Critical Thinking: the D.L. Dykes Foundation
by Andi Agnew
D.L. Dykes, Jr. had a way about him, especially when it came to spirituality.
“We would describe my father today as a progressive,” says David Dykes, D. L.’s son. “He had a unique, insightful way of taking traditional religious ideas and translating them into very understandable ways. (R.Z.) Biedenharn wanted to see my father’s work preserved, so he set up the Dykes Foundation to preserve the body of work my father produced, and then hopefully to attract others who share that same approach.”
Established in 1986, the D. L. Dykes, Jr. Foundation is currently helmed by his son, David. Biedenharn, whose family also happened to be the first to bottle Coca-Cola in Vicksburg, was a member of Dykes’ church where he was a pastor for 30 years in Shreveport.
The mission of the organization is carried out through a program called Faith and Reason: “Through Faith and Reason, we work with faith groups to try to bring about a deeper awareness and encourage critical thinking about choices people make that impact the lives of others. Every one of the faith traditions has a component that deals with an expression of ‘caring for thy neighbor’ — it’s expressed in different ways, but primarily it’s the same thing. To experience a relationship with God through the ‘other,’ by building a relationship, being a Good Samaritan — that story is repeated in all the traditions in some form or fashion,” says David’s wife Debo, who is associate director of the foundation.
Throughout the year the foundation hosts seminars and workshops and provides videos and printed materials, some of which are used as part of the curriculum at religious schools and seminaries. Most recently at a conference in Houston, Faith and Reason brought together an all-female panel of experts representing four different faith traditions along with keynote speaker Sister Joan Chittister, a Benedictine Catholic nun. Debo says, “It was beautiful, because Sister Joan encouraged participants to think critically, elicit compassion and think about how we can work toward the common good from our different positions of faith.”
Most participants, which totaled around 400, had never been to a presentation where all the speakers were women, and where all of those major religious groups were represented. “It was so powerful to see people of different traditions come together and find common ground,” said Debo. “That’s the core work of our foundation, to invite that kind of dialogue, so that people aren’t afraid of someone who approaches God in a different way.”
The foundation moved its offices from downtown to Fondren in December 2015. “We looked around and realized that we were in a corporate setting, where compassion is not a priority… it ignited our awareness. We decided to move into a space that fuels and nurtures what we are about. Fondren is that environment. This neighborhood is a heart that pulses compassion,” Debo says. “We feel very fortunate.”
“We feel like maybe it is a God thing… to be able to be in this area and have the friends we have. We have been able to bring a platform of inclusion and acceptance. If you can do this in a place like Jackson, you can do it anywhere. We feel confident that the foundation can be woven into the fabric of the Fondren community, and we are already experiencing that now that we are here.”
Looking toward the future, the Faith and Reason plans to bring more of what it has been doing outside of the state back home to Jackson. Debo says, “Part of our focus for the next several years is refreshing the focus of the foundation. We’re friends with David Pharr, who does the TED Talks, and we would like to invite this type of alternate voice to issues that stimulate critical thinking about social issues and merge that with a TED Talk format. We’re also working with Habitat for Humanity to see how the foundation can bring its support into issues that directly impact the community and raise awareness about issues of social justice.”
Learn more about the Dykes’ Foundation’s work at faithandreason.org.