Because of the bubble that is Wake Forest, I think many students here don’t realize the extent of the poverty that exists in Winston-Salem and the surrounding areas. I am even from the area and I often forget (or maybe choose not to think about) the poverty here. Back in February, I attended a Poverty Thought Force World Cafe where these issues were discussed with a variety of people in the Winston-Salem community. The Poverty Thought Force website describes their mission as follows:
The Winston-Salem Poverty Thought Force is a communitywide collaboration spearheaded by the city of Winston-Salem to identify steps both feasible and impactful to reduce the number of residents living in poverty…To ensure the broadest possible input into their work, the Poverty Thought Force is using the world café method to gather information and ideas from the public and from people who work in these areas.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the Poverty Thought Force World Cafe, but I was pleasantly surprised by the event. When we got there, the parking lot was full, and I already knew it was going to be a bigger, more crowded event than I expected. I participated in the group that discussed education and life skills, and our conversations were focused on getting the entire community, even those without children in school, aware of their stake in education, teaching life skills to those outside of school-age, and making sure that students entered kindergarten prepared and left high school ready for college or career.
I liked how the groups were a diverse mix of ages, jobs, races, and experiences because it allowed for engaging conversation with a mix of perspectives. It was frustrating to me that all of these problems we discussed are so important, but there is no clear cut solution. The problems are so systemic. People said education starts in the home. However, how can we expect families in poverty, often a single-parent household in which the parent works multiple jobs, to prepare their children for school when they may not have the time or the education level themselves to do so? What if they can’t afford to send their children to daycare where they could get a jumpstart on learning?
One thing that we didn’t discuss that I wish we would have are the structural problems in schools in inner city or impoverished areas. Often these schools are older, more run down, and unstable buildings. It seems like a trivial matter; it’s just a building, right? However, I would argue that starting with a building where students feel safe would encourage them to want to go to school and stay there. My high school was an old building with mold, brown water in the water fountains because of rust in the pipes, and a heater that didn’t work more often that it did. This kind of environment does not foster a productive learning environment. I recognize that there are many problems when it comes to education, but I think the school buildings themselves is one that is often brushed to the side when, in fact, it could make a difference.
I think that the Poverty Thought Force is a great idea to gather ideas to begin recognizing and solving the issues that are crippling Winston-Salem. However, I am interested to see what comes from these conversations. Discussing problems and brainstorming solutions is all well and good, but it means little if there is no action that follows. I have hope, though, that change will come from these conversations that will help Winston-Salem battle poverty and flourish as the City of Arts and Innovation.
In class, Dr. Dalton has asked (more than once) “How can we change the world?” I don’t think there is a single or simple answer to this question, but I think talking about issues such as poverty in the way the Poverty Thought Force does is a great way to start.