WASHINGTON—How do you celebrate the history of African Americans without looking back at the role of poverty in that history? That was one of the themes at a Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) sponsored briefing on Capitol Hill on February 29, 2012. Speaking to an audience of other congressional members, their staff and representatives from the nonprofit sector, Representative Danny Davis (D-Ill.) said that he is not happy with the state of discourse when it comes to poverty and its impact on communities of color.
“We talk around poverty, we talk about it but we don’t talk at it,” said the long-term Congressman who, as he described, “intentionally represents the ghetto.”
This briefing, the first in a series of three events on the topic of poverty, was held on the last day of Black History Month as a way to raise awareness on the Hill on issues connected to race and poverty. Present was the chairman of the CBC, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), who said that this kind of discussion is absent from the current presidential campaign, though issues of the poor should, in his mind, be front and center.
“We condemn poverty because we don’t know what it is,” the congressman stated, describing a situation in Kansas City, where he was formerly the mayor, in which the highways are built so as to allow those living in the affluent suburbs to entirely skip poor neighborhoods as they head downtown. Cleaver stated that this lack of knowledge reinforces incorrect beliefs about poverty—such as the poor do not want work—and provides justification for policy that ignores the need of working Americans living below the poverty line. These policies include budgetary efforts to drastically cut investment in public transportation and education.
Echoing this theme was Dr. Gail Christopher, who leads America Healing, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s initiative working to address the wounds of racism so that all children can thrive regardless of their race. Christopher highlighted that not only do 22% of all children live below the poverty line, but a majority of children now born in the US are children of color. Describing a precarious situation where these children of color living in poverty will carry with them the effects of early exposure to adversity—such as evictions from their homes and suffering from preventable illnesses—she implored the leaders in the room to shift the discourse on social policy.
“Now is not the time to narrow the circle of human concern,” she advised. “Now is the time to expand that circle,” referring to the need to focus resources and policies on protecting, supporting and nurturing all children while mitigating those circumstances of poverty that would otherwise negatively impact their future health, educational and financial achievements.
That refocusing may find broad support on the Hill, with Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) declaring that he and his party “stand ready to address this on a bipartisan basis.”