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#GrowSouth Year 2 Report

Last night, the Mayor returned to the southern sector of Dallas for his annual report on the GrowSouth initiative in South and Southern Dallas. The report focused on development and encouraging stories over the past year. We, the Mayor's Star Council, took a much larger role in the event this year, and we helped promote the many great things coming from the GrowSouth plan.

This year, a packed cafeteria at Yvonne A. Ewell Townview Magnet Center (which houses the #1 high school in the nation) in Oak Cliff played host to Mayor Rawlings and his year two report of the GrowSouth plan. It was great to catch up with the many friends and faces all working towards the same goal of cultivating the opportunities that exist in South/Southern Dallas. The Mayor focused on his ten key indicators of the GrowSouth plan. And, while the Mayor shared stories of increased economic growth and neighborhood development; a small army of MSC members took to social media to share the Mayor's plan.

While the Mayor shared great information, graded the progress and discussed how the city can do better; for us, our highlight came when three of our very own Mayor's Rising Star Council members joined the Mayor on stage at the conclusion. Seeing these MRSC members and hearing about their hopes for their neighborhood was an inspiring conclusion to the Mayor's report. As the MSC and MRSC continue to build relationships in South Dallas, events like today are a great way to see how far we've grown and how much more work there is left to do.

David Higbee | MSC Member 2013-2014



Mayor’s Rising Star Council join Mayor Rawlings to Clean Up Dallas!

This last Saturday, members of the Mayor’s Star Council and members of the Mayor’s Rising Star Council  joined Mayor Mike Rawlings to cleanup neighborhoods and parks in South Dallas. As part of the larger GrowSouth, groups ventured out into various areas of South Dallas and began the clean up efforts. Our own MSC and MRSC members share their thoughts on the day.

“I was very enthusiastic about the clean up. It was a joy cleaning our community while also having my friends around. I’m really glad that at least 30 of my peers from W. H. Adamson attended as well.”

-Mario C. Aparicio | MRSC Member 2014

“This weekend’s events at the different high school were truly amazing… Our group was at Lincoln High School and we had a good group from their school along with more than 50 students from South Oak Cliff High School who got on a bus and came over to Lincoln to serve and help clean up.  The Mayor showed up to share his appreciation with the students specifically encouraging them in that “they would be surprised how their leadership in stepping forward to clean the neighborhood would affect their community”.

- Trey Bowles | MSC Founder

“The cleanup was very motivating and inspiring for simply this reason: it showed our community that not only do we care about our surroundings, but far more about our citizens. Both schools (Roosevelt and Adamson) came together to find loyal and dedicated students,who wanted change in the community,to come and pick up litter surrounding Adamson. I was amazed about  the number of students who was willing to give up their Saturday to join the “movement of change”. From there we split up and went on to paint a wall. We had fun and the Rising Star Council got the done. So this wasn’t only for our benefit but rather selfless service.”

- Catandra Hollins | MRSC Member 2014

“Mayor’s Rising Star Council students from Adamson and Roosevelt High School recruited nearly 40 students to help with the “Neighborhood Clean Up.” Two groups of students cleaned the perimeter of Adamson High School – clearing the area of litter and debris, while another group ventured a little farther into the neighborhood and painted over a graffiti wall.  The students had fun while doing something good in the community – even Mayor Mike Rawlings stopped by to lend a hand at the wall painting!”

- Stephanie Norsworthy | MSC Member 2013-2014

“One of my favorite things about this weekend was hearing how many students want to continue to do more service projects. Not only did they enjoy getting to hang out with friends and free lunch but they all said this was one of the best volunteer experiences they have had.”

- Christian Yazdanpanah | MSC Member 2013-2014

“I am still so impressed with the fact that students from others communities got so excited about cleaning space that wasn’t there “own”.  They got so excited they brought 50+ friends with them.  When asked what was one word they would use to describe what they saw, experienced, etc. some listed were: shocking, inspirational, committed, heartbroken, community, teamwork, impact, difference.  This is hugely important as we continue to focus on teaching our young people about the importance of not only leadership but the value of giving back, even when it may not differently impact their “home”.”

- Christie Myers | MSC Member 2013-2014



GrowSouth by Growing Local Businesses

Recently I had the privilege of speaking at Lincoln High School’s College and Career Day. You probably know the drill: a professional goes in and speaks to classes about their job, what their day to day looks like, what education and interests led to it, and, yes, salary.

Now the story of my career, like most, involves some twists and turns, and I am a commercial real estate developer and investor turned Community Designer. In shifting from skyscrapers to sidewalks, mixed-use developments to home redevelopments, one common thread has always been economic development.

So I begin by talking about my experiences in commercial real estate and transition over into public interest design, the concept that a neighborhood or community should be designed by those that experience it. That conversation began with me simply asking what the students liked and didn’t like about their neighborhoods. What are the pros? What are the cons?

The students were quick to list a lack of services; everything ranging from the lack of quality grocery stores to the lack of a Walmart. I’ll be honest, in urban-planning circles and many others, a Walmart is not the most desirable tenant because of the way it alters a neighborhood’s fabric, but I believe the important part to focus on is that they wanted all the goods and services a Walmart represents.  So I talk a bit more about what that looks like, how one structures a deal to land a big-box retailer in a retail shopping center and all the different roles in the process. Hey, my job that day wasn’t to lecture about my preferences, it was to provide exposure to different careers and industries, right?

After we exhaust that conversation, I ask again, “What do you like about your neighborhood?” One student mentions Bexar Street, a redeveloped street in the Bonton neighborhood that has been a project of many partners, including the City. Now, Bexar Steet is much more of my cup of tea; it’s designed to be a complete street, safe for those aged 8 to 80 using all forms of transportation, and provides an engaging public space at the street level. I feel the smirk grow across my face.  We talk a bit more about what they like, and I describe what some of the planners and architects I work with at bcWORKSHOP do to help build a complete street like what Bexar is striving to be.

Bexar Street

The bell rings and the first class leaves, and I take the break to look around the classroom a bit. Sure enough, right behind me are a bunch of student-drawn streetscapes with engaging retail-fronts, wide sidewalks, and varied businesses. THESE are the services they are talking about; this is the environment that they are literally dreaming of and drawing in Art class. My smirk grows wider.

For the second class, the kinks in my talk are worked out, and I’m moving from one topic to another, comforted by the experience I had in the first class. And then, in an unforeseen moment, one student, who admittedly struck me as the class clown (or what I would have been in high school if I was funnier), raised his hand and asked me if I could answer his question.

This student who hadn’t seemed engaged told me he wanted to start a business. He wanted to provide opportunities to those that were down on their luck. He wanted to provide shelter to those that needed it, but more importantly he wanted to provide a way for them to pull themselves up, and with them, move the entire community forward. He told me the building he wanted to do this in, which, no joke, happened to be where my Grandmother went to elementary school, and asked what he needed to make it happen. He got out his pen and paper, ready to take notes and get moving!

Lagow Elementary

I was blown away. His vision and passion was inspiring. It was profound. This student was out to change the world; he just needed some help developing his plan.

Now, one thing I left out about Bexar Street: they have an occupancy problem. Many of the storefronts, while charming, modern, and inviting, sit empty. Progress is coming, but not at the pace that most would prefer.  And this is one street; we can’t realistically expect external businesses to fill all the retail fronts if this is hopefully only the pilot complete street.


I believe that within that student holds the solution. There is the entrepreneurial spirit throughout D/FW and that is no less true in Southern Dallas or within its Dallas ISD schools. Fortunately, there are many organizations out to help these visionaries along, including Lincoln’s own Entrepreneurial Culinary Arts Program and the Young Professional Coalition for Dallas ISD (YPC4DISD), but we need more of it. Help students engage in school and enrich their communities? Sounds like a win-win. 

Mark Lea | MSC Class 2013-2014



Ready, Set, Grow… South!

It was a blustery November morning. Overcast skies, but a comfortable temperature, perfect for a morning run… or a 5K. As I approached the run site I was taken aback by the forest of well-matured trees. Reds, oranges, yellows, greens, crisp cool air, I finally realized it was autumn in Dallas.  But was this Dallas? I had never seen this part of Dallas before….

I drove passed the softball fields bustling with people preparing to play.  To my right, I noticed a small bunch of newly planted trees. I parked and walked towards familiar faces. Registration was in the middle of a huge open area encircled by soaring trees. With my number pinned on my jacket, goodie bag in hand, I took a swig of water and joined the group for a pre-race stretch.  Jumping jacks, high knees, touch your toes!!!

Run/Chat/Walk with my good friend Candice Quarles, President of the Urban League Of Greater Dallas Young Professionals (ULGDYP)

Ready? Get on your Mark, Get Set, Go! As the walk began I stayed along the meandering trail, looking forward to its twists and turns. Over, under and literally through the woods, the trail was a perfect complement to my mid-morning conversation. As we updated each other on our life’s happenings, I was astonished (and winded) as I realized the beauty and distance of our trail. We walked over a bridge; there was a quaint neighborhood to our right. What an ideal place to live. But where was I? I never knew this was in Dallas….

Rounding the softball fields, the air became filled with the aroma of fresh soil and bark. The trees were well supported in the dark, rich, soil—I had never realized the greatness of a recently planted tree; it kind of gives you a warm fluffy feeling that something good is about to happen.

Whew! The balloon filled finished line was finally insight. What a delightful way to start my morning: exercise, good conversation and giving back to the community. Only 10 minutes from my downtown apartment, why hadn’t I tried this before?

Well, thank goodness for the Urban League of Greater Dallas and North Central Texas Annual 5k Walk/Run that brought me out to Kiest Park. Yes, Kiest Park in Southern Dallas, that was the scenic space that helped to get my weekend off to a productive start.

Kiest Park is 248 acres. 248 vast, beautiful acres, and I’ve never had a picnic there?… SMH!

Now as the New Year is in full swing, including new fitness goals, I am really looking forward to my next go-round on the Kiest Park Trail (hopefully less winded). More importantly, I am looking forward to learning more about Southern Dallas with my comrades in the Mayor’s Star Council (MSC). As we seek to advance the initiatives of the Mayor’s Grow South Plan, I hope that I will have the opportunity to meet some of the wonderful people of the “quaint” neighborhood adjacent to the park, I hope I can be a tree planter, host a picnic or even watch a softball game. Just like the newly planted trees, there is only room for growth in Kiest Park and various areas of Southern Dallas…that opportunity for discovery and innovation gives me a warm fluffy feeling inside. Something good is about to happen in Southern Dallas!

MSC and ULGDYP Members

Like Kiest Park, 2014 will be ripe with new discovery, experiences and growth. I hope that we can all find ways to unearth all of the wonderful things that Southern Dallas has to offer. For me it started at Kiest Park…where will you begin?

Alexis Logan | MSC Class 2013-2014



P.R.E.P. Rally at South Oak Cliff High School

On September 14th, members of the Mayor's Star Council participated in the P.R.E.P. Rally held at South Oak Cliff High School. The rally was a back-to-school event that included the entire community, students, staff, parents and organizations. We were thrilled to be a part of such a fun and special day. MSC was just one of many groups to be a part of the event that promoted Pride, Results, Excellence and Perseverance. Go Bears!

"What a great experience meeting the kids where they were and going back to my neighborhood. Nothing more rewarding."

Marco Smith

"The rally was an incredible picture of the southern Dallas community: a coming together of diverse cultures, centered around the future success of its next generation."

Brenton Jayatilaka

"What better way to show our students and teachers we support them, than by celebrating them. We need more PREP rallies."

Christian Yazdanpanah

"I loved meeting people so passionate about their schools feeding into South Oak Cliff."

Mark Lea



A Story Grown South

As of late, Southern Dallas has become the topic of much discussion within the city among professionals and community leaders alike. It’s hard to believe that a portion of our city, which is greater than the city of Atlanta in size, has been largely ignored until recently. With the vast potential for economic growth and the opportunities to strengthen the schools and communities in the area it has become the focal point for many businesses and city leaders. This recent focus has all been spearheaded by Mayor Rawlings’ “Grow South” initiative and served as one of the main reasons I chose to get involved in the Mayor's Star Council. I’ll admit that I had other reasons as well. Obviously it gives me the opportunity to stay civically engaged, strengthen my own professional network, impact my city and all of the other bells and whistles that come with being involved in this great organization.  But, as time went on, this new endeavor became very personal.

You see I’m actually from Oak Cliff. I used to go to Kiest Park on Sundays, worked in Wynnwood Village as a teenager, LOVE Rudy’s Chicken, and think Wingfield’s has the best burgers on the planet. While I've lived in various parts of the city, there has been one constant in my 35 years of living and that constant resides right off the Ledbetter Drive and Lancaster Road intersection at 2347 East Pentagon Parkway. Marion Virginia Heyward is my grandmother and she has lived there for 51 years and still does to this day. I was there recently to visit her and to help her clear out some of the bulk trash that she had accumulated at the old house and it occurred to me that her story is one that runs parallel with the story of Oak Cliff. It is a place filled with good, hard-working people who take pride in their community. Madear (as we've affectionately called her for years) is the quintessential matriarch of our entire family. She is the mother of six children who were all educated in the Dallas Independent School District. She had various jobs that ranged from working at the cafeteria at Kimball High School to cleaning houses for the more affluent in the city. She eventually went on to work for the post office and then retire. “I worked there for 40 years, 6 months and 28 days” she says. I’m in awe of her as I can only imagine the many hardships that she must have encountered during times that were plagued with racism, segregation, and crime. These are things that can take a toll on a person and their family. The community as a whole was impacted by that same toll. I can even see the manifestation of this toll in the old house as I help to clean it up. It has largely become dilapidated over the years. It saddens me as I see the wood rotted away by termites and holes in some of the walls that you can see clear outside from. But Madear hasn’t lost a beat, as I clean with the rest of my family members and she tells jokes and stories and we’re all cracking up. Always the generous heart she then lets us know that she has to go to take a fellow church member to church. “Madear wait, I need to take your picture for my blog” I say, “Ok baby let me get my church-hat” she replies. As I snap a few shots with my camera I find myself in awe again because at age 75 she found enough love for 6 children, 17 grandchildren, and 15 great-grandchildren and none of us lacked for any of it. It’s that same resolve that is representative of the community of Oak Cliff and its citizens and the reason that I have so much optimism for its future.

And now, that same optimism is shared in the vision of the “Grow South” initiative. Anyone who knows me knows that I take a lot of pride in being where I’m from and it would make me even more proud to be able to significantly impact my community positively and to know I made the most of my experience on the Mayor’s Star Council. But really….I just want to make her proud.

Marco Smith | Mayor's Star Council 2013-2014