How to have a meaningful discussion about eliminating poverty

A meaningful discussion of how to eradicate poverty can’t occur without a courageous conversation about race and racism. Last week, the Robin Hood Foundation brought together leaders from government, eduction, the non-profit sector, and the media to be part of a frank discussion about poverty at their (virtual) No City Limits Conference, which did just that.

Significant speakers that inspired me to register included Helene Gayle (Chicago, Community Trust), Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Geoffrey Canada (Harlem Children’s Zone). I was however, considerably moved by presenters on the panels; people involved in research, tracking data, working on the frontlines, and creating thoughtful solutions.

Registration was free. With the ability to participate from the comfort of my home office, I sat in on all the sessions and came away feeling educated and energized. It was the perfect way to conclude Black History Month because as I said, a meaningful discussion about poverty can’t happen without talking about race. 

Back on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January. I registered for the United Way of Illinois’ 21-Week Equity Challenge. It runs through Juneteenth and there is plenty of room to catch up. The content is educational and challenges us to acknowledge our personal perspectives about race. Register and receive a reminder each week as new content is made available. Last summer at the height of the Black Lives Matter protests, I wrote about my experiences and made a commitment to be part of solutions. Attending the No City Limits Conference was part of honoring that commitment.

Understanding the links between systemic racism and poverty is an important first step. The history and also the ideas shared at the conference are extremely valuable and I urge you to make the time to view it. The entire conference is now available on the No City Limits site. Just click on each title or speaker name on the schedule to review the recorded session.  Like the conference, there is no charge to view this content.  Unlike the conference you don’t have to set aside two days in the middle of your work week to witness it; you can view at your own pace.

Looking at my notes, there are so many statistics, sound bites and solutions worth sharing, but again, I urge you to watch for yourself. If your time is limited right now, cut to the chase and watch the first two sessions from Thursday morning: Systememic Roots of the Racial Wealth Gap and Closing the Racial Wealth Gap. Also notable: Poverty and Mass Incarceration in New York (because I suspect the statistics are similar for your metropolitan area as well).

While I ran on Tuesday in memory of Ahmaud Arbery, the Black man gunned down and murdered in broad daylight while he went for a run in his neighborhood on that day last year, by the end of the week, I also had a better understanding of all the people of color who have been denied opportunities, who have been discriminated against in employment, housing, in the courts, and even banking practices. The system has prohibited people of color – for centuries – from achieving a way out of poverty.

As one speaker noted, “This is not a ‘responsibility’ or ‘hardworking’ issue.” Blacks have been left out of the programs that have allowed whites to begin accumulating wealth. “While Italian immigrants were discriminated against; being white eventually allowed them to move to Levittown and with FHA mortgage, build assets, and move out of poverty.” If you think people of color can do the same, watch and learn.

“We need to end, not manage poverty,” explained one panelist. That can only happen if we first understand the effects of systemic racism – and for some, perhaps first admit that it exists. 

Running in safety. Thinking only of the opportunities I was given because I am white, because my parents were white, and their parents were white. Chicago Botanic Gardens, Glencoe, Illinois. February 2021.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.