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Poverty and Racism Series, Introduction

November 5, 2017

Dear Constituent:

Addressing Poverty and Racism in Columbia

Over the next two months, I would like to engage as many of you as possible in a community dialogue on poverty and racism. This will take place through this newsletter, in your responses to me and our ongoing individual discussions, and during upcoming Constituent Conversations at Dunn Brothers Coffee.

According to recent census data, about one-quarter of all Columbia residents live below the federal poverty level ($24,600 annual income for a family of 4). Almost one-half of children attending Columbia Public Schools qualify for free or reduced lunch because they are food-insecure at home. And poverty is directly connected with numerous other social ailments such as low educational attainment, low earning potential, a lack of health insurance, poor physical and mental health, and feelings of hopelessness - in a self-reinforcing, multi-generational vicious cycle that undermines the fabric of our entire community. What can we do to break this cycle?

And, as terrible as poverty is, it’s much more prevalent for some groups than for others. Whereas about 10% of White Americans live in poverty, the proportion is close to 30% for African-Americans, Native Americans, and Latinos/Latinas. Here, in Columbia, White unemployment is 4% whereas Black unemployment is 12% - down from about 16% a couple of years ago. Why is “race” such a significant predictor of poverty and statistics on other social issues such as crime and punishment? And what is “race,” anyway? And how about “racism?” And “White privilege?”

These are some of the questions I’d like to discuss with you, and I hope to hear your ideas, opinions, and suggestions for addressing poverty and racism in Columbia. These are vitally important issues for local government, as we strive to create an environment that supports a high quality of life for everyone in this community. In recent years, I have become aware of deeply entrenched inequality in our society, and entered a steep learning curve about these issues and ways to correct them.

During the course of my next three newsletters, I plan to share my thoughts on poverty and racism, provide links to online resources that go much deeper, and ask for your feedback. Here is my proposed schedule:

  • Sunday, November 19: Part 1 - The Poverty Trap
  • Sunday, December 3: Part 2 - A Brief History of Race
  • Sunday, December 17: Part 3 - Beloved Community

I am not an expert in social science - just a concerned member of society who happens to have the privilege of serving on City Council for a while - and so your input is critical. With that in mind, I’d like to kick-off each of these discussions with your responses to an open-ended question. So, to get us started, please send me your thoughts on the following question before November 19:

What do you believe are the causes of poverty?

Constituent Conversations

I will hold Constituent Conversations this afternoon (November 5th), and again on Sundays, November 19th, December 3rd and 17th, all from 2-4pm at Dunn Brothers Coffee.

Cheers, Ian