June 22, 2012 in Conversation, Homelessness, Jobs & Training, Poverty, Uncategorized by Tania Jones

The hard conversations are the ones worth having

There are some things we’d rather not talk about. Politics, race and religion are almost always off-limits. Approaching any one of these hotbed issues, even with the best of intentions, is a risky proposition. With a failing economy and eroding confidence in our government, is poverty yet another conversation we’d just as soon avoid? 

As the online facilitator of United Way’s Faces of Poverty conversations, I continually ask myself  if it’s possible to really engage the community in an unflinching look at poverty that elicits candor rather than apathy. Eager for fresh perspectives and ideas, having a dialogue of substance, particularly in a digital space, is a challenging proposition. But I remain convinced that it’s a vital conversation for our community and country.

Dubbed the “poverty tour,” radio and television talk show host, Tavis Smiley, and Cornel West, professor of African American studies at Princeton University, took their anti-poverty message on the road to 18 American cities while promoting their book, The Rich and the Rest of Us. At the heart of their message is a plea for America to start talking about the plight of the poor.

The authors argue that the stigma of poverty undermines authentic conversations about how best to eradicate the underlying systemic conditions that cause it in the first place. I think they’re on to something.

So I ask, again, why are we avoiding the conversation? Is it because it makes us uncomfortable to compare our own circumstances with those who have less? Or maybe deep down we have our own fears and insecurities about falling into poverty ourselves. Then again, it might come down to simply not knowing how to have the conversation. It’s precisely for all these reasons that we need to push past our barriers in order to grapple with the complexity and enormity of the problem.

When United Way launched the Faces of Poverty we didn’t know what to expect. We still don’t, but that’s really not the point. As the funder of programs that serve the poor in our community, we believe it is our responsibility to serve as the catalysts for thoughtful, productive conversations with our community. We know it’s not an easy conversation to have but it’s the right conversation at the right time.

To learn more, please read the Faces of Poverty briefs. We look forward to talking with you on United Front!

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