Story by Jasmine Fain. Photos by Jan Osborn.
There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole.
There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin sick soul.
Sometimes I feel discouraged, and think my work’s in vain, but then the Holy Spirit
revives my soul again.
– There’s A Balm In Gilead
Murriel Webb, The Executive Director of Braswell Child Development Center embodies the love it takes to make the wounded whole. Her story starts on Ninth Street in South Dallas, as Murriel was preparing to leave home after graduating high school to move on to the next chapter of her life. During this decision, her mother Mary Henton, a retired educator, became a foster parent during the 1970’s when foster care was at its beginning stages here in Dallas. Quickly, Murriel went from being an only child to having six other siblings to nurture, and once realizing just how quickly their house was growing, she posed the idea to her mother of opening a daycare center to bring the children to. “At the time, our church had two childcare facilities. One was on Marsalis, and the other on Bonnie View and Simpson Stewart. The church decided to close the daycare center, so I said, ’Mom, I’m gonna open up this daycare center for you; you can be the director and I’ll go on and go back to work,’” Murriel says laughingly.
The plan was direct, open the childcare center and solve the foster care and daycare needs in the community and let her mother direct, but soon Murriel found herself fully immersed in the early childhood development work. “After about 12 to 15 months, my mother said, ‘No, this is your bright idea. I need you to come back and take care of what you’ve created,’” Murriel states. So she quit her job, and followed her mother’s lead on educational requirements, and what the children needed cognitively, emotionally, and physically to get through their days. In 1999, The Braswell Child Development Center was centered in South Dallas, and there wasn’t much entertainment for the children to enjoy, so Murriel looked into the plans of turning their building into a part-time roller skating rink, to encourage family time in the community, and for kids to come and mentally decompress from the day. “Since we’ve had the skating rink, public schools have used it during testing, and community childcare facilities use it,” Murriel says. “We also offer to our parents the opportunity for them to have private birthdays for their children, because often in our community distance and access to travel are limited, so this allows them to have a source of entertainment nearby.”
It’s undeniably hard to ignore the systematic hardships that come with living in South Dallas. Not having access to transportation and safe educational environments are just some that Ms. Webb spoke about, but most importantly she shared her struggle to take care of the mental health of their students and the parents, who live in these environments. “We know all in all the households that we provide service to, the families come with their own unique set of issues,” says Murriel. “Some are greater than others, and for the most part the children really don’t know how to handle what’s going on, and their interpretation of what goes on usually comes out in their actions.” Balancing the mental health of our future generation is important, and The Braswell Child Development Center truly gives their students the best chance at life, by developing the mindset that everyone always has a clean slate when they enter. Murriel’s team has also developed a Family Living Center, where they encourage language development, and the children have an opportunity to talk to someone one-on-one to express what their daily concerns are, and what is happening at home.
The Braswell Child Development Center is a long-standing community institution that has a staff who has served for over 27 years, with one goal in mind to be one consistent source for parents and children to rest, and feel safe within. After leading this type of mission-based organization for so many years, Murriel Webb has many moments of goodness that have shaped her experience. She shares about Christina, a former Braswell student. Once Christina left Brawell, she became a regular volunteer, going on to graduate from Spelman College. She then started a back-to-school drive in the community to give back to the people who gave to her. Murriel also shares about Zach, who graduated from Skyline High School, and now is a student at Texas Southern University. But the most important memory she will cherish is what started her in this work, her mother’s legacy.
There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole. Murriel makes these children whole again, by giving them the resources that they need to be mentally, physically, and emotionally present in today’s society. Her work has not only impacted many lives in South Dallas, but she has built a path for others to live more comfortably and without worry. The Braswell Child Development Center started with an idea between a mother and a daughter, and has now carried on to leave an impactful legacy of care in Dallas.