The American Dream Doesn’t Exist for the Poor

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Once again, the poor are being asked to help balance the budget. Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been a strong supporter of the proposed school closures to assist with government budgetary shortfalls. However, he has been met with resistance every step of the way by the Chicago Public Schools Teachers Union. The Chicago Board of Education is scheduled today to vote on the proposal that will close 53 elementary schools and one high school in predominately African-American and Hispanic neighborhoods. Massive protests have erupted in the streets of Chicago in an effort for parents, teachers, and students to show solidarity in having their voices heard.

Chicago already has one of the highest murder rates for young people in the country. With all the slated school closures in lower-income neighborhoods, this will increase young students’ travel times to school as well as increase their risk of becoming a victim of gun violence. It will also present additional challenges and barriers for parents working in low-income service jobs to get their elementary age children to schools outside of their neighborhoods. Parents, who are already struggling, will have additional barriers placed on their ability to be active in school in addition to existing barriers such as lack of transportation, lack of money for public transportation, and long bus rides.

As a Child Protective Service Worker, one of the complaints that I often heard from teachers is that parent(s) weren’t involved, are often unreachable by phone, or are always late picking up their child. As a Social Worker, my job was not to judge the symptoms but rather than find out what barriers the parent(s) are facing in order to help them overcome those challenges. Chicago is supposed to be looking at how to reduce gun violence and adding more social workers to help with family support would be a step in the right direction. However, these school closures will have an equal or greater opposite effect, and it will be detrimental to the youth and families in these communities. The longer a child has to spend traveling to and from school, it dramatically increases his/her risk of pregnancy, prison, or death.

The American Dream is no longer the rule for the poor in this country. It’s an anomaly or a lottery for someone who is lucky enough to escape their income class. Instead of the “home for the free”, it’s the land of for profit prisons. It is my belief that a lot of social policies and increased burdens placed on the poor are intentionally instituted in an effort to increase instability and poverty in minority communities which leads to increased teen pregnancies, drug addiction, and violent crimes. Since slavery is no longer legal, there is a culture and a group of people who wants a slave class because it is profitable. This country was built on slavery and economic challenges of minorities because without income disparities we move closer to a society of equality.

Currently, corporations are making work agreements with for profit prisons, drug rehabilitation centers, and detention centers for free labor. The for profit prisons are getting paid by the government and corporations to abuse an inmate population that is predominantly minority with the added bonus of having no voice and no right to vote. There is no department of labor or laws to protect them from being abused and taking away their humanity. Slavery has successfully been privatized. Now, these prisons and those who profit from them want to use our communities to groom future inmates for their prisons.

In 2011, two judges were sentenced for selling and trading children to for profit prisons. Here is an excerpt from the Huffington Post:

Ciavarella, known for his harsh and autocratic courtroom demeanor, filled the beds of the private lockups with children as young as 10, many of them first-time offenders convicted of petty theft and other minor crimes. The judge remained defiant after his arrest, insisting the payments were legal and denying he incarcerated youths for money.

As long as for profits prisons exist, those who profit will lobby against protective factors such as education, family planning, wage increases, and more social workers because these factors have proven successful in preventing children from the prison pipeline. Public School closures in minority neighborhoods are not just happening in Chicago. It’s happening all over the country. For those who actually make it to their 18th birthday, the second wave of attacks to insure the poor can’t get ahead is making a college education unaffordable.

The third wave, if you are fortunate enough to obtain a degree, is the extremely high interest rates for students loans given to financial need students and the debt you will incur for the bulk of your adult life. The finally attack happens in the employment arena where Right to Work laws and criminal histories being used against you forever contribute to the high unemployment rates and discriminatory practices against minorities. The policies being implemented are not designed to create graduates. They are designed to produce inmates. The American Dream does not exist for the poor.

What happens in the school board meeting today will affect those children”s life for the rest of their lives. Let’s fast forward 20 years in the future to see what these children’s lives may look like.

Interview with Daniel Jacob: Guest Expert for Live Twitter Chat 5/6/13 at 8PM EST

by Deona Hooper, MSW

***Update***

View Archive Chat:

Join us on May 6, 2013 at 8PM EST on the Social Work Helper Live Twitter Chat with Guest Expert Daniel Jacob on Burnout and Self-Care using the hashtag #SWUnited. Daniel is the founder of Can You Hear Me?, and he is a regular contributor to SWH. Recently, Daniel did an extensive interview on why he created his organization, it mission, and who it was designed to help.

Here is an excerpt from his in-depth interview in Social Justice Solutions:

Discuss your blog, Can you Hear Me? Why did you create it, what is the goal of the blog? Who do you hope to reach through the blog?

The Can You Hear Me? blog; words with a voice, a story and an opportunity to inspire others to change for the better! This platform has given me such a great opportunity to express myself in ways that I truly hope are reaching and impacting those in need. The creation of this blog was at a time in my life when I was transitioning from a history and exposure that taught me so much and yet greatly impacted me from a mental health and physical standpoint. By having a forum to share the affects and effects of my own personal and professional challenges and struggles, I was helping myself as much as I hoped I was able to help others. As a social worker who strives to be a work in progress, embracing any and all opportunities to better my quality of  life, while continually adding to my personal and professional self, my hope is to share this with those in the field who are experiencing their own challenges and struggles.

My blog is a continual effort to empower, support, and instruct. When I write, it comes from within. The motivation and inspiration that I use to engage this process is based on my own personal and professional history; one that has and will continue to be my greatest resource.

My hope is to reach anyone in the helping profession in need of support, whether one is a recent MSW graduate unsure of their own skill set or a seasoned veteran who somehow became apathetic, complacent, and doesn’t even know where to start. My hope for those that are available to read this interview is that they will have a better understanding of this model of support, one that is influenced (and understood) by an experiential and empirical journey that is ongoing, Can You Hear Me?  Read Full Interview

Social Workers for Social Justice: Interview with Relando Thompkins

What is Social Justice, and why is it needed? Social justice is a term used by advocates and practitioners who seek equality and solidarity for the purpose of creating a just society. In today’s current economical and political climate, many people will argue that more injustices permeate throughout society more than ever. With for profit prisons, cuts to education, income disparity, marriage inequality, more people are needed to bring awareness on these issues. I had the pleasure to do a Q&A  interview with Relando Thompkins, MSW who is a dedicated blogger and activist on social justice issue.

SWH: Tell me a bit about your background and how you made the decision to enter in to social work? 

Relando Thompkins: I was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. Personal life experiences with the intersections of racism and classism are what initially sparked my interest to explore the systems of oppression, and feeling marginalized for a variety of reasons as a poor young man of color gave me a sensitivity to noticing the marginalization of other people in groups different from my own.

I attended Oakland University for undergraduate school, and found an attraction to the social science courses because my experiences there gave me a deeper understanding of some of the social injustices of which I was already very familiar with through my lived experiences, as well as some that I was not as familiar with. When I sat in my indignation at many of the social ills that existed, I figured to myself that I could either use all of that energy in a negative way, or channel it into something constructive that could be helpful to myself and others.

For me, Social Work was a natural fit because its code of ethics really resonated with me, and not only did I see the profession as a means to study the systems that contribute to oppression on a variety of levels, but I also saw Social Work as a platform where I could use what I already know and have learned to take actions to actively work against oppression and marginalization in a variety of ways.  By the end of undergrad I was hooked, and went on to obtain my MSW at the University of Michigan. Social Work is a way of life, and I’ve been on the journey ever since.

SWH: How did N.A.H. come about, and What types of issues do you focus your writing?

Relando Thompkins: I had experiences in college that helped me to further understand not only the parts of my identity that leave me vulnerable to oppression, but parts of myself that are privileged and can be used to be oppressive to others. I came to an understanding that I’ve learned a lot of misinformation about people who aren’t like myself, and decided to commit to an ongoing journey of unlearning the misinformation, and learning new information. As I’ve explained in another interview, I consider myself to be an Aspiring Humanitarian in the sense that I am continually searching for ways to be more humane to those around me; to unlearn information that is harmful so that I can make room for information that is helpful to, and inclusive of myself and others.

I wanted to document some of my experiences on this journey, and take others along with me. Thus, relandothompkins.com, my very first Blog post, and Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian was created.

I explore a variety of issues through Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian, many of which deal with our social identities such as race, sex, class, religion & spirituality, gender identity & expression, sexual orientation, age, ability status and others, and how certain beliefs about people in these different groups can create privilege in the lives of some, and oppression and discrimination in the lives of others.

SWH: How do you define Notes from the Aspiring Humanitarian and its mission?

Relando Thompkins: For myself, Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian is a collection of quotes, personal accounts and reflections, news stories, or other artifacts that I feel have an impact on my development as I work to become more humane to others. Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian also serves as a platform for some of my writings about issues of diversity, inclusion, equity, and social justice.

In addition, Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian is a valuable resource for social workers, helping professionals, community members, or anyone else interested in social justice, as readers are also able to find any tips or resources I have, as well as any lessons I’ve learned that I feel could be helpful to others who wish to take up the task of working with others toward more equitable and inclusive communities.

By exploring social identities through written word, film & video, and other forms of media, I hope to expand and enrich conversations about social issues that face our society, and to find ways to take social action, while encouraging others to do so in their own ways. One hope being, that if we can all see ways in which we contribute to the chaos, we can change the way we operate and work toward more equitable and inclusive solutions.

SWH: How does someone get you to report on their organization or highlight their activities?

Relando Thompkins: Anyone interested in reporting their organization can contact me via email at relando@relandothompkins.com or by using the contact form on my website. You can also email me with questions, suggestions for future topics you’d like to hear about, share news stories, and comments. I love responding to questions from my readers, and you can read a few examples of my responses to readers in the past here, here, and here. So please, contact me. I love hearing from you.

I also feature a special segment of Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian entitled “The People Who Inspire Series” in which I highlight individuals and organizations that seek to improve the lives of others in a positive way. Many of the individuals in this series have been nominated by others, so if you know of anyone who inspires that you’d like to see featured in the series, feel free to email me or use my contact form with details. To learn about the work of the individuals who’ve been featured so far, browse The People Who Inspire Series’ Showcase.

SWH: I know you were considering do a podcast on social justice issues….how is the planning process coming?

Relando Thompkins: My planning for this is still ongoing, but I’m enjoying the process. I’ve been playing around with different software, and even recorded a few mock segments on garage band, just to get a feel for how I might present myself. For anyone out there who might be reading this who might have any advice, or resources to offer, send them to me.

SWH: What are your aspirations as a social worker and what areas would you like your profession to direct more attention?

Relando Thompkins: I’ve noticed that I inhabit two spaces in my work: the academe and the community. So often on this path, I encounter “either or” comparisons asserting that one area of focus is inherently better than the other.

Even while I was pursuing my MSW, I noticed that there were at least two “camps” among us in terms of the directions that we each wanted to go in. I’m sure many people may have a preference that they lean towards more than another, as do I. However, I can see a “both and” reality in my practice in which elements of academics and community practice have an interdependent relationship with each other, enabling me to be an even better practitioner.

Long term, I hope to continue to be able to work in areas where I am able to work towards building more equitable and inclusive communities, and have time in the classroom that I can dedicate specifically to engaging social work students, practicing social workers, and other helping professionals in experiences that increase awareness of ourselves and our experiences in relation to others, and how those experiences can impact our lives and relationships personally and professionally.

There’s a quote I love that says “Because oppression is seen as systemic, we tend to absolve ourselves of blame, but unless someone chooses to identify themselves with institutions and systems, the act of honest confession will never take place.”  It’s easy to work against the ills of others, but I think what is even more important and necessary is to look at ourselves to see how we contribute to the chaos, so we can changes for the better. Engaging myself, other helping professionals, and community members in the important “personal work” required to build relationships that can allow us to create a better society will be a lifelong challenge that I’m proud to dedicate myself to.

In terms of what areas I’d like the profession to direct more attention to, I have a few thoughts: I think that in many ways, people are still unsure of what Social Work is, and what it does, so I would like to see more concentrated efforts to increase the visibility of Social Workers on the national stage. I do what I can with N.A.H., swhelper.org does a great job of highlighting the work of Social Workers, and I know that there are many others who are working toward increasing the visibility of Social Workers as well. I think this needs to continue.

One of the things that really resonated with me about swhelper.org is that it seeks to connect helping professionals internationally. I think it builds unity and collaboration, and linking up with other colleagues around the world for a dedicated purpose is very necessary and I think SWH deserves a lot of attention from the profession.

Lastly, I value title protection for anyone who has gone through and completed the education and field experience to be a Social Worker. I can see the merit of ensuring that someone with say, a degree in mathematics who does not possess another degree in Social Work is not able to identify themselves as a Social Worker, but I see Title Protection as it is currently enforced as excluding a lot of our colleagues who have earned the right by getting the degree, particularly those in community practice who see themselves being able to serve best in the community and not by taking the clinical route. In fact, some states only recognize the clinical license, leaving community practice behind. My colleague Rachel L. West wrote about an example of this at her blog the Political Social Worker. This is definitely an issue that I think deserves further exploration do determine if the way it’s being implemented is in service of all Social Workers.

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