Poverty: ‘What will you do about it?’

Jan. 26, 2013 @ 12:50 PM

The Rev. William Barber, the fiery head of the North Carolina NAACP, described last week what he called a “moral crisis” and the “moral disgrace” of poverty in our region and in America.

Speaking to the Faith Summit on Poverty, Barber urged the participants to “open our eyes” to the number of children who live in poverty. “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 about it, we must remove that blind spot,” Barber urged.

He was speaking, we suspect, to the choir, a cliché perhaps particularly apt since the summit was at Union Baptist Church on North Roxboro Street.  But the summit, spearheaded by retired Watts Baptist Church pastor and longtime faith community leader Mel Williams, was designed to rally the faithful to lend their weight and moral authority to combating poverty.

It as, as we have noted before on these pages, one of Durham’s most challenging issues.

Our community in recent years has achieved considerable wealth. Home to thousands of high-skilled, high-income jobs in higher education, medicine and research, we attract the high-end retail stores, top-tier restaurants and million-dollar homes that would have been hard to foresee in the city’s tobacco-and-textile manufacturing days.

But amid that affluence, we have a distressing level of poverty.  Nearly one in every six people in Durham – 17.1 percent of us, according to the U.S. Census Bureau – is at or below the poverty level. By some estimates one-half the children under 5 are in households below the poverty line.

The reasons underlying this are complex, and there are no easy or simple answers. Assuring good educations for all children is critical – as is helping prepare for school children from impoverished homes where the intellectual and social-skills development might be far less than in middle-class homes.

Ensuring a social safety net, especially in times of economic downtown, is important.

Government must play a significant role in that, but so, too, must the community at large.

The Rev. J. Herbert Nelson II, director of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Pubic Witness, posed a question to the participants at the faith summit that is an excellent one for all of us to ponder on this morning of the Christian Sabbath:

“The question at the end of the day is: What in the world are you going to do about it?”