Number 1506 - April 27, 2016
I know the power of poverty. It encases our hopes, our dreams, our spirits, our lives so they can’t grow. I also know the power of escaping from poverty. I escaped, therefore, I understand how critical it is for us to extend a helping hand to those caught in the throes of poverty. I shared some of these facts in my brief remarks concerning poverty at the American Bar Association Conference on Poverty and Homelessness at Brown Chapel AME Church in Selma.
I know poverty firsthand. I grew up in poverty. We were not just poor, we were “po.” At one point, eleven of us – nine children, a mother and a father – lived in a three-room house. I don’t mean a three bedroom house. I mean a kitchen, a middle room and a front room. There was no bathroom, no running water, no electricity. The middle room did not have heat of any kind. With two beds in a small room, there was no space for a heater. In the cold of winter, we heated rocks and smoothing irons, wrapped cloth around them and placed them under the cover to keep our feet warm. We were “po.” Yes, I know the experience of poverty.
I now understand that poverty was part of our circumstances, but not part of our spirit. It’s one thing to have poverty of circumstances. It’s an entirely different thing to have poverty of the spirit. My father, Sam Sanders, did not complete first grade and could not write his name. He usually worked for minimum wage. He truly was “po.” However, he did not have poverty of the spirit. He was a very smart man who worked hard on the farm before going to his job at the saw mill or to tap pine trees for turpentine. After coming home from his job, he worked at night by the firelight of burning wood. He was a powerful example of sheer determination. My father was “po,” but there was no poverty of the spirit.
My mother, Ola Mae Sanders, had a seventh grade education. She was wise as well as smart. People came from miles around to seek her advice. While birthing a brood of children that eventually grew to 13, she never complained about what she did not have. She told us, “Take what you have and make what you need.” She lived by that principle. She also told us that she was at her best when things were at their worst. One time she had a baby and was back at her job in 36 hours. My mother was “po,” but there was no poverty of the spirit.
We were truly blessed to have parents who, in spite of extreme poverty of circumstances, did not have poverty of the spirit. It was the central force in our not having poverty of the spirit. The looming question at the conference was how to overcome poverty of circumstances and poverty of the spirit? Most people believe that changing poverty of circumstances will change poverty of the spirit. I believe it’s the other way around: change poverty of the spirit and poverty of circumstances will change.
The question is how do we deal with poverty? Some say we deal with the family. That will certainly help. However, lifting whole families consumes so much effort, time, money and other resources. Others say we should provide mentorship to those in need. This is less expensive, and the time required per person is not overwhelming. However, our programs miss most of those in need of mentorship. Some say that churches are the answer, but most children in need don’t always go to church and churches don’t go to them. Don’t get me wrong, we need all these efforts and more. Poverty of circumstances and poverty of spirit are too great to pass up any effort.
Our school system is the only institution that touches virtually every child. It has direct contact for seven or so hours most weekdays for nine months a year. However, our schools too often contribute to poverty of spirit for those already burdened with poverty of circumstances.
I believe that our identity is critical to tackling poverty of the spirit. There was a time when identity was family based, church based, school based, neighborhood based. After learning one’s name, we wanted to know, “Who your folks?” “What’s your church?” “Where you from?” Now, it’s simply, “What you do?” In short, what is your job? Our work has become far more central to our identity.
Since work is so central to our modern day identity, I wish we could provide a job for every young person willing to work. Too many children grow up not knowing how to work. Work itself helps combat poverty of spirit as it helps forge a positive identity. The pay secured from work helps combat poverty of circumstances.
I also wish every school child in struggle could have a mentor. I don’t know how this can be done. I wish each and every person could be submerged in a history with which they can personally identify, i.e., Black history, Hispanic history. I don’t know how this can be done. I wish, I wish, I wish. Do you wish?
Now on to the Daily Diary.
Saturday, April 16, 2016 – I was a little under the weather. I did not walk for several days but performed home chores and made it to work about 10:00 a.m. I handled many matters, working into the early night. I communicated with a number of persons.
Sunday - I did not walk. I did Radio Sunday School with Dr. Margaret Hardy and Radio Education with Perry County School Superintendent John Heard, III. I handled many matters, attended Brown Chapel AME Church and made remarks at the Willie Mae Taylor Richmond Introductory Sermon at Selmont Baptist Church. I also joined young people at the Edmund Pettus Bridge who are protesting the violence in Selma, communicated with various leaders and worked into the night.
Monday – I exercised, handled various matters, traveled to Perry County, returned to Selma and worked into the night. Among others, I communicated with the following: Senator Vivian Davis Figures; Don Baylor of Jefferson County; Dr. Wil Baker of the Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine; Lowndes County Administrator Jackie Thomas; Barbara Pitts of Auburn; Josh Hayes of Tuscaloosa; Edwin Ellis, Elliot Lipinsky, Gloria Pompey and Joe Jackson of Selma; and Selma Mayor George Evans.
Tuesday – I exercised, handled various matters, traveled to Montgomery for the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus meeting as well as other meetings, took to the Senate Floor, participated in an Alabama New South Coalition (ANSC) conference call and returned to Selma. Among others, I communicated with the following: Eli Seaborn of Lowndes County; Ola Morrow of Maplesville; Wallace Community College Selma (WCCS) President Dr. James Mitchell; Senator Harri Anne Smith; Consultant Joe Binns of Georgia; Washington County commissioners Willie Long, Jr. and Allen Bailey; Senator Greg Albritton; Minister Mae Taylor Richmond of Selma; Wayne Vardaman of the Selma Centre of Commerce; Joe Espy, Joe Fine and Dickey Whittaker of Montgomery; Tom Coker of Lowndes County; Wilcox County Tax Assessor Janice Johns; Youlanda Curtis of Washington County; Tami Teague and John Teague (who is recovering from illness) of Montgomery; Alecha Irby of Miles College on her birthday; Law Professor Emeritus Martha Morgan on her birthday; and former Alabama State Senator Larry Means on his birthday.
Wednesday – I exercised, traveled to Montgomery, attended meetings of the Finance and Taxation Education (F&TE) Committee, Judiciary Committee and Transportation and Energy Committee, participated in a conference call and in a Senate Session and returned to Selma. Among others, I communicated with the following: Montgomery Businesswomen Sharon Wheeler and Suzanne Webb; Consultant Steve Raby; Mitchell Britt of Wilcox County; Alabama Department of Transportation Director John Cooper; Jerry Spencer of Montgomery; Gina Dearborn of Alabama and Washington, D.C.; Joe Arbona of Railways; Tuskegee Mayor Johnny Ford; Alabama Secretary of State John Merritt; Curt Lee of Walker County; Lowndes County School Superintendent Daniel Boyd; Greene County School Superintendent Dr. James Carter; Sharon Calhoun and Melodie Ellis of Montgomery; Ron Buford of Alabama Power Company; Stephanie Bryan of the Poarch Creek Band of Indians.
Thursday – I walked, traveled to Montgomery for meetings of the Alabama State Senate, Senate Banking and Insurance Committee and House State Government Committee, participated in the SOS conference call, returned to Selma, then traveled to Greene County, returned to Selma and worked into the night. Among others, I communicated with the following: Secretary of the Senate Pat Harris; Senator Bobby Singleton; Kirsten Barnes and Holly Caraway of the Senate Minority Leader Office; Jared White of the Governor’s Staff Greene County School Board members Dr. Carol P. Zippert, Leo Branch, Carrie Dancy, William Morgan and Morris Hardy; Senator Rodger Smitherman; Shelley Fearson of ANSC; Ainka Jackson of Selma; and Senator Billy Beasley.
Friday – I read Sketches on Faya’s Fire, talked with Stephanie Saul, a reporter from New York, discussed issues over lunch with Dr. David Hodo of Selma and worked into the night.
Among others, I communicated with the following: Brenda Miles of Selma on her birthday; Representative John Knight; former Senator Lowell Barron on his birthday; and Brendan O’Connor and Faya Rose Toure of Selma.
EPILOGUE – Our parents impact us in ways we don’t understand until years later. Our modern day challenge is to impact children whose parents, for whatever reason, did not sufficiently impact them in a positive way.