The basement looked like an ice rink. Kids might have wanted to play on it but the parents all denied us the fun. One of the tenants couldn’t pay their gas bill, so the whole building’s heat got shut off. It wasn’t our fault. Eventually the pipes burst, and frozen stalagmites and stalactites formed. That’s no place for a family to live, so we packed our bags and moved.
I’ll never forget that experience from our one bedroom apartment. We lived in Chicago, 60625 – the most diverse zip code in the United States at the time. I slept in the dining room while Mom and Dad slept in the bedroom. It wasn’t poverty; it was normal.
I never thought of my family as poor or having fewer opportunities than other families in the neighborhood, but perhaps it was true. Looking back, I wouldn’t blame my parents for anything they did or didn’t do for us. It wasn’t their fault. They both had jobs and raised me well.
Now I am a college graduate with a career I am proud to have earned. But I’m staying connected by helping out everywhere I can. As I was growing up, my church group would go on hunger walks and work at soup kitchens. It inspired me to always be a giving person; so now I am involved with Habitat for Humanity, Teamwork for Quality Living, and Walk a Mile. Anything helps. Donating money or resources of any kind goes miles. Even when I don’t have any resources left to give, I spread the message to others who may have the ability to help.
Poverty is a battle that cannot be declared won. It’s not just the starving kids in Africa that you see on television. It’s happening in our backyards, in our own community. There’s both situational poverty and generational poverty. Neither is more desirable than the other. Situational poverty can leave people in a depression, knowing what they’ve lost or had in the past. On the other hand, families in generational poverty may not even realize that they are poor or that they can get out of it or that there is an “it” to get out of. Poverty isn’t always a financial issue. And it can be a mindset that people can’t escape.
I’ve seen extreme poverty on my trips to West Africa and that is easy to recognize. The sometimes subtle class differences in America are much harder to realize. I helped with an event last January to show differences in meals for different classes. We gave guests different meals based on which class they were assigned to, which was a real eye opener.
You don’t always realize those things that can make a huge difference, such as everyday meals. When you’re poor, you are more likely to grab something from the dollar menu at McDonald’s because eating healthy costs more. These are the things we take for granted.
In poverty, financial decisions become more difficult. Do you pay for your medications to lower your blood pressure or do you feed your family?
Sometimes you have to make that decision, and it’s not always your fault.