Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Poverty In America. Why So Much?

In early May I watched a presentation hosted by the Urban Institute, featuring Matt Desmond, author of a new book titled "Poverty in America".  Open this link to view the video of the presentation

In a follow up email the Urban Institute summarized some of the key points of the webinar.  They wrote:

While no one policy is a silver bullet, Desmond suggests keeping these ideas in mind:
Then, on May 21, an opinion article in Politico, by Sheryll Cashin, a law professor at Georgetown University and author of several books on racial justice and American democracy, provided an in-depth analysis in an article titled: America’s Poverty Is Built by Design: How did the U.S. become a land of economic extremes with the rich getting richer while the working poor grind it out? Deliberately.

I added links to Matt Desmond's website to the Tutor/Mentor Library. You can find them here, and here.

I and six other volunteers created Cabrini Connections (a site-based tutor/mentor program) and the Tutor/Mentor Connection in November 1992 following the shooting death of a 7-year old boy, in the Cabrini-Green area of Chicago.  I've used this front-page story from the October 1992 Chicago Sun-Times as a reminder and motivation every year since then.

In the summary above Desmond is quoted as saying "individual actions can built political will for larger changes"

This is not a new problem. However, it's a problem that our leaders can't stay focused on every day, because there are so many other problems.

That's why I think it's important for another level of leaders to emerge, who are totally focused on building a better community understanding, and response, to the problems and solutions.

I've been issuing this invitation for the past 25 years, since we formed Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection, in the weeks following the shooting of Dantrell Davis in Chicago back in October 1992. I keep the front page of this Chicago SunTimes story in my office, as a reminder of my responsibility.

I've developed my own actions steps, and posted them on this blog in the past. Here they are again:

If we want to stop this violence, we have to act now, and keep acting to solve this problem for many years. We have to think spatially, that is, look at the entire city and suburban problem, not just one neighborhood. At the same time, we need to act locally, because none of us has the time, or the resources to help each of the kids in the entire Chicago region who live in neighborhoods where poverty is the root cause of the violence.

This animation was done by one of my interns after reading this article.

Here are some ways to remind yourself. Think of ENOUGH, is ENOUGH

E – educate yourself – most of us do not live in high poverty neighborhoods, so we only understand the root causes of senseless shootings from what we read in newspapers. We also only read negative news in the media, so we’re not really well informed on where these events are taking place most frequently. Finally, while there is a perception that there are plenty of youth programs, we really don’t have a good understanding of the distribution of different types of youth programs, to different age groups, in different zip codes. The only way this will change is if each of us pledges to spend one hour a week reading books, articles and web reports, that illustrate the root causes of these shootings, or of poor performance in schools. Through our learning we can draw ideas that we use in our own actions. We can also begin to contribute information that other people use to support their own decision making.

To help with your learning about race, poverty and inequality in America browse the different sections of the Tutor/Mentor library, shown on this concept map

N – engage your network – find ways to draw others who you know into this shared understanding. Recognize people who volunteer time and talent, or who help kids through the programs they operate. If you are a business leader, or a church leader, engage your corporation or your congregation. You can use your web site, advertising, point of purchase materials, etc. to point to web sites that show all of the agencies in the city who do tutoring/mentoring, such as If you do this weekly, year after year, your friends, coworkers and customers will become involved in solving this problem with you.

O – offer help, don’t wait to be asked. As you build your understanding of where poverty is most concentrated, and what social services are in those areas, choose a neighborhood, and reach out with offers of time, as a volunteer, talent, help build a web site, do the accounting, or offer Public relations services, and dollars, if the web site of an organization shows they do good work, you don’t need to ask for a proposal of how they would spend your donation, you need to send them a donation so they can keep doing that good work

U – build a shared understanding. Form groups of peers to share reading and learning assignments, just as you meet every Sunday to read passages of scripture and build the group’s understanding of the Word of God. Use the many different resources of the T/MC Links library as the starting point for your search for wisdom, and understanding.

G – give until it feels good – people who generously donate time and dollars to causes they believe in feel good about their giving. If we’re going to surround kids living in poverty dominated neighborhoods with extra learning and adult mentoring networks, donors will need to give more than random contributions of time, dollars and talent.  

H – form habits of learning, and pass these on to your kids. Imagine how much more successful teachers were if youth came to school every day asking questions about where to find information, or how to understand information they had researched on the Internet the previous day? We can model that habit if we build it into our own activity. Keep a chart where you can document actions you take each week to same sure that this time ENOUGH, really means ENOUGH.

If you document actions, you can review what you’ve done at the end of each month, and each year, and begin to see a growing mountain of actions you have taken to solve this problem. Some of these will be actions that got other people involved, so that the good work you do is multiplying because of the good work others are also doing.

Through this process you help build this shared understanding, which will lead to better public policy. Without this habit of learning, and without learning to use the Internet to find good ideas from people in all parts of the world, we won’t be able to problem solve as well as we need to, and we won’t be able to teach this habit to our kids.

Share this post and the links I point to. Start discussions in your own circles of influence. Be the  YOU in the graphic shown above.

If we do this, we’ll not only reduce the root causes of youth on youth violence, we’ll also address one of the growing issues facing America in a global economy. We will begin to create a nation of learners, problem solvers, creative thinkers and innovators, who use learning and information as the basis of creating opportunity and keeping America great.

Read Leadership ideas here and here

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