“The truth is that low high school graduation rates in poor black communities are in part a legacy of systemic racism. Joblessness in poor black communities is in part a legacy of systemic racism. Single parenthood and family instability in poor black communities is in part a legacy of systemic racism. To say this isn't to reject the idea of free will. It's to acknowledge that if you're actually serious about solving these problems rather than waving them away, you need to tackle structural causes. Reasonable people can disagree about how best to deal with those causes, but just running around telling people to work hard and get married isn't a serious proposal.” Vox
Let those without sin cast the first stone. John 8:7.
Poverty is not matter of poor choice. During this holiday season, many of our congregations are out volunteering, collecting food and toys, and helping those ‘who we call the least of these.’ The reality, though is our society chose to allow poverty to exist. Teen parenthood looks very different for white, middle class youth compared to black and low-income teen moms. Too often, though, we look past the commonalities in society of those struggling to get by and instead focus on individual, case-by-case situations and blame those in suffering for their struggles.
As I slowly entered the secured building where “Candy” lived (pseudonym), I listened for youthful noise to see if I could find her apartment number. It wasn’t on the package I was given to bring to her from the holiday giveaway. This was my seventh year volunteering with The Center for Healthy Families. Each year, dozens of volunteers sign up and show up to help arrange, pack, and deliver thousands of pounds of food to the families serviced by this non-profit. The Center was founded by Donna James which helps build self efficacy in teen parents, with hopes of ending the cycle of teen and single parenting.
Observing the conditions of Candy’s home brought immediate sadness and gratitude. Sadness because of the feeling of hopelessness in my sole ability to make life better for those like Candy and her young baby. And gratitude that I have somehow managed to avoid such living conditions as my fate. But in our HNO board meeting this past Saturday, Deacon Nick Bates asked us a question to balance out our feelings of hopelessness by remembering what gives us hope. What gives me hope is that people of faith can advocate for a world where there is less poverty, less teen parents raising their families in unsafe and unclean conditions, and more wealth for all families.
Poverty is the result of systemic racism and an intentional desire to keep ‘the poor’ poor. It is a blessing to these families that their children have received food from places like The Center which will help get them through the week that they’re off from school for Christmas break. However, beyond one week, we need policies that help to break through systemic oppression.
Our service at this time of year is important to reduce suffering in front of us, but our advocacy is needed the rest of the year to stop others from suffering the same way.
Written by ELCA Hunger Advocacy Fellow