Word on the Street

Personal essays from a young journalist in the Sunshine State.

Tag: Life in Dallas

Finding My Way on the Ballet Beat

I wrote a story for Tuesday’s paper about the Texas Ballet Theater falling short in its fundraising goals. The company has to raise $1.5 million in pledges and $500,000 in cash within the next week or it will close. In writing so many stories about the ballet, I’ve developed a lot of local sources. I need to start storing my numbers electronically, or just get a good, old-fashioned Rolodex!

You can read my ballet story here:

With only one week to go before its deadline, the Texas Ballet Theater is falling hundreds of thousands of dollars short in its fundraising efforts.

The company says it needs $1.5 million in pledges and $500,000 in cash by Sept. 10, the opening day of the company’s season. As of Tuesday, Margo McCann, the group’s interim managing director, said it had raised $145,326 in cash and about $800,000 in pledges.

“Quite frankly, it’s not that much money for two cities to come up with,” said Ben Stevenson, the theater’s artistic director.

Most of the contributions have come through small donations from community members, Ms. McCann said.

The company’s board of directors finalized a formal business plan last week, which includes doing away with live music at performances, she said.

A development director – a position the company has been without for the past three years – also has been chosen. Administrators are withholding the name of the director until they can be sure the company will stay open.


Weigh in: If you’re a journalist, how do you store/save sources’ contact information?

Sixth Floor Reminders of Why Journalism Matters

A glass case with the Associated Press teletype that was used to disseminate information at the scene of the shooting sits on a stand in the museum, a reminder of how quickly the press hustled to spread the news of JFK's assasination.

The Associated Press teletype that was used to disseminate information about JFK's assassination.

I’ve heard people say that newspapers are the rough draft of history. On Saturday, I gained a better understanding of what this means.

While at the Sixth Floor Museum in downtown Dallas where John F. Kennedy was shot, I gravitated toward a display titled: “Pandemonium and the Press.” The display shows photos of journalists at the scene of JFK”s death and features vignettes about the role of the press during this traumatic moment in history.

Many of the photos and documents in the museum would not be there if it hadn’t been for journalists. There were no bystanders sending mass text messages or bloggers detailing the events of Kennedy’s 1963 assassination. Reporters had to act fast with little technological help. And act fast they did. They provided vivid photos of the presidential limo speeding down Elm Street after JFK was shot, and wrote stories for the next day’s paper about his death and the emotional reaction it stirred. “The press and the television people just took over,” Forrest V. Sorrels of the Secret Service said at the time.

I saw more proof of journalists’ hard work when I walked into the museum gift shop. I couldn’t help but buy a reprinted copy of the paper The Dallas Morning News put out the day after Kennedy’s death. For me, it’s a reminder of what journalism is all about: reporting truth and recording history in the making. I’m tempted to hang the reprinted paper in my room, in part because I’m a journalism nerd, but also because I think that now more than ever, it’s important to remember that journalism is a noble profession that still very much matters.

Round-up of Recent Stories

Mike Stone/Special Contributor, Dallas Morning News

Mike Stone/Special Contributor, Dallas Morning News

A story I wrote about the Dallas Black Dance Theater’s youth ensemble, Bloom, ran in Tuesday’s Dallas Morning News. I found the story while trying to make contacts with local dance directors. I’ve been writing lots of stories about professional dance/ballet companies lately, but hadn’t yet written about a youth dance group, so this was a treat. You can read the story here:

Alexandria Johnson, 15, has spent nine years studying African dance. She’s read books about it and talked to her dance instructors about what Africa is like. But she never dreamed she’d actually go, let alone perform, there. Today, that will change.

Alexandria, who lives in Dallas and attends Yvonne A. Ewell Townview Center high school, and seven other young dancers who are part of the Bloom, Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s performance ensemble, leave today for Kampala, Uganda. They’ve been invited to perform at “Kwatu Fest,” a three-day peace festival that begins Wednesday. It marks the first time the 11-year-old ensemble has been invited to perform internationally.


Here are some other stories I’ve written throughout the past week:

“Texas Ballet Theater Cancels Live Music” — Who knew ballet could generate so many stories?

“Texas Ballet Theater Dancers Organize Fundraising Effort” — Yes, more from the ballet beat.

“Steely Dan in Fine Form During Nokia Show” — Covering the Steely Dan concert was a challenge, seeing that I don’t regularly listen to Steely Dan. I listened to a lot of the group’s songs on YouTube before writing the story, though, and I researched the history of the group. It was difficult to speak with authority on the group and to write the story on a tight deadline, but it was good practice for upcoming concerts I’m going to cover. The article is only a couple hundred words long, mainly because concert reviews that are filed late at night have to be kept pretty short for production-related reasons.

“The Arts Experience: The Moments Before the Art Comes to Life” — A vignette about a photographer’s process for hanging his photos in an exhibit.

A Visit to Irving Bible Church

While in Texas, I’ve decided to visit different types of churches. I’m a practicing Catholic, but I’ve always been interested in learning about different faiths and forms of worship. On Sunday, I went to Irving Bible Church, a non-denominational church that has more than 3,500 members. I had read in Saturday’s Dallas Morning News that Sunday marked the first time that the 40-year-old church was going to have a female preacher, Jackie Roese, give the sermon. So I decided to go.

The Dallas Morning News reported that: “The church’s elders – all men – spent 18 months studying the Bible, reading other books, hearing guest speakers and praying. They concluded that despite ‘problem’ passages, the Bible doesn’t prohibit a woman from instructing men in theological matters.” (Check out the varying viewpoints on this in the comments section of the article.)

I’ve always been fascinated by female pastors, having not been accustomed to seeing them on Catholic altars, and I thought Jackie Roese’s sermon was inspiring, uplifting and empowering. She encouraged the congregation to take risks that can help bring them and others closer to Christ. It’s better, she said, to be “warriors” rather than “wimps.”

Roese’s sermon aside, I was shocked by how big the church is. “Holy crap” was the only reaction I could muster upon seeing it. The church resembles a concert hall with a talented Christian band as the main attraction. There are two jumbo screens that flash the lyrics of each song the band plays. I’m used to relatively small churches that have a fair number of empty pews, but this church was full, mostly of young people. In the lobby of the church, which is known as the “Town Square,” there is a huge playground, perhaps a reward for children who patiently make it through the service. I’ve never seen a church like it before. I guess what they say is true: Everything, or at least a lot of things, are bigger in Texas. Especially the churches.

Free to Roam Miles Away from Home

Earlier this morning, I was running through Oak Cliff, the predominantly Mexican neighborhood where I live in Dallas. Piñata shops, taquerias and dozens of auto repair shops line the side of the road in Oak Cliff. In many senses, I’m a minority in this community, a community where blonde hair and blue eyes almost always makes heads turn. But I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Since coming to Dallas, I’ve done a lot of things I wouldn’t normally do in the Northeast where I grew up and went to college, or in Florida, where I’ve lived for the past year. Stepping outside of my comfort zone — by trying new foods, taking Tejano dance lessons, and going to a Nine Inch Nails concert, for instance — has helped distract me from the friends and family I dearly miss. I wouldn’t say these new experiences have cured my homesickness, but they’ve helped my time here go by faster, they’ve made me like Dallas more, and they’ve helped me grow.

Too often, I think we get stuck in the same routine. We shop at the same stores, eat at the same restaurants, drive to work the same way we always have. Change means having to make adjustments, having to step away from what we know and, sometimes, having to say goodbye. Goodbyes can spark feelings of loss, which can be difficult when what we’ve gained is so good and when what we’ve lost in the past still hurts. There’s comfort, though, in knowing that a temporary goodbye is more so a “see you later” or “so long for now.”

I’m thinking about all this while sitting at a Starbucks in Uptown, one of the ritzier areas of Dallas. It’s only a few miles from Oak Cliff, but culturally and socio-economically, it’s worlds away. Most of the customers here are white, and they’re wearing fancy clothes and carrying Crate & Barrell and Pottery Barn bags. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it reminds me a lot of what I experienced while growing up in a small Boston suburb. And it’s part of the reason why I knew I couldn’t go back there after I graduated from college. I needed to step away from what I’d always known and diversify my life experiences. I needed to prove to myself that I could be on my own and be OK.

Even though the transitions from place to place are tough, they help shape who we are and help us to realize what we like and don’t like, what we’ve been missing out on and, often, how lucky we are. I can’t wait to go back to Florida at the end of October, but rather than waste time longing for the familiarity of a place I’ve come to love, I’m braving unfamiliar territory and embracing change.

What suggestions do you have for helping yourself adjust to a new place?

Pennies: Worth Some Luck, but That’s About It

The penny press machine I saw last weekend made me laugh. It sat in a corner of the Hyatt Regency in downtown Dallas, looking lonely and unused. I wondered: Why does it cost 51 cents to flatten a penny? What’s the extra cent for? Actually, what’s the extra 50 cents for? It’s just like the “dollar store” or the “penny candy” store. You’re lucky if you can buy a sweet treat for a quarter in a penny candy store. Sigh.

While on my way out of the Hyatt, I crossed through Union Station and stumbled across a heads-up penny on the railroad tracks. I picked it up and put it in a special pocket in my purse. A penny might not buy me much, but it might bring me some luck.

How Art Can Help Heal

Photo of Charles William taken by Mona Reeder/The Dallas Morning News

Photo of Charles William taken by Mona Reeder/The Dallas Morning News

One of the feature stories I’ve been working on ran today as the main feature in the Sunday edition of The Dallas Morning News’ arts and entertainment section. You can read the story here:


 When he looks in the mirror, artist Charles William sees a reflection he often runs from, but one that he is learning to embrace.

The misspelled message painted on his self-portrait, “Unfinished Reflections,” explains it well: “I keep faith, knowing comefort in my own skin.”

It’s taken Mr. William, 34, a while to learn what comfort means. For years, he lived on street corners, in shelters and under bridges. Comfort became a patch of shade, a tuft of grass, a sandwich from a stranger. Then he went to the Stewpot, where he learned of the Dallas-based shelter’s art program. Four years later, he is the shelter’s most prolific painter, the artist who has shown how art can help heal.


How I got the story: I found this story while exploring the city on my first day in Dallas. I’ve always been intrigued by churches, so I visited each of the churches downtown and stumbled upon an art exhibit in the Goodrich Gallery at the First United Methodist Church. I noticed that the artwork had been created by homeless and at-risk individuals who visit the Stewpot, a local shelter. Wanting to know more about the artists behind the work, I picked up a pamphlet about the exhibit, made some calls and eventually got in touch with the woman who runs the Stewpot art classes.

After getting some background information, I asked the director if she could point me to a particular person in the program who had an especially interesting story. I wanted to tell the story of the program through the eyes of a person rather than writing a simple round-up story about it. I’ve always believed good storytelling isn’t so much about places and things. It’s about people.

Opening Doors of Communication with Sources

We’re taught as journalists not to get too close to our sources. The story, after all, is about them, not about us. But I’ve always thought there’s an inherent tension here. When writing a story about someone, particularly for a profile or a feature, you often need to learn about the person’s past and what led them to where they are now. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you end up shadowing sources for days or weeks to get to know them on a level that brings their personality and life story to the surface.
When you don’t have days or weeks to shadow someone, it helps to find a nugget of information that connects you to a person. Let’s say you’re writing a story about a soon-to-be mom. Maybe, then, it’s a matter of sharing stories about your own kids or about your experiences with children. If you’re writing a crime story and want to interview the family members of someone who has just died, sometimes a simple, but genuine, “I’m so sorry for your loss” can help break communication barrriers. 
Recently, I wanted to find a way to connect with a local artists I was interviewing named Charles William. I knew I would have to ask Charles some tough questions about the time he spent on the streets before he started selling art, so I wanted to find a connecting point. Early on in the interview, Charles mentioned that he’s a Gemini. I seized this moment to tell him that I’m a Gemini, too. We talked for a few minutes about our astrological sign, and his whole demeanor changed. He laughed when we talked about Geminis having dual personalities, and he started to share more his story with me. It was just a small nugget of information that helped open our lines of communication, but it was enough.

Blogging from the Tejano Music Convention

I’ve learned a lot this past weekend about Tejano (Spanish-Texan) music and the musicians who play it. For the past couple of days I’ve attended various events at the national Tejano Music National Convention, which draws Tejanos from around the country. Yesterday I even took a Tejano dance class, which I loved. I think I’m still dizzy from all the spinning.

The Tejano music I danced to had a lot of accordion sounds in it, which is typical of Tejano tunes. Tejano music started off as grassroots music and then rose to stardom status with singers like Selena. In some senses, it has returned to being grassroots music. Many have said that Tejano music “died” with the passing of Selena, but the musicians I talked to this weekend said that’s just not true. They acknowledged that Tejano music is struggling, but said it can be a lucrative business and that in many respects, it’s still “alive and well.” What’s lacking, they said, are Tejano music radio stations.

My colleague, Mario Tarradell, and I have been blogging about some of these issues from the convention for The Dallas Morning News‘ music blog. Click here to read our posts.

Not a Mom, but a Proud Daughter

The first day I went on an assignment in Dallas, I was mistaken for a high schooler. Three weeks later, I was mistaken for a mom.

“Hi, welcome! Are you a mom?” a woman with a long blonde pony tail asked me Thursday night.

“Oh no, I’m just here for the ‘Girls’ Night Out,’ pottery event,” I said.

I had signed up for the event a couple of weeks earlier, not knowing that on this particular night a local mom who started a new Web site for mothers was throwing a promotional party for the site. Moms were everywhere — pregnant moms, new moms, moms and their daughters. The irony of being a motherless daughter at an event catered toward mothers and daughters engulfed me. But I tried my best to swim with the tide.

I’m captivated by the idea of motherhood and the ways that mother-daughter relationships shape a woman’s life, so I naturally gravitated toward the maternal figures in the room. As I half-laughed while listening to the Michael Buble CD playing in the background, I overheard conversations that went something like this:

“I’m due next Wednesday. I can’t believe it.”

“Girl, you look good for being due in a week!”


“My youngest one keeps throwing tantrums. Is that normal? When is she going to stop?”

“Oh yeah. My daughter threw them a lot when she was your daughter’s age. She’ll outgrow it.”

“Mom, which colors do you think I should pick?”

“Ooo, look at this periwinkle blue. It would match your room.”

Conversations I look forward to someday having, or that I once had and desperately miss.

Painting pottery never felt so therapeutic. Brush stroke after brush stroke, I thought about my mom and how she probably would have looked in the paper and found out about the mother-daughter themed “Girls’ Night Out.” Mom always looked in the paper for yard sales and free events. Circle after circle, she’d mark them with her big yellow highlighter and plan our weekend of fun, day by day.

I wondered what she would have painted at the pottery place, what she would have thought of the periwinkle, lilac and sea-foam green color scheme I had chosen. One of the moms near me wondered what I was painting. She peered over my shoulder, told me she liked my floral design, and said it seemed as though I must paint a lot. Far from it. Comforted by her compliment, I finished painting and left.

When I came home, there was a package on my bed from someone who I look to as a maternal figure. Inside was a necklace with the message “We all shine differently” etched into it, and a handwritten note reminding me that I am “loved and missed.” It couldn’t have been a better time to receive such a special present. For me, the gift was reminder enough that no matter how much we lose in life, there’s much to be gained.

I’m not a high schooler or a mom. But I am a proud daughter, and always will be.