Honestly, I can say that being raised in middle class America that I really don’t understand poverty. I have had good health care, a safe home, strong nuclear family and belonged in a faith community for my entire life. I have a way of looking at the world formed by my experiences and as a baby boomer born after WWII by a father who served in the war. He came home to build a better world, one that harnessed nuclear energy for good rather than war. His brilliant scientific mind and commitment to family and God made me strong. My mother was a huge influence in my life but I lived in a patriarchal family structure common to the middle class.
One of the first things I saw in my new office was a box of brand new, unopened Bridges out of Poverty books. For a few weeks I offered the book as an incentive to visit with me as I learned about the passion and work of each Reentry Coalition member. When the Fairbanks Housing and Homeless Coalition mentioned that it was on their ten year plan I suggested a book club! Let’s read it and then get together to talk. I am happy to report that representatives from FMH, IAA, FRM, DOL Work Services, Love, INC and I are meeting once a week to discuss two chapters of Bridges out of Poverty.
We all have resources and the premise is that the poor have fewer of these resources. The author defines poverty as the extent to which an individual does without resources. Here they are:
· Support Systems
· Knowledge of middle-class hidden rules
· Role Models
Clearly the more resources we have the more resilient we are during a time of chaos or crisis. The unexpected resource is the knowledge of middle-class hidden rules. Maybe the easiest way to describe the hidden rules is by looking at time. In poverty, the present is the most important; decisions are made for the moment based on feelings or survival. In the middle class, the future is the most important; decisions are made against future ramifications. For the wealthy, traditions and history are the most important; decisions are made on the basis of tradition and decorum. A person is able to move from poverty to middle class only when they have role models to teach them the hidden rules. Maybe it’s a spouse, a friend, a teacher or a boss who take the time to become a role model.
As long as I can remember our family (my parents from the time I was 2 years old) have been foster parents. I remember saying to my foster son just before his high school graduation… your life until now has been one of survival maybe it’s safe to think about your future? Who do you want to be? That conversation created a bridge out of poverty.
“The only thing poverty does is grind down your nerve endings to a point that you can work harder and stoop lower than most people are willing to. It chips away at a person’s dreams to the point that hopelessness shows through, and the dreamer that accepts that hard work and borrowed houses are all that his life will ever be. While my mother will stare you in the eye and say that she never thought of herself as poor, do not believe for a second that she did not see the rest of the world, the better world, spinning around her, out of reach.” Rick Bragg, Empress of the Splendid Season.