Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Throwing Money at Everything But Poverty

There is an article in New Yorker magazine this week about Mark Zuckerberg's $100 million dollar pledge to Newark Public Schools.  The article states how the money is pretty much gone, and despite this fact, NPS still rank at the bottom in terms of performance.  It also mentions how the issue of poverty was never tackled with any of the appropriated funds that were pledged.  What most of the money ($20 million) went to was consulting firms, public relations (?), and data analysis (?).  Many of the consultants hired were paid a thousand dollars a day.  What is there to show for it?

I have written here about the effects of poverty on children.  This is the one issue that no one seems to want to discuss.  Being poor and/or jobless does terrible things to an adult's self esteem.  Imagine what it does to a child?  I can tell you (because I've seen it) that what it does is horrific.  Too many of the the children in Newark (and other American inner-cities) come to school hungry, dirty, stressed, and with an incredible sense of low self esteem - all because of poverty.  You can take a billionaire like Mark Zuckerberg, and have him throw millions of dollars at a problem school district, but if you don't address poverty and joblessness...what's the point?

Part of me is cynical when I read how people like Mr. Zuckerberg throw money at Newark.  I look at what's going on with poor people in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, and how housing prices are driving them - literally - onto the street.  Zuckerberg's Newark gesture was grand, but what about beyond that?  Was the gesture based in philanthropy or making sure his tax rate doesn't increase?  The young billionaires in that region seem less concerned with the poor than they do about getting a Tesla, and they have our government in the palms of their hands.  What do they know or care about poor people in our inner-cities?

I go to my old school in Newark and meet with two groups of young men/boys just to talk with them and see what's going on in their lives.  Two weeks ago one of them had a bandanna around his neck with a picture of a young girl and the letters "RIP" printed on it.  When I asked him what it was, he told me it was his tribute to a friend who had been shot and killed.  This boy is 14 - the same age as my son.  That same week another boy told me how his weekends are spent inside his house.  He goes home on Friday and pretty much stays there for the next two days.  When I asked him why he said "I don't wanna get shot."

These boys live ten miles away from me and, yet, their lives are vastly different than my children.  Why?  Why can't we fix this problem?  Maybe it's time for people like Mark Zuckerberg to give money directly to people on the inside.  People like teachers, coaches, community leaders, and churches.  These are the people who are with these children every day and see the effects that poverty has.  We also see the faces of young people who could very well be the next Mark Zuckerberg...if they're given a chance.