Thursday, October 22, 2009

If We Could Just Allow them to Dream: Poverty Is the Next and Most Urgent Battlefield

Photo credit: who is observing Blog Action Day
which is meant to bring about an awareness of poverty throughout the world

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.


md20737 said...

I really really enjoyed this post. And I agree wholeheartedly. The ability to dream and know that there is better is key to progression.

rainwriter jones said...

But how do we break the mindset of poverty when there is this feeling of hopelessness amongst even those less impoverished? The feeling that no matter what you do, what educational level you achieve; that it doesn't make a difference. Where do we begin?

FreeMan said...

"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" - that is exactly what I tell people about my upbringing. We were taught this is not where we were supposed to be.

I'm with you on the kids. Even a dope dealer wants his kid to be a lawyer. I don't know if you can really change a mentality by screaming and saying you're doing wrong. I think the best way is to concentrate heavily on the kids and expose them to that other life so much that they naturally draw comparisons and want the other one.

@Rainwriter - What I have seen work in the past is the change from fitting in to going after some sort of power. Some sort of independence a ability to define your world for yourself. I believe people don't want to fit in because they have heard their parents complain about their life and so it's not a enticing pursuit.

Now if you replace it with something that says to hell with fitting in run your own business. You don't have to speak the Kings English you can do it your way. That seems to be way more attractive than this American Dream myth.

You start with educating as many kids as you can. Not with this hope crap but with what's real. Real steps, Real Examples, Real Money not the fake life where you are perpetually in debt taking two week vacations from a job you hate!

rainwriter jones said...

@FreeMan: And that's where the battle begins. Trying to engage as many young people in tangible, obtainable goals. I don't think hope should be completely eliminated from the equation. With hope there are dreams for greater things. But a logical ways of getting what you want through education, and I don't mean just book-learning, but help and knowledge from those who have already been "there." Have gone through the wringer trying to make it.

I'm a sound advocate in not only furthering education past high school, but learning what type of environment that needs to be dealt with in regards to those who are hiring.

Are you talking in regards to building our own businesses, or becoming an employee in someone else's?

CurvyGurl ♥ said...

I believe all great, worthwhile things start with some type of dream. Dreams light the fire. Great post! Very good points.

FreeMan said...

@Rainwriter - I'm never talking about being an employee, that goes against everything I talk about on my blog.

Our kids don't have enough alternatives to college. I believe college exposes you to the necessary knowledge to manage your own business but it is awful in making entrepreneurs. So many of our kids can be mechanics, electricians, plumbers, carpenters and a whole host of licensed jobs. I think at this time they think if not college I got nothing but if anyone really investigates businesses most owners are not college educated.

I think to engage young people one on one is a losing effort. Since young people have never lived it they don't understand the importance of it.We have to start trade schools and ultimately start teaching kids before they are 13 in some kind of focused school and before that maybe comes kind of after school program. Instead of telling them how to get a job tell them how to run their own business and teach those skills.

I'm not against HOPE I'm just tired of it because it's the least we can do. I think we can do more than just HOPE someone figures it out, HOPE someone builds it and HOPES our kids figure it on their own. So I don't like HOPE I think the word when used with our race is a smack in the face!

Constructive Feedback said...


You and I are polar opposites in regard to the outcomes of our analysis. I am not picking on you bro. Reading your viewpoints simply show me the material differences between us.

[quote]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.[/quote]

Where as GENERAL AMERICA may have illusions of a "meritocracy" you would be hard pressed to prove that the prevailing order upon these poor people that you speak of is anything but an "INFERIOR-ocracy".

Just listen to the language that people who proclaim to be working in their best interests make use of: "The Least of These" or as I read from Cornel West - "Disadvantaged People". The truth is that the prevailing politics is one where there CARE AND FEEDING is transferred as an obligation of SOCIETY. While little is asked of them and thus no PROCESS IMPROVEMENT is achieved.

[quote]Payne’s central tenets of the book is the notion that poverty engenders a certain mindset. [/quote]

If this is so then we should also note how certain operatives function as PROTECTORS OF THE STATUS QUO WITHIN. They have sold the masses that by changing the OUTER SOCIETY that the poor masses will be rained upon from an external force and washed clean. There is little change that THEY must make. They only need to support the struggle to change the OUTSIDE forces.

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.

SoulBrother - the one thing that is sure to get you attacked in the Black community is by THINKING OUTSIDE OF THE BOX. The leadership that we have doesn't take kindly toward STRENGTH AT THE PERIPHERY . They are into centralized power with adoring Lumpen Proletariat looking on.

Here is the irony as it applies to you. I told you previously that you appear to be struggling against conformity. Thus your aversion to anything 'conservative'.

Ironically when we put the construct of conformity upon what we see in the poor areas that you speak of - THEY HAVE ABUNDANT CONFORMITY to the status quo. The problem is that the SYSTEM that they are bound to does not produce the favorable outcomes that you desire.

Thus you are tasked to take your sledgehammer and apply it to inner space rather than chasing after the external conservative that you favor.

If nothing else note this:

In my H.S. physics class I learned that the use of the term "hot and cold" is not accurate. It is better to use the term "HEAT and ABSENCE OF HEAT".

Likewise there is no RICH and POOR. There are "SYSTEMS THAT GENERATE WEALTH" and "Systems (or your lack of positioning within a system) that fail to generate desired wealth and outcomes".

Keith said...

There is a sense of hopelessness out there. I even see it among the people in my community. Most of the people here are working class whites. I think when you are brought up in poverty or at least with less than most people it does seem to breed this idea that you are never going to be able to rise above it. It is hard to rise above it. There are opportunities that you will have trouble getting because of who you are and your station in life. It's a vicious cycle that would be great if it could be broken. I'll be honest that I don't have much faith things will change.

Max Reddick said...

Sorry I wasn't able to get back sooner to reply to your comments. I hope that some of you will return to participate in the conversation.

@ md20737

The ability to dream, to imagine a world is the very key to progress. If one is to achieve anything, they must first be able to envision it. They old saying goes, "Where there is no vision, the people perish."

@ rainwriter jones

Glad to see you Ms. Jones. We always seem to miss one another. But my position has always been that those who make it out, those who are able to break the cycle of poverty have a duty to go back and assist others in making the same transition. There has to be role models who return to the community so that the young people can see the possibilities. There has to be role models returning to the community sharing their testimonies with the young people. The young people must be able to see that a different future is possible.

@ FreeMan

There is one point you made that I would like to touch on briefly:

"I don't know if you can really change a mentality by screaming and saying you're doing wrong."

The old saying goes, you catch more flies with honey. And you demean and insult a person and call that a program of uplift. As I stated to Ms Jones above, the solution lies in engaging with the community. The solution lies in showing them and giving them proof that a different existence does exist.

@Curvy Girl

Dreaming it is the first step to achieving it.

Constructive Feedback said...

[quote]There is a sense of hopelessness out there. I even see it among the people in my community[/quote]


The poorest communities in this nation, if they own nothing else have (potential) control over the human resources within their community.

It seems to me that the formula for hopelessness is:

(What You THINK You Should Have) - (What you Actually Have & The Value That You See In It) = Hopelessness

Thus hopelessness resides in the gap.

My critique upon the present establishment forces who stand in front of our people and purport to speak for and work on behalf of the "hopepless", "the least of these" or as RiPPa has in his quote from Cornel West "the dysadvantaged people" is that THEY don't take ownership of this level of HOPELESSNESS. Instead they say that greater America is both responsible for injecting such hopelessness and they are responsible for fixing it.

Thus the Black Political Agenda is set up as a drive to CHANGE the external forces that are depressing it.

Such an orientation looks past the majorit elements of this "hopelessness" that originate within. Certainly materialism - seeking items that you WANT beyond what you NEED in your life - for no other reason that WHITE FOLKS have these goods and they are the standard - is a source of hopelessness that is not set upon our core needs.

The key point that is missing in this concern about HOPELESSNESS is the distinction between that which is needed and that which is lusted after.

There is a need for those who have strong infleuence over the Black community's focus to TEMPER this "want" based hopelessness, most importantly, translating this into ACTION.

Choose EDUCATION - actively suppressing time wasting alternatives

Choose ECONOMIC CONSCIOUSNESS - instead of protesting 'No Urban Mandates' focus upon Mattah (

Thus HOPELESSNESS is not based upon being at the edge of an ACTUAL cliff. Instead it is one's PERCEIVED position at a Dead End at which there are no other options.

In my view the presence of HOPELESSNESS falls squarely upon those leaders who's job it is to provide leadership vision to the masses.

Some of you believe that this should come from government leaders.

I happen to believe that this must reside in the "community cultural consciousness" realm.

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