June 1, 2018 In The News, Media

Dallas News: Eddie Bernice Johnson, Marc Veasey tour South Dallas to see how a community tackles poverty

On the back side of Bonton Farms, one of the country’s largest urban gardens here in South Dallas, lies a row of fencing painted with inspiring messages, just past the goats and tomato vines.

But one stands out: “I will be everything they said I could not be.”

For Daron Babcock, executive director of Bonton Farms, the message resonates with their volunteers and employees from South Dallas, where 85 percent of men have been to prison and poverty is rampant.

On Friday, U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson and Rep. Marc Veasey stopped at Bonton Farms and two other facilities to kick off the multi-city Pathways Out of Poverty listening tour, a national effort to search for proven strategies to tackle poverty.

The tour stops Friday were meant to inform the congressional Texas Democrats on effective Dallas-based solutions to addressing income inequality. South Dallas is home to several facilities that are devising strategies to offer job opportunities to people who have trouble breaking through societal barriers.

“This is really a can-do city,” Johnson said. “We really attempt to identify the problems and try our best to address them.”

The listening tour is in direct opposition to “repeated attempts” by President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans to gut anti-poverty programs at the federal level, said Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland, who joined the North Texas Democrats on Friday with Rep. Barbara Lee of California.

The Democrats, rather, are focusing on solutions that help, not hurt, families living in or on the edge of poverty, Hoyer added.

With voters feeling better about the economy as the unemployment rate dips, Republicans are running on the Trump administration’s economic policies and tax cuts. Democrats, on the other hand, are pushing the message that the GOP tax plan gave away more to major corporations than to the middle and lower classes.

“While Republicans passed a $1.8 trillion tax cut and gave the majority of the benefits to the top 1 percent, Democrats are focused on offering a better deal to the American people, focused on expanding opportunity so that every American can have a secure place in the middle class,” Hoyer said in a prepared statement.

Stopping in Texas makes perfect sense, as Democrats see several congressional districts in the Lone Star State as ripe battleground opportunities for retaking control of the U.S. House.

Two of the tour stops Friday were in Johnson’s district, while the last — Promise House, a nonprofit shelter that offers housing to around 1,700 homeless youth a year — is in Veasey’s district.

Veasey said one of his major takeaways after visiting Promise House and the other stops was that Congress must do more to offer funding to facilities that have proven strategies to tackle poverty. Some of the congressional Democrats agreed that the efforts should be implemented and replicated nationwide.

Food and job scarcity

Jobs aren’t the only thing scarce in the impoverished neighborhood surrounding Bonton Farms, a designated food desert. The nearest grocery store is a three-hour round trip by bus, and many in the neighborhood turn to their nearest corner store, which often means they’re buying processed, sugary food, Babcock said.

At the second stop on the tour at the Jubilee Community Center, which houses extensive services for low-income residents of Southeast Dallas, CEO Ben Leal pointed out that the nearest grocery store to his facility is a Whole Foods.

“But if you make less than $15,000 a year, you’re not shopping at Whole Foods,” Leal said.

To combat this, Babcock said Bonton Farms sells some of its products and produce to nearby food markets, corner stores and restaurants at standard rates. Through those profits, they’re able to sell the rest of their fresh produce at reduced rates straight to the community, he said.

Instead of seeing large grocery stores moving in as a community’s only hope, small neighborhood markets like Bonton Farms might be a solution, Babcock said.

“Poverty is not a problem we can solve overnight,” Johnson said. “But, like the steps we are taking in Dallas, there is much we can do to significantly reduce poverty.”

“We’ve got a long ways to go,” she added.

The tour will continue later this month in Milwaukee.