Last week was the first time I have ever been called a “poverty pimp” in front God and everyone—in public. It certainly got my attention!
As Director of International Child Care Ministries, I straddle two worlds—the America I call home and the 30 countries where our sponsored children live. I travel back and forth between these two worlds several times a year and experience the stark contrast between my world and theirs.
Here in the U.S., part of my responsibility is to advocate for the children at conferences, churches, and other venues. Last week at an event I had my display set up, 20 kids’ faces looking out from their brochures, silently imploring conference attendees to choose them and become their sponsors.
My accuser was an eloquent professor of African American Studies. He is offended at groups like mine who apparently profit off Africa’s poverty and perpetuate an image of Black helplessness. He is concerned that African American children who view pathetic images of hungry kids on TV internalize a sense of racial inferiority. And that’s not the half of it.
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But to say that kids in poor neighborhoods have “no habits of working” and have “nobody around them who works” is false and trivializes all of the hardships that poor people in this country face.
Three-quarters of those who live under the poverty line have jobs. Many more are looking for work.
I don’t doubt that you can find people out there who are poor because they don’t have a strong work ethic, but all you need to do is turn on E! or browse TMZ for a few minutes to find lazy rich people who take no responsibility for their actions.
Broadcaster Tavis Smiley and Princeton professor Cornel West just wrapped up their 18-city "Poverty Tour." The aim of their trip, which traversed through Wisconsin, Detroit, Washington, D.C., and the Deep South was to "highlight the plight of the poor people of all races, colors, and creeds so they will not be forgotten, ignored, or rendered invisible." Although the trip has been met with a fair amount of criticism, the issue of poverty's invisibility in American media and politics is unmistakable. The community organizations working tirelessly to help America's poor deserve a great deal more attention than what is being given.
The main attack against the "Poverty Tour" is Smiley and West's criticism of Obama's weak efforts to tackle poverty. For me though, what I would have liked to see more is the collection of stories and experiences from the people West and Smiley met along their trip. The act of collective storytelling in and of itself can be an act of resistance.