Thursday, August 23, 2007

Hanging in there

Today I am emotionally overwhelmed and emotionally exhausted (which, I have decided is much worse than physical exhaustion).

A 42-year old friend, a single mom, died of a stroke; she leaves behind two kids--21 and 15--and I'm not sure of their ability to take care of themselves independently. A junior in college text'd me to say she is dropping out. A new freshman in college is doing great but classes have already started and though she did a great job of coming up with the money for application fees and all, she doesn't have the money for books.

Yesterday, I sat in a Public Policy advisory committee meeting. One of the members explained that he had grown up in poverty and, unfortunately, was still hearing the same problems from his childhood. He challenged us to think of one thing, if we were able to approach President Bush with a funding request, that would "stop the bleeding."

As I listened to him talk, I realized I could answer his question the way he wanted it answered. One thing???? It's not possible. Here was my response:

Financial literacy--parents are taking out phones and paying bills in their 6-month old child's name to make things easier on them, which is preventing those children from having good credit and being able to move their way out of poverty once they become of age to make good decisions. College students don't comprehend the importance of the extra $20 spent on "extras" on their cell phone instead of working agressively to pay off student loans. We need to offer these programs while kids are young so they begin to understand the concepts. But it also has to do with...

Living wage--People have to know that when they work, they will actually be able to pay their bills and won't resort to finding ways (like buying things in their child's name) to get critical items...like phones, apartments, etc. But in order to make a living wage, these days you must have a...

Quality (Equitable) Education--Which is extremely challenging as long as the quality of education your child receives is dependent upon the tax base of your neighborhood, which is low because you have a limited education so you can't get a high-paying job to contribute to a higher tax base, which means that your child's classroom and resources look much different than a classroom in a much higher tax-based area where kids, at home and at school, are accessing....

Technology--a crucial part of our society today. However, when there is limited or no access, the kids I worked with this summer (kinder-5th) didn't understand that their blog url could be accessed by anyone in the world. They didn't have the experience with technology to see the nearly limitless possibilities of things they could access and create...and they don't have the technology at home to explore and practice, so their technology experiences are limited to what they get at the school (very, very miniscule) or what they get at our After-School Academy. Their understanding of technology is Cartoon Network and video games. Our world has grown so much bigger than that. And they don't even realize it's evolving beyond them! Which then limits their possibilities for....

Jobs--But you also need the "soft skills" like making eye contact and greeting people appropriately and so much more that isn't taught on the job, but is assumed people know and should work by. Of course, all of this is contingent on...

Health--making good choices about your own health, but figuring out how to do that when the grocery store is several miles away and you have no transportation...and it's difficult to carry a bunch of grocery bags on the bus...but even if you do, the healthiest food is a lot more expensive than the high carb, high sugar food that fills you up quicker...and who cares or even realizes that the mortality rate in the South Dallas neighborhoods is so much higher than other places. And then there's the issue of lack of health insurance...which has led to using an emergency room as a primary care physician. And then you can't forget the issue of....

Violence--which is also a major factor because when the influence drawing our kids is heavier on violence than education, of course the scale will continue to be tipped toward violence. Part of that is peer pressure that is too difficult to say no to as a young child, part of it is not trusting the police because of other incidents that have happened, and part of it is the media representation which leads people to believe about themselves and those around them that they are a violent people (thus creating a self-fulfilling prophesy).

All of these problems cannot be solved by only focusing on one. They cannot be solved by money alone (though money is definitely a major factor in each and every one). The community cannot be expected to do it by themselves. Nor can people outside the community swoop down, come in and do things *for* the community and expect their good deeds to fix it.

There is no one problem. The problems are all interwoven and they are systemic.

We must figure out ways to tackle them all at once and from every angle possible. I'm not sure how to do that other than having people like those sitting around the table yesterday who each focus on the issue that drives them. We must partner with, listen to, and take advice from, the people in the community, and challenge each other to step up and tackle the issues TOGETHER.
The people at the beginning of this post have experienced a combination of all of these issues. There is no one simple, "Just go back to school," or "She should've eaten right," or "She should have thought about the cost of books before entering college." There are so many factors. The battle against them is difficult. It takes education about choices, while all the time figuring out ways to work against the system.

My emotional exhaustion comes because the people involved are my friends and I don't have the answers to solve their problems. I do, however, have hope that each and every one of them are resilient. It's not about me solving their problems. It's about hanging in there, combining our resources, and working it out together. Right now I'm just hanging in.
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