I still remember the white box my mother received twice a week, full of canned vegetables, pasta, and other non-perishable foods that she’d stretch as far as possible. A WIC recipient, she worked hard, but depended on that box and sometimes food stamps to keep me and my siblings healthy and fed.
For us, those supports did much more than ease our growling stomachs. They were footholds for escaping poverty in a post-industrialized city left to rot. They gave me the nutrition I needed to thrive as a budding athlete in high school, which eventually helped me earn a scholarship to college, and go from there to a career in education, to grad school, and now to a point where I can give back to my mother, take care of my family, support my community, and help guide others along similar paths.
Now, the Trump Administration is proposing to cut many of these and other programs that I and so many of my friends and neighbors have relied on. The Administration’s budget proposal includes $1 trillion dollars in cuts to children’s healthcare, food security, affordable housing, and even college access that will challenge families who simply strive for better life opportunities in the face of overwhelming disadvantages. Reviewing the proposal saddened me and left me considering whether there will ever be an exit to poverty for our most vulnerable communities when those leading our country seem to view them with such contempt and indifference.
I suspect that the President and cabinet members like Ben Carson, who recently called poverty “a state of mind,” would look at me as a sort of proof point: The determined girl from East St. Louis who pulled herself up by her bootstraps, as the saying goes. That’s a lie. The only difference between my experience and those still struggling in my hometown is a few additional opportunities that were afforded to me and not them. That's all.
I'm not special, and my family and I have had tons of help along the way. I can’t begin to imagine how my path to and through college would have been possible without the right nutrition and medical care provided for every bruise, fracture, and ache I had throughout childhood. Yet if the current budget proposal passes, millions of families like mine and many of the families we support every day at EdNavigator will find it immeasurably harder to put food on the table, care for children with special needs, get good jobs, pay for college, and even ensure their kids have a place to go after school.
Without these safety nets, the dreams of first-generation college students will be shattered, communities will fragment further, and the vicious cycle of intergenerational poverty in our country will become even harder to escape.
The way our country allocates funding should move us toward equity rather than disadvantage. It should work for all of us and not just some. If the President and our elected leaders are serious about making America great again, they need to recognize that being great means taking care of each other, and that it takes more than willpower and personal responsibility to free yourself from the quicksand of poverty. Extending a hand isn’t always the same as giving a hand-out.