Michael Craven, president of BridgeBuilders was invited to help graduate students, in Professor John Potter’s Advanced Mediation class at Southern Methodist University, better understand the culture of poverty.
The class was given a scenario in which they were called upon to mediate a conflict between the Executive Director of a large non-profit working in South Dallas and a local Community Activist. At issue were services perceived as being offered to some residents but not all. This resulted in angry neighbors and calls for justice.
Michael was able to offer insight into the unique cultural issues common to the growing “culture of poverty” that plagues so many inner-city communities. As Professor Potter pointed out to his students, “You are engaging with a dramatically different culture than most of you have ever experienced.”
This is all too true and we at BridgeBuilders understand that the root of today’s poverty is fundamentally a cultural problem. As sociologists began to observe as early as the 1960s, there was an emerging form of poverty that was unlike historic poverty. This “new poverty,” as it became known, was not so much an economic problem as it was a cultural problem that yielded deleterious economic consequences along with many other societal ills. As one writer noted:
One of the most important things about the new poverty is that it cannot be defined in simple, statistical terms…. If a group has internal vitality, a will—if it has aspiration—it may live in dilapidated housing, it may eat an inadequate diet, and it may suffer poverty, but it is not impoverished. So it was in those ethnic slums of the immigrants who played such a dramatic role in the unfolding of the American dream. The people found themselves in slums but they were not slum dwellers. But the new poverty is constructed so as to destroy aspiration: it is a system designed to be impervious to hope! (cited from Michael Harrington's, "The Other America: Poverty in the United States")
This is why we believe the gospel, fully conveyed and thoroughly formed in new disciples is the only real solution for alleviating poverty. The gospel offers hope and hope ignites aspirations and men and women, made in the image of God, can act on those aspirations, especially when they have help from their new brothers and sisters.