Monday, September 29, 2008

Chamber symposium on poverty just another dodge by powers that be to effect change

My mentor, the Rev. Enoch Fuzz of Corinthian Missionary Baptist Church, was speaking to a small group of us earlier this month and cited the philosophy of teaching a person to fish instead of giving him or her a fish to lift their fortunes.

Fuzz said teaching a person to fish was a worthy philosophy. But what is that person supposed to do when there are fewer lakes and ponds from which to fish?

Indeed, one can see that truth in Nashville and in Tennessee, which has an unemployment rate of more than 6 percent.

Fuzz mentioned he had been invited to a chamber of commerce symposium on poverty. My mentor declined the invitation, saying he had been to a gathering about poverty the previous year, and the previous year and the previous year. What more is there to learn about poverty? he asked.

Nothing. LBJ told us more than four decades ago that the only effective way to fight the cycle of poverty destroying families is through education. Yet education locally has been under the grip of the chamber of commerce since at least when Phil Bredesen became mayor in 1992. Now the chamber has a member as head of the school board.

Can we expect change in the sorry state of Metro education for those innocents and their parents most at risk to poverty? Of course not.

The chamber's symposium on poverty last week was just a dodge, an effort to take attention away from where the real solution awaits effective action. The answer to poverty must come from public policy, not charitable organizations. Government is of the people, the human response to need.

Any meaningful symposium on poverty must address education, specifically more funding to effect change. Nashville needs Impact Fees on all new residential construction for single and multi-family homes. Williamson County, which attracts many Nashville residents for its schools, has raised more than $93 million for public education since 1987.

The chamber here does not want that levy in Nashville. So it holds symposiums restating the obvious and pointing to charitable organizations for their response. And enough African-American politicos buy into this dodge as long they can get titles and jobs from the powers that be.

I've been in Nashville housing projects since 1997. I've also been in its struggling schools, raising resources and building computer labs and instruments for a school band. I've been in the prisons and on death row. I've been in the courtrooms. I've been to the neighborhoods at night that black politicos and journalists will only visit briefly when they want something.

A symposium did not help or spur me. And a symposium each year will just provide cover for those who should be doing something.

That continuing wrong brings me back to the what's right, of my mentor Rev. Fuzz. He is a walking and talking symposium on poverty and injustice in our legal system. More importantly, he is someone who acts.

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