An Edited Transcription of the Speech Given by Walter J. Humann at the 25th Anniversary Formal Dinner and Celebration Held for Jubilee Park and Community Center on November 5, 2022
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you so much for coming tonight to this magnificent event, Jubilee’s 25th Anniversary. Let’s have a round of applause for the staff and the folks who put on this event.
Jubilee began as a twinkle in the eye of Saint Michael’s rector, the Rev. Dr. Mark Anschutz. He believed we should do something special for the 50th Anniversary of Saint Michael Church. So, he established a 50th Anniversary Committee chaired by Bill Johnson. This committee concluded that, rather than build additional facilities, the church should do something more substantive and lasting. It should provide outreach to a needy community in Dallas.
On a Saturday morning following the 50th Anniversary Committee recommendations, I was invited to the rector’s office and met with Bill and Mark. The rector asked me to lead this effort. I was honored and viewed this opportunity as a chance of a lifetime. Using the experience gained as a White House Fellow and through over 30 years of community service in Dallas, this was a chance to try a radically different approach to urban revitalization. Since World War II, federal, state, and local governments have spent literally hundreds of billions of dollars trying to re- duce poverty and rejuvenate urban areas. By most measurements, all that money has failed to “move the needle.” Perhaps Jubilee could really succeed by going down a completely different path in its quest to revitalize the community.
So, for the Jubilee project, we implemented the following Principles:
First Principle: we adopted an entire 100-block area and pledged to make everything in that area “the best it could be.”
Second Principle: we set up task forces to comprehensively address issues that impact revitalization. These task forces included the following issues: Education, Housing, Public Safety, Health, Physical Improvements (e.g., Park), Employment, Economic Development, Community Ownership, and Transportation. Rather than providing only after-school education, our approach covered the entire spectrum of issues impeding progress. All of these issues are interrelated. For example, you cannot just educate children if the community is unsafe, unhealthy, and in decline. We needed to act comprehensively, rather than just concentrating on a single silo. All issues are not only interrelated but they must also be addressed simultaneously.
Third Principle: but you ask, "How could Jubilee address all these issues at the same time with limited staff and funding?" The answer is to make maximum use of volunteers. A volunteer provides three benefits. They are talented, can get the job done, and work for free. A volunteer will attract others as volunteers. And all those volunteers will probably provide in-kind or financial help.
Fourth Principle: Primarily use private rather than public funding. Less hassle and red tape.
Fifth Principle: Make a long-term commitment to the community. Don’t think you can clean an alley one Saturday afternoon and you have solved the problems in South Dallas. Don’t start and not finish the job.
Finally, there must be a Principle of servant leadership. A partnership must be developed between outside volunteers and community leaders. Take risks. Be entrepreneurial. Ask for forgiveness instead of permission. Don’t be afraid to lead.
When we started Jubilee, the area had no name, one of the highest crime rates in the city, worst performing grade school, 25% of the lots were vacant or had abandoned houses, high unemployment, and other more deeply seeded problems.
We started on a hot, June 27th afternoon. Saint Michael’s women provided games and food for the residents and kids. The rest of us picked up bricks, shingles, glasses, and debris accumulated over 40 years, along with a summer’s worth of chiggers.
We built two Habitat for Humanity homes. One was used to house four AmeriCorps members, and the other house was used to teach kids and for administrative purposes. LaSheryl Walker was one of those AmeriCorps members who worked with us for almost 15 years. She was the Mother Superior of the neighborhood.
We began operations by providing after-school education. However, when some of Saint Michael's Vestry heard about all the problems in the community, they were concerned about Saint Michael’s reputation. Some asked: “What is our exit strategy?” So, I was called to a vestry meeting to explain how we could withdraw with dignity. I explained that we could pack up a U-Haul at midnight, move everything out, and put up “for rent” signs on Monday morning. No one would be the wiser.
However, I countered that we should do something tangible and permanent for the residents. We could help the community by implementing one of three options.
Option One: We could buy the Wyatt house (see photo on the next page) behind our classroom, eliminate an eye sore, and build a pocket park with a little swing set.
Option Two: We could buy the Wyatt house and the lots on either side of the Wyatt house, build a mini park, and install a bigger swing set.
Option Three: We could acquire all 60 lots in the entire block and build a great park.
The next day I got a call from Nancy Solana who was on the vestry and had heard my testimony. She was also an official with the Fikes Foundation. What she said I’ll remember forever. Her first words were: “Walt. Let’s build a great park. The Fikes Foundation will fund it.” I cannot thank them enough.
Lee Fikes and his wife Amy have done so much for Jubilee. Not only did they fund the park, but they also responded when we called for help with education and programs to reduce the high crime rate. We hired off-duty police; crime went down temporarily. It was then that the concept of a police sub-station in Jubilee was born. The Fikes have our sincere thanks.
To build a great park and acquire every lot in an entire block required divine intervention. Normally Dallas parks occur when one party owns all the land and donates it for park use. But in our case, we had to acquire about 60 lots. There could be no park if we had holdouts. It was like we had to flip a coin 60 times and every time it had to come up heads. One “out-parcel” would ruin the park. God allowed us to acquire all 60 lots and create a miracle in south Dallas. Here are the major impediments God helped us overcome in acquiring those 60 lots.
First, there was the stigma in the black community of the Fair Park condemnation. Many years ago, the city of Dallas condemned all the lots along Fitzhugh to build a parking lot for the StarPlex entertainment center. Black owners were paid less than the appraised value and black renters were simply kicked out with no compensation. So, when we tried to buy lots, many owned by black citizens, they were convinced we would condemn their land, underpay, and then make big profits. To overcome that issue, we offered to put in each deed: “If Jubilee ever used their lot for non-park purposes, they could buy their lot back for $1.00.” That commitment overcame that impediment. Next, there were title problems. Who were the owners of each lot? Almost everyone living in Jubilee dies without a will. So, on most of the 60 lots we had to research and then construct elaborate family trees. One 50 by 70-foot lot had 40 owners with an incredibly complex family tree.
Many owners of record were dead. Other owners required herculean efforts to find them. Some of you have heard the story of Mr. T. and Ardonna Hoxey. We would not have closed those lots without God’s help.
Once the owners were identified, we had to get their contact information and get them to talk to us. How many of you get spam calls and hang up immediately? We had a lot of rejections. An example is the Wyatt house which was next to our Jubilee classroom building.
This lot was owned by Mr. and Mrs. Alonzo Wyatt, Sr. The parents died intestate and so the title went to their three children—two boys and a girl—now all grown. Alonzo Jr. was a Korean War Veteran, who had shell shock. He would preach every day in downtown Dallas at Elm and Akard. LaSheryl would call me at the office whenever Alonzo, Jr. came back to his rat-infested house to sleep. He would preach from his front porch. I listened to a number of his sermons and finally got him to tell me where his brother and sister were. It turns out they were living in Dallas but were estranged. They hadn’t spoken to one another for years. His brother worked as a bouncer at the Z Discothèque on East Grand and I-30. The brother agreed to meet me at his business. I had to proceed through two locked doors and ended up in a very dark room. I thought I might not get out of there.
Later, we located the sister working at the postal annex in Grand Prairie. She was the most suspicious of the three. She said, “I hate my brothers; I don’t want anything to do with them. I am against anything they want to do.” But with divine help, we finally got them all together in that little Jubilee classroom. The first five minutes were terrible and then the dam broke. One embraced the other, and finally, they all started crying and hugging one another. It was their first reunion in 15 years. They all signed the deed and took their checks. We had acquired our first lot and the rest is history.
As word got out that we were buying, potential sellers upped their sale price. The best example of this inflation involved Pastor B. [He] owned the church on Bank and Gurley and the adjacent parsonage. The church and parsonage were old and dilapidated like the Wyatt house. One day, LaSheryl called me and said that Pastor B. would like to talk about a potential sale. This was a great opportunity for Jubilee. I knew that Pastor B. liked Slurpees from 7-11. So, on a hot July day, I walked up on his front porch with two big Slurpees and began our visit. He said, “Walt, the Lord has told me that He wants me to sell this church and house.” I said, “Pastor B., that’s great! We want to buy them!” He continued, “The Lord also told me that I need to get one million dollars for them.” I said, “But Pastor B, they only appraised for $34,000! I would be thrown out of Jubilee, and anyway, we don’t have that kind of money.” So, I took my Slurpee, which had turned into hot mush, and left totally deflated, thinking we would never own that property. But Pastor B. had several visits with the Good Lord, and the Good Lord finally told him a price that we could both agree upon. So, we now own what we call “the Old Church in Jubilee Park” and several adjacent lots.
A final impediment involved parties who said they never wanted to sell. The best example was the Soto Brothers. They owned two “shotgun” houses on opposite sides of Gleason Avenue, next to the Wyatt lot. Gleason was a dirt road cutting through the middle of the proposed park, starting at Gurley and ending where Jeanie’s Place parking lot exits onto South Carroll. The Soto lots were in the dead center of the proposed park. They would not sell in spite of repeated meetings. But they had children and there was no park in the entire area. That became the key.
After weeks, miraculously, unexpectedly, the elder Soto called me and said they decided to sell. The next afternoon, I walked up Gleason Ave. to consummate the sale. I noticed the two families, children and adults all in their Sunday finery, were gathered on Gleason between the two houses. The elder Soto motioned me up on the high porch. He had his son bring out a table and three chairs for himself, his brother and me. I sat there like an empresario. They signed the deeds to the two houses. And this is what he said, “Parque para los ninos.” (Park for the kids) That’s what influenced him and finally led him to sell. He relocated elsewhere in Jubilee Park.
We ultimately were able to acquire all 60 lots. Each acquisition involved a wonderful human inter- est story, and one day I’m going to commit those stories to writing.
About 18 months after Nancy’s phone call, we dedicated the Park, releasing doves to the delight of the children invited to the ceremony. Kids gathered at the entrance under the metal “Jubilee Park” Sign (see photo above). In the background was the new park with donated sprinkler system, light poles, grass, a playground, basketball courts and a football/ soccer field. The Park was a magnet for the community. It was tangible evidence that something had been done for the residents. It symbolized that Saint Michael's volunteers were here for the long run.
The park became a beehive of activity. Field days, police officers coaching, and four pee-wee league football teams—that brought out the cheerleaders. And the player and cheerleader kids brought out their parents. We had so many people in the fall afternoons that there were no parking places for blocks. That was a great tribute to the value of the park which became the lifeblood of the community.
Aside from land acquisition, we needed another ingredient, a person who basically walks on water. We needed a person who knew how to develop and maintain a park. So we appointed Bill Pardoe as Park Czar. More on that later.
With the park and additional land we acquired, we built the Jubilee Community Center, the Resource Center, Police Station, Head Start School—David’s Place, (which is dedicated to David & Maria Martin’s son, David, and to their good friend, David Silby)—and Jeanie’s Place, the Early Head Start School.
We bought and closed down two crack houses, one where Jeanie’s Place school is now and the other where we built Gurley Place, the Senior Living homes. We bought the church. Built affordable homes. The Dallas City Manager said that “We have accelerated our 15-year plan to get Jubilee curbs, gutters, sidewalks, and street recovering into Jubilee because of the Park.” We convinced the DISD School Board President and Superintendent to get rid of its 102-year-old school and build a new, 23-million-dollar Oran B. Roberts School. Most people, like our mayor here and the city manager, now know the name Jubilee Park and where it is located.
With each lot acquisition, decades of debris had to be removed. Marvin Boulden, an African American former truck driver, was hired as the janitor at Roe Chapel Baptist Church, a block to the east of Jubilee Park. Marvin became a good friend. Marvin was asked to operate heavy equipment to uncover buried debris. And then volunteers would come in the late afternoon, pick up debris and toss it into a dumpster. The archaeological dig made us aware that a once vibrant community had deteriorated into an urban slum. That “after-hours” activity also introduced volunteers to different residents. They revealed the great disparity between the people who lived in the Jubilee neighborhood and the rest of Dallas.
Two people, especially, come to mind: Mrs. Griner lived on Congo Street, in the shotgun house, owned by a slum landlord. She had four children, worked three jobs as a maid in the Park Cities, had breast cancer, and was getting by on $18,000 a year. [Try running] a budget—four children going to school, food, clothing, transportation, and utilities—all on $18,000. Still, she made time to come down to City Hall and testify to get zoning for this park.
The other person was 10-year-old Larry. One late afternoon, while picking up those bricks and debris, a chubby 10-year-old African American boy appeared. “My name is Larry. What are you doing, mister?” “We’re building a park for the kids.” “Can I help?” “Absolutely.” I got him a pair of gloves and we’d work in silence, picking up material and throwing it in the dumpster. I soon learned that Larry never met his dad, he was teased at school because he was overweight, and he had a large growth on his ear from an ear piercing gone bad. His mother was a crack-head. Each time she was released from prison, she would beat Larry unmercifully. Instead of staying at home, like normal kids would do, Larry would grab food and sleep at classmates’ houses, or ultimately go further away to his grandmother’s house.
As Larry and I picked up bricks, we could see the lights from downtown Dallas coming through the trees. That is where the people work and live who have it made. Quite a contrast to what the residents like Mrs. Greiner and little Larry have. It reminds me of this poem:
We are all blind until we see That in the human plan Nothing is worth the making If it does not make the man. Why build these cities glorious If man unbuilded goes? We build the world in vain unless the builders also grow.
The next 25 years will be wonderfully exciting for Jubilee Park. And while our work is far from finished, certainly we can say that the community residents have benefited from what we have done so far. But, if we are honest, we must admit that we have received the greatest benefit in providing service to others. So, I’ll close with this,
"I sought my soul.
But my soul I could not see.
I sought my God, but my God eluded me.
I sought to help my fellow man, and I found all three.”
Thank you very much.
We want to pay tribute to those who have meant so much to Jubilee.
MARISSA MIKOY, President and CEO of Jubilee: Marissa provides strong, personable, effective leadership. She has held major non-profit positions here and in Washington, D.C. She received a coveted Presidential Award. She is bilingual and is perfect for Jubilee.
BILL & LYDIA ADDY, underwriters of this event. This couple has done so much for Jubilee. Bill provided all the furniture for the new community. They have made major donations and underwrote the 20-year celebration. They receive the Champions of Change Award.
BILL PARDOE, Park Czar: Bill Pardoe was a former owner of Lamberts Landscaping Company. He has chaired the University Park committee for decades. He has a degree in landscape architecture. God sent us the perfect person to develop and oversee the Park. Almost every day Bill would be here providing a helping hand, keeping this park great and adding to its function. Every park should have a name. It is only fitting that henceforth our park will be called Pardoe Park.
The following seven volunteers and benefactors have gone to heaven.
BILL JOHNSON, 50th Anniversary Committee Chair: He was a light to all who knew him. He was a legacy of compassion, change, and renewal. And Bill raised a lot of money for Jubilee. He will light a path for our community for generations to come.
As many of you know, Bill never owned a cell phone or a computer. Consequently, we had to call his home to invite him to meetings. If Bill wasn’t there, you would get the following phone recording from Bill, “We are not here right now. So, you know what to do. But if you leave words please speak slowly and distinctly.” So Walt, looking up to heaven and speaking very slowly and distinctly into his cell phone, said the following, “Bill. It's Walt down here. We are celebrating the 25th Anniversary of Jubilee. We cannot thank you enough for all you have done for Jubilee. As a result, we are giving your lovely wife Anne a special award. Take care of yourself. No need to call me back.”
JOE GORDON, Employment Task Force Chair: Joe got the street sign toppers saying “Jubilee Park”. He was a leading architect in Dallas.
MARVIN BOLDEN, Roe Chapel Baptist Church: Roe helped clean the park and was the top African American chess player in Texas. He ended up teaching chess to kids in our new park.
JEAN BEATY, a one-person volunteer search firm within Saint Michael Church: Whenever I needed a volunteer, I would call Jean, describe what we needed, and within days we had several great volunteers with the skills required.
LARRY SHOWALTER, volunteered every day to pick up trash in the park while Arden, his wife, taught the children.
T. BOONE PICKENS, He donated funds to make the Community Center, Resource Center, and police sub-station possible. We also used his funding to buy the infamous bar at the corner of South Carroll and Lindsay that is where the Resource Center is located. His gift also allowed land purchase for the new Jubilee Park entrance and President George Bush tree grove. Pickens was a member of the Giving Pledge, determined to give away most of his fortune before his death. We had become friends working in North Sea Oil Exploration. Mary Stewart also knew Boone. So, we arranged a meeting, and he was receptive to our funding request. Subsequent meetings and visits by Boone to Mrs. Gringer’s shotgun house, with no running water and gaps in the bedroom’s walls, convinced him to invest in Jubilee. After he committed to the design and construction of the Community and Resource Center, he was asked for an additional $1 million to cover “sticker shock”—that is, the increased administrative and utilities costs when you move into a new building.
MARIA MARTHA RUIZ, Simply known as Ms. Martha, she was a beloved member of the Jubilee Park community from the beginning in 1997. Servant at heart, not a single person walked through our doors who didn’t have their hearts touched by Martha. She reminded us that “Jubilee es Casa de todo la Comunidad” (Jubilee is home to the entire community.)
I am pleased to announce that Jubilee has named, in her honor, the kitchen where Martha spent countless hours feeding and caring for her neighbors, Martha's Café. Her children, including her daughter, Patricia Ruiz, will be informed of this honor.
**This article was featured in the 2023 Spring Archangel.