When KATHERINE HOMAN’s family moved to East Kessler Park 35 years ago, she jumped feet first into the thick of neighborhood activism, and has waded deeper and deeper ever since. It started with her sons’ education in the ’70s during the upheaval of desegregation, and continues in her work today with the Trinity Gateway project.
Your sons were 5 and 6 at the time, just starting school. How did you respond?
Because of the desegregation order, [Dallas ISD] began starting magnet programs to try to attract majority students into minority schools. I took my sons out of Rosemont and sent them to the 100 percent Hispanic Sidney Lanier, and at the same time got very active with the Oak Cliff Chamber and then this Town Lake project — damming up the trinity river on either end of downtown. The quality of life here was as good as I could help make it, and if I saw an opportunity for me to be part of something, such as putting my children through the magnet school system to show a commitment to integrated schools, and then to branch out and say, ‘Let’s work on the wider community,’ which was this Town Lake. This was going to unite Oak Cliff with downtown Dallas, and Oak Cliff would not feel segregated from the rest of the city, so I was trying to fight segregation, not only in the schools but also in the rest of the city.
How did you become the first executive director of the Dallas Can! Academy?
By the time high school came along, the boys were launched, and I had an itch to start finding a new way to be me. I went back to school and got a master’s in juvenile corrections and taught juvenile justice for a semester or two, when I came to the attention of Grant East, who was looking to start the Dallas Can! Academy. He was a prison chaplain, and he wanted to start recovering high school dropouts. We were introduced, and I thought, ‘This is something that I would really love to sink my teeth into.’ My kids were teenagers at the time; I was a former teacher; I just finished a degree; and this would be a referral program from the juvenile court system for a lot of the at-risk kids. You can do only so much by punishing. These were kids that were throwaways. They had nothing better to do, or it was a way to get attention.
And you don’t like the idea of throwing things away.
I am one of the foremost recyclers you will ever meet. You don’t throw anything away — and I don’t throw people away. So I put together a three-part program. When they came in, we would do a substance abuse evaluation, then we did job readiness training, then we had a learning center where they would get a GED. Grant East had the vision, and I was able to capture it and design a program that would take kids through the three most important areas in order to reclaim them and their lives. Little things like eating at a restaurant or how to set a table … they didn’t know those little refinements about life because they were always on the street.
What are you involved in now?
Our whole lives were problems that we made into opportunities, like desegregation. I now chair the steering committee that is making recommendations to the city about the rezoning for the Oak Cliff [Trinity] gateway. Right now everything is in suspended animation until the neighborhood decides what they’re going to live with as far as rezoning. East Kessler is on the edge — Beckley is the western boundary of the Oak Cliff gateway, and we back right up to that boundary. Being involved now in these new areas, I am in ground zero. They are very controversial areas because everything’s up for grabs, and I am trying to basically stay objective and just keep information flowing and let everybody know what’s going on, what’s at stake, and how do we make the decisions — and how do we take problems and make opportunities. —KERI MITCHELL
FIND OUT MORE about Homan’s thoughts on the gateway, her work on an East Kessler Park Conservation District, and her home — the first “green” house in Dallas — at advocatemag.com/oak-cliff/blog.