It hit me that poverty is not OK when I started mentoring a young girl in Philadelphia. We met every week and worked on school work and writing assignments. Sometimes we would goof off but once in awhile, our conversations would turn to serious things….like how her single mom worked two jobs to support my mentee and her sister; how they were left alone at home a lot because her mom couldn’t afford a babysitter; and how she often felt scared when she heard gun shots on her street.
It frustrated me that this beautiful, smart girl was attending a school where she felt unsafe. I would ask her why she would just ignore certain school assignments, but then realized…when I was 10, my mom was at home every evening making sure I finished my school work. Her mom was working a second job to ensure that she and her sister had something to eat for dinner.
She often came to our meetings hungry, not having eaten anything that day. I started bringing healthy snacks and sandwiches with me to our meetings - knowing that at least one day a week, she would eat something other than chips and sour patch kids. I couldn’t blame her though, and I couldn’t blame her mom who I got to know as well. She was a wonderful, loving, hard-working, dedicated mother - she just couldn’t get ahead.
It made me angry that this family was stuck in a systemic cycle of poverty in a city where wealth disparity was in our faces every day. I knew then that poverty wasn’t ok with me - because poverty has a face, and a heart.