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If you’re not engaged with poverty at some level, ‘You’re privileged’

Nyron Crawford (standing left), Dwayne Wharton, Cynthia Figueroa, Katie Colaneri and Councilwoman Helen Gym. June 14, 2016 Category: EventFeaturedMediumPurpose
Poverty can’t be solved through charity or policy. It has to be guided by the communities that are impacted by it.

Community organizing was a solution Councilwoman Helen Gym proposed at a recent Young Involved Philadelphia panel on poverty and inequality in the city, where poverty rates are as high as 26.3 percent.

“I don’t believe poverty is an individualized condition,” Gym said. “Poverty is the result of the dividing up of resources in an incredibly unequal and unfair way.”

With rates as high as 26.3 percent, Gym said engaging with poverty in nearly inevitable. And if you’re not engaged with poverty in any capacity, at any level, at any point in your day as a Philadelphian?

“You’re privileged,” the councilwoman said.

“The hardest part of my day is when I drive from my house in Mt. Airy to North Philadelphia,” said Congreso President and CEO Cynthia Figueroa. The nonprofit provides services to Latino communities in the city. “The folks who are on the street corner or the kids walking by themselves to school — that’s when I’m like, ‘Are we working with that family?'”

The cycle of poverty will never be broken by focusing solely on a single issue like food security or reentry or education. The solution has to be holistic.

"These issues are interconnected. You should be looking for opportunities to not solve one thing but multiple things simultaneously."
Dwayne Wharton

“We’re talking about food access. Wage inequality. We want people to make a livable wage so they can buy healthy foods. But if you don’t have a kitchen that’s working, how can you prepare food for your families?” asked Dwayne Wharton, executive director of external affairs at The Food Trust. “These issues are interconnected. You should be looking for opportunities to not solve one thing but multiple things simultaneously.”

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And while there are barriers that keep systematically impoverished communities from breaking the cycle of poverty, the most common answer is to address education.

“Education has been the one area where opportunity has most presented itself as a way out of poverty,” Figueroa said. “But education alone is not the answer.”

The conversation around poverty and inequality is not a polite one, Gym said. It can’t be.

“This is a conversation that is angry,” the councilwoman said, raising her voice. “There’s such a focus on welfare from the bottom. That is the most racist way to look at welfare.”

Instead, she said, we should be analyzing what’s happening at “the top” — things like government subsidies and tax breaks for the wealthy.

Besides, said Gym, money from the impending soda tax will allow the city to “launch and embark on the biggest anti-poverty initiative” ever seen.

“It’s called universal Pre-K.”

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