Included in recent TIME reporting was an assembly organized by EPISO/Border Interfaith in which 300 institutional leaders gathered alongside 12 local, state and congressional leaders who all pledged to reassure the community -- especially its most vulnerable members.
At one point, the assembly intentionally broke out into small group check-ins responding to the questions: "How are you doing? What do you need?" Heartfelt conversations around the room elicited emotional stories from attendees, public officials, and even media covering the gathering.
In the assembly, Texas State Representative Cesar Blanco committed to working with the Texas IAF network to identify state emergency resources for counseling and professional services for El Paso schools. He also committed to developing a plan for state legislation promoting gun safety, including bans on assault rifles, universal background checks, and red flag alerts.
At the urging of EPISO/Border Interfaith leaders, school officials agreed to coordinate direct support for families most in need of care to process the shooting.
Leaders are continuing to focus public officials on a mental health response, as part of a comprehensive approach to recent shootings.
'Trauma Doesn't Go Away By Itself.' How El Paso is Tackling Mental Health Stigma After the Walmart Mass Shooting, TIME Magazine [pdf]
The economic odds facing Avigail Rodriguez a few years ago couldn’t have been much worse. An undocumented immigrant and a single mother, she lived in a cramped apartment in a tough neighborhood in San Antonio and earned just $9 an hour working as a nurse’s assistant.
Today, Ms. Rodriguez, 26, owns her own home in a safer area, earns nearly three times as much as she did before and has secured legal residency. The key to her turnaround was a training program called Project Quest, whose own ability to beat the odds is no less striking than that of Ms. Rodriguez.Project Quest has succeeded where many similar retraining efforts have failed, taking workers lacking in skills and successfully positioning them for jobs where they can earn double or triple what they did previously.
“This really gives employers a chance to find workers they wouldn’t otherwise have considered,” said Lawrence Katz, a labor economist at Harvard University. “At the same time, it provides opportunities to a rather disadvantaged group of workers, both younger and older.”
Project Quest was born 27 years ago in a Hispanic neighborhood in San Antonio where poverty rates are above the citywide average. After the closing of a Levi Strauss factory there, community groups [i.e. COPS/Metro, see comment at right] created Project Quest as a way of preparing workers for better-paying, more highly skilled jobs that were less vulnerable but still in demand.
[Photo Credit: Joanna Kulesza, New York Times]
Job Training Can Save Lives. See How San Antonio Does It., New York Times [pdf]
EPISO Leaders Rev. Matta & De Avila: We Must Not Let Fear Succeed in Creating Distrust, Hateful Fear
On Aug. 3, our El Paso community was viciously attacked, and we are experiencing deep grief. Yes, we need to take the necessary time to process this pain and publicly lament together. But soon we must also begin to channel this sense of loss to reclaim a sense of community that we will all be proud of.
Terrorism wants to create mistrust and deep hateful fear. Such fear works to drive people away from one another. It scapegoats the immigrant, people of color, those of different faith traditions, people of a different culture and language. It twists and turns us to make others seem not human.
That is not El Paso, and we must not let fear succeed....
We Must Not Let Fear Succeed in Creating Distrust, Hateful Fear, El Paso Times [pdf]
Just days after the shooting that targeted Latinos in El Paso, 300 EPISO/Border Interfaith leaders and clergy gathered to "stand against fear" and begin a community-wide healing process alongside 12 local, state and congressional leaders who all pledged to reassure the community -- especially its most vulnerable members.
“We must understand that terrorism wants to create fear and division that promotes misunderstanding, mistrust and violence,” said Fr. Pablo Matta, EPISO/Border Interfaith co-chair and pastor of St. Paul Catholic Church in El Paso. “That is not El Paso, and we must not let fear succeed.”
Leaders in the pews made commitments to launch parish-based listening sessions throughout El Paso to reach those feeling most anxious and isolated, to secure additional emergency counseling and mental health services and to actively support legislation to curb gun violence.
“I’m ready to walk with you,” said US Congresswoman Veronica Escobar, asserting that the attack goes deeper than a permissive gun culture. "You all are about accountability. We have to be accountable with the people who use language that inspires hate."
Similarly, Catholic Bishop Mark Seitz and Episcopal Bishop Michael Buerkel Hunn urged leaders to actively engage those feeling uneasy and isolated and to elicit their stories and concerns. “El Paso is a special community,” said Bishop Seitz. “We have an opportunity to do this for the rest of the country.”
The assembly broke out into small group conversations, responding to the questions: "How are you doing? What do you need?" Heartfelt conversations around the room elicited emotional stories -- and many tears -- from attendees, public officials, and even media covering the gathering.
Other officials in attendance included State Representative Cesar Blanco, County Judge Ricardo Samaniego, County Commissioners Vince Perez and David Stout, City Representatives Cassandra Hernandez and Claudia Ordaz Perez, City Manager Tommy Gonzalez, Ysleta ISD Superintendent Xavier De La Torre and El Paso ISD School Board Trustee Freddy Kayel-Avalos.
Representative Blanco committed to work with the Texas IAF network around developing a plan for state legislation promoting gun safety, including bans on assault rifles, universal background checks, and red flag alerts. He also committed to working with leaders to identify state emergency resources for counseling and professional services for El Paso schools. City and County officials agreed to develop a strategy to reassure immigrant families and their children, encouraging them not to be afraid of local law enforcement nor of public services. School officials agreed to coordinate direct support for families most in need of care to process the shooting.
[Photo Credit: Briana Sanchez, El Paso Times]
Standing Against Fear: Catholic Church Hosts Interfaith Gathering After Mass Shooting, El Paso Times [pdf]
Multiethnic Group Holds Vigil to Remember Victims of El Paso Shooting, FOX News
What Next? El Paso Faith Community Shares Stories of Fear and Anger in Shooting Aftermath, America Magazine [pdf]
...When developers platted Highland Oaks in 1959 there were no rules or regulations in place regarding roads. County officials rejected pleas from residents to have the roads fixed. Officials said the streets had been improperly built and were never properly deeded to the county, making the roads private. The county maintained that position even after a 2015 Express-News Editorial Board investigation revealed the county had accepted the roads as part of a settlement in a lawsuit 30 years ago.
In 2016, after continued media scrutiny and intervention by COPS/Metro Alliance and the Southside Independent School District, county commissioners had a change of heart. Commissioners decided to inventory all roads in the county that might be in a similar situation to begin tackling the problem.....
[Excerpts from America Magazine below...]
The Rev. Pablo Matta was one of a number of priests who visited El Paso hospitals in the hours after a gunman with a high-powered rifle opened fire Aug. 3 in a Walmart massacre that took 22 lives....“I saw a lot of the people that died,” Father Matta said....
“There’s a lot of grief,” [Dolores DeAvila] said. Ms. DeAvila, a leader with El Paso Interreligious Sponsoring Organization/Border Interfaith, has spoken with many who lost loved ones in the shooting or were in the vicinity. She described the panic that ensued in nearby restaurants, including one where people hid in a walk-in cooler. “We say we’re prepared [for a mass shooting], but we’re not,” she said.
EPISO/Border Interfaith is organizing a community event on Aug. 8 at St. Paul Church, where Father Matta is pastor. In addition to fear, Ms. DeAvila said there is a lot of anger around assault weapons.
“This is a community that was attacked and they understand that,” Joe Rubio, director of the West/Southwest Industrial Area Foundation, a network of community organizations, said of the attack.
“There is incredible grief, and it’s starting to turn into anger. People are starting to look for someone to blame for this,” Mr. Rubio said. “The church can take part in helping to shape people’s reaction to this. Not just by having a vigil, but in a way people can create public accountability for who bears responsibility for unleashing this kind of destruction and hate.”
Mr. Rubio believes there should be an organized response supporting restrictions on assault rifles and background checks for individuals seeking to purchase firearms. “There’s a prophetic role for the church to play in this conversation,” he said. “We’re going to either proactively save people or they’re going to pay with their lives.”
What Next? El Paso Faith Community Shares Stories of Fear and Anger in Shooting Aftermath, America Magazine [pdf]
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, family 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.
Beacon Hill Academy parents and students gathered in a parking lot Wednesday morning to watch a dilapidated old school building on the campus fall to a demolition crew. Children donned pink and yellow plastic construction hats that hung low over their eyes and cheered each time “the claw” of an excavator punctured a side of the building.
The 1915 campus building designed by renowned architect Leo Dielmann has long been the bane of campus staff and San Antonio Independent School District officials.
The fate of the aged structure, located near the school’s present building, became the focus of a prolonged debate between SAISD and the city of San Antonio during the two decades when the building sat vacant. Over the last year and a half, Beacon Hill parents and community members teamed with COPS Metro Alliance and rallied to push the district to make a deal with the city to raze the structure, allowing the campus with growing enrollment more space.
Demolition Begins on Historic Beacon Hill Campus Building, Rivard Report [pdf]
In a budget process that the Houston Chronicle says "devolved into a clash of wills," TMO clergy and leaders leveraged a major wage win for workers: $14 per hour for 3,000+ of the lowest paid employees in the Houston Independent School District, employees who keep children safe, nourished, and schools clean.
In testimony to the HISD Board, Deacon Sam Dunning, Director of the Office of Peace and Justice in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston argued: "A budget is a moral document...it is time to treat all workers with dignity."
Rev. Carissa Baldwin-McGinnis of Northside Episcopal Church argued, "There is a price to be paid for allocating funds that is not equitable to all classes and that price will be paid by your hourly workers and their family members... in the form of hunger, inadequate housing, anxiety, fear and stress." Rev. Jimmy Grace of St. Andrew’s Episcopal, Rev. Darrel Lewis of New Pleasant Grove Baptist, Rev. Jacqueline Hailey of New Hope Baptist, Rev. Rhenel Johnson of St. Andrew's UMC and Chava Gal-Orr from Temple Sinai spoke at Board meetings and press conferences as well.
This spring, TMO was part of a delegation of 300 Texas IAF leaders that called on state legislators to increase spending in public education in order to retain the talent upon which public schools rely. After passage of HB3, which put millions of dollars into public schools across the state, TMO leaders worked locally to make sure Houston Independent School District used its funds for the lowest paid workers.
[Photo Credit: Top photos from footage by Univision]
Houston ISD Trustees Approve $1.9 Billion Budget, Houston Chronicle
Video of clergy statements [first skip to 14:33 and then to 19:05]
When Lucia Hernandez (top photo above) was hit from behind by a car speeding through a blind curve, she turned to her parish, Our Lady of Guadalupe Helotes, and COPS/Metro for help. With other leaders, Hernandez organized an assembly of 170 parish and community members to discuss ways to address a blind spot on FM 1560 near her church and Helotes Elementary School. Helotes is a rapidly growing suburban community outside San Antonio.
At the assembly, engineers and officials from the Texas Department of Transportation were confronted by angry parishioners. Declared Hernandez to the team of uncomfortable engineers: “There’s evidence that you’ve made a terrible mistake. Didn’t you study those angles?”
Other parish and community leaders weighed in, agreeing that the curve between FM 1560 and Bandera Road had become deadly due to the construction of a new wall that now obstructed drivers' view, and would only get worse when school started again in the fall.
The Mayor of Helotes and TXDOT Advanced Planning Director pledged to work with the leadership to "refine" the traffic situation, and to meet again within three weeks.
At the follow up meeting, COPS/Metro leaders brought in their State Representative and State Senator who affirmed that funding was available. Put on the spot, TXDOT agreed to set up temporary signs and to meet with church/organizational leaders on a monthly basis until a permanent solution was created.
[Photo Credit: Carlos Javier Sanchez, San Antonio Express News]
Helotes Drivers Want Quick Solution to 'Free For All' Intersection, San Antonio Express-News