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Dallas Group Urban Specialists Aims to Heal America Through Conversations About Race

Urban Specialists, spearheaded by Bishop Omar Jahwar, hosts a series of events called Heal America.
Urban Specialists, spearheaded by Bishop Omar Jahwar, hosts a series of events called Heal America. Tony Boyattia
On Martin Luther King Day of 2018, Heal America held its inaugural Course Correction Conversation in Dallas. It was hosted by Bishop Omar Jahwar, the founder and CEO of Urban Specialists, and included guests of varying political affiliation (such as Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, Olympian John Carlos and Sen. Ted Cruz).

The families of police brutality victims Alton Sterling and Sean Bell also attended. The event's purpose was to set an agreement to rehabilitate socioeconomic fractures that divide North Texas. Heal America events have since been attended by thousands.

The goal of the conversation was to “create synergy.” In this way, the nature of Heal America is geared toward coalition. In addition to hosting Heal America, Jahwar is a pastor at Kingdom WAR Legacy Church of Dallas and the first official gang violence interventionist in the state of Texas.

“I’ve been dealing with violence and gangs for a long time," Jahwar says. "I’ve always had an idea of reconciliation being the pathway forward, but you have to figure out how to reconcile.”

Quelling gang violence in Dallas was Jahwar’s initial action behind Urban Specialists, which he spearheads,  though it has since expanded its outreach to transform communities from the ground up. Some of their initiatives include planting more trees and greenery in and around neighborhoods, renovating houses and structures and assisting youth education and rehabilitation in low-income areas of the city.

They also have initiatives for female mentorship, training programs for counteracting community violence and an outreach program called Kingdom Village, which works with “youth of incarcerated parents, single-parent households and impoverished communities to create long-term relationships and connect them to resources for upward mobility,” as the organization states on its website.

When COVID-19 struck, urban landscapes were drastically affected, and Urban Specialists sprung to action.

“In partnership with Stand Together,” the Heal America website says, “through GIVETOGETHERNOW, we were able to present a one-time gift donation of $500 directly to families and individuals in crisis.”

The initiative set out to provide 20,000 individuals, families and small businesses grants to support immediate needs and alleviate some of the financial devastation many have faced since the pandemic struck.

“It is an amazing thing to see how the human spirit comes back and reboots when it’s in that desperate spot,” Jahwar says.

Stand Together, GIVETOGETHERNOW, Urban Specialists and Heal America are all connected by way of Charles Koch and Brian Hooks, the recent president of the Koch Foundation.

“One of our principles is that only inspired people can inspire people...You cannot get angry and frustrated thinking logistically; you’ve got to think spiritually.”– Bishop Omar Jahwar.

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The Koch family name is, amongst the left-leaning, contentious. Their multi-billion dollar fortune has supported a host of politically fraught conservative organizations and, in many ways, said to have fueled the poverty organizations such as Stand Together are working to mend.

Each end of the political spectrum has drawn criticism for creating division in their efforts toward unity.

This is what Heal America and Jahwar are trying to draw attention to. After all, Urban Specialists gained the support of Stand Together — the nexus of the recent Koch philanthropy — long after they began doing the work.

The question of what coalition means in a hyperpartisan era remains.

“I can see that there are moments and there are places where we can all get together,” Jahwar says. “Some people can’t see it because it’s hard to see that you can do it, but it seems like a natural alignment for me.”

In addition to holding conversations, Heal America sometimes hosts worship. Their goal is to unify the community through the word of God.

“One of our principles is that only inspired people can inspire people,” Jahwar says. “You cannot get angry and frustrated thinking logistically; you’ve got to think spiritually.”

Course Correction Conversations are slightly different than a religious service. Rather than facilitate the word of God for healing purposes, they rely on the word of the people.

The organization's mission statement reads: “A Course Correction Conversation is a moderated ‘civil discourse’ that provides a safe place and unique opportunity for influencers, leaders, institutions, and citizens to hear different perspectives, experiences, and solutions to unify our country in the midst of persistent turmoil and strife.”

Course Correction Conversations have been brought to schools around Dallas-Fort Worth, Oakland, Atlanta, and Baton Rouge to discuss change, healing and racial trauma. On the name, “Course Correction,” Jahwar discusses the parallel tracks of feeling “violated without hope and the feeling of pain.”

“We got to have a course corrective because this could lead to major destruction if we’re not careful,” he says of racial inequality.

On June 25, a Course Correction Conversation event took place in Dallas, and the topics centered on police brutality against Black people. A wide range of guests, among them Mark Cuban and Deion Sanders, attended.

“We’re going to make sure that that is where we land ... all of those things represent the marginalization of Black folks," Jawhar says. "How do we get through that? How do we become better and not bitter? That’s what this will be about.” 
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