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A Third Place Foundation Receives 2015 Dan Allen Center For Social Justice Award and the Leadership Tulsa Star Award

My thank yous and commnt for the award from the Dan Allen Center for Social Justice. The week before we received the Star Award from the Leadership Tulsa. 

Thank you to the Dan Allen Center for Social Justice for this award. Thank you to all of those for whom this award, of course, really goes, those who are doing the unacclaimed work of social justice, of being just good neighbors, in our area of north Tulsa; I can't list them all by any means, all our partners here who we have worked with, and the people showing up and speaking up, like the people who came with us tonight representing a part of our community, and like some who were tremendous friends and helpers here but have moved away, and like too many who have died but left a deep mark on us and through us.

We recently have been celebrating, of sorts, the fact that our zipcode has decreased its life expectancy gap with midtown and south Tulsa from almost 14 years to almost 11 years. I am here to tell you that the cause of that drop (even though the gap is still outrageous) is from the social determinants of health, which means it is due much more to all of the work of all of those individuals and small volunteer nonprofits and neighborhood leaders and faith communities and schools and small business people than it is to any larger medical institutions, as much as we need them and more of them too. 

It is our free food store and gardenpark and orchard and community meals and community information and programs and support of schools, parks, and working on the trash and blight and abandoned houses and properties, and for justice for our area that has helped to narrow the life expectancy gap. Our organization is literally saving lives.

Thank you most of all to my family. Everyone who knows about A Third Place Foundation knows it is also a family endeavor, and my family hasn’t been one of those behind the scenes families either, but my daughters and my wife have been out front leaders. Bonnie Ashing, whom you all know I met in kindegarden and who also was graduated from McLain, is my first and deepest co-conspirator and my teacher. Besides being the director of our community gardenpark and orchard now, her commitment to justice and healing in all its forms has shaped our family’s decisions to always go where the need is. And her experiences of overcoming classism and sexism to become a physician in the first place, and then to take on the systems that seek to take the health out of health care for the most vulnerable—in other words to repeatedly beat your head against brick walls because you think another world is possible—that has shaped the risks I have been empowered to take.

And my father I have often said was my first justice role model for his commitment to integration and public schools and the northside at a time when many others were engaged in the racism of segregation and white flight and re-segregation. As a coach of one of the first integrated basketball teams in Tulsa, he also showed me how to lead a team and keep focused on mission. And both of my sisters are some of our best partners.

Thank you to Father Dan Allen. I am blessed to serve an area that begins near the intersection of Dan Allen Blvd. and Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. It is by the way an intersection of life and resistance and yet one with a lot of possibilities and needs for transformation. As is the vacant area and neighborhood where St. Jude’s Catholic Church used to be. Reclaiming these areas should be how we all seek to honor the spirit of Dan Allen and his own role model Dr. King.

Finally, let me take this opportunity to mention just a little something about the 3Rs of community development that are the foundation of our Foundation. Relocation, Reconciliation, Redistribution. Borrowed from the work of the Mississippi African American civil rights and community renewal leader and author and pastor John Perkins.

We believe that all our neighbors should want to and be able to remain in our area; not that they should want to leave it in order to attain something called The Good Life or the American Dream, and that they should be able to do so without undue hardship and scarcity and abandonment all around them. We have been able to do what we have done so far because we have had a team that included people who have remained in our area, and people like Bonnie and I who have returned to the area with a commitment to remain, and people who have relocated to our area on purpose for justice and to help others remain here. There are many ways for people to relocate to our area with their passions and their presence and their pocketbooks, and while we believe that actually living here is the best blessing and learning experience you can receive and give, we encourage people, as it says in scripture, to “come and see.”

All of what we do is aimed at the second R, Reconciliation, especially because of the history of our area, reconciliation among people of all ethnicities, and as the Good Friday killings showed us where all but one of the victims and both of the shooters lived in our far north area, it is not just the history of our area, but in fact is a growing immediate concern that people are becoming more polarized by race and by income and education level and mass incarceration of poor and people of color. When people separate from one another the most vulnerable suffer.

The way we strive to counter this is by the third R, Redistribution, of both goods and the Common Good, both of which are lacking. It is why we are involved in everything from basic food for the hungry to working for educational justice to addressing voting disparities and neighborhood blight. This is what separates us from many a non-profit agency; it is our great strength and our struggle; that we purposefully do not have a single focus area of concern and action; instead our neighbors and their needs set our agenda and focus. What we all need the most are good neighbors who know that community matters most, and as the theologian Jorgen Moltmann said: the opposite of poverty is not wealth, but the opposite of both poverty and wealth is community. So we try to connect and create more resources, to tap into the ones just below the surfaces in people’s own lives, and by doing so to help sustain what some call our Fourth R which is Resiliency.

We do all of this poorly. We make many mistakes. We have much to learn. We have so much room to grow and become. I think Father Dan would understand. But we are ever grateful for the lives we are blessed to bump into, and hope we can inspire others as much as we have been inspired by these lives that never get listened to much let alone get awards. Thanks for ours and we promise to let the folks in the 74126 and 74130 know it is for them.
Oh and the need is great and your contribution to our work at keeps us going, literally, keeps us growing (support our greenhouse project underway now to help us feed people year round with healthy food); all of your end of the year tax deductible donations will go 100 percent into the missions of growing healthy lives and neighborhoods here.