Mark Rusk looked out his bedroom window onto the West Dallas street below and thought, "Is this it? Is this all I have to look forward to?" He knew who the drug dealers were, who was drinking, and where the fights would be.
Rusk was born on Goldman Street in Dallas, Texas, in one of the poorest communities in the country. He grew up in an area where prostitution was "just life," according to him. He felt like he could not escape his community. When Rusk was 16 years old, he was an expectant father and saw no future for himself.
The Formation of a West Dallas Hero
Rusk's life began to change when he met the people of West Dallas Community Church (WDCC). He had been in prison, and after being released, he walked over to the church, which sat within a block of where he was born. Rusk remembers what Greg, a friend, said when he saw him: "Come to work? You can't work in those clothes. Change and come back." Since that day, Rusk and Greg have been working together in West Dallas.
The Calling of a West Dallas Hero
One day, while working with his new church on the streets of West Dallas, Rusk saw the back of a little girl standing alone. He grabbed a toy and knelt down behind her. As he tapped the girl's shoulder, she turned around. He looked into her beautiful brown eyes. She immediately reached up and grabbed him. Rusk smiles as he tells me how she shouted, "Daddy!" The girl was his daughter.
Rusk did not have much to offer his daughter; no one in West Dallas does. Yet all his little girl wanted was her daddy. He was all she needed. As she hugged him, Rusk realized that West Dallas did not need superheroes. It needed normal people like himself who would invest themselves in the community. These would be the heroes that could change the community.
The Work of a West Dallas Hero
Today, Mark serves at the West Dallas Community School (WDCS), which is on the same street he was born on and catty-corner from WDCC. Formally, he is the facilities manager of WDCS. Functionally, he's a mentor. Every day, he invests himself in the children at WDCS.
Rusk's effect on this area becomes clear as he and I walk around the school. We stop and look across Goldman Street. Thirty years ago, Rusk looked out this street and saw people without a future. Today, we look across the street and see kids playing soccer on the fields he maintains. They have a future, thanks to WDCS.
WDCS exists because of people like Rusk, who sacrifice themselves for the children of West Dallas. It provides an education on par with the best schools in Dallas. Yet in an area where the median household income is under $8,500, WDCS only asks for what families can afford -- as little as $55 per month for tuition in some cases. This school is giving children hope by preparing them for the future. Rusk's oldest son, who attended WDCS, will be graduating from college this year.
Rusk's story is just one example of how normal people are changing West Dallas. Average people became his heroes and changed his life. Now, he is working alongside his neighbors as a hero among heroes. Together, normal people are giving West Dallas hope.
Rob Toccs lives in West Dallas near the West Dallas Community School.
- Society & Culture
- West Dallas