Latino/Latina Religions 2012, Dallas

The students in the Cultural Formations/Religious Studies course Latino/Latina Religions are conducting research on the history of the Walt Humann and T. Boone Pickens Community Center at Jubilee Park and its surrounding neighborhood. The center, near the Fair Park area of Dallas, was founded by Saint Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church in 1997 and serves a diverse population. Through their research, students hope to learn more about the ways religious organizations impact local communities, and about the changing landscapes that have formed Dallas over the years. At the culmination of the project in December, students will present their findings in a presentation at the Jubilee Park Center, www.jubileecenter.org

Final presentation at Jubilee Park

An update from Lahela, a junior studio art major:

The project that we signed up for in this class involves the Jubilee Park Community Center. As you may have read from my classmates, we’ve made some progress. As of late, we have been diligently working to compile our research and get our papers to Professor DeTemple. We have our official presentation at Jubilee Community Center this Wednesday, December 5.

As far as I know, my group is ready. We are putting some final touches on our bilingual presentation and making sure we are on point. My group examined 1997-present, and we specifically researched issues of education, land reformation, crime and crime prevention, and had a series of interviews with people from the Jubilee. The research we found and decided to put in our presentation seemed to be forefront issues in the Jubilee community.

Since the Walt Humann and T. Boone Pickens Community Center was built in 1997, the Jubilee area has seen much growth. This growth seems predominantly geared toward youth and the elderly. There are schools that, with some controversy, have been rebuilt to cater to the youth along with programs at the Community Center itself that bring fitness, health, and overall wellness awareness to the younger generation. The elderly community has programs such as bingo, Zumba and DPD (Dallas Police Department) self-defense class at the Center along with new elderly-friendly housing that senior citizens have moved into as of June this year. The Community Center seemed to be the catalyst to uplift this community, and from a range of interviews, we learned that the community has done nothing but grow and produce positive feedback.

Hopefully our research and presentation will go well and will help the Jubilee Park  Community Center further advance in its efforts to revitalize the Southeast Fair Park District.

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What makes a history?

An update from Rebecca, a senior vocal performance and music education major:

I’ve spent quite a bit of time in Fondren Library the past few days looking up demographic and financial data for the Jubilee Park area. It’s been interesting to track the rise and fall of the population in the area, as well as the way the African-American population in Jubilee Park seems to fall as the Hispanic population rises.

It’s also interesting to note that, when calculated for inflation, the average income between 1994 and 2008 in the area has risen only marginally, and some years, there are strangely dramatic drops in the population. I’ve been combing newspaper articles, especially in the Dallas Times Herald and the Dallas Weekly, trying to find a possible reason for this, but it’s often difficult to separate valuable facts from passing trends.

This is the first time I’ve helped put together a history of an area almost from scratch, and the number of different sources that go into this project – facts, figures, personal interviews, newspaper articles – often seems daunting. How can we dig out what we need from all of this information? How can we take all these disparate founts of information and create one history from it? Today in class, we’re going to try to do just that, and the process should be interesting.

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A community pre-1997

An update from Abi, a junior music performance major:

This fall I have been involved with a project centered on a community in Fair Park called Jubilee Park.  My group was assigned the pre-1997 history of the park. The class is called Latino/Latina Religions and is taught by Professor Jill DeTemple. To be honest, I had absolutely no clue what the class would entail and certainly never imagined a research project on a Dallas community!

The class has been very enlightening, and I have been privileged to be able to speak to some of the people who live in the community around Jubilee Park.  They are tied closely to the ideals of the park and the programs that it offers.  At David’s Place, children up to age 3 are prepared for elementary school and given the tools to develop educationally before they enter school.  The children growing up in the surrounding community find a haven at the park – whether it is through the after-school program, playing soccer in a competition, or simply having a nice meal to eat.  The staff and those who volunteer at the park are qualified and compassionate toward those they serve.

With all of the amazing aspects of the park in its present state, it is hard for me to imagine what it was like for the residents in the area before the park existed. Much of my research has been based on the history before 1997. My goal is to be able to gain an even deeper understanding of those who are, in essence, Jubilee Park.

Through my research of the immediate area, it is clear that there is rich history found in just the street names.  You would be surprised to know the background of Congo Street, which is included in Jubilee Park’s vicinity.  This wonderful park has been an answer to many people’s problems and has reached into an existing community.  Jubilee has given the community something else to be proud of.

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The power of volunteers

An update from Garrett, a senior majoring in religious studies and political science:

When I first found out about the Jubilee organization and its positive effect on its surrounding community, I was naturally astounded and inspired. I’d heard of similar projects around the world, but I’d never actually had the opportunity to experience any of these first-hand.

Now that I’ve actually visited the Jubilee Park area, I can understand why so many residents from the Jubilee Park area have been so active in participating in the programs offered by the center. There are still so many social and economic issues affecting the people of Dallas (not to mention the entire world) and I think it’s encouraging to see such a successful program in my own home city. Crime in the Jubilee Park area has been significantly reduced; people are receiving greater access to education as well as health resources; and the general quality of life in this part of Dallas is steadily increasing.

However, I think it’s important to realize that the center operates entirely as a result of a wonderful staff of volunteers and with the help of charitable contributions. Jubilee stands as a testament to the power of human kindness, but the amazing people at the center are always looking for like-minded volunteers to join and help their community. If you’re looking for an opportunity to help some fellow Dallasites, consider volunteering at Jubilee!

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From Big Tex to personal testimonies

An update from Sergio, a senior majoring in communication studies and Spanish:

Learning about Jubilee Park this semester is an extraordinary experience. I find it fascinating that there are community centers that serve their community to the full extent.

In our class we were divided into small groups and each given a task to research. My group ended up with the historical section of Jubilee Park. The history alone was fascinating. I’m not a Dallas native, so everything including the significance of Big Tex to that area was new to me.

I’ve learned how much the Fair Park area has changed, especially the demographics. I’ve spoken to individuals who testify to the wonderful opportunities Jubilee Park offers to them and their families. Testimonies such as the ones I’ve heard enhance the project in a positive manner because I know I’m working with an organization that devoutly serves its community and has the community’s best interest at heart.

What I hope to continue to accomplish throughout this project is learning more about its rich history and how much the area has changed throughout the years.

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Making an impact

An update from Bruno, a senior international studies major with a minor in Spanish:

Being part of this fun learning opportunity at Jubilee Park & Community Center, I have been very interested in getting to know more about the Community Center. A couple weeks ago, I had a chance to visit the place, and it was incredible to see how Jubilee Park is changing people’s lives. It is a long-term process that will make a huge impact in the neighborhood.

With the classwork and project that our Latino Religion class is working on, we have a hope that it will expose the revolution Jubilee Park has created.

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Back to Jubilee Park’s beginnings

An update from Courtney, a junior majoring in psychology and minoring in photography:

As a student in Latino Religions, throughout the semester I have explored religious identities of the Latino population and how those individuals go about exploring and practicing their religious faith.  Part of our exploration has involved seeing how the church has treated and contributed to bettering the Latino communities across different Latin American countries.  This exploration has contributed to our study exploring a unique community in the heart of Dallas called Jubilee Park Community Center.

For our class project I am a participant in the group that is focused on Jubilee Park before 1997.  Our group is exploring and discovering how Jubilee Park was born.  Before 1997 Jubilee Park was a low-income inner-city community where violence and crime rates were high and local public schools were at the bottom of the performance scale.  With the help of Jubilee Park and the commitment to improve education, public health, public safety, housing and economic development, crime rates have dropped by 60 percent since 2007 and another 25 percent in the past two years.  The once unrecognized local elementary school, O.M. Roberts Elementary School, has been ranked Exemplary in 2008-2009 and 2009-2010.

As our group continues to research the history of Jubilee before the center existed, we hope to answer questions such as: How have things changed in the area over time? What was the area like during the time of segregation? What was the name of the area before it was “Jubilee Park,” and why was the name changed? We plan to further our research by interviewing individuals who have lived and experienced the transformation of the 62-block radius that is now a group of people who share a commitment for community ownership.  We will also interview and meet with Dallas historians and spend time researching the area that Jubilee Park calls home.

My experience with Latino Religions and the Jubilee Park Community has given me a better sense of how people create a community, based around race, ethnicity and religion, where each individual feels safe and welcomed.  Our goal is to inform those who are willing to listen about the transformation that has occurred over the years and show that dedication and hard work within a community can change a life, no matter who you are or what background you come from.  Being a part of this engagement learning experience has broadened my own knowledge of the history of the city where I was born and raised, and has shown me how important it is to become involved and give back to the community.

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Exploring Jubilee Park today

 An update from Karen, a sophomore majoring in anthropology and religious studies:

This semester I am taking a Latino Religions course taught by Professor Jill DeTemple. In this course, my class is evaluating what makes up the religious identity of the Latino population and how Latinos utilize their public and privates spheres to channel or practice their faiths. Thus, we must look at how social, political, and cultural movements have shaped the religiosity of Latino communities.

By applying what we learned in class to our service learning project, my peers and I plan to do the following things. We will document the history of the Jubilee Park Community Center and analyze the outcomes of the center’s programs. We will also examine the economic, social, and cultural makeup of the surrounding predominantly Latino community. Most important, we will focus on how all of these components affect Latino religious identity and the Social Gospel movement in Dallas. With the amount of research my class has to do to complete this task, my peers have been divided into three groups.

My group (Amanda, Tracy, and Garrett) is focusing on Jubilee Park Community Center’s status today. For our research, we have only interviewed senior residents and board members of the community center.  To understand the role Jubilee Park center has on the neighborhood today, my group must interview residents of all ages, socioeconomic backgrounds, and faiths. We must also talk to the people who sponsor the community center and other neighborhood renovations.

Although my peers and I have much to do, we have gained valuable information from our research. We have gathered from interviews that Jubilee Park residents see the community center as an institution that provides social services to the neighborhood. Because of this general consensus, my group is focused on how the center’s position has affected the role local churches have in their members’  lives. Did these churches provide these same services prior to the construction of the center? If so, do these churches still provide those services?

As I continue to research, I have become more interested in studying the relationship of the center with local institutions and their services. I have also realized this research is important for a couple of reasons. The information provides an understanding of how the board of executives of the community center can help accommodate or improve services they provide. The information is also vital for my classmates and me to understand how faith is an integral component of every aspect of life, whether we want to believe it or not.

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Community historians

An update from Tim, a sophomore accounting major:

The Jubilee Park center is a community renewal initiative in the Fair Park neighborhood in East Dallas. In 1997, St. Michaels and All Angels Episcopal Church chose this area as the site for a community center that would create “a thriving and sustaining community where people love to live.” The church built this community center as a way of marking its 50th anniversary – their jubilee.

Through Professor DeTemple’s Latino/a Religions class, I have learned about Latino religiosity and the ways in which it manifests. The Jubilee Park center, a religiously based organization devoted to civic engagement, is an example of this.

Our assignment regarding the center is to delineate and synthesize information of the center and the neighborhood – its history, its mission and its role in Dallas today. My group is focused on the history of the neighborhood before 1997. For our research, we have spoken with older residents of the neighborhood and a Dallas historian, and have looked over old records of the area via the Dallas Public Library.

This project is tremendously fascinating and, in my opinion, what college is all about – learning completely new things and becoming engaged with one’s community.

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A sense of pride and revival

An update from Tracy, a senior markets and culture major, with a minor in psychology: 

As part of service learning for our Cultural Formations course, I visited the Jubilee Park Community Center, which is in Southeast Dallas by Fair Park.  I began by interviewing the community members who regularly visit the center and found that the building of it signaled a revival in the community and a rapid historic change.

The community members recalled there being no sidewalks on the streets and a severe lack of proper crime reporting.  While the community center has fostered a sense of family, the most significant change was the ability for residents to walk through a neighborhood where the streets were paved, sidewalks were built, and most important, police regularly patrolled the 62-block area.

By instilling a sense of pride in the community, a cycle was created in which people felt a shared responsibility to partake in the upkeep of the area and to become involved members of the community.  The Community Center did what many viewed to be the impossible. It took an impoverished area and brought it into the 21st century with a revived vitality.

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