baltimore, Dallas and Brownsville for "fostering a sense of belonging & security." So far in Dallas, 12,000 identification cards have been issued through DAI member congregations, fortifying family connections to congregations and strengthening parish collections in the process.
Remarks by Bishop Jose S. Vásquez, US Conference of Catholic Bishops General Assembly Remarks
How Parish IDs Can Help Foster Communities of Welcome, Justice for Immigrants [Notes]
How Parish IDs Can Help Foster Communities of Welcome, Justice for Immigrants [Webinar]
On a rainy Friday night, the Dallas church hall meeting was filled with talk of the latest tiroteos y balaceras — gunfire and gun battles.
Erika Gonzalez said she can now distinguish between the metallic sounds and rhythm of a high-caliber assault weapon vs. a pistol. “They discharge and they refill,” she said at St. Philip the Apostle Catholic Church in southeast Dallas.
“We need more help for this combat,” said Lily Rodriguez, a U.S. citizen who helped organize the meeting. “Raise your voice. It will give us credibility.”
They’re part of a new gun-control campaign that is spreading in Mexican-American and Mexican immigrant neighborhoods in Dallas and elsewhere in Texas. Already, 11,000 Texans have signed postcards asking for support for four federal bills, including two on enhanced background checks for firearms purchases, organizers say.
The campaign started after the mass shooting Aug. 3 at an El Paso Walmart, in which a Dallas-area man traveled to the border city with an assault rifle to hunt Mexicans, according to a court affidavit. By the end of the shooting spree, 22 people were dead. It is believed to be the worst violence against Latinos in a century — since widespread lynchings across the West aimed at those of Mexican ancestry....
[Photo Credit: Dianne Solis, Dallas Morning News]
After El Paso Massacre, Dallas Area Interfaith Calls for Tougher Gun Laws, Dallas Morning News [pdf]
Dallas Area interfaith (DAI) leaders Debra Levy (Temple Shalom) and Deborah Smith (Christian Chapel CME) delivered essential citizen input to the Texas House of Representatives Redistricting Committee in order to promote fair and transparent redistricting in 2021.
Representing 40 institutions and 90,000 families, both leaders attested to specific ways current gerrymandering negatively impacts their communities and the democratic process. Deborah Levy testified that while her work in DAI centers around developing leadership capacity for civic engagement, without equal representation in her district, the barrier to impact the electoral process is artificially high. Leaders also argued that slicing up major metro areas into districts not only dilutes citizen representation, it makes negotiating common interests across multiple municipal and utility district lines more challenging.
After the sheriff of Tarrant County mistakenly argued that 'drunk' immigrants were going to 'run over your children,' Dallas Area Interfaith organizer Josephine Lopez-Paul called on the public official to build trust rather than spread lies, referencing an independent study by the CATO Institute that documented a dramatically lower crime rate among unauthorized Texas immigrants compared to their native-born counterparts.
"In these polarized times, what he should be doing is building trust," commented Lopez-Paul.
Ever since participating in a DAI leadership training two years ago, Lily Rodriguez (photo top right) of St. Philip the Apostle Catholic Church in Dallas has been very motivated to bring its teachings to life, actualizing them by helping her community.
The training sought to prepare parish leaders to support the civic development of their parish communities, particularly those from immigrant backgrounds.
That's how the "Sunshine Committee" in which Rodriguez participates, along with 24 other volunteers, came to be. Members of the committee disseminate flyers, make calls, organize, sign up and help in community-oriented activities. The most popular workshops are those focusing on US citizenship and parish IDs -- created and implemented by the Catholic Diocese of Dallas and DAI for more than one year....
Comité Parroquial es Semilla de Cambio Cívico, Revista Católica de Dallas
In the face of increasingly public deportation threats, DAI's parish strategy to 'welcome the stranger' has translated into an array of actions designed to combat fear and fortify relationships between individuals, families, communities and religious institutions. Teams of parish leaders are organizing events that include citizenship screenings, Diocesan-certified parish identification cards, health fairs (like the one in photo above) and 'Know Your Rights' sessions.
According to Lead Organizer Josephine Lopez-Paul, the church is working to dispel fear and to build community amidst a climate that breeds isolation.
Sister Christine Stephens, CDP entered eternal life on July 18, 2019 at the age of 78. She was the younger of two daughters born to Walter Irving and Frances Louise (Bulian) Stephens. She was born December 22, 1940 in Austin, Texas and was given the Baptismal name, Mary Christine. She entered the Congregation of Divine Providence on September 7, 1962 and professed first vows as a Sister of Divine Providence on June 22, 1964. Sister Christine graduated from the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas with a Bachelor of Arts in Economics prior to entering Our Lady of the Lake Convent. She later earned a Master of Arts in History from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas.
Sister Christine attributes her faith formation to her parents who set the example of perseverance and seeking justice for one’s family and community. Her father was a member of the pipe fitters union. This foundation served Sister Christine in her first seven years as a teacher, then as a social worker for eight years, and expanded and deepened when she became an organizer 45 years ago.
Sister Christine did not choose organizing as a ministry, it chose her. She was spotted by her now close friend and mentor, Ernesto Cortés, Jr., who said it was her anger that caught his attention. That was the first time she viewed her anger in a positive light. The work of justice was at the heart of her ministry and her life. Her work with the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) was the vehicle to funnel her anger against injustice.
Sister Christine’s commitment to identifying, training and transforming leaders and organizers throughout the country worked to bring millions of dollars for water and waste water to the colonias along the Texas/New Mexico Border, instrumental in developing the Alliance School strategy that impacted hundreds of schools across the country, plus the creation of nationally renowned job training programs modeled after Project QUEST in San Antonio.
Her advocacy work during the past four decades in her various roles, as National IAF Co-Director and Supervisor of organizations across the IAF Network will be greatly missed. Her organizing career began with The Metropolitan Organization (TMO) in Houston where she was a founder, followed by Lead Organizer of C.O.P.S. in San Antonio and Dallas Area Interfaith.
She enjoyed seeing ordinary leaders who worked across multi faith traditions, economic lines and race to do extraordinary things in their communities. She breathed and lived the Gospel values of justice and leaves a legacy to be continued. She had an enduring faith in the values of democracy.
She is survived by her sister Sarah Howell, and all her Sisters of Divine Providence. She is also survived by her niece Angela Duhon (William), their children, Emma and Nathaniel. She was preceded in death by her parents Walter and Frances Stephens.
The Rosary and Wake were Thursday, July 25, 2019 and Mass of Resurrection on Friday, July 26, 2019. All services were held in Sacred Heart Chapel, next to Our Lady of the Lake Convent Center in San Antonio, Texas.
In lieu of flowers, you may make a memorial contribution to the Sisters of Divine Providence, 515 S.W. 24th Street, San Antonio, TX 78207-4619.
Christine Stephens Worked to 'Help Others Advocate for Themselves,' Austin American Statesman [pdf]