Mia Birdsong, co-founder of Canerow and formerly of Heron investee the Family Independence Initiative, opens her TEDTalk discussion pointing to the varied ways many people have tried to tip the scale on poverty in the United States. Unfortunately, she says efforts have fallen short as poverty rates have not changed much in the past few decades. She argues that what we have all been missing in attempting to provide resources to the poor is the skills and abilities the poor already have to help themselves:
The quarter-truths and limited plot lines have us convinced that poor people are a problem that needs fixing. What if we recognized that what’s working is the people and what’s broken is our approach? What if we realized that the experts we are looking for, the experts we need to follow, are poor people themselves? What if, instead of imposing solutions, we just added fire to the already-burning flame that they have? Not directing—not even empowering—but just fueling their initiative.
Just north of here, we have an example of what this could look like: Silicon Valley. A whole venture capital industry has grown up around the belief that if people have good ideas and the desire to manifest them, we should give them lots and lots and lots of money.
Birdsong highlights several people she has met in her work that exemplify the resourcefulness of people living in poverty, and the impact they can have on their own lives as well as the community around them:
But BlackStar is much more than a café. For the kids in the neighborhood, it’s a place to go after school to get help with homework. For the grown-ups, it’s where they go to find out what’s going on in the neighborhood and catch up with friends. It’s a performance venue. It’s a home for poets, musicians and artists. Baakir and his partner Nicole, with their baby girl strapped to her back, are there in the mix of it all, serving up a cup of coffee, teaching a child how to play Mancala, or painting a sign for an upcoming community event.
In her conclusion, she speaks directly to people living in poverty. To remind them of how powerful, and capable they are collectively:
We are magic. Individually, we don’t have a lot of wealth and power, but collectively, we are unstoppable. And we spend a lot of our time and energy organizing our power to demand change from systems that were not made for us. Instead of trying to alter the fabric of existing ways, let’s weave and cut some fierce new cloth. Let’s use some of our substantial collective power toward inventing and bringing to life new ways of being that work for us.
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