Assets in Poor Communities

Children and their families living in poverty have culture, wit and joy. It is a mistake, and patronizing, to organize education or any other social service as though poor communities are a blank slate.

When tribute is paid, there is no shortage of innovation emerging from poor communities. Too often the innovations of poor people are ripped off by the rich and monetized with little to no benefit accruing to the original source. The legacy of jazz musicians is instructive. So, too, is the obscurity of the African American contribution to science, agriculture and technology, such as the telephone, blood plasma, the peanut and the traffic light. Every individual and his or her community is endowed with assets that have value.

Money is a narrow measure of value. A recurring challenge to activists dedicated to social change is how to harness and leverage the assets of poor communities for the benefit of children and their families living in poverty instead of the already rich and powerful. There is always something there of value. Unique cuisine, signature artifacts, penetrating narratives, language, inventive techniques and items are exemplars of cultural capital that have been and are resident in poor communities.

Because the schoolhouse is a community of learning, it must be a showplace for the assets in the community. The new technologies make it possible to harness and leverage what are the assets of any community. No less important is the multi-generational opportunity for teaching and learning about what is valuable in communities of poverty and exploiting the assets for individual and community benefit.

Whether in the low-income housing projects of urban communities or bucolic landscapes of rural communities, the discerning can locate assets that can help elevate the young out of complacency and hopelessness. At a minimum, every community has labor that could be organized into the common good.

The provision of supplementary education supports to children and their families can, and should, routinely, be available in every community despite being mired in the ravages of poverty. Such has been the case, albeit informally, but should be the case intentionally.

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