01/07/12 — Visit reality: An authentic tour should include nod to poverty's true causes

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Visit reality: An authentic tour should include nod to poverty's true causes

The state NAACP will be traveling to five North Carolina cities on its "Poverty Tour" later this month to discuss the challenges families face and the factors that are contributing to keeping them from beating the cycle of poverty.

There will be memorable photos and probably quite a few shocking and heart-wrenching stories. There will be some people who will have been passed over by a system that is designed really not for people who want to help themselves, but for those who have given up or never intended to do right in the first place.

But the concept of a poverty tour is one that should spark some discussion in North Carolina -- not soundbites with a political agenda, but a real substantive discussion of what factors push people into poverty and what factors keep them there.

If we are to have an honest discussion about poverty in America in general and in North Carolina in specific, we have to start with the family. Children from broken homes -- or who face diminished nutrition, care or who must live in squalor in dangerous neighborhoods -- are already at a disadvantage. And if they have no role models who suggest to them that education, hard work and good decisions are their way out of poverty, they are likely doomed to the same

mistakes and to live the same lives.

Large families without the resources to care for the children they bring into the world -- and teen mothers who give birth to children they are not prepared to care for -- create a situation in which a child who has potential might not be able to get the guidance he or she needs to make another choice that might lead to a trade or college.

And, let's face it, without an education, a child is doomed to low-wage, nowhere jobs that create circumstances that begin the cycle of poverty all over again.

We will never completely eliminate the lure of gangs, drugs and the other influences that make teens choose a dangerous path. We can only try to equip as many young people as possible with the guidance and values they need to see that there is another way.

For those who have made the mistakes and who want new lives, we should offer help necessary to allow them to pursue an education and to find a career that could support their futures. We should supplement those who work and who keep their records clean. We should reward those who are pulling themselves up -- and give minimal assistance to those who aren't. We should reward industry and responsibility and penalize sloth and irresponsibility.

And we should not listen to anyone who says that those who face poverty are caught in a web they cannot escape.

There are plenty of good people who raise fine children with values and goals for the future, who demand respect and who won't accept anything less than the best effort from their children. They prepare them for lives as good citizens with contributions to make. They might not have a lot of money, but they understand what it takes to take care of a family. They want more for their children and equip them to make their way.

And, there are certainly plenty of successful people in the world who can say they got their start in just such a home.

Education is the key. Children whose parents push them to read, to learn and to dream are more likely to pursue better lives -- and to come back and serve in the community that gave them their start.

A real poverty tour should address not just the reality of poverty, but its true causes as well -- if it really wants to accomplish anything other than a soundbite.

Let's hope the NAACP has that kind of tour

in mind.

Published in Editorials on January 7, 2012 10:56 PM