My daughter just read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn for her Freshman English class. I have started the book and it is very well-written. She told me I really needed to read it because it is about poverty and social justice. The main character’s family is extremely poor. Without giving away too much of the story, the only factor able to lift this family from the deprivations of poverty is education.
I teach this same lesson to my students when teaching the Catholic social theme of “Option for the poor and vulnerable.” If you listened to Pope Francis during his visit to the United States or have followed him at all, then you know how important the poor and vulnerable are to him and to our church. Those who cannot provide the basic necessities of life for themselves or their families need to be helped. It is our responsibility as followers of Jesus Christ that no one go without the basic necessities of life.
Pope Francis talks often about how the abuse of the environment hurts the poor and vulnerable the most. He is so right. My son, who is a junior, just took a field trip to another part of our city, to expose him to the abuse of our environment by local companies. He was able to see coal, ash, and limestone piled so high that they could not see the Ohio River on the other side of it. Then he explained to me how that same ash is blown all around that area, causing health issues to the people living in the adjacent neighborhoods. These people are poor and have no option to leave. The companies realize no one there is going to fight them; the people don’t have the money to take on the legal system of this giant company, so they keep up these terrible practices to line their wallets.
So, how do people born into poverty overcome this cruel cycle that turns into generation after generation of poor? There is one answer that is proven time and time again with statistics, anecdotes, and witness by so many. The answer is education. If a person does not succumb to the stifling hopelessness of their situation, and are not influenced completely by the crime, drug dealing, and prostitution, that appears to bring “success” then they will have a fighting chance to get out. If they can concentrate on their education, making school their priority, they can get scholarships to college and obtain a good paying career, allowing them to break that cycle for their own family.
The problem is that education is not at the top of the priority list when you don’t have enough food in your belly to keep the headaches away that cause you to become distracted during school. The problem is the envy of those around you that are eating and have money in their wallets but they are committing crimes. The problem is the neglect of that child by a mother who is working three jobs to try to get out of that situation but by doing so never is able to guide her child to a better life.
I recently spoke to a friend of mine from high school. She is now a director at “The Boys and Girls Club” here locally. She did work at a crisis home for children who had been neglected, abused, and were troubled, for thirteen years. She said she feels like what she is doing now is trying to break that cycle of poverty. She makes sure these children and teens have a place to go after school that is healthy, where education is valued, food is offered, and mentors are there to care for them. She remarked that what she does now is try to change the children’s lives so they don’t end up at that crisis home. She is trying to change the social structure and stop that cycle of poverty.
So what can we do? We can be a mentor for these teens. We can take our children and read to the children at the Boys and Girls Clubs. We can donate our money, resources, and time to help these children make education a priority in their lives. We can spread awareness that in order to get out education is the answer–the only answer that really works. I read a story about an inner-city school whose teachers talk every single day about college from kindergarten through high school so that those children will be influenced to believe they will go to college, they will succeed, and they will make education the answer to a good and healthy future.
Let us do the same with our own resources, attitude, and awareness of this situation. Like Pope Francis says, “Go out, again and again, go out without fear, go out without hesitation. Go out and proclaim this joy which is for all the people.”
We must spread the love of God here on earth to all people especially the poor and vulnerable.
Copyright 2015 Lori Hadorn-Disselkamp