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Privilege and Poverty

Posted by Dave Griffith on October 17, 2017 at 10:40 AM

“I know a few folks who were born on third base and think they hit a triple.”

“ People in poverty just don’t want to work.”

In the work that we do I hear the above all the time. The issue is the very uncomfortable topic of privilege. Privilege defined as a condition afforded to one set of individuals and not another. The news today holds up many examples with conditions rooted in gender, race, economic status at birth, or orientation to name a few.

Solutions to intergenerational poverty need to come from a place and perspective that recognizes that your experience may not be my experience or the experience of any other individual. When I started this work, one of our senior social workers pulled me into her office about two months into my start at the agency and brought me up short. I had been working with a young African-American man in our youth program and talking to him about careers. She pointed out a few errors in my approach. First I was talking and not listening. Second I was making assumptions not based on any inputs. Third, as she pointed out the young man had a few barriers that were not on my radar because of point one, issues such as homelessness, no drivers license, wellness, and a financial base to get started before a first paycheck. Problems I had never experienced, let alone understood the full impact. In fact, my approach was not helping the individual, and for me, it was a wake-up call.

If you are honest, I suspect many of you would have had the same experience. Mainly because of background, culture, awareness, or privilege. In the months that followed, I spent a lot more time listening and doing what I am teaching in the leadership class I participate in, that is putting on my muddy boots and going into the field and talking to the people who do this work. Learning to coach on a whole new level by meeting people where they are and listening to their story. At its core, this is what social workers do every day, and as I have learned, I have a deep respect for the MSW degree.

What the research and direct experience will tell you is people in poverty have experienced trauma, and trauma the science informs us impacts the brain and in turn behavior. How useful would you be if you had to deal with a personal or family crisis every day and all day? Also, the issues of economic status at birth, gender, and race set a higher hurdle in accessing opportunity that leads to getting out of the crisis. Opportunity that many of us take for granted. My direct experience is no one in poverty wants to be in poverty, and some of the most resilient individuals I have met are the individuals we work directly with as participants at ECS.

So what I ask is that when the issue of poverty is brought to your attention, and you hear the staggering numbers of 15% National and 25% Philadelphia rates of poverty, you pause and you consider your experience and the privileges that have impacted your trajectory and not judge individuals or groups of individuals. Instead look at the broader picture not just your experiences, the impacts of poverty, the science, the data, your call to service, and become part of the solution from a place of perspective and understanding and not from a place of political ideology. Poverty is a real bipartisan issue. It is not comfortable, but necessary if we are to deal with the challenges of poverty honestly. We either deal with poverty or it will consume us as a society. It is here that maintenance agendas need to give way to real change.

Look Up, Challenge Poverty.


Categories: Muddy Boots, Leadership, ECS Outreach

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