Sh*tholes: It’s So Complicated
Two e-mails from readers illuminate the discussion.
This one is from reader S., who agreed to let me publish it if I removed identifying details:
Hi Rod – a little anecdote for you. I live in [a relatively rural mid-Atlantic county]. Drugs are a huge problem here, and the kind of petty crime that goes with them, often escalating these days.
I help run a little non-profit that feeds hungry and homeless. My particular role is managing [a program that] distributes food bags to 247 kids in 12 elementary schools around the county, typically to kids in free/reduced cost meal programs so that they have something to eat on weekends.
Last night at our Board meeting we were reviewing the surveys from teachers about the efficacy of the program. A couple of comments:
“________ has major attendance issues, but is always in school when the food bags are distributed.”
“________ is so excited to receive his food bag he’s a different child.”
“_________’s grandmother came in and thanked me for the food because she didn’t know how else she would feed her on the weekends.”
“_________ is so thankful for her food bag, she tells me again and again how grateful she is for it.”
That last little girl is four years old in kindergarten.
Can you imagine?
Most of these kids and their parents – increasingly grandparents – live in rough neighborhoods, to say the least. All of the food we give away has to be able to be eaten right out of the package or can, because you never know if there’s electricity or running water at home.
Again – this is [name] County, not Baltimore or Philly. God bless the folks who love their poor neighborhoods, but I’m not under any illusions about the downsides.
This one is from Reader K, who also agreed to let me publish it if I took out identifying details:
I just wanted to commend you for trying to facilitate a respectful dialogue by posting Alicia’s comment to your blog. I don’t want to be publicly included in the post/thread, because I know many see what we and others like us have done and subsequently talking about it as “virtue signaling,” and I don’t want to get into that debate. But, I am grateful for your interest in hearing people’s stories, so I thought I’d share ours just with you.
My family also made an intentional decision to move from a white, affluent community to a “sh*thole” neighborhood (mostly Mexican immigrant-many undocumented; enough kids qualify for free/reduced lunch that the 14,000 student district has been classified as “100% low income; “failing” schools, etc, etc, etc). We moved here in 2007 and our kids went to the public elementary, middle and high schools and were the only white kids in most of their classes and activities. They are now at great colleges doing well and have a perspective on life and the world they would never have had if we had stayed in our previous neighborhood. We have been blessed beyond belief by our move to this “sh*thole” community (despite the overwhelming caution from friends and family that we would “destroy” our children’s future if we moved here. But, why if this community is “good enough” for the kids who have no choice but to live here isn’t it “good enough” for our kids? And if it isn’t, then why aren’t we as Christians up in arms about that and doing whatever we can to ensure that every kid . . . every child of God . . . is growing up in a neighborhood that we think is “good enough” for our own kids? Sorry, I digress . . .)
My husband also quit his high-paying “corporate” job to become an elementary school teacher in our community (a fraction of the pay for a job he’d say is 10 times harder). I lead the Compassion and Justice ministry at our large multi-site, non-denominational (I can’t bring myself to use the word evangelical anymore) church and spend a large amount of my time trying to expose “affluent, white Christians” to poverty and justice issues and engage people in respectful dialogue across diversity. That is not easy to do in this polarized, political climate we live in. I don’t know you or your political/social views, but I would imagine we would disagree on a lot of (maybe even most) things. But I am so grateful for your willingness to listen to and learn from other’s experiences and to help foster polite and respectful, but challenging, conversation.