Time to tackle poverty

Feb. 04, 2014 @ 05:59 PM

In recent years, Durham has radically transformed itself from a tobacco-textile-manufacturing town. We’ve not only recovered better than almost any once-vibrant manufacturing center, we have repositioned ourselves as a hub of research, innovation and entrepreneurship.

We have lifted a downtown that had become a shell to a resurgent district that has imaginatively used its old manufacturing complexes to become a magnet for creative-class businesses.

We have, in the words of Mayor Bill Bell, created “a ‘can-do’ attitude on the whole for our city.”

Now, Bell declared Monday night, it is time to marshal that can-do attitude to tackle what he correctly identified as “this affliction that directly or indirectly affects us all” – poverty.

We have spoken often in these pages about the paradox of Durham. We are highly affluent, with dozens of outstanding restaurants, one of the top-drawing cultural performance centers in the country, an outstanding research university and medical centers, a history of prosperous African-American commerce unique in the Southeast – and home to far too many people who are poor.

Across the country, poverty persists a half-century after President Lyndon Johnson declared war on it and Gov. Terry Sanford made its elimination a priority for North Carolina. By some measures, it has increased in recent years, fueled by the decline of manufacturing and exacerbated by the Great Recession.

A growing gap between a small, wealthy percentage of the population and everyone else has sharpened the focus on poverty’s sweep.

“It’s time to stop hoping that the solution to solving or reducing poverty will occur by some wealth, which will ‘trickle down,’ or that ‘rising tides will raise all boats.’” Bell declared in his 12th annual State of the City address,

“We as a city and county are rich in many resources,” Bell said. “We live in a great place in this state and this country; we have great universities, home to the RTP, many talented persons, a city classified as a creative city, with many entrepreneurs, innovators, and more. We must find a way to harness those many resources to focus or target the reduction in poverty in our community.”

He noted work already underway – End Poverty Durham, the East Durham Children’s Initiative, Relationships Equipping Allies and Leaders (REAL Durham) and “Made in Durham,” spearheaded by MDC and Dr. Victor Dzau, chancellor for health affairs at Duke University.

Bell acknowledged the connection between poverty and another challenge to Durham’s realization of its greatest potential: crime. “The presence of poverty is not a justification for crime,” he said, “but its presence and the accompanying deficits – in education, job training, jobs, poor healthcare, and lack of access to services – are all contributing factors to the level of crime.”

He emphatically made the case that ending poverty is not just about basic human compassion, as important as that is. Uplifting our poorest fellow citizens will help ensure a safer and healthier community for us all.

We applaud and urge the community to join Bell’s campaign to “Reduce poverty in our city, neighborhood-by-neighborhood, year by year.”

As the mayor admonished us Monday night, we can do it.