For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world… --Ephesians 6:12
I grew up smack dab in the middle of the ‘hood. But though poverty surrounded us, I don’t remember us to be poor. I remember there were times of boom and bust. I remember there were times when we had a lot. And there were times when we had very little. However, whether we were going through boom or bust, my mother endeavored to give us good gifts.
And of all the gifts she gave us, perhaps the greatest gift was the ability, the encouragement to dream, to imagine a future far beyond the confines of the inner city, to believe that anything in the world was possible. Though we were raised in the ‘hood, the ‘hood never became a part of us or defined us; it was simply the place where we resided for the moment until that day when our dreams came true.
But as I now work with kids from the inner city, the first thing I notice is their inability to dream, or the very limited scope of their dreams. The first thing I notice is the gleam missing from their eyes.
Yesterday, I alluded to a book I spent the weekend re-reading, Dr. Ruby Payne’s A Framework for Understanding Poverty. One of Dr. Payne’s central tenets of the book is the notion that poverty engenders a certain mindset. She writes that for those caught in a seemingly endless cycle of generational poverty, the very first casualty is the ability to imagine a future any greater than the present; all that matters is the here and now.
I mentioned this to a colleague, and he summed up her argument thusly: Those caught in an endless cycle of poverty have basically given up hope. They have surrendered themselves up to the vicissitudes and whims of circumstance, and in this pernicious cauldron of hopelessness, it is the children who suffer most. If the children cannot imagine a future greater than the present, then no future exists for these children.
Though we still haven’t overcome or solved the issue of race, our next and most urgent battleground is poverty and the effects thereof. But the problem with confronting problem the problem of poverty and its effects is our attitude toward those languishing within its tenacious, insidious grip.
We have been conditioned by the politics of meritocracy to believe that those who work hardest, those who make the necessary investment in self are those who rise highest. In other words, those who are successful have worked hard for that success and fully deserve it. And I too subscribe to this belief.
However, we often are not aware of what is implied by this argument. If we accept this argument, we also tacitly accept the notion that those who are not successful, those mired in poverty, do not work hard and deserve to be in the very position they are in. Even further, I have heard it stated that many of those living in poverty actually enjoy that way of life.
But this is for the most part untrue. Many of those living in poverty work very hard, perhaps harder than most, but having a limited set of skills, they find themselves working the hardest, most menial jobs for the least amount of pay. Many deplore the lives they are forced to lead but simply know of no other way. Many have just thrown their hands up and given up altogether.
But whatever the reason, whatever the situation our greatest concern should be the children. Perhaps we cannot reach many of the adults. Perhaps the effects of poverty, perhaps the mindset of poverty has set in, become entrenched in many of the adults; however, in the children there remains a glimmer of hope. Not only that, if we are successful in reaching the children, if we are successful in meeting the needs of the children, we can then get many of the adults to come to the fence.
Every person wants to give their children good gifts. Every person wants to pass on to the next generation those advantages that they did not have. The greatest gift we can give our children, the greatest advantage we can pass on to the next generation is the ability to dream, the encouragement to dream, to imagine a future greater than the present. In that way, we can actually offer them a future.