Common wisdom says that folks in this country can work hard, keep their noses clean and sooner or later they will "make it" through their sheer effort alone. While this assessment works out occasionally, it is not the prevailing reality for millions of poor people who understand generational poverty.
People who will protest my judgment here simply don't understand all of the forces that conspire against the urban poor. The factors that work counter to breakthroughs for low-income Americans are legion. Some relate to public policy, be it educational opportunities, enhanced skills training, health care, decent and affordable housing, access to higher education. . .the list goes on and on.
Most people who have no direct experience with America's poor just don't understand the enormous odds working against these individuals and families.
But, it goes far beyond public policy.
There is neighborhood reality that grows particularly painful as communities change.
Let me provide an example from my own personal experience. Actually, the entire matter was beyond disgusting.
I live in what has become a transitional neighborhood. When we moved here a decade ago, we purchased an 80-year-old frame house in a very challenged part of old east Dallas. Our particular block was a mess. All of the houses, save one, were built between 1910 and 1922. Adding to the diversity are three multi-family properties on our block. At the end of our block and just across the street you encounter neglected, run down multi-family properties and a row of bungalows built in the 1930s. In short, the neighborhood is a mixed up deal!
About six years ago, we were invited to a neighborhood meeting. More accurately the meeting was a block party with one basic agenda. A good number of my neighbors presented a plan to close one end of our street. Purportedly the reason was to provide traffic control against people who traveled up and down our block on their way to Fitzhugh, a major artery into Fair Park and toward Central Expressway.
The real reason: to separate our block from the low-income Hispanic families who live at one end of the street.
You got it: my neighbors wanted to build a barrier against the poor families who live at one end of our street.
Never mind that they caused no problems.
Never mind that they all worked.
Never mind that their children attended the public school in our neighborhood.
Never mind that they were an asset to our community, our city and our neighborhood.
They are poor.
They are immigrants.
They "aren't like us."
Thankfully, our meeting ended at about the time it began. The idea of segregating a part of our neighborhood didn't last past the opening statement for such a ridiculous proposal.
But, you know, I've thought about that meeting and its underlying bias and racism many times since it happened.
We just don't understand what poor people and their children face in this nation, what they have to put up with, what they have to battle and endure.
We just don't understand.
Until we are there, we never will.
Mark Tooley interviews Bishop Will Willimon
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