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Can we eradicate poverty in the United States?

J.L. Whitehead
J.L. Whitehead

Every day, I drive to work by way of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. I live on the outskirts of downtown Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, right outside of Camden, New Jersey. At the base of the bridge is the on ramp that will take me to the Vine Street Expressway which leads into the Schuylkill Expressway which eventually turns into Route 76. The drive generally takes me a little bit more than an hour each way.

Each day that I make this drive, I see a grim reminder of how far we have yet to go as a nation that supposedly values each and every one of her citizens. I see examples of the complete opposite end of the spectrum of wealth and prestige. Nestled bebeath the skyscrapers of the magnificent Philadelphia skyline reside the homeless; people so impoverished that underneath a bridge is the only place that they can seek shelter in an otherwise uncaring world.

As I’ve made my way to my job, I’ve glanced over to see the outline of someone sleeping on a makeshift bed consisting of a mattress with layers of blankets, sheets and comforters. I’ve watched some of the homeless as they weave their way between the rows of cars heading in and out of the city with paper cups in hand, hoping that someone would drop something inside. I’ve struggled with these images as I lay my head on my comfortable bed inside a place that is safe; in an environment where I know that I am loved.

I’ve been guilty of looking past them as they approached my car window. I’ve looked in another direction as if I didn’t see them coming because to acknowledge their presence would be a silent admission that my life has turned out better than theirs. All of the sudden, the guilt would creep up on me, whispering that I have more than they could ever aspire to have, and in that acknowledgement, I should be ashamed to not offer them something…even if I have nothing to give at the time.

This is my human side. It is in all of us. How many times have we passed someone holding out their hand in the street and we kept going, perhaps because we were too engrossed in our lives, worries and concerns? Did we ease our conscious by saying that the person asking for help would spend our hard earned money on booze and drugs? Did we comfort ourselves with the notion that the person that is begging for help got what they deserved for being lazy? Or did we console ourselves with the thought that instead of giving them food, water or money, we will give our money to our church because we know that there is a ministry there that deserves our dollars more than that person who is asking for help? Or did we become indifferent and dismiss them as casually as we would a bothersome fly on a hot summer day?

I’ve been that person at various stages in my life. But now I ask myself one very important question: Am I my brother’s keeper? And once I answer that question, I follow it up with another: What can I do to change the world if I could?

We live in land of overabundance. We live in a land where someone has to be rich and someone has to be poor, and the polar opposites are frightening. On one end, you have the corporate executive who gets millions of dollars in bonuses on top of his six or seven figure salary. And on the other end is the very person who is sleeping under a bridge in bitter winter weather.
I don’t understand how in a nation of abundance can we have people living in the street and also have people with more money than they could ever dream of spending in four lifetimes. I don’t fault the wealthy for being wealthy any more than I fault the poor for being poor. But it seems to me that if we each give just a little…and by little I mean a little food, a little water, a little clothing, a little time…how much better would this world be?

As for me, I have taken the time to do something. The something that I do isn’t for you to know. That’s between me and the God I serve. I am not perfect. I am not nor will I ever be holier than thou. But I do understand that giving isn’t always about money.

Sometimes, it’s about something more.

~ J.L. Whitehead

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