Community Perspectives: Larry James



George Marquez: Welcome to Community Perspective.

My name is George Marquez, District Director for Human and Organizational Development.

Today I am honored to be speaking to Mr. Larry James, President and Chief Executive Officer for City Square.


Mr. James, thank you for taking the time to be with me today and for sharing your thoughts on Dallas County with us.

Larry James: Great to be here.

GM: What are the greatest challenges that you see facing Dallas County today?

LJ: Dallas County is going through a real social change that bifurcates the community, and the optics uh, are really um, an illusion.

Because Dallas is a boom city right now.

Our mayor and our county judge have both made statements indicating, you know, how well things are going in terms of the overall economy of the region, especially as compared to other parts of the country or even other parts of the state of Texas.

However uh, our mayor has also said that out beyond five, six, seven years things seem really uncertain.

And he says that because of this growing underclass of folk who work hard, but whose skill sets do not match with the jobs that are open and seeking employ uh, uh, employ, employees to fill those jobs.

So there is, Dallas is really a tale of two cities, or maybe better, the untold tale of one city that's forgotten.

And it's the city that's lost in the southern sector, where people live in the midst of grinding stress, where children struggle.

Where food insecurity uh, is very, very prevalent.

And in the, in the surround that I just described, people don't have the psychic space they need to really make progress.

And so a lot of studies have indicated that stress becomes toxic when poverty is just unrelenting.

And that's what we have in Dallas.

And, and I had a young man come over several years ago now.

He was going to run for the school board.

And he said what's the number one problem facing DISD?

And I said, that's real simple.


And you say what's poverty got to do with education, I say well just everything in terms of a students ability to achieve.

And so we have got to get a handle on our precious neighbors who live at the bottom.

We can no longer forget them.

We can no longer decide not to see them.

We've got to engage across this community.

And that's the other thing.

Poverty is migrating.

It remains concentrated in the southern sector, especially in south Dallas and in far east Dallas, but it's also spreading in the suburban communities.

If you look at the map that compares the realities, you'll see the spread of poverty into the suburban communities as well.

That's the biggest problem, that's the biggest challenge.

GM: What do you see as Dallas County’s greatest strengths?

LJ: We have many strengths in the county.

Optimism the economic vitality that I described a moment ago, that while not reaching everyone is reaching many.

And so there are many resources that are available to us to solve very difficult problems.

If we had the political will and the community will to engage these resources, the optimism, the opportunity.

If we can get our training to a level that begins to lift people into the openness that is, that is this opportunity, I think we have a chance to rea

lly change things.

But it's going to take political will.

It's going to take a grassroots movement.

It's going to take a pervasive understanding of our challenges, to take advantage of our great opportunities.

I mean, if you look at the economic engine that is DFW airport, just take the airport.

That's an amazing story.

And we continue to thrive because of that a public institution that's so important to us.

You could say the same thing about DART.

You can say the same thing about Dallas Country Community College District.

We have so many resources at our beck and call.

And so that, that's our, that's our opportunity.

And that's what makes the poverty such a paradox.

Because there's such opportunity here, but at the same time, we're facing this poverty that's crushing people.


GM: As a follow up, what opportunities do you see on the horizon?

LJ: Uh, that depends.

We currently have, as I mentioned, a job gap between the skills sets of those who are unemployed, seeking employment, and the requirements of these jobs that are open.

If our training protocols and commitments can keep pace with the different kinds of jobs that are now available, we're going to see increasing number of people move in at that opportunity.

Because of inadequate education and training it's been experienced by many of our neighbors, unfortunately, a lot of those jobs are going to be filled by people who are imported to take them.

We gotta figure that out.

And, and that's what makes your work so important to our county and to our whole community.

If we can close that gap.

If we can increase skills at the bottom to be able to reach those opportunities, then we're going to have a new burst of growth and opportunity but we're not there yet.

We're a long way from there.

Here's a statistic that may seem irrelevant, but I think there's a connection.

41% of people who live Dallas lease their housing.

That tells you something about a persons financial capacity and their ability to grasp opportunity, to build equity, to build wealth.

Take the next steps, right?

GM: Mm-hm.

LJ: That is much higher. That renter statistic is much higher than across the nation.

But I think it's an indication of the capacity of our workforce.

We've got to improve that so the wealth can be achieved and can be enjoyed.

But it's a big challenge.

It's a big challenge.

There are other issue that also mitigate against the growth of wealth and family in households.

Health care is a huge issue.

Health care is a huge issue.

We need to expand Medicaid.

It's a no-brainer from a business standpoint.

I mean.

Forget the politics.

I mean it's, it's even beyond just the issue of health.

It's really about wellness and creating a new kind of environment in which people can live.

If I don't have access in a routine manner to health care.

I'm going to have all kinds of other problems.

But all these things are interrelated.

I mean it's not just one thing, but everything has a connection to the other thing, and so it's complex.

And yet, I think again, with the political will, with the determination to take advantage of our many opportunities, we have a chance to really make things much better.

GM: If you could build Dallas County from day one, what would it look like?

LJ: Um, that's a great question.

We've been known to say around here that we're trying to build Mayberry.


LJ: Uh, you know in Mayberry it was kind of like where I grew up, I grew up in Richardson and when we moved to Richardson, Texas there were 1,200 people in the community.

I could ride my bike from one end of the city to the other end and along the way, I'd meet probably a half a dozen people who knew me and who knew my dad.

And so I couldn't act up much.

It was a close knit community.

But it was also an adverse community, and people with lots of wherewithal financially, live very close to people who didn't have much.

There was a, there was a proximity about the community that allowed all of us to see a diversity of life.

Now, and while there was a uniformity about that community, the socioeconomic divide that we see here in Dallas that's measured by miles, it just didn't exist in Richardson.

We gotta get back to building neighborhoods like that.

We've gotta get back to, to mixed income folk, mixed income solutions to community development.

We've got to resist the temptation to put all the low income housing in one part of town and all of the upper end housing in another part of town.

That seems rather idealistic, but there are ways with incentives and with public leadership to make that happen.

You know, we're been trying to do that in the downtown sector.

There's a resurgence in downtown Dallas, a residential in, insurgence.

And so we've tried to provide affordable housing in this facility, right in the middle of downtown Dallas.

We'd like to other projects.

They're very difficult to do.

And so, there's going to have to be again a political will, a vision.

Your, your question assumes that someone has a vision as to how it might be.

There's a lot of randomness about this community that needs to be aligned and focused, to achieve better public outcomes for its citizens.

But that takes a lot of political courage and a lot of political will and it's not going to happen overnight.

GM: Is there any other information that you would like to share with us today?

LJ: I really appreciate what you do.

I have for a long time.

We, we've had a partnership of the, community college district for a number of years.

As a matter of fact, we have one of your professors who works with us every day in our workforce training endeavors in a get ready to work class – Charles Barnes.

But we have appreciated the opportunity that you bring to thousands of people, to young people, who otherwise wouldn't have an opportunity to continue their education.

It seems very accessible.

There seems to be a commitment to make it even more accessible and affordable.

Thanks to DART you can get there.

So I commend your work.

I'm also very grateful for institutions like Parkland Health and Hospital System who bring an opportunity to experience wellness to so many thousands of people.

You know, between 2000 and 2012 the City of Dallas grew by 5%.

That's modest growth over that 13 year period.

During that same time, though, poverty increased by 41%.

And so it's a huge challenge that we face.

And we, we cannot ignore it.

We have to, we have to step up to the challenge and begin to do things differently.

If we do that we're going to have a great city going forward for the foreseeable future.

If we don't, we're really at a tipping point and if we tip the wrong way then getting back is going to be much, much more difficult.

And so we're all in the together.

I hope we can find ways to work more closely with you and with others in the city who care about its future.


GM: Thank you so much for spending the time with us today and to bring your insight into Dallas County to us.

LJ: Thanks a lot for having me.

Been good to be with you.