Ed Wells takes a lot of punishment from people who aren’t interested in looking at an issue from a different perspective. I’ve never met Mr. Wells, but I have empathy for him in the barrage of negative feedback he receives from his articles, you could say we sometimes have that in common. Normally, I find his articles interesting and they make me think. His last article about restoring hope to the hopeless just scratched the surface of the problem with poverty and a life of crime – obviously readers had issues with his perspective.
Mr. Wells writes: “I want to turn this situation around. It can be done. We can save a lot of people and reduce the burden on the criminal justice system. The key is making neighborhoods work again. The key is economic opportunity for those left behind. The key is making sure that black men count and making them feel they count.” Only a portion of the solution is economic opportunity and neighborhoods. The larger piece of the puzzle in restoring hope and economic self sufficiency is overcoming the culture of generational poverty. Until the mindset of the person who has grown up in generational poverty has adapted to a “middle class” working mindset, they are very likely to stay in the spiral of poverty, regardless of how badly they may want out. The book and program Bridges out of Poverty explains and provides solutions to moving people out of poverty and changing their belief system so they may become economically independent.
Generational poverty is defined as being in poverty for two generations or longer. There are “rules” to being poor, just as there are “rules” to middle class. The person lives with the rules they were taught growing up; even if the income of the individual rises significantly, many of their thought patterns and social interactions remain the same. For instance, say you have two children who need money for school and winter clothes; you have just receive $300 cash for Christmas from your church as a special gift. Before you reach the car, three people have approached you for cash to pay bills, buy food, etc. Do you share the cash or do you buy what you need for your children? Often, the mindset of a person struggling with generational poverty is to share the cash, because if you don’t when you run short the next time, they won’t share with you and you’re left out in the cold. Just one of the hidden rules; they’ve learned to count on someone like them helping them out and they know it’s their job to do the same.
If you were raised in a middle class family, this scenario sounds ridiculous to you, that’s because you aren’t aware of the rules of poverty, just as someone raised in poverty isn’t aware of middle class rules. Those in poverty view money as something to be used and spent; middle class people view money as something to be managed while wealthy people see money as something to be conserved and invested. The driving forces behind people in poverty is often survival, relationships and entertainment; middle class people are more often driven by work and achievement while the wealthy are motivated by financial, political and social connections.
To truly bring hope to the forgotten, we have to help them understand what they need to do to be successful and mentor those actions for them. If you didn’t grow up seeing your parent go to work, participate in your school, pay bills and shop for food in a grocery store, and the parent didn’t have this modeled for them, how are you going to know that that is what you are supposed to do? Just because someone thinks you should isn’t the right answer – just like any behavior, it has to be demonstrated, taught and mentored. Support systems are vital for someone working to move themselves out of poverty; often one or two stumbling blocks can knock someone off the path.
We need a collaborative approach to providing the path for those who want a way out of poverty and then hope can return.