DAI issue campaigns emerge from a process that begins with conversations among leaders of DAI institutions. Being attuned to the community, leaders identify issues. Not complacent or easily daunted, and energized by a desire to transform hope into action, we form a group to research the problem. In time the group knows the background, defines the issue, and proposes a plan. With support from the rest of the organization, we authorize an issue team and inaugurate a campaign.
Healthy and Safe Neighborhoods
In 2015 DAI launched Healthy and Safe Neighborhoods, a bottom-up approach to creating healthy and safe communities in the Bachman Lake and South Oak Cliff neighborhoods. By working with community institutions, we identify the different needs of parents, children, young adults and the elderly.
In Bachman Lake DAI leaders organized a meeting of over 120 people to discuss concerns about the community. They identified issues with slum lords and basic safety as their two top concerns. They are actively researching solutions to these issues. In South Oak Cliff, a cluster of churches and schools has emerged and will start a listening campaign in the fall of 2015. A group of local residents committed to the effort and willing to lead others in improving their neighborhood will be trained and equipped by DAI to rebuild their communities -- and own their destiny.
Bridging the North South Divide
Bridging the North South Divide is a new effort springing from conversations between DAI clergy in northern Dallas and southern Dallas about the racial and economic inequality in our community. This initiative began when Rev. Donald Parish Sr. of True Lee Missionary Baptist Church shared with other clergy how his congregant Desmond Luster Sr. was shot by an off-duty Dallas police officer -- just one more death in a long list of African-Americans killed by white police officers. Our clergy and leaders are developing a strategy to deal with the root causes that lead to the deaths of too many like Mr. Luster.
DAI leaders are committed to ensuring that area residents have high quality job training that propels people earning poverty wages into high demand jobs paying a living wage plus benefits. In 2009 DAI developed Skill QUEST, a workforce intermediary program. Its first ten participants graduated in May 2012, and the program is on track to annually have 200 enrolled by the end of 2015. A graduate’s average income increases from $9,000 to over $43,000.
In the 2015 legislative sessions, DAI worked with our sister Texas organizations to secure $5 million for long-term job training programs like Skill QUEST. Additionally, DAI leaders will work for local public funding for long-term job training.
Immigration and Worker Rights
On immigration and worker issues, DAI is working with city, county, local law enforcement, and the District Attorney within Dallas County around issues of wage theft and worker safety. These issues affect a wide range of people, but undocumented workers are most affected. These campaigns were launched in June 2014, when 500 DAI leaders came together at “A Cry for Immigration Reform and a Call to Local Action.” Tired of waiting on Congress to fix the nation’s immigration system, leaders were committed to working on local issues that affect undocumented immigrants.
DAI leaders are fighting to end wage theft, which includes not paying overtime, not paying minimum wage and even not paying a worker at all. These problems are rampant in immigrant communities. We have secured commitments from the Dallas County District Attorney, the Dallas Police Department and the Dallas County Sheriff’s department to enforce a state law that criminalizes wage theft. DAI is also working with members to train those with large immigrant populations about their rights to file criminal and civil charges against employers who steal their wages. As a result of our campaign, Dallas County is one of only two Texas counties to criminally prosecute perpetrators of wage theft.
The personal experiences of construction workers not receiving adequate water and rest breaks during the hot Texas summers prompted our Rest Break campaign. While the majority of contractors allow workers to rest, some don’t give workers this basic human right. Unfortunately there is no federal law mandating that construction workers be allowed a break. DAI is working with Dallas City Council members on an ordinance giving construction workers the right to a rest break every four hours, which would make Dallas only the second city in Texas with such an ordinance.
DAI continues to support expanded healthcare for those in the coverage gap. We worked with elected officials during the legislative session, testified at committee hearings, and we’re coordinating with county officials. Some DAI member organizations have approached Dallas County about becoming permanent sites for Affordable Care Act exchange signup opportunities. Until Texas devises a way to expand coverage with the funding provided by the ACA, the issue of access to healthcare will remain.