Monday, May 14, 2007

"People can cry much easier than they can change, a rule of psychology people like me picked up as kids on the street." - James Baldwin

Monday, May 14, 2007
The following is my response to a message a buddy of mine posted on Facebook regarding his experiences at a cocktail party he attended in Atlanta. The objective of the gathering was to raise awareness about Teach for America, the post-undergraduate teaching fellowship program he's involved with, in an effort to get financial support for our movement to close the achievement gap between the rich and poor (read: black and white).

I fully appreciate the frustrations of people who work in non- and non-for-profit industries. His plight hit particularly close to home and evoked the following response:

First, I understand exactly where you’re coming from. The non-profit for which I work has afforded me similar experiences. We often host cultivation events in places like Scottsdale, AZ, Naples, FL, and Malibu, CA at country clubs and extremely well-appointed high-rise waterfront condominiums where we court wealthy families and individual donors and heads of corporations in similar fashion. We spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on wine and champaign and caviar in an effort to raise millions to support our mission of developing character and giving disadvantaged youth (read: poor blacks and latinos) opportunities to succeed. I’ve had the opportunity to talk to some of these people and I’m often disheartened by how disconnected they really are. Like you said, they really are well-intentioned. They honestly think that by writing a check for $10K or buying a table at our annual gala for $50K that they are directly addressing the needs of the disadvantaged. They discuss their heroic deeds with their other rich friends. ‘We really made a difference today!’ they proclaim. They chastise and ridicule others who don’t do the same. ‘Shame on those who don’t do this as well’, they say with a wag their finger. They, in their minds, have done their part.

The true tragedy in this is that these people have absolutely no interest in gaining a true appreciation for the plight and struggles of the kids that their donation may or may not benefit. Not only have they never heard of Bankhead, but they won’t even Google it and they certainly will not actually visit. They have written their checks and have, in their estimation, done their part. For these people, their Buckhead bubble is way too comfortable to leave; ignorance is way too blissful.

I experience the same types of frustrations at my work. Since we’re under new leadership, our focus has shifted from exclusively serving the poor and underserved to scratching the backs of ‘friends’ on the hill in Washington and in various entities of state and local governments across the country. We seemingly have abandoned the poor communities we once served in Compton, Spanish Harlem, East Baltimore, the City of Detroit, South Philadelphia, Camden, Trenton, Jersey City and the like. Now, we support communities in Fredericksburg, VA and Sarasota, FL. That must be where all those displaced families went when high-rise projects were demolished across the country in the late-1990s/early 2000s.

Keep fighting the good fight, brother. Although it may not appear that way all the time, we both actually do good, impactful work.


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