9.17.2014

Ending Poverty? The Time is Now.

I tend to try to live my life on an even keel. A "breathe in, breathe out, just keep moving forward" perpetual motion thing. For example, as a runner who has been training for my first full marathon, I've had to learn a great deal about pacing and purpose. If, during training, I run faster than the pace I'm scheduled to run, I risk an injury. While I absolutely CAN run fast, I shouldn't always do so, for it interferes with the ultimate purpose of training-which is to prepare my mind and body to cross a finish line healthy and successfully after navigating the terrain of a marathon. 

I also try to keep this kind of focus in the work I do as an anti-poverty advocate with RESULTS. In fact, when I speak with many of volunteers and colleagues, we often refer to our advocacy work as a marathon, not a sprint. It's much easier to achieve the vision of ending poverty by 2030 if you work with the mind set of what do we need to accomplish now in order to get to then. While there is an urgency in the work we do, if we don't pace ourselves we will find we have lost our momentum and drive...and have miles to go before crossing the finish line. 

I also know this. As a runner I am often asked by others for advice on how to run a successful 5k when they've never run before. Now I only know what works for me, personally, and I try to advise while providing that disclosure. Recently I ran a 5k in 22:20. That was a personal best for me, and at 45, I placed first in my division and was fourth place overall out of all the women running that day-and only two minutes behind the lead female runner (who was half my age). But that time, that pace, was only achieved after training since January to improve and increase my stamina and speed. In fact, my first 5k race over two years ago was a personal best of 32:08. And I was thrilled with that accomplishment as I had just started running. But the training program I follow is not one size fits all. It's personal to my height, weight, and purpose. Which is why when I advise my friends who ask about training that I can only speak from my experience, but that they need to explore what works best for them and not compare it to anyone else. 

Now, returning to anti-poverty advocacy. While the organization I work for and support has great tools to help volunteers speak about poverty and help create a movement for sustainable long term change, by no means do we ever say we are the ONLY organization doing this work. We welcome partners and work closely with allies because we know that each organization is more effective when we are collaborating on the issues, not competing for our volunteers voices and stories. 

So I admit that sometimes I lose my even-keelness when I read articles or social media posts from organizations that I support which claim to be the only group doing anything effective...on anything. It's not just anti-poverty advocacy mind you, but the whole notion that if you belong and support multiple groups you, the advocate, are being ineffective and inefficient. 

That is simply not true. 

While I would love every single one of my family members and friends to be a part of the work I do at RESULTS (and believe me they get asked all the time), I recognize that for some picking up the phone and scheduling an appointment with a member of Congress is not something they are comfortable with...just like they have little inclination to ever run a marathon like I am going to. But the knowledge that they support me in my work, as an advocate and as a runner, means that I know that I am never alone. 

But I cannot do this alone. Now is the time for you to take an action. To step out of your comfort zone and set a pace. 

Because recent census data reveals that, as Talk Poverty points out, "the share of families struggling on the economic brink also remains elevated, with about one-third of Americans--33.9 percent--just one paycheck, sick child, or broken-car away from poverty." 

45.3 million Americans live in poverty. 

Let me repeat that. 

45.3 MILLION AMERICANS LIVE IN POVERTY. 

That should make you very un-even keel. That should make you stop and take that deep breath. That should make you loudly exhale. That should make you say unacceptable to anyone and everyone who will listen. 

Of the 4,247,103 residents of the Commonwealth of Kentucky where I live, 823,197 are living in poverty. The poverty rate for Kentucky is 19.38% which is -4.16% worse that the United States average. The child poverty rate is 26.5% which is -5.27% worse that the United States average. 

Let me say it. UNACCEPTABLE. 

These just aren't numbers on a spread sheet or a bar graph. These are our family members, our children's classmates, our friends, people we pass by as we walk to work, and those we stand next to a the grocery store as we wait to buy our groceries. These are people who are sleeping on a family member's couch, who are going to bed hungry every night, and are choosing between buying diapers or paying an electric bill, because they cannot afford to do both. Poverty isn't someone else's issue, even if the media doesn't want to talk about it or address it. It isn't someone else's problem, even if we believe we don't have a problem in the world. Poverty is about you and me and us, and WE. 

Marathon training is a process. I tend to run alone. It's hard to find people who want to keep my pace (whether they are faster or slower runners than I) and often times running a long run (like I just did for 18.6 miles) is a solitary experience. However, even though much of my effort is solo, I'm not alone in my endeavor. I have a large group of people who send me virtual high-fives and family that make sure I have ample supplies of coconut water and protein bars to refuel with. 

I cannot do it alone. It is a team effort. 

Just like ending poverty. 

I work with RESULTS because I believe WE have "the power to end poverty" for as John Green said, "there is no Them. There are only facets of Us."

So whether you sign an online petition (or several from several different groups), send a letter to an editor, tweet a statistic, share an article, speak to a group, speak to a friend, or speak so often you lose your voice, just step up and out and do it. 

Every marathon is run one mile at a time and every time is the right time. 

And as for ending poverty? There is no time like the present. Let's go. 

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