Hold ‘Em High for Hope poker tournament at Axiom

Aces high

Hope for Peace and Justice teams up with Pocket Rockets tonight for their Hold ‘Em High for Hope poker tourney and mixer. With over $400 in prizes, the event benefits the anti-bullying campaign, the Safe Schools Program. Raffles, silent auction, drinks and food make the evening an event. And don’t worry. Non-poker players are just as welcome. Hey, it is a mixer, also.

DEETS: Axiom Sushi Lounge,  4123 Cedar Springs Road. 6:30 p.m. PocketRocketsDallas.com

—  Rich Lopez

The go-to place for programs to combat bullying in schools

Mary Jo Kaska, new programming director Hope for Peace and Justice, says the organization will focus on private schools

Kaska1

Mary Jo Kaska

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Mary Jo Kaska, the new director of programming for Hope for Peace and Justice, hopes her organization becomes the go-to place for help in establishing anti-bullying policies, especially for private schools in Texas.

Right now, the biggest program at Hope for Peace and Justice is its Safe Schools Project.

“We’ve taken the stand that all school districts need enumerated categories,” she said. “The addition of those enumerated categories spells out for young people that the kind of bullying they’ve seen in their schools frequently is no longer tolerated.”

Kaska said that Hope for Peace and Justice is creating its own standard for an anti-bullying program that is research-based, comparing the rollout of this policy to the way Nolan High School, where she taught, introduced its harassment policy.

“We developed a code,” she said. “We talked to boys and girls separately — straight on — explaining what harassment was, [how] what they did before was harassment and won’t be tolerated.”

She said a successful policy sets out who to go to and what happens when the rules are violated.

When that happens, she said, “suddenly a bell goes off before a student does something. It’s an educational process. You’re creating a safe climate, a safe culture.”

The regulations articulate a set of values and a policy, she said.

While H4PJ would be happy to work with public schools that need assistance, Kaska said the organization’s focus is on private schools. Despite the law passed in this year’s session of the Texas Legislature, she said many private schools feel exempt because they don’t receive public funding.

One step in making schools safer, she Kaska, is training teachers to intervene.

“What I like about the Texas law is that it requires the whole program to be on the district website,” she said.

Posting the policy she said is important for private schools too.

Once criteria are finalized, Kaska said H4PJ will be contacting private schools throughout the Dallas area first and then throughout the state. Its consulting services will be available to schools for free, and paid for by H4PJ contributors.

“Then our website will be one-stop shopping for the best anti-bullying resources,” Kaska said.

“Private schools are already doing so many things right,” she said, but added that some simple changes will help make schools a little bit safer.

“We want schools to be able to promote their success stories,” Kaska said. “Upload videos showing things that are working. Foster student leadership and participation in developing a respectful and welcoming school environment.”

Kaska was hired after group founder and president Michael Piazza moved to Atlanta earlier this year. She said that although her organization is based at Cathedral of Hope, it is incorporated as a separate non-profit organization.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 18, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Local briefs • 09.02.11

H4PJ schedules workshops

Hope for Peace and Justice is sponsoring a series of three free evening workshops as part of its mission to provide peace practitioner training to the greater Dallas-Fort Worth community.

Raj Gill, the director of Prosperity Circles Coaching, International, in British Columbia, Canada, and a trainer certified by the International Center for Nonviolent Communication will lead the workshops Sept. 12–14, from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at the Interfaith Peace Chapel, 5910 Cedar Springs Road.

To attend, RSVP by email to workshops@NVCDFW.org or by phone at 469-420-0682. For more information or to make a donation online, go to NVCDFW.org

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 2, 2011.

 

 

—  Michael Stephens

BREAKING: Piazza leaving Dallas for Atlanta

The Rev. Michael Piazza

The Rev. Michael Piazza, who since 1987 has been a force in the gay faith community in North Texas, has accepted a position as pastor of Virginia-Highland Church in Atlanta.

Accompanying Piazza will be his longtime executive assistant, David Plunkett.

“This all happened literally yesterday,” Plunkett said. “We got back from Atlanta at 2 this morning.”

Piazza stepped down as senior pastor at the Cathedral of Hope several years ago and transitioned into the role of dean of the church. That affiliation ended last March, although Plunkett said many people still do not realize it (in part because Piazza and Plunkett still office at the Cathedral COH, where they work with the Center for Progressive Renewal and Hope for Peace and Justice).

“Last year was the first year in Rev. Piazza’s adult life when he was not pastoring a church,” Plunkett said. “He is very, very good at what he does now [teaching other clergy], but at heart, as anyone who has heard him on a Sunday in the pulpit, he’s a prophetic preacher.”

Plunkett described the Virginia-Highland Church as “a once-vibrant church in desperate need of revitalization.” Although not currently a predominantly gay church, Plunkett said it has a history of inclusiveness.

“It was Southern Baptist, but [got] kicked out of the denomination because they refused to dismiss a gay pastor” some years back, Plunkett said. Virginia-Highland is currently dual-affiliated with the Alliance of Baptists and the United Church of Christ (the same denomination as COH).

At first, Piazza will not be full time, but will continue his work with the CPR, which is based in Atlanta. Plunkett will be largely full time at the church. He has worked with Piazza for the past nine years, and will aid in the transition. The start date for the team will be March 1.

Plunkett, who has been active in the theater community, said leaving will be bittersweet for him as well. He grew up in Plano.

Plunkett said Piazza likely would not have an opportunity to deliver a farewell sermon in Dallas, even if asked.

More to come ….

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Helping pay the price for Peace

’Tis the season for giving, and if you have some cash to spare, you might consider giving to Hope 4 Peace and Justice.

Hope for Peace & Justice is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, founded in 2004 by Cathedral of Hope, that works to help people of faith become “champions for peace and justice.” The Rev. Michael S. Piazza is executive director.

Over the weekend, I got a Facebook message from Piazza and H4PJ that said the organization is $2,000 short of making its budget for 2010. While $2,000 is a pretty big chunk of change if you take it all in one lump sum, if you break it down into small increments, it’s not that daunting. In other words, if lots of people give a little, it all adds up to a lot!

If you can, go here to donate, and give Peace a chance.

—  admin

Dallas City Council resolution condemns bullying, notes that LGBT students are often the victims

As Unfair Park first reported last week, the Dallas City Council on Wednesday will consider a resolution to condemn all bullying, harassment and intimidation at schools in the city. The two-page resolution, submitted by seven council members, notes that “children and youth with disabilities and children and youth who are lesbian, gay, or trans-gender, or who are perceived to be so, [are] at particularly high risk of being bullied by their peers … ”

The resolution was submitted by Angela Hunt, Pauline Medrano, Delia Jasso, Dwaine Caraway, Carolyn Davis, Steve Salazar and Tennell Atkins. If you’ll remember, Michael Piazza, executive director of Hope for Peace and Justice, addressed the City Council and requested just such a resolution three weeks ago (you can watch video of Piazza’s remarks here). Since then, the Dallas Independent School District’s board of trustees has opted to move forward with a new bullying policy that would specifically protect LGBT students. So at this point the City Council resolution is like icing on the cake. And just in case you really like icing, we’ve posted the full text below.

—  John Wright

H4PJ calls on Dallas City Council to support LGBT-inclusive bullying policy for DISD

The Rev. Michael Piazza

The Rev. Michael Piazza, executive director of Hope for Peace and Justice, is slated to address the Dallas City Council this morning and ask the council to pass a resolution encouraging the Dallas Independent School District “to do everything in their power to prevent bullying,” according to David Plunkett, a spokesman for H4PJ.

In the wake of last month’s gay teen suicide crisis, H4PJ has been circulating a petition, which has more than 1,000 signatures, calling for DISD to adopt fully inclusive anti-bullying guidelines that provide specific protections for LGBT students. DISD’s board of trustees is  considering a new anti-bullying policy, but as currently written, the proposed policy doesn’t include sexual orientation or gender identity. DISD trustee Lew Blackburn told Dallas Voice this week he plans to introduce a substitute policy that does include sexual orientation and gender identity. Blackburn, along with LGBT advocates, have urged people in the community to contact the other trustees and urge them to support Blackburn’s proposal. DISD’s new anti-bullying policy could be up for a final vote as early as next week.

Courtesy of Plunkett, here’s the text of Piazza’s remarks:

I am here to present a petition signed by 1,000 people requesting that the Dallas City Council pass a resolution encouraging the Dallas Independent School District to do everything in their power to prevent the bullying that has led to far too many suicides of young people. Just down I-45, 13-year-old Asher Brown took his life in September. Then, earlier this month, just north on I-35 in Norman, Oklahoma, 19-year-old Zach Herrington took his life following a toxic debate at a city council meeting.  We are asking you to encourage DISD to ensure the protection of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender children.

I could speak to you today as someone who was a pastor in this city for 22 years at the world’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender church. I could speak to you as the President of Hope for Peace & Justice whose petitions I present. However, I’d like to use my two minutes to appeal to you as a parent. I have two teenage girls. One is a junior at the School for the Talented and Gifted, and the other is a senior at the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts.

My partner and I might have sent our daughters to private schools, but it was very important to us that they attend public schools where most of the children in this city receive their education. It hasn’t always been easy for them.

My oldest daughter was in Harry Stone Middle School when the state of Texas passed a constitutional amendment that denied marriage equality to her parents. Next month my partner and I will celebrate our 30th anniversary. So, you can imagine my daughter’s surprise when her language arts teacher told her students, during class, to be sure their parents voted in favor of the constitutional amendment because, and I quote, “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” Fortunately, my daughter was secure enough to raise her hand and ask, “Excuse me Mrs. Smith, but then who did create Adam and Steve?”

Her teacher said, “I guess you must know some of those people,” to which Jerica replied, “Only just about everyone in my life who loves me.”

Jerica knew how to handle herself, but imagine for just a moment if you had been a small boy struggling with your sexuality and heard that teacher’s words. Imagine if you had been a child who had been abused at home and so filled with rage that you were looking for someone to bully. That DISD teacher, at one of our best magnet schools, just gave you all the justification you needed.

As a father, I beg you. Make a statement that this is not who we are in Dallas and that we know our children are not our own, but they are ALL — gay, lesbian, transgender or heterosexual — children of God. Thank you .

—  John Wright