Many years ago, I beat the odds and became a college graduate, something not common among others with similar stories and who come from the neighborhoods I grew up in. I get and understand this. My theological study was very important to assuaging the guilt I sometimes felt for “making it” out. I have always wondered “why me and why not so many others.”
In my role, I am constantly grappling with troubling data points of our region and our nation: African Americans continue to be at or near the bottom in virtually all socio-economic categories. Health outcomes and average life span skew more negatively compared to most other groups. African Americans remain at the top when it comes to issues like teen pregnancy, foster care cases, incarceration rates, unemployment and crime.
So what? I absolutely know that I didn’t make it out to stand idly by describing the water that blacks are drowning in. I believe that my role, in partnership with others working to change the odds for people, is to take a critical eye to and challenge the systems that are set up to help but inadvertently keep black and poor people in general in a state of helplessness. As citizens, we ought to be better keyed in to the decisions of policymakers regarding how children in communities of high poverty are educated. The way we educate our kids, the exposure we give them to arts and culture, the summer work opportunities that we position them for, the words of life that we speak, the discipline that we exact and the love that we give freely, these factors are woven together for their good and ours. In fact, this isn’t just about our most vulnerable children; this is an imperative for all children.
I know there are groups established for the sole purpose of social justice for marginalized communities. There are groups whose sole purpose is to facilitate advocacy—I applaud their effort and work. United Way exists to create conditions to help people live better lives. We help one in three people in this region build a foundation for a productive life.
Too often, our society trends toward polite conversation, when we absolutely should lean in to the stumbling blocks that prevent us from actualizing as a community. Every person created has a God-given purpose – it matters not your lot; if success is your current lot, it is intended to show a lighted path to others.