Posts Tagged ‘Poverty’

The Case for Optimism: Episode Four

April 27, 2017

THE UU PATH:  Fireflies in the dark

by Hallas Midgette

Hallas Midgette

This final of four episodes on Hallas Midgette’s April 23, 2017 talk to the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Columbus sums up his case for the UU path being an optimistic way of navigating through life. In the first episode he used the allegory of an amazing sight he witnessed while driving through a Kansas countryside one night. A field was lit by millions, perhaps billions, of fireflies.  He likened UUs to the fireflies lighting the darkness. “In a world of many religions, UUs stand out as a light in the darkness. That light is optimism.”
Hal is a retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. and retired science instructor at Brookstone High School.  
Quote by Howard Zinn
I think Howard Zinn, an American historian, playwright, and social activist sums up best what I’m trying to convey:

“TO BE HOPEFUL in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives.  If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.  And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”

The Kansas fireflies that inspired me to make this presentation are a beautiful memory and a symbol of optimism for me.  I am trying to be one of those millions of fireflies that helps shine a light in the darkness.  I invite you to join me.

Please open your hymnals to number:  118                    That is number: 118

Song:  This little light of mine.

In a discussion that Hal and I had following his talk, he pointed out that in spite of all the bad news we get daily in the media, the world has actually evolved into a better place than it was. Since my memory isn’t all that wonderful now, I asked him if he would write a few paragraphs for us about our discussion. I asked him to answer this question:

How would your describe the overall social , political, and economic condition of the world now? 

Wow, that is a big question that I don’t even know how to answer.  The world is big and varied and so are the topics.  It varies throughout the world.  There are spots that are bubbling in a bad way, and then others that are seeing millions….no, perhaps hundreds of millions….moving into the middle class.  Examples are China and India.  Then on the extreme, there is Venezuela which is plunging into a black hole….economically, socially and politically.  There are five famines going on, with at least two of them being caused or seriously aggravated by governments, not drought conditions.  While it is not positive, it is not rare, especially in the number of deaths.  While the back ground music is terrible, over all, the music is getting louder and better.

In addition, I could mention that there are constantly good things happening…almost everyday.  But bad news sells better, possibly because of it being a survival mechanism.  Good things generally don’t kill you.  Just looking at recent news things are getting better.  Scientists have discovered that the mesopelagic zone in the ocean is filled with life, and while we might not find it appealing for our dinner plates, it is perfect for fish meal, fish oil and food for fish farms.  In another recent article, scientists have discovered that the waxworm, a plague to bee keepers, can eat plastic bags….the trash that never goes away.  How about March of this year when Elon Musk’s Space X launched a used booster rocket engine and re-landed it, and how much cheaper it has made going into space.  It has taken 75 years since the Germans launched a V-2 rocket in 1942 to get it done.  Then there is the constant inching forward of green energy through out the world.  I mean, look at India and how they have made one of the largest solar power facilities in the world.  According to some, solar power in India is now cheaper than coal generated electricity.  It goes on and on.

Advertisements

Resuming the War on Poverty in Columbus

November 30, 2012
Betsy Covington

Betsy Covington, Executive  Director, Community Foundation of the Chattahoochee Valley

Betsy Covington  really grabbed my attention when she told Columbus Rotarians that the Community Foundation of the Chattahoochee Valley now has assets of $95 million.  The Foundation can distribute the interest that is generated by that endowment to non-profit organizations that need it. The 200 funds that contributed that money can designate who gets it, but, as Betsy told me after her Rotary talk, the Foundation itself is given authority to decide who gets some of it.

Columbus’ greatest problem is poverty. That was determined by a study a few years ago by the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute.  Former Muscogee County Schools Superintendent Guy Sims tells me that the problem has gotten worse, not better. Guy,  the original and unpaid Director of the Building Prosperity Initiative, which was organized to coordinate efforts to lessen the poverty problem in Columbus, says that program was put on hold three years ago after the 2008 Great Recession hit because charitable giving dried up. It appears  that now givers are feeling confident enough to start giving again.

The Building Prosperity Initiative, which has been on hold for three years, may crank back up and coordinate the effort to solve Columbus’ biggest problem, poverty. The program, headed up by former Muscogee County School Superintendent Guy Sims, with the help of Columbus business leader  James Blanchard,  did accomplish one of its goals before it became dormant, determining how to get people out of poverty. That was accomplished by a study  that was financed by a grant  from the  Community Foundation of the  Chattahoochee Valley.  Betsy says the study shows that “…there are three things a person can do that greatly lessens their statistical chance of living in poverty: graduate from high school, get some kind of a job, and wait until they are 21 and/or married before having children.” 

Guy Sims said the Building Prosperity Initiative now has an office in the state’s Enrichment Services building. To get things going again, he says, money has to be raised to hire an executive director. He donated his services to get the program started, but a salary will be necessary for a permanent director. No, he tells me, he is not a candidate for the job, but he is still supporting the program.

Article Tells How MCSD is Meeting the Poverty Challenge

September 7, 2011

I thought I’d let you know about an article I just wrote for Columbus and the  Valley magazine that shows how the Muscogee County School District is combatting the school poverty crisis.  It’s called “The Columbus School Poverty Challenge.” The challenge is very real and very large.  When 65 percent of students receive free or reduced price lunches, and 61 percent of the schools have poverty rates of 50 percent or more, the school system faces an enormous challenge in improving student achievement. Studies show that, overall,  poverty-class students do not perform as well in school as middle-class students.  

The system does have a plan in operation, and it relies heavily on the aHa! Process Inc. approach. That program is run by its founder Ruby Payne, who wrote the million-seller book A Framework for Understanding Poverty.  That book was supplied to MCSD teachers and administrators.

In the article retired high school teacher and media specialist Connie Ussery gives us a first-hand look at what it is like for a middle-class teacher to connect with poverty-class children.  And she realized very quickly that if she didn’t connect with  them she would get nowhere. 

I hope you’ll get hold of a copy of the magazine and check this out, because it deals with a very basic crisis that our city, state, and country is facing, and how some educators are coping with this challenge.

The Poverty Business

August 17, 2008

  Interesting how one thing leads to another in life. I posted an article on Columbus’ biggest problem, poverty. Then I learned that it’s not only a problem but a business opportunity, because poverty can be profitable. In fact, according to what I heard on Bill Moyers Journal, it is a 600 billion dollar a year industry. That’s right; the lowest 25 percent of the American socioeconomic sector provides that much money.

 

  An article in Business Week, “The Poverty Business,” points out how the poor are paying so much more for loans than higher income people.

 

 Federal Reserve data show that in relative terms, that debt is getting more expensive. In 1989 households earning $30,000 or less a year paid an average annual interest rate on auto loans that was 16.8% higher than what households earning more than $90,000 a year paid. By 2004 the discrepancy had soared to 56.1%. Roughly the same thing happened with mortgage loans: a leap from a 6.4% gap to one of 25.5%. “It’s not only that the poor are paying more; the poor are paying a lot more,” says Sheila C. Bair, chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

 

  Moyer says loan sharks have always been around. The loan-shark industry justifies the usurious interest rates on the grounds that lower income people are a higher risk. However, the industry has put on a new face in some instances.

 

  There are used car lots that cash in on the poor. One such lot was featured on the Journal. You don’t see any prices displayed on the cars. That’s because price is not even discussed until a profile on the customer is recorded. It goes into a software program which quickly tells the salesperson the max that the buyer can pay. Once the deal is made, the odds are good that the buyer will not be able to afford the payments very long. The car will be repossessed and sold again. Bottom line: a good bottom line.

 

  Emergency rooms have to treat people whether they can pay or not, but they have the right to try to collect. Some hospitals are turning this over to loan companies. The companies buy the accounts and collect the money at high interest rates. So many American don’t have health insurance that there is money to be made this way.

 

  So you could say there is a bright side to poverty. You just have to know how to exploit it. Instead of being considered a problem, it could be considered an opportunity. After all we are talking about a 600 billion dollar industry. Of course, it means you can’t afford the luxury of a conscience, or of “doing the right thing” by your fellow human beings. Wait a minute, some might say, those who lend money to the poor are helping them.  But then, there is the argument that when you charge predatory rates what you are doing is helping them do it stay poor and even become poorer.

 

Columbus’ Big Problem Is…

August 6, 2008

    Poverty.

Rev. Kim Jenkins, Executive Director of Open Door Community House

Rev. Kim Jenkins, Executive Director of Open Door Community House

  Rev. Kim Jenkins sees it up close and personal everyday. She is a Baptist minister who administers the Open Door Community House in Columbus, which is backed by the United Methodist Church.  She told me of a lady who admitted she had committed substance abuse. She said the woman said, “I have to get off the street. It’s just getting too dangerous out there. Violence is increasing; drug abuse is increasing. Please help me.” Rev. Jenkins said she started making calls and found a church that was willing to help her.  Rose Hill United Methodist helped her get a job.

  That is not always the case. She told me of one lady who came in shaking as she said that she was on crack and had lost her children who were all in state custody. She wanted shelter. Open Door was full. It only has 12 beds, all for women.  Rev. Jenkins called other shelters in Columbus, Macon and Atlanta. Nobody would take her either because she was on crack and they didn’t have medical facilities to deal with that.  Jenkins said she had to tell her, “There is nothing we can do for you.”

Guy Sims, Co-chair of Building Prosperity in the Muscogee County Area

Guy Sims, Co-chair of Building Prosperity in the Muscogee County Area

  And just how bad is the poverty problem in Columbus? Former Muscogee County School District Superintedent Guy Sims told me that the rate is 27 percent, which, he said, “is a lot higher than the national average.”    Sims, who is in between jobs now that Beacon University is shutting down, is a co-chair of Building Prosperity in the Muscogee County Area. His co-chairs are James Blanchard and Betsy Covington. They, along with about 40 other business and professional leaders, are working to develop a plan to do something about the problem.

  It took a little while to get Columbus leaders involved. They just sort of left coping with the problem up to service providers, places like the Salvation Army, Valley Rescue Mission,  House of Mercy, and Open Door. That changed three years ago when the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institue of Government issued a report showing poverty was the Chattahoochee Valley’s number one problem. She said that opened a lot of eyes and at least “the conversation started.” 

  Guy Sims, says, if anything, he is sure it is worse now, citing the worsening economy as a primary reason. And Jenkins says the demand for services at Open Door has increased this year and she is sure it is happening at the other shelters and sevice providers in the area. Many more people are seeking shelter than are getting it.  There are 2 thousand homeless people in Columbus.

  A banker told Jenkins four years ago that the mortgage crisis was coming and the homeless population would be increasing. That’s right, a Columbus banker saw the collapse in the home mortgage industry coming four years ago.

  Why should we care about the homeless, the working poor, shelters that are full and can’t possibly keep up with the increasing demand? After all, shouldn’t every tub stand on its own bottom?  Shouldn’t people pull themselves up by their own bootstraps? 

  Well, says Rev. Jenkins, besides the moral and biblical reasons for caring, self-interest should make us care. Poverty causes crime rates to go up and all of us have to pay for fighting crime. It costs us more when we go to the hospital because the hospitals have to charge us more to pay for all of those people that are converging on emergency rooms. Emergency room care is extremely expensive.

  A report by Building Prosperity points out that if everyone over 25 in our area got a high school diploma, that would increase wages enough to add $168 million to the economy.

  If they got college degrees, we are talking $692 million.

  If the weekly wage rate in Columbus ($564) were brought up to the state average ($669) $10 million would be added to the local economy every week.

  So there are practical reasons to care even if you are hard hearted.  Fortunately, not everyone in Columbus believes in practicing social Darwinism.