Well, students, the last Dallas City Council meeting was a bad one for you, but like a lot of bad days, this day was important. I'm speaking to those of you who came down to City Hall from Paul Quinn College to lobby the city council. You wanted to stop the council from hauling more trash to your part of town.
You failed. The council decided it does want to haul more trash to your part of town, despite your objections. This is harsh, I know, but I want to remind you of the most important principle in the Dr. Schutze "Meaning of Everything" motivational lecture. It's always the very first slide in my PowerPoint presentation: What doesn't kill you really pisses you off.
And that's exactly what you need to be right now. Please, allow me to explain to these other people in the audience what this is all about. And, yes, I am wearing a toupee. This is, after all, a motivational lecture. Next slide, please.
Never trust the people who look like you should trust them.
Paul Quinn is a historically black college, 139 years old, relocated from Waco in 1990 to far southern Dallas. It's two miles from the intersection of Interstate 45 and I-20, cheek-by-jowl with the city's mammoth McCommas Bluff Landfill, otherwise known as the dump.
The Paul Quinn campus is on ground formerly occupied by Bishop College, also a historically black school. Common wisdom is that Bishop College failed and went out of business in 1988 because of a lack of support from the white business community. Next slide, please.
Bishop was practically built with money from the Zale family and other generous white donors. It was pulled apart from the inside by self-seeking black preachers who made off with an utterly unconscionable amount of the school's assets, even including some of its land.
Paul Quinn was moved here to replace Bishop largely through the efforts of Comer Cottrell, a successful black entrepreneur who had relocated to Dallas from Los Angeles in 1980. Cottrell put tough management measures in place to protect the school from the type of looting that took down Bishop.
But the Bishop experience had left a bad taste. Even though there was no tie between the two institutions, the white business establishment was slow to bring support to Quinn, and the southern Dallas black community didn't help much, either, at first. Quinn struggled, stumbling through serial accreditation crises.
In 2007, Michael J. Sorrell was made school president. His background includes an undergraduate degree from Oberlin, a law degree from Duke and a Kennedy fellowship at Harvard. His wife went to Spelman before getting an MBA from the Wharton School. Sorrell is a guy who knows what a good school looks like. Slide, please.
Quinn has made dramatic strides under Sorrell's leadership. It has regained partial accreditation and is well on its way to full regional accreditation. Major financial support is flowing again, some from African-American supporters including lawyer Demetris Sampson, who kicked in 50 grand, but also from those mean old white folks, including half a million bucks from the Meadows Foundation and a million dollars from Trammell S. Crow, who is ... next slide, please.
White as a sheet.
Sorrell has done very cool things at the school, like converting the football field to a farm, a valuable resource in an area that is one of urban America's larger "food deserts," if you don't count the dump. I need a snare drum for this.
A couple of months ago, a legal studies student at Quinn named Dexter Evans learned that the city was going to redirect a huge volume of privately hauled trash from suburban dumps outside the city to McCommas Bluff right by the school. Evans began organizing students at Quinn and residents of a nearby neighborhood to oppose the move.
I know enough of Sorrell to know he had to be really concerned about plunging into any kind of politics connected to City Hall. He knows the pitfalls. To his credit he stuck by his students and accompanied four or five dozen of them to last week's council meeting where they held a dignified demonstration outside City Hall and inside the council chamber.
All right, students, back to you. Here's what you didn't know before the meeting. Next slide.
Before you ever got down to City Hall, young people, the knife was already in your back. Did you notice that before anyone else was allowed to speak to the council from the audience, a hushed chamber awaited the softly mumbled words of one Stephen C. Nash, Ph.D, pastor of Mount Tabor Baptist Church? Yeah, that's right — the church on the corner right by Paul Quinn. The Reverend Nash is president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, the backbone of the old southern Dallas preacher-ocracy.
You may have had trouble understanding just what Nash was saying. I did not. He spoke in favor of the move to bring more trash to your neighborhood — his neighborhood — but he warned that he would be watching the city very closely to see that it lived up to certain terms.
I'm sure you knew about the million dollars. Soon after you students began to stir up opposition, City Manager Mary Suhm announced the creation of an "economic development fund" for Southeast Oak Cliff — your area — in the amount of 6 percent of the new trash dumping revenues at McCommas Bluff, not to exceed a million dollars a year. But a million dollars for whom? To whom would this million go?
Did you listen closely to Mayor Mike Rawlings in last week's trash-hauling debate? If you did, you heard him give a pretty clear clue. He said: "Mount Tabor Church and those citizens have waited long enough in this city for us to get them money."
That would be the Reverend Nash.
"We've got real money here," Rawlings said, "a million dollars."
Rawlings went on at some length about promises he had made when running for mayor. "Excuse me for getting on my soapbox," he said, "but I spent six months of my life campaigning on this thing, and now is the time to put up or shut up." Next slide.
Campaigning on what thing?
Nash endorsed Rawlings for mayor against former Dallas Police Chief David Kunkle, even though few leaders in southern Dallas had ever heard of Rawlings. Kunkle had spent years building extensive grassroots credibility by visiting frequently in the black community and also by helping build a police substation a few miles from Nash's church, but apparently all of that counted for naught.
Perhaps we should drill down a little tighter here on the good reverend's history. In 2002, Nash helped shoot down the senatorial hopes of former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, who might have been the state's first black U.S. senator, by sending out a statewide letter to black clergy urging them to hold back their faithful from the polls. Nash was angry that more of Kirk's campaign money hadn't come to him directly instead of filtering though professional political consultants. Nash might disagree with how I'm characterizing this, but since he didn't return my calls, let's just look at his own words.
"In years past," he said in the letter, "the political operatives have gotten paid major dollars to deliver the black vote."
He thought more of that juice should have gone straight to the preachers. Sorry, students. I have to tell this to you the way it is. I said it was a motivational lecture. I didn't say what motivation.
Later Nash led multiple so-called recall campaigns against former Mayor Laura Miller, initially over the firing of former police Chief Terrell Bolton, who had been the city's first black chief. Bolton was an erratic leader who led the police department to its lowest ebb in decades, maybe ever. Nash did such a terrible job organizationally on his recall efforts that almost none of the petition signatures was ever even counted.
You young people are smart. You know how to handle paperwork by now. I think you get the picture. You see why certain people may have been leery, as Nash himself has alleged, of placing large sums of money in his hands. But you know who just changed that for him? You know who turned it around? May I have the next slide, please.
Yeah. I'm sorry. I know this is tough, but you know what? As I always like to remind young people in my motivational lectures, you must not fear the storm, yea, nor even the shipwreck. It's the damned sharks.
On September 6 of this year, the Reverend Nash sent a letter to Tennell Atkins, the city council person for your part of town, in which he said a number of things that seemed not to make sense, at least on the surface. He said, "It is ironic that beyond the new University of North Texas Dallas campus and the Dallas Police Department substation the best opportunity for economic development is a waste dump."
Then the very next thing he said in the same letter was, "I'm confident that this trash can be recycled into treasure to the direct benefit of the surrounding community."
What's he talking about? What treasure? On the second page of his letter, Nash mentions certain "defined irrevocable revenue-sharing." That would be the million dollars — the same million mentioned by the mayor as part of what he had "campaigned on for six months." The same million the mayor said Mount Tabor Church had been waiting for. Come to think of it, it may be the same million I've been waiting for. Damn!
Last slide, the one with a crude drawing of a student with a knife in his back.
The guy you worry about is the one standing next to you.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Observer's biggest stories.