OPINION: A nation that does not stand for children does not stand for anything

OPINION: A nation that does not stand for children does not stand for anything

Minnesota Spokesman Recorder logoDear Mr. President:

According to the most recent federal data, more than 13.2 million children — one in five  — live in poverty; six million live in extreme poverty; 14.8 million children live in food-insecure households; more than one million homeless children are in our schools; 3.9 million children still lack health insurance; the majority of public school students of all races cannot read or compute at grade level; nearly 700,000 children are abused and/or neglected; nearly 50,000 children are in juvenile justice facilities or adult jails and prisons; and 3,128 children and teens were killed with a gun in 2016, enough to fill 156 classrooms of 20 children.

All these distressing outcomes disproportionately affect children of color who will be the majority of children in our country by 2020 and already are the majority of our children under five. Ensuring high quality foundations for them must be a top national priority.

These children will lead our nation forward if we ensure them a healthy, head, fair and safe start in life and successful transition to adulthood.

It is a national disgrace that children are the poorest Americans and that the younger they are the poorer they are. The Children’s Defense Fund’s new report, The State of America’s Children 2017, details the immoral, costly and preventable poverty, homelessness, hunger, health problems, poor education, and violence plaguing millions of children who deserve better.

We highlight that the United States, with the most billionaires and the highest gross domestic product among the 35 member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, ranks a shameful 32nd among these countries for income inequality, meaning the U.S. has one of the largest gaps between rich and poor.

Your 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act rewarded wealthy individuals and corporations and it is now urgent for you to attend to “the least of these” — our children, our future workers, military personnel, and leadership pool. We urge you to reject policies that worsen hardships for struggling hungry and homeless children and families and stop cutting or adding restrictive eligibility requirements to programs of proven effectiveness that protect our poorest children and families.

They deserve help not cuts or bureaucratic barriers. They should be helped to move forward with hope not pushed deeper into deprivation and despair.

We need new investments in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to fight hunger no child deserves, in affordable housing to escape the overseers of cold and instability, in quality child care and Head Start to ensure children have a chance to start school ready to succeed, in quality education to ensure they are ready for college and work, in safe avoidance of the child welfare and juvenile justice systems whenever possible, and in family-like community care when placement becomes necessary.

Investments in each of these areas can help strengthen children’s futures and enable them to contribute to America’s future. I also urge you to commit to substantially increasing investments in the opioid crisis ravaging families and children’s futures that could set countless way of our vulnerable young back decades.

Finally, I urge you to recommit to supporting a bipartisan legislative fix for the futures of the nearly 800,000 Dreamers whose lives have been enriched by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program and are now threatened with deportation, and that extends to other Dreamers along with a path to citizenship.

The words of one Dreamer captures the sentiment of many. He learned at age 14 when he was denied a work permit that he was not a citizen because he came to our country with his parents at age five: “It was very hard dealing with,” he said, “because I always saw myself to be an American. It killed me inside.”

But when DACA was created, “I felt like I was finally accepted.” Now without DACA, “for me personally, my voice would be taken away. My dreams would be shattered.” We are a nation of immigrants and the DACA protections and other protections for Dreamers must be preserved.

A nation that does not stand for children does not stand for anything and will not stand blameless before God when asked to account for every sacred child entrusted to our care and protection.

Marian Wright Edelman is founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund.

For more information about the Children’s Defense Fund or see www.childrensdefense.org.

OPINION: We already know that poverty is a math problem. So, what else is it?

OPINION: We already know that poverty is a math problem. So, what else is it?

Minnesota Spokesman Recorder logoSecond in a six-part series

By Clarence Hightower

MINNESOTA SPOKESMAN RECORDER — Poverty and poor health worldwide are inextricably linked… Poverty is both a cause and a consequence of poor health. Poverty increases the chances of poor health. Poor health in turn traps communities in poverty.  — Health Poverty Action

Poverty’s harsh effects on health start before babies are born and pile up throughout their adult lives. With stressed-filled homes, shaky nutrition, toxic environments and health-care gaps of every kind, kids in very low-income families may never catch up when it comes to their health.  — Lisa Esposito

The World Health Organization estimates that, across the globe, poverty directly contributes to the deaths of 18 million people each year. Yet, others such as The One Campaign insist that at least that many children alone die annually from malnutrition, which if true, would account for close to half of all deaths on the planet. Regardless of the actual number, it is clear that extreme poverty decimates our world through disease, hunger, and lack of access to clean water and medicine, alongside other maladies.

Of course, it is not difficult to argue that the extreme poverty that plagues much of the world is substantively different than poverty in the developed world, including the United States. And still, the extreme physical effects that poverty has on its victims in America are undeniable.

A study from the National Institute of Health reveals that “about 4.5 percent of all deaths in the United States are caused by poverty-related deficiencies and that poverty is a contributing factor in still more deaths.” Additional research from Columbia University’s School of Public Health calculates the number of yearly deaths in this from “poverty-related issues” to be in the hundreds of thousands, which some suggest make it the leading cause of death in this country.

Now, it may be rather difficult to accurately quantify such a figure; however, it is quite easy to link the relationship between poverty and the physical impact it has on the health outcomes of Americans regardless of race, sex or age. Poor Americans disparately suffer from a multitude of illnesses and chronic diseases, including various forms of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, respiratory problems, stress-related illness, and other physical disorders.

In addition to hunger and poor nutrition, substandard housing, transportation barriers, and limited access to quality health care, another critical factor that often plays a detrimental role in the health and wellness of low-income communities is the toxic environment in which they live, work, and go to school.

People residing in poorer neighborhoods are exponentially more likely to be exposed to pollutants and chemicals from industrial plants, landfills, toxic waste facilities, manufacturing mills, and other environmental hazards. Low-income children — who already suffer from significantly higher rates of iron deficiency, stunted growth, obesity, and injury — are inimitably susceptible to ecological factors.

Poor kids, especially those of color are much more likely to develop severe asthma and lead poisoning, as well as food and other allergies. Poverty is perhaps the greatest public health crisis that America faces today.

Unfortunately, the physical effects of poverty only seem to be getting worse. A 2016 study from MIT’s Department of Economics reveals that the life expectancy gap between rich and poor continues to increase drastically among both men and women.

It is troubling to me that more of our leaders and institutions do not see poverty and its effects on their fellow citizens as the calamity that it is. It is not only a public health disaster, but also an issue of human rights. And, I am not sure that anyone could capture the particular gravity of this issue better than the Canadian public health crusader Dr. Charles Hastings.

In 1918, during his address to the American Public Health Association, Hastings proclaimed, “Every nation that permits people to remain under the fetters of preventable disease, and permits social conditions to exist that make it impossible for them to be properly fed, clothed and housed, so as to maintain a high degree of resistance and physical fitness, and that endorses a wage that does not afford sufficient revenue for the home, a revenue that will make possible the development of a sound mind and body, is trampling a primary principle of democracy.”

The world may be a different place 100 years later, but some things always remain true.

Clarence Hightower is the executive director of Community Action Partnership of Ramsey & Washington Counties. Dr. Hightower holds a Ph.D. in urban higher education from Jackson State University. He welcomes reader responses to 450 Syndicate Street North, St. Paul, MN 55104

OPINION: We already know that poverty is a math problem. So, what else is it?

OPINION: We already know that poverty is a math problem. So, what else is it?

Minnesota Spokesman Recorder logo

First of a six-part series

Poverty is the worst form of violence.  — Mahatma Gandhi

Poverty is like punishment for a crime you didn’t commit. — Eli Khamarov

Poverty is brutal, consuming and unforgiving. It strikes at the soul.  — Charles M. Blow

Last August, I introduced the first column in a six-part series declaring that “poverty is not a character flaw,” but rather a math problem (and so much more). The math problems identified during the course of the series focused on America’s substantial inequities in employment, education, housing and transportation.

Then, in the final column, I began to explore the idea that, in addition to being a math problem, poverty is “so much more.” Poverty is an unrelenting assault on humanity, a wicked scourge that can have a decidedly detrimental effect on the health and wellness of those caught in its steely grasp.

In this new six-part series titled “We already know that poverty is a math problem. So, what else is it?” I will explore the impact that poverty has on the physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual well-being of people.

The series will conclude with an attempt to tackle Ruby K. Payne’s intriguing notion of the hidden rules among classes, which she describes as “the unspoken cues and habits of a group.” She adds that here in the United States, such a concept is often “recognized for racial and ethnic groups, but not particularly for economic groups.”

Still, before I begin to address these issues over the next couple of months, I would like to briefly discuss some of the inherently unique obstacles that people living in poverty face, which are generally unbeknownst to others. I am reminded of a passage from James Baldwin’s essay “Fifth Avenue, Uptown,” where he writes:

“Anyone who has ever struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor, and if one is a member of a captive population, economically speaking, one’s feet have simply been placed on the treadmill forever.”

A half-century after these words were composed by the legendary writer and activist, New York Times Op-Ed columnist Charles M. Blow revisited Baldwin’s assertion, noting that while its “original intent” was related to monetary matters (namely paying more for lesser goods), he has personally “always considered that statement in the context of the extreme psychological toll of poverty.”

To his point, consider some of the decisions people in poverty make that others couldn’t bear to imagine, like choosing between buying food, paying the light bill, or purchasing prescription medications. In fact, the threat of unexpected costs or the potential of a personal or family crisis likely figures in every choice made by those below the poverty line.

The truth is that poor households don’t have the luxury of planning for the future. For those in poverty, sometimes the day’s only objective is to survive into tomorrow.

These are just some of the reasons that the life expectancy of someone who is poor is 10 to 15 years less than someone who is not. Or why many in poverty are forced to find more than one job, often working longer hours than most and performing back-breaking work for insufficient pay. Far too many of our fellow citizens live in substandard housing, can’t find or afford nutritious food, lack access to quality health care, and are consigned to underfunded  public schools.

The stress of poverty, as demonstrated by a number of recent studies, plays havoc with the physiological, psychological, emotional and spiritual health of millions of Americans each and every day. Pure and simple, poverty is violence and it should not stand.

As Dr. King famously said upon winning the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize, “I have the audacity to believe that people everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.”

Yes, indeed.

Clarence Hightower is the executive director of Community Action Partnership of Ramsey & Washington Counties. Dr. Hightower holds a Ph.D. in urban higher education from Jackson State University. He welcomes reader responses to 450 Syndicate Street North, St. Paul, MN 55104.

55 years later, much work is needed to fulfill Dr. King’s dream in Minnesota

55 years later, much work is needed to fulfill Dr. King’s dream in Minnesota

Minnesota Spokesman Recorder logoby 

MINNESOTA SPOKESMAN-RECORDER — Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech at a time where the words he spoke were radical, important, and needing to be both heard and said. Fifty-five years later, we still have so much farther to go.

I echo Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words — 55 years later; our communities are still not free. We are still fighting against economic disparities, unequal pay for work, and an achievement gap that is hurting the youngest of us. But, I also echo Dr. King’s words when I say I have a dream. I have a dream for our community that lifts up all of us:

Senator Bobby Joe Champion

[/media-credit] Senator Bobby Joe Champion

A dream of better opportunities for employment — for an environment where local businesses can thrive and hire community members for jobs that pay a living wage.

A dream of better education for all of us — from our youngest students to the people who never thought they would make it to college, to those that have earned a degree and are returning to our communities to give back to the people that gave so much to them.

A dream of stronger relationships with our police force, and of an unwavering commitment from our public safety officers to protect and serve all of us.

A dream of true equity that moves our entire community forward, that moves all of Minnesota forward.

This continues to be our hope, and it is the hope that I carry with me to my work in St. Paul. As we head into session, I will carry these dreams with me and I will work as hard as I possibly can to make them a reality, to make our community proud, and to make our city and our state a remarkable place for everyone.

We must grasp the fierce urgency of now

We must grasp the fierce urgency of now

Minnesota Spokesman Recorder logoby 

MINNESOTA SPOKESMAN-RECORDER — “We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., quote from his “I Have a Dream” speech, August 28, 1963.

Tina Burnside

Tina Burnside

Most people only remember the last lines of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. But the quote above, also from that same speech, is what I want to focus on in thinking about the future of the City of Minneapolis and the State of Minnesota.

Our community, city and state face serious problems of poverty, racial inequality and economic disparity. Minnesota ranks as the second-worst state for racial inequality for Black people with glaring disparities in which Blacks are incarcerated at higher numbers, have lower incomes, higher unemployment, and lower home ownership than Whites.

We can no longer take the “luxury of cooling off” to study the problem. We already know there is a problem. What we need are real solutions. Policies must be crafted in partnership with business, government and the community. This partnership must include Black voices and leadership.

We can no longer create solutions without listening to the people who are experiencing the problems, and we can no longer tell Blacks and other people of color that change must come gradually, or to wait.

It is 2018 — 55 years after Dr. King delivered his famous speech. As Dr. King said, we must be reminded of the urgency of now. There is no time to “cool off” or proceed gradually. Now is the time to make the promises of democracy a reality and not just a campaign slogan, soundbite or hashtag.

Tina Burnside is a civil rights attorney and writer.

Each generation is tasked with moving human history forward

Each generation is tasked with moving human history forward

Minnesota Spokesman Recorder logo

MINNESOTA SPOKESMAN-RECORDER — “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps perpetrates it. He who accepts evil without protesting it is really cooperating with it.” —Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King

Andrea Jenkins

[/media-credit] Andrea Jenkins

What is evil in this world? Racism, sexism, poverty and war. These are the evils that I am concerned about, protest about, and work each and every day to eliminate.

Last month, I had the amazing opportunity to visit the Smithsonian Museum of African History, in Washington D.C. with my family. When you enter the building you embark onto a large elevator that holds about 75 people, and it’s not until you go down three and half stories that you realize it was designed to replicate the feeling of being crammed into a slave ship. Then you actually enter the bowels of a replicated slave ship; I tried holding back the tears, and did for a while.

The journey goes through slavery, the Civil War, and reconstruction (which is where the tears began to fall). I learned that during this period there were many Black elected officials all over the country, prolific in the South. Blacks (more than 100 Blacks held public office after the Civil War) served on city councils and as state legislators, and there were mayors, congressmen and U.S. Senators.

Having recently been elected to serve on the Minneapolis City Council, it really hit me hard what an enormous responsibility I have taken on. Because about five years after the Civil War, the KKK was born, and gerrymandering and voter suppression through violence created an environment that made it impossible for Blacks to continue to build political power.

Each generation has a responsibility to move human history forward. Witnessing the journey that African Americans have been on since arriving on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean was a deeply moving moment. We have consistently, persistently and diligently tried to bring America closer to realizing the true meaning of its creed.

Those hopes, dreams and prayers were manifested in Dr. King’s life and work. But the work continues, and this is the vision I have for our “Beloved Community.”

“Reconstruction,” in Encyclopedia of African American Culture and History. v.4. New York: Macmillan Library Reference USA, 1996.