Speakers call for end to child poverty
Nearly 500 people heard impassioned calls Thursday to end child poverty in Durham and the nation, and were told that because God pleads the cause of the poor, people of faith should, too.
The sanctuary was nearly full at Union Baptist Church on North Roxboro Street during a daylong Faith Summit on Child Poverty.
One speaker, the Rev. William Barber, nearly lost his composure as he recalled meeting families living in the woods in Durham and Hickory. He said despite having nearly nothing, they were more gracious to him that many politicians he’s dealt with at the state Legislature.
“They swept a place for us among the grass and weeds,” Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP, said in a subdued voice.
Barber said he wept uncontrollably to see so much suffering in the midst of plenty.
“Adults and children were living under the bushes like animals,” he said.
Families told him stories of lost jobs, lost health, lost lives.
Barber said the nation needs to make poverty a top priority.
“We need to open our eyes, and stop the Sunday-morning denial” that 25 percent of North Carolina children live in poverty.
“That is a moral disgrace,” he said.
“We commit ‘attention violence’ against the poor every day, because we don’t even say the word ‘poor’,” he said. “Martin Luther King said that when you ignore the poor, one day the whole system will collapse.”
Politicians seldom talk about the poor, Barber said, but say that focusing on the middle class will help everyone.
But Barber recalled the time his grandmother told him that a house should never be moved from the middle, but from the foundation.
“If you try to move a house from the middle, that does not work,” Barber said. “You will tear it apart. But if you move it from the bottom, then everybody in the house gets blessed.”
Barber said the nation has reached “a moral crisis” on the poverty issue.
“When we decide to accept that some communities are going to have 12 to 20 percent poverty and that there’s nothing we can do, we must remove that blind spot,” he said. “If we don’t address it, the cost to our souls and the state will be too high.”
Also speaking about child poverty was the Rev. J. Herbert Nelson II, director of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness in Washington, D.C.
Nelson said children need self-esteem to enjoy good lives.
“This is probably the most important piece that I want to tell you today,” he said. “The moral and ethical climate of this generation is going to have to make a dramatic shift. It has to be about what’s on the inside, and that’s what ultimately will sustain them.”
Because education is the foundation for a successful life, he said, keeping public schools open weekday evenings, weekends and summers could open doors for children and parents to learn new skills, and get better jobs.
“Schools often have more resources than any other building,” he said, and would provide a convenient place for whole communities to improve their lives.
“So the question is not just about training a child, but training a whole family about what they ought to be to one another – building a loving bond with relationships that will be significant to that child’s future.”
Nelson said that poverty and unemployment create anger, violence and depression among young people, and he looked at the audience and said: “The question at the end of the day is: What in the world are you going to do about it?”