News October 2022 Perspective Online

Faith and Business Luncheon Resumes

Perkins School of Theology restarted its Faith and Business Luncheon on September 19, after a three-year hiatus due to the pandemic.

Nearly 100 people were on hand at the Elizabeth Perkins Prothro Great Hall for an event honoring Larry James, CEO Emeritus of CitySquare.

The Rev. Katherine Glaze Lyle (M.Div. ’93), a Perkins Executive Board member and retired United Methodist pastor in the North Texas Conference, served as the event’s host and introduced the speakers.

“When we started this luncheon series, we wanted to highlight people of faith who took their faith into the larger world, through their professional or business life,” Lyle said. “As we talked about who would be the appropriate person to feature in today’s luncheon, there was one name that kept coming up: Larry James. Who better exemplifies a witness of faith through all the dimensions of his life? I want to take a minute to recognize and honor Larry for all that he has done in Dallas. Larry, we love you.” Those words were met with a standing ovation.

Dr. John Siburt, current President and CEO of CitySquare, and Elizabeth Wattley, President and CEO of Forest Forward, spoke on behalf of James who was unable to serve as speaker due to a health condition. Wattley and Siburt explained their association with Larry James, how his mentorship inspired them, and how James’ work with CitySquare and the broader community impacted their own lives.

Forest Forward is a nonprofit organization fighting the effects of systemic racism in Dallas through neighborhood revitalization in South Dallas. Wattley is a 2015 graduate of SMU’s Cox School of Business and was recognized as an Outstanding Young Alumna of Cox in 2021. She shared how Larry James’ encouragement and mentorship helped launch her career.

“Larry saw something in me,” she said. “He was one of the first people to take a chance on me at this work. I had the privilege of being able to work with CitySquare on the cottages for the chronically homeless. Once that project was finished, Larry said to me, ‘Well, what do we do now? How do we bring equitable opportunities to the Southern sector of Dallas?’ ”

Benefactors acquired the historic Forest Theater, a landmark in the Black community in South Dallas, and provided funding to CitySquare. The theatre’s renovation ultimately became the anchor project that launched Forest Forward.  To date, the nonprofit has transformed the former MLK Learning Center into the MLK Arts Academy, the only school in the Dallas Independent School District offering an arts-focused education for grades pre-K through 8th grade.

Forest Forward ultimately aims to raise $75,215,000, a nod to the neighborhood’s 75215 zip code.

“When we talk about equity with Larry, it’s no small thing,” Wattley said. “This work would not be possible without Larry James. He currently serves as our board chair. Working with him has been an absolute honor. I just want to thank you, Larry, for your continued service and support.”

John Siburt shared how he’d been mentored by Larry James informally for 10 years, until Siburt ultimately took over the reins of CitySquare. Over the years, he has watched James help people in need, often in quiet ways that went unnoticed. Siburt recalled the parable of the Good Samaritan, which Jesus told in response to the question, “What do I have to do to be righteous?”

“Larry never asked that question,” Siburt said. “The question he has always asked is, ‘Who needs a neighbor? Whose neighbor am I?’ Larry’s view of neighborhood is a lot bigger than ours. It’s not bound by gated fences, zip codes, race or income. Larry sees everyone as God sees us, as children of God. He’s the one who always sees those who are hurting and thinks it’s worth his time to stop and render aid.”

Siburt added that James is known as a prophetic voice in the city of Dallas.

“He calls out power and privilege,” he said. “What’s unique about Larry is that he’s able to do that and still love and pastor and care for the people that he’s prophesying to. I’ve seen more than one preacher basically ask him, ‘How do you tell the truth and not get fired?’ ”

Siburt added that Larry James’ entrepreneurial gifts have allowed CitySquare to expand and flourish. But while the topic of the luncheon was “The Role of Faith in Business,” Siburt joked that James’ approach wasn’t always good business in the conventional sense.

“Capitalism and racism create winners and losers,” he said. “Larry believes we should see all people as children of God. That is the gospel. If more churches lived that and shared that, I don’t think we’d need to tear so many churches down.

“Larry is always there to love people, to believe in people and to keep having faith. On a given day, you might see a millionaire stop by his office to have coffee, and then see a homeless man stop in to have coffee. Each was received as a child of God.”