Today, I got to go to a TEDx event with my boss, Caren Bright, where she was speaking. Every day working with her I learn something new. I feel myself growing in humility and empathy. I’m at awe of her strength and what the Lord is doing with her and Pamper Lake Highlands.
Caren has experienced some horrific things I could never imagine. She is fourth generation poverty. She grew up on the system and her oldest son took his first steps in a homeless shelter. But her story isn’t one to invoke pity and sympathy or even anger at the way homelessness and poverty are treated in America.
Caren’s story is one that points to the goodness, the justice, and the never-ending love of the Lord. Caren’s story is one that should invoke hope. It can be done. Poverty can be beaten. People can be helped.
And we should be doing that.
The little girls pictured in these blogs are humans. They love. They feel joy. They feel fear. They have a future. They should have a future. They should have a future that isn’t based on desperation, living in fear of how they will put food in their mouths and their possible children’s mouths. They should have a future that isn’t taking place in a homeless shelter amongst others just like them, desperate to break the cycle but not knowing how.
They are set up for failure. But that doesn’t have to be how it is.
Okay, I digress, but being at this new job has shown me every day how real this is. If you want more information on what to do, how this can be changed, and the beauty of what PLH is doing, check out the website.
But back to me.
This has been floating around in my head since Meg and I recorded the latest Splinters of Truth episode.
Society and class. That social divide that is instilled in us. From the moment we are put in different 2nd-grade classes based on our reading comprehension. The day we realize there’s an entire section of our city dedicated to the “lower class.” The second someone told us “On the other side of the tracks” or “on the other side of the wall” are terms that were once literal because the upper class, (often white) citizens didn’t want to live near lower members of society. And those living in poverty or near poverty couldn’t live near the blessed, affluent, well off people.
For me, I grew up feeling like smack dab in the middle, maybe a little lower. I didn’t mind but I REALLY wanted the 48 pack of crayons with the sharpener in the back. I mean, the funny kid in class had it, so if he did why couldn’t I?
And then that girl had the nicest of all the school items. She had the best clothes. The coolest shoes. The newest iPhone.
I wasn’t struggling. My family was fine. But we weren’t rich. We didn’t act rich. We just were.
But then my environment switched and I realized I was a little higher on their scale.
“What do you mean you’ve never been on a plane? You’ve never left Texas?” I asked one friend, horrified. I’d been on plenty of planes. I’d been to Mexico and even Disney World.
Then it was giving friend’s rides places because they didn’t even have cars.
Then it was realizing my classmates in college were working 2 jobs and taking student loans to get an education.
And here I was, buying four books on top of the 20 I already own and haven’t read.
Every day that passed, my privilege became so much clearer. I was painfully aware of how white I was. How little I actually had to worry about money. I felt guilty about taking a trip to NYC with my sisters. I didn’t want to talk about my family because what if my struggling friend found out every member of my family has a car?
The divide was growing. Society and class. The metaphorical train tracks.
One day I went into my Sociology professor’s office to talk about an assignment and I ended up unloading on him. I felt so guilty and I needed him to tell me I wasn’t a bad person for being born into privilege.
“No one should ever feel guilty about where they come from,” he said. “You can’t help who your family is. You can’t help your privilege or lack thereof. Just like someone who grew up in poverty shouldn’t feel guilty about that, you shouldn’t feel guilty about growing up with the money, however much of it you did or didn’t have.
“What you should think about is what you do with that privilege. Will you live in ignorance? Will you allow yourself to continue to be blind to your privilege? Or will you use it for good? Will you listen to other people, those who don’t look like you or came from something different. Those who have no or little privilege. Will you hear them and support them? Will you help them?
“That’s what matters. Not what you have no control over. But what you do.”
I didn’t grow up like Caren. I also didn’t grow up like a Kardashian, or even a well-off Dallas kid. But I did grow up with enough. Even more. I grew up with privilege.
And I don’t have to apologize for that.
But I can’t pretend it’s not real. They say privilege is invisible to those who have it. But I cannot let myself live under the delusion that I’m allowed to keep it invisible.
The world will never change if we don’t talk about this stuff. The divide will never close if we don’t close it. The train tracks will always be there until we step over it. Until we come together, as humans. Until we share our stories and LISTEN when someone is brave enough to share theirs. Until we use what we are given for good. Until we bless others with what we have been blessed with.
Because none of this stuff is ours anyway. And it is all temporary.
Why is there a divide here on earth when there is none in the Lord’s eyes? When there will be none in eternal heaven?
I refuse to look at these faces and think poverty doesn’t concern me because I was born into privilege. (And if you’re reading this, you were too. In some shape or form)
It concerns me.
They concern me.
And it should you, too.
So don’t live ignorant and deaf and blind anymore.