He’s Asking For Help Because. . .

His name is Aaron. He is a teenage African American male who stands in front of a large grocery store asking for help.  When asked, “Why are you not in school?”, he replied softly, that his school was not in session. When asked, “Why are you here?”, he said “Because my mom shoots cocaine.”  Aaron is not unlike too many others, who ask for help to meet their basic needs due to life situations or circumstances beyond their control.  Human beings are fickle. We often feel bothered by those who ask for help.  We are also bothered by those who do not, especially when they choose a final solution to a problem that can be generally perceived as temporary.  We often believe that our knowing could have gotten them the “help” needed.  Yet, people asking for help on our streets across the country are criminalized; banned, ticketed, and even arrested.  Aaron was possibly taking such risks as a youth living in poverty, whose mother lives with a drug addiction.

The last few weeks have highlighted the issue of poverty nationally and globally, and its causes and impact on various groups of people.   Last month’s Congressional Briefing on the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty & Human Rights provided opportunity to better understand the social, moral, and political considerations regarding poverty and human rights.  The Special Rapporteur working definition of poverty and human rights indicates that poverty not only encompasses lack of income, but also social exclusion, and a lack of access to basic services. Human rights are considered to belong to all, without regard for the person’s national origin, gender, race, economic status, or other factors such as housing status, or even age.  Congresswoman Maxine Waters’ recent hearing on homelessness lifted the need for national legislation, such as the “Ending Homelessness Act of 2017” citing housing as a human right. We are reminded that the Convention on the Rights of the Child, has been ratified by every country except the U.S. This document protects the social and economic rights of children. Our understanding poverty as a cause and consequence of human rights violations allows us to connect the emotional, psychological, behavioral, and social considerations that support a seemingly vicious cycle that has generational ramifications.   

The first meeting of the Poverty Council was held last week in Washington, D.C.  The Poverty Council is a newly formed grassroots and progressive arm of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) that brings voice and greater focus to poverty’s impact on housing, healthcare, and employment consisting of U.S. legislators, national, community, and grassroots individuals and organizations working on such issues.  Transformative change comes through advocacy and collaborative effort for what is just, equitable, and affirming. The Poverty Council aims to do that. A sign of hope always is when room is made for those with lived experience, and when we utilize the talents, gifts, perspectives, access, and resources of all. The Poverty Council’s believes that the inclusion of every level of government, the embodiment of our human diversity, buy-in to a common goal to eradicate poverty, and being unapologetic about the protection of the human rights for all is key.

We all have our work to do.  Many of us are about doing that work. Some of us are still not clear about the connectiveness of our destinies.  The image of Aaron asking for help lingers. How many Aaron’s do we need to cross our path until we say, ENOUGH?

DeBorah Gilbert White