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Dallas' Back To School Fair Makes A Difference For Needy Families

Bill Zeeble
Cedric Bolden has been cutting students' hair for free at the Dallas Mayor's Back to School Fair since it began 20 years ago.

For the 20th year in a row, Dallas held its Mayor’s Back to School Fair today. The event at Fair Park is for low-income families who can get free school supplies and health screenings. It can really make a difference.  

Shameka Jones waits in line as one of her boys gets his eye exam. Her five other kids are hovering and she could use some extra arms to keep them close. Jones has been at the fair before because it helps her get ready for school.

“A lot of people can’t afford to get supplies,” Jones says. “And then they’re on fixed income. Like we are, we’re on a fixed income. I’m disabled. I only have enough to pay our rent and maybe our phone bill. Other than that, if  it wasn’t for this, I don’t know what I would do.”

Cedric Bolden wouldn’t think of doing anything else on Back to School day. He stands at his barber’s chair cutting a kid’s hair. The barber graduated from Dallas’ Roosevelt High and has donated his services since the fair began in 1996.

“I’m a product of DISD and my business is in DISD and I feel a need to give back to the community, and I know the importance of giving back,” Bolden says. “You know if you have a positive image of yourself you feel better and you want to do better, even in school.”

After inaugurating this city-wide event 20 years ago, Ambassador and former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk was back to check out the fair. About 90% of Dallas ISD kids qualify for free and reduced-price lunches.

“It’s gratifying but it’s also humbling because it just reminds you how many people need help,” Kirk said. “But to see the extension of community support, corporate support, how they’ve embraced it, it’s just a great thing.”

One of those long-time corporate supporters has been Walmart. Nickey Miller Jones is the company’s health and wellness director. Walmart offers free blood glucose, eye, and blood pressure tests.

“Every time we come here,” Miller Jones says, “we find someone that may not know they’re diabetic, that may not know their child couldn’t see at school. So every time we come we help somebody in the community.”

Helping citizens is the reason every Dallas mayor since Ron Kirk has made sure the fair returns. Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings was back too.

“Education is important,” Rawlings said this morning as the fair opened, “and we’ve got to make progress every year. DISD has been doing better in the last couple of years. We have to keep that progress going. And this is a way to do it. Get the kids ready for school.”

Rawlings believes in this fair because it gets kids and families off to a strong start. 

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.