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What We Do
Faith & Action Project 2018

10 Things We Learned

Elizabeth Hinton

1. Fight Mass Incarceration. Building on the research that led to her book, From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime, Harvard University professor and author Elizabeth Hinton highlighted the ways mass incarceration has disproportionately affected the African-American community and made poverty a mainstay in too many neighborhoods. "To create change," she said, "we all must acknowledge and attack the problem. It’s going to take all of us working together and finding common ground."

2. Change the Nature of Prisons. One path to change, Hinton noted, will come from rethinking the purpose of prison. Her suggestion? As the headline on her recent New York Times op-ed put it, “Turn Prisons Into Colleges.” She cited a RAND Corp. study showing that inmates who took classes in prison “had a 43 percent lower likelihood of recidivism and a 13 percent higher likelihood of getting a job after leading prison.”

3. Engage Parents in Education. Real change starts with education, and educational success requires parental engagement. But we can’t expect parents to do it alone. “Parents need information about navigating all of the changes in education today,” said Kameelah Shaheed-Diallo of The Mind Trust. However, that doesn’t mean we should simply push out information. We also should draw from parents. “All parents have something they can give to the school,” she said.

4. Attack Barriers to Learning. We must help children living in poverty overcome barriers to learning if they are to reap the benefits of education. “Poverty doesn’t stop at the schoolhouse door,” Shaheed-Diallo noted. “There’s only so much you can do if a child is coming to you hungry.” Center for Leadership Development President Dennis Bland highlighted one barrier he sees too often: the lack of understanding about what education can do for a person. If no one has effectively explained the value of an education to a child, then the child won’t see the value of pursuing an education.

5. Make Human Connections. People need to be told, “You matter. Your life matters,” said Christian Theological Seminary Dean Leah Gunning Francis. Andrew Green of Shepherd Community Center described one way his organization does this: Shepherd sends staff members into Pendleton Correctional Facility to offer soft-skills training to inmates. Not only does this provide offenders with improved skills, but it also gives them established relationships in the community. Tysha Hardy Sellers said, "Relationships also will aid in the efforts to turn back poverty … and the community is ready to build those relationships. Many people want to work together ... They recognize that we need to work together.”

6. Recognize Various Forms of Poverty. Seeing poverty simply as an economic challenge is shortsighted. As Center for Leadership Development President Dennis Bland said, “Economic poverty is an outcome or result. To see the full picture, we must recognize other forms of poverty, such as poverty of literacy, skills, character, successful habits, values, opportunity, culture, and more."

7. Meet People Where They Are. We can’t expect people to find paths out of poverty if those paths are beyond their reach. “You start where people are ready to start,” said Shepherd Community Center’s Andrew Green. Tedd Grain of Local Initiatives Support Corp. (LISC) urged attendees to embrace the Indianapolis Neighborhood Housing Resource Center’s statement, “We believe that everyone is naturally creative, resourceful, and whole.” Building from such a positive vision will be more successful than a deficit-focused approach.

8. Be Willing to Change. A number of speakers suggested that we cannot expect to make change without changing our systems. EmployIndy’s Angela Carr Klitsch said that, at her organization, this has meant changing the way her team sees its work. Case workers are now referred to as navigators, her team tries to complement the requirements of government programs with more humane approaches, and the goal has become not simply getting people jobs, but helping them understand themselves and make decisions that align with their own priorities.

9. Be Entrepreneurial. Purposeful Design has leveraged enterprise to attack poverty for men coming out of addiction and homelessness with a two-fold impact. As Executive Director David Palmer noted, training men and putting them to work has forged relationships that more traditional programs cannot. In addition, it’s helped to fund the organization’s work.

10. Let Faith and Humanity Guide You. Along with offering tangible and practical action points, speakers repeatedly pointed to the power of faith and humanity in addressing poverty. Dr. Emily Zarse of Eskenazi Health noted, “Faith gives us a resource to stand against the cultural stigma. We cannot put down people who have addictions or mental health issues because we know that every person is a gift and is gifted. Every person bears God’s image.” And Eastern Star Church Pastor Anthony Murdock added, “None of this work can be done without practicing empathy.”

Last Published: May 7, 2019 5:31 PM
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