OPINION: New ‘Poor People’s Campaign’ revives Dr. King’s vision

OPINION: New ‘Poor People’s Campaign’ revives Dr. King’s vision

Minnesota Spokesman Recorder logo

I must remind you that a starving child is violence. Suppressing a culture is violence. Neglecting school children is violence. Punishing a mother and her family is violence. Discrimination against a working man is violence. Ghetto housing is violence. Ignoring medical needs is violence. Contempt for poverty is violence. – Coretta Scott King

Something is wrong that we have to feed so many. Why should there be poverty with all of our science and technology? There is no deficit in human resources – it is a deficit in human will. – Coretta Scott King

It was not my intent to retread some of the thematic ground I’ve covered over the past couple of months, but current events both locally and across the nation, cause me to do so.

The two columns that were published here in April marked 50 years since Dr. King’s assassination, and subsequently, the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act of 1968. The discussion of the Fair Housing Act is particularly relevant today, as there have been numerous efforts in recent years, both underhanded and overt, to undermine and ultimately overturn this essential law (as ineffectual as it has sometimes been).

Another 50-year milestone that has just passed is what history has come to know as “The Roads to Resurrection City.” It was on Mother’s Day, May 12, 1968, that Coretta Scott King led thousands of demonstrators from far and wide to Washington, D.C. demanding that the U.S. Congress pass an Economic Bill of Rights, an idea originally proposed by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1944.

The centerpiece of Dr. King’s “Poor People’s Campaign,” the Economic Bill of Rights called for, among other things, full employment and a living wage; sufficient and affordable housing; and the right to health care, social security, and quality education. Of the Poor Peoples Campaign, Dr. King said, “We believe the highest patriotism demands the ending of the [Vietnam] war and the opening of a bloodless war to final victory over racism and poverty.”

Of course, Dr. King was not around to witness the culmination of this campaign or the establishment of Resurrection City on the National Mall where he helped to lead the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom nearly five years earlier. In late June of 1968, six weeks after setting up camp in Resurrection City, demonstrators were violently evicted by the local police and National Guard. Nearly 300 of them, including Dr. King’s most trusted aide Rev. Ralph David Abernathy, were arrested.

Today, history is repeating itself as a new movement (inspired by Dr. King’s original vision), The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, has emerged in communities throughout the United States. This campaign restates the demands of 50 years ago and adds several more. It highlights the rising social and racial inequities in employment, education, housing, economic security, access to health care and health-related outcomes, human rights, and environmental justice.

On Monday, May 14, thousands of protestors, including 13 near the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul, were arrested as they engaged in a national groundswell of nonviolent civil disobedience. According to the Minnesota Poor People’s Campaign, this calls for “new initiatives to fight systematic poverty and racism, immediate attention to ecological devastation, and measures to curb militarism and the war economy.”

The national Poor People’s Campaign, along with its state and local affiliates and supporting partners, will continue these demonstrations over the next several weeks before convening at the United States Capitol Building on Saturday, June 23. Dating back to the Women’s March on Washington in January of 2017 up to the student-led March for Our Lives this spring, this will be at least the 22nd major demonstration to take place in Washington, D.C. over the last year-and-a-half.

I am curious to see how America reacts to the upcoming June march as well as to all of the related events leading up to it. Why? Well, let’s be frank for a minute.

An enduring theme throughout the history of this nation is that people living in poverty are somehow to blame for their own plight. There are a number of journalists, scholars and activists, including John A. Powell and Arthur Brooks, who have recently declared that “America can’t fix poverty until it stops hating poor people.”

Please indulge me for a moment while I shift gears to reinforce this point. I chose the two quotes above from Mrs. King specifically for their bold and straightforward assertions. Number one: Poverty is violence. And second, as her husband acutely noted, “Poverty has no justification in our age.”

Why then, do we not have the will to end it? Why do we choose to hate instead?

On a couple of occasions, I have used this space to reference insights from comedian W. Kamau Bell’s CNN documentary series “United Shades of America.” In the third season’s premier episode, which aired at the end of April, Bell visits the U.S.-Mexican border to engage locals about their thoughts on “illegal immigration” and “the wall.”

He visits with a pair of Border Patrol officers who, above all, view their principle responsibility as saving lives. They cite the hundreds of migrants, determined to make a better life for themselves and their families, who die every year from dehydration, heat stroke, and even hypothermia.

It is very common for activists and even concerned citizens who live on the border to leave water out in the hope they might possibly save the life of a fellow human being. Yet, Bell contrasts this good will with images that have been captured of Border Patrol agents who think differently than the two he interviewed.

Knowing full well why the water is there, one Border Patrol agent is shown on film casually kicking gallon after gallon of water down a steep desert hill. Another agent is shown simply dumping water into the sand while he smiles and speaks directly into the camera.

Whatever he was muttering was unintelligible to me, but he was obviously quite proud of himself. Apparently, that was his idea of justice, or national security, or whatever.

Let that sink in. And while we do, let us not forget that poverty is violence. Poverty kills. Hate kills.

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

COMMENTARY: What NAEP Scores Aren’t Telling Us – Education Week

COMMENTARY: What NAEP Scores Aren’t Telling Us – Education Week

Education Week logoFor two decades, as part of repeated research studies, thousands of participants from diverse backgrounds have watched the same video of college students playing basketball in a circle. Participants are told to count how many times the students wearing white shirts pass the basketball. Stunningly, roughly half of the participants become so distracted trying to count the passes that they completely miss something extraordinary: a student dressed in gorilla suit who walks into the middle of the scene and thumps her chest before walking out of the frame nine seconds later.

In the world of neuroscience, this phenomenon of being oblivious to the obvious is called “inattentional blindness.” This occurs any time we as human beings fail to notice a fully visible but unexpected object because our attention was on another task, event, or activity.

Inattentional blindness is an important concept to keep in mind now that the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress results for reading and mathematics for 4th and 8th grades have been released.

As many feared, results were extremely disappointing across the board. Nevertheless, there are already reams of analysis of certain subgroups highlighting the stubborn achievement gaps within the mesmerizing categories of students’ race and family income. For example, despite the fact that only 37 percent of all 4th graders were at or above “proficient”—further evidence that poor reading performance crossed all racial boundaries—the dominant reaction to the scores continues to focus on the black-white achievement gap…

Read the full article here: May require an Education Week subscription.

OPINION: The HBCU Community Needs Bipartisan Support

OPINION: The HBCU Community Needs Bipartisan Support

By Dr. Harry L. Williams, (President and CEO, Thurgood Marshall College Fund)

Dr. Harry L. Williams, the president and CEO of TMCF, says that engagement with Republicans and the Trump Administration is working for the HBCU community.

Dr. Harry L. Williams, the president and CEO of TMCF, says that engagement with Republicans and the Trump Administration is working for the HBCU community.

A few months ago, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF) was proud to welcome the presidents and chancellors from 30 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Predominantly Black Institutions (PBIs) to Washington, D.C. for the second annual HBCU Fly-In held in conjunction with the leadership of Senator Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Representative Mark Walker (R-N.C.), who are both members of the very important, bipartisan HBCU Caucus.

My experience as a former HBCU president and now leader of TMCF, working on behalf of our 47 publicly-supported HBCUs, gives me a broad perspective on the federal government’s partnership with HBCUs, as delivered through this event’s multiple listening sessions and direct engagement opportunities with members of Congress and senior leadership within the Trump Administration.

Thanks to the commitment of dozens of our HBCU presidents and chancellors who attended our inaugural convening and this year’s fly-in, we’re beginning to see major developments from several federal agencies looking to increase support for HBCUs and to create more opportunities for our scholars.

Thanks to our collective advocacy, several HBCUs that were devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 received total forgiveness of outstanding loans awarded for the restoration of their campuses in the hurricane’s aftermath. Southern University at New Orleans, Dillard University, Xavier University, and Tougaloo College are free of their repayment obligations on more than $300 million in federal loans, because of direct engagement with and action from this administration and congressional leadership on issues of critical importance to our HBCU’s, like this one.

Perhaps the most significant indicator of our growing partnership has been the achievement of level funding in the President’s FY’ 2019 budget proposal and within the recent Omnibus Appropriations Bills. For example, the FY’ 2018 Omnibus Appropriations bill had major wins for HBCUs:

Pell Grant Maximum Award

  • FY’17 Funding Level: $5,920 (per student)
  • FY’18 Funding Level: $6,095 (+$175/increase of 2.96 percent)

Title III, Part B and F, Strengthening HBCUs Undergraduate Programs

  • FY’17 Funding Level: $244.6 million
  • FY’18 Funding Level: $279.6 million (+$34 million/increase of 14.3 percent)

Title III, Part B, Strengthening HBCUs Graduate Programs

  • FY’17 Funding Level: $63.2 million
  • FY’18 Funding Level: $72.3 million (+$9 million/increase of 14.3 percent)

Title III, Part A, Strengthening PBI Program

  • FY’17 Funding Level: $9.9 million
  • FY’18 Funding Level: $11.3 million (+$1.4 million/increase of 14.3 percent)

Title VII, Master’s Degree Program at HBCUs and PBIs

  • FY’17 Funding Level: $7.5 million
  • FY’18 Funding Level: $8.5million (+$1 million/increase of 14.3 percent)

We are cognizant that many lawmakers in the majority in Congress favor fiscal austerity to address budgetary issues, but in a legislative environment dominated by talks of budget cuts, critical HBCU funding lines were increased, which is a demonstrable return on our collective investment in bipartisan engagement.

Indeed, TMCF’s decision not to resist, but instead engage in a strategic way and bipartisan fashion on behalf of our nearly 300,000 HBCU students who need a voice in Congress and with the Trump Administration has borne fruit at many levels. I am optimistic that many of our presidents and chancellors departed the nation’s capital with a clearer sense of the propriety of this strategy given our mutual goals, and now having the benefit to witness the rewards of this advocacy effort. TMCF will not stop engaging with all of our federal partners, because bipartisan advocacy with the Congress and engagement with the Trump Administration is paying dividends for our nation’s HBCUs.

Dr. Harry L. Williams is the president & CEO of Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF), the largest organization exclusively representing the Black College Community. Prior to joining TMCF, he spent eight years as president of Delaware State University. Follow him on Twitter at @DrHLWilliams.

COMMENTARY: Whites comprise nation’s highest number of teachers

COMMENTARY: Whites comprise nation’s highest number of teachers

Minnesota Spokesman Recorder logo
I spent most of my first year of grad school sitting in the back row of class with my hood up. There were nearly 40 of us in the cohort. Two were Black.

My hoodie was an act of silent dissent. Today, I completely understand when my students want to do the same, even with me in front of the room. Academia and public schools are spaces where people of color often feel underrepresented, unwelcome and unheard.

From third grade through high school, I was a student in a series of neighborhood public schools. Afterward, I went to community college and then on to a public liberal arts college where I earned my bachelor’s and eventually my master’s degree. Each phase of my educational journey shared two characteristics:

  1. The further I progressed, the fewer Black and Brown classmates I had.
  2. As I progressed, regardless of the demographics of the student population, the faculty and administrators were uniformly nearly all White.

That needs to change.

An organization I am part of, the National Network of State Teachers of the Year, recently released videos designed to provoke conversations that will lead to this kind of change. Called Courageous Conversations About Race in Schools, the videos provide an effective starting point for real discussions that should be happening in schools — particularly in colleges and universities across this country.

Research tells us that upwards of 80 percent of U.S. teachers are White. Different research tells us that nearly 80 percent of teachers are female. Obviously, those Venn diagrams overlap in a largely White and female workforce.

At the same time, because of higher birth rates among immigrant populations and the “mysterious phenomenon” of disproportionately high numbers of White children in private schools, a majority of the population of students in public school are students of color, and those numbers are headed even higher, based on enrollment numbers in lower grades.

Schools systems need to do a better job of attracting and retaining effective teachers of color. Students of color need to see more people of color in positions of expertise and authority, and teachers need to be conversant and literate in the cultural traditions that are present in their classrooms. None of these statements should be controversial.

The lack of representation is an equity issue, and to resolve it we can look to lessons elsewhere in our society. During the Vietnam War, the Pentagon realized that majority Brown platoons of soldiers and Marines wouldn’t take life-or-death orders from a uniformly White officer corps. The Pentagon thus underwent an intentional effort to diversify the officer corps. Since then, the Pentagon has submitted amicus curiae briefs in every major affirmative action case before the U.S. Supreme Court because they understand that representation matters.

Time for a representation disruption

The word “disruption” gets hurled around frequently in business and increasingly in education. Usually, it’s about handing Silicon Valley tech bros a metric ton of venture capital to sprinkle the #EdTech™ fairy dust of the moment. But I’m going to argue that when it comes to teacher diversity and representation in schools, we actually need disruption.

In my neck of the woods, the numbers are especially grim: There are only about 800 Black teachers in all of Washington State. In my 12-year teaching career, I have never worked with another Black male general education teacher.

There’s no reason for me to be alone. We see talented students of color all over higher education because universities know how to recruit them. As Jeff Duncan-Andrade says, “Look at any college football or basketball team and tell me colleges don’t know how to recruit Black talent. When I was a kid I thought Georgetown was an HBCU.”

But it can’t just be student-athletes. We need to bring in students who can increase teacher diversity. It’s imperative-and it’s well within our power.

Nate Bowling is a high school government teacher in Tacoma, Washington, who was named the 2016 Washington State Teacher of the year and a finalist for National Teacher of the Year.

OPINION: Arming teachers would put black and Latino kids in danger

OPINION: Arming teachers would put black and Latino kids in danger


Stacey Patton is an assistant professor of multimedia journalism at Morgan State University and the author of “Spare The Kids: Why Whupping Children Won’t Save Black America.”

President Trump wants to arm teachers to prevent, or reduce the carnage from, future school shootings like the one at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., this month. “A teacher would have shot the hell out of him before he knew what had happened,” Trump said last week about the attacker in Florida. He’s not the only one who thinks this is a good idea: Several states are already considering legislation to allow guns to be carried into schools, ostensibly to protect kids.

But putting guns into the hands of schoolteachers would be extraordinarily dangerous for black and Latino students, who are already often forced to try to learn in hostile environments where they’re treated as threats.

How long would it be, if Trump’s plan became reality, before a teacher shoots a black student and then invokes the “I feared for my life” defense we continually hear from police officers who misinterpret young black people’s behavior with deadly consequences?

A mountain of data on persistent racial biases and disparities in education and on police presence in schools — as well as a recent increase in racial harassment in schools — makes it clear that kids of color won’t be safe if their teachers are carrying weapons…

Read the full article here.

OPINION: STREET BEAT: ‘Should teachers be allowed to have guns in the classroom for protection?’

OPINION: STREET BEAT: ‘Should teachers be allowed to have guns in the classroom for protection?’

Compiled by Dorany Pineda at L.A. Live.

Lafawn Morris
Los Angeles
“No, I don’t think that teachers should have a gun inside a class full of a lot of children … or in the school environment. … But they could have it inside their cars.”

Schelaundye Blake
“Yes. I think so because [teachers] need to be able to protect themselves as well as their students. … As long as they’re responsible adults, I think they should still be able to carry guns in order to protect themselves … if someone is trying to come into the classroom like the shooting we just had.”

“No. Guns … aren’t going to help. The only way to help is to control the guns. That’s it.”

Brian West
Los Angeles
“No, because it wouldn’t be safe for children because you never know.”

Gordon Rudy
“No. No one should have guns in schools. Guns have no business anywhere near a school. … There shouldn’t be armed security guards, either. … The direction is less guns, not more guns.”


The post STREET BEAT: ‘Should teachers be allowed to have guns in the classroom for protection?’ appeared first on Wave Newspapers.

OPINION: Maybe children will lead us this time

OPINION: Maybe children will lead us this time

Dear Editor:

In Bob Marley’s iconic anthem of conscience, “Redemption Song,” he asked, “How long shall they kill our prophets while we stand aside and look?”

Florida now joins that ugly tragic club of states that have seen their children sacrificed to the false god of gun obsession. Too many are hiding behind the Second Amendment and refusing to come to some common sense solutions that would at least make it harder for crazy people to kill us.

Now the students are getting tired of watching the grown people do little to protect them and are planning a march on Washington March 24. As students are confronting terror, our president is blaming the FBI and everything but the fact that military weapons bought legally are mowing down people in the church, in movie theaters and in our schools.

Days after the public execution of President John F. Kennedy, a solemn Dr. Martin L. King, Jr. spoke words that ring true still today:

Our late President was assassinated by a morally inclement climate. It is a climate filled with heavy torrents of false accusation, jostling winds of hatred, and raging storms of violence.

It is a climate where men cannot disagree without being disagreeable, and where they express dissent through violence and murder. It is the same climate that murdered Medgar Evers in Mississippi and six innocent Negro children in Birmingham, Ala.

So in a sense, we are all participants in that horrible act that tarnished the image of our nation. By our silence, by our willingness to compromise principle, by our constant attempt to cure the cancer of racial injustice with the Vaseline of gradualism, by our readiness to allow arms to be purchased at will and fired at whim, by allowing our movie and television screens to teach our children that the hero is one who masters the art of shooting and the technique of killing, by allowing all these developments, we have created an atmosphere in which violence and hatred have become popular pastimes. – Martin L. King Jr. 1963

King also said that we lived in a “10-day country” where the anger and passion will give way to business as usual. President Obama lamented after yet another mass murder that our responses have become “too routine.”

The question is do we care to do anything other than pray and feel sorry about this? I don’t think the people losing loved ones are so nonchalant. Maybe this time the Florida school children will do what no one else has been able to…demand that politicians do something about mental health and weapons of mass murders.

The student’s march on Washington will not be about liberal and conservative; it will not be about red Republican or blue Democrats and it will not be about race. This march is in fact about how easy it is to obtain guns more lethal than what was used in Vietnam. These weapons are not aimed at terrorist or the Viet Cong, but at unarmed men, women and children running for their lives while others hide behind worn out excuses.

The murderers who slaughtered in Las Vegas, Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Orlando and now Parkland, obtained these weapons legally. Not pistols or shotguns to protect their homes but military-style weapons to spread horror.

Spare me that crap about if you take guns away only criminals will have them! You think that there are no criminals in Japan or Germany? Is there no mentally unstable in Canada or Australia? Of course, there are!

What is different is that it is much harder to get an assault weapon in those countries! Do not blame diversity either because Britain and France have multicultural societies but not as many mass murders as we have. Even in this country, there are fewer murders in states that have stricter gun control.

No one is asking America to give up her guns and have no means of protection. That is the bold-faced lie the gun people yell out to keep from having a sane conversation about common sense machine gun control.

The NRA will tell you that the problem is that we have enough laws and all that is needed is to enforce the ones we have. Alright well, what is the NRA doing about that? They are pretty good about lining the pockets of mostly Republican politicians who in return go nowhere near any real gun control, even though the majority of the American public says it wants something done!

Yes, even gun owners say they would like stricter background checks and fewer assault weapons on the streets but Republicans conveniently ignore those wishes in favor of money from the NRA.

Where was the NRA when Philando Castile was killed after telling the policeman he had a legally registered gun and what Republican stood up for the Marissa Alexander who went to jail for firing a warning shot under the Stand Your Ground law? Both just happened to be black and frankly, race is a fuel that drives many of the gun nuts.

The Second Amendment was made when there were no police and no machine guns. It also talks about a well-regulated Militia, which to me suggest that people be well trained to use their guns. No one wants to stop people from protecting their family but you don’t need weapons made for warfare.

Donald Trump attempted to deflect attention from his “Putin love” by suggesting that the FBI could have done more to prevent the Florida murders as if there were not enough agents to investigate Russian attacks on our democracy and domestic threats. He talks about mental health instead of his NRA masters as being the problem while he tries to take money away from health care.

What good is a wall when children cannot feel safe in school or grandma cannot go to church? He is not the first president to endure mass murders but when was the last time you heard President Obama or even President Bush being accused by teenagers for using their classmate’s death for his own personal benefit?

Dr. King was once asked why he risked his life and spent so much time away from his own families. He looked around and said, “For the children.”

Now there is another march planned in Washington by children not for civil rights but for their lives. I hope that the spirit of Dr. King will be there with them.

– Rivers-Cleveland

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