The Challenge Before Us
On Tuesday evening, Christian Theological Seminary welcomed over 1100 people to the annual Faith & Action Fall Event. Clowes Memorial Hall served as the setting for challenging conversations about poverty in our community. However, poverty was not the only topic that drew attention. Also, on the agenda were issues that often accompany, cause, complicate and magnify poverty: race, class, economic status, sexual orientation, and gender.
If these issues make you uncomfortable, well, good. None of us should be comfortable when so many in our community are facing poverty. So, be uncomfortable… uncomfortable enough to get into the fight against poverty. At the same time, be assured that you are not in this fight alone. As our keynote speaker, author, TV commentator and former Obama White House advisor Van Jones, made clear, no one person or group can solve poverty. We must draw from the innovation, passion, compassion and collaboration of our community to increase the impact we have on behalf of our disenfranchised neighbors. If we work separately, we will fail. If we work in silos, we will fail. If we diffuse our impact by spreading resources across too many programs and initiatives, we will fail.
However, if we come together, if we collaborate, if we raise up the assets among us, and if we take target together at our common enemies, we will turn back poverty.
The Faith & Action Fall Event – which was moderated skillfully by Don Knebel and saw Jones joined in conversation by Eastern Star Church Pastor Jeffrey A. Johnson, Sr., Center for Leadership Development President Dennis E. Bland and Goodwill of Central and Southern Indiana Vice President of Mission and Education Initiatives Betsy Delgado – reminded us again and again that our goal poverty mitigation is not an impossible one, but it is one that will require a collective will and collaborative approach.
We are indebted to the Mike and Sue Smith Family Fund and the Lumina Foundation for the inspiration and enlightenment that we received on Tuesday. Their vision and generosity have put poverty on our city’s agenda, and led more people than ever to ask, “How can I help our neighbors flourish?”
After having some days to ponder what you heard, we pose that question to you again: How can you help your neighbors to flourish? Regardless of the position you hold or your role in the community, how are you going to use your power and influence to implement lasting solutions for those confronting poverty? How will you be a part of the end of poverty in our community? How will you answer the call?
Let’s get to work.
President, Christian Theological Seminary
Lindsey Nell Rabinowitch
Project Director, Faith & Action Project
5 Things We Learned at the Fall Event
At the 2019 Faith & Action Fall Event, author and TV commentator Van Jones participated in a discussion about poverty in Indianapolis that saw him joined in conversation by Eastern Star Church Pastor Jeffrey A. Johnson, Sr., Center for Leadership Development President Dennis E. Bland and Goodwill of Central and Southern Indiana Vice President of Mission and Education Initiatives Betsy Delgado. The panelists discussed the many issues that contribute to poverty and some initiatives that assist those people working to rise out of poverty. Following are some lessons we all can take away from their conversation.
1. Both “sides” have something to contribute. Jones said he spends a lot of time trying to get people from both sides of the political aisle to consider the needs of the poor, and to recognize that neither side has all the answers. “Every poor kid has to climb that ladder out of poverty on their own effort, otherwise they might fall back … At the same time, the Republicans don’t seem to understand that, while every poor kid has a responsibility to climb that ladder out to of poverty on their own effort, the adults have a responsibility, too: to make sure that every poor kid has a ladder to climb. … It takes liberal activist social programs to create that ladder, and at the same time it takes pretty traditional personal values to climb that ladder.”
2. There are gems waiting to be discovered. Rather than seeing disadvantaged communities simply as areas in need of resources, we need to recognize the potential within them. “The way you fight poverty is, you look at poor communities that are struggling as huge sinks of genius,” Jones said. “It’s not about looking at deficiencies. It’s about looking at the underleveraged assets.” Jones has put this philosophy to work through Yes We Code, a program he developed with the late musician Prince to engage young people in high-tech opportunities and help them see technology not as a toy but a tool they can use to create their own opportunities.
3. Education is essential. At some point in the evening, all of the panelists discussed the power of education to change the prospects of people living in poverty. Delgado described the impact of education with clear data: If you’re the child of a high school dropout, she noted, you are 50 percent more likely to be a drop-out yourself. With almost half a million people in Indiana having no high school diploma, that means a lot of children are at risk. On the other hand, breaking that cycle can have considerable impact. Delgado noted that people who successfully completed Goodwill’s Edge program, which is a high school for adults, are earning $9,000 to $10,000 more a year within six months. Bland noted that 35% of Leadership Development college-prep participants go on to college, and their college completion rate is 35% to 38%, well beyond that of most African Americans in Indiana.
4. Family is key. Each of the speakers also alluded to the importance of the family in curbing poverty. Delgado said that’s why many of Goodwill’s programs do not focus on individuals in isolation but, instead, try to address needs within entire families, and Bland noted that it is the absence of family in many children’s lives that drive them into bad behaviors and relationships that keep them in poverty.
5. Focus, but dream big. Johnson noted that Eastern Star’s ROCK Initiative is focused on the 46218 zip code, but also described how it has taken a broad and holistic approach to meeting the needs of the area’s residents. In a neighborhood where nearly 40 percent of residents live at or below the poverty line, Eastern Star is building affordable homes, increasing education options, bringing in services such as banks and grocery stores, attracting employers, improving the neighborhood’s infrastructure and more.
5 Actions We All Can Take
In addition to engaging in provocative and enlightening conversations, the panelists also offered clear opportunities for everyone in the city to play a role in pushing back poverty. The actions they recommended included the following.
1. Reject the prevailing narrative. Too often, we overlook “gems” in the community because we accept assumptions about others, Jones said, whether it’s about people we disagree with, people who are different from us, or people who live in poverty. If we reject those assumptions, we will see the humanity sitting across from us and begin to make a difference in the world.
2. Do what you can. Johnson encouraged audience members not to worry about how small their church or organization might be or what position they might or might not hold, and instead simply look around and see what they can do. No act is too small, he said. The message: If you can’t build a library, buy a child a book. If you can’t endow a scholarship, help a kid with school supplies. If you can’t house a family, help them with a home repair. “Get in where you fit in,” Johnson said. “Even if you can’t do everything, you can do something,” Johnson said. Whatever you can do, do it, knowing that the impact of an act of love and kindness usually exceeds the actual size of the act.
3. Educate on education. Bland noted that many children don’t value education because no one has ever explained why education is beneficial. Children don’t feel school is a privilege; they feel it’s a requirement. Help them see the value of education by explaining how it can change their lives. Teach a child why he or she should become educated, and you’ll give him or her a chance to rise out of any difficult circumstances.
4. Be a mentor. The panelists all described the impact mentors and role models can have on children, especially in a society where parents too often are absent for one reason or another. Rather than seeing that simply as an unfortunate contributor to the problems of poverty, we each should step up and find a way to serve as a mentor to someone with fewer advantages. “Sometimes it just takes one person to touch you and tell you that you matter,” Jones said. “You can’t heal it all with that, but you can heal a lot of it.”
5. Change something and see what happens. Alluding to the fact that the ROCK Initiative succeeded in getting streets paved in a neighborhood that hadn’t seen new pavement in 30 years, Jones said the impact of something like that could deliver an unexpected return on investment. “You put some pavement down in front of somebody’s house, and a kid walks out the door and sees that something changed; something goes through that kid’s mind, and that kid says, ‘Things don’t always have to be this way,’” Jones said.
Mark your calendar for this important date.
Oct. 17, 8:30 AM: Faith Leaders Breakfast at Christian Theological Seminary, rsvp to email@example.com
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Faith & Action Project at Christian Theological Seminary 1000 W. 42nd Street | Indianapolis, IN 46208 Phone: (317) 931-2336 | Fax: (317) 923-1961 | Email: LRabinowitch@cts.edu | Web: www.cts.edu