Usually my postings are pretty light fare... poking fun at myself, showing off some strange contraption that helped me crack an egg better, gettting excited about Google Analytics... but I was recently invited to participate in something a lot more serious. Perhaps she read about one of my worst moments here and thought I would want to Take It On (get it? the name of my blog...). Well, she was right.
This reader of my blog has one of her own that often has very powerful and meaningful messages... Life – Inspired by the Wee Man. Today she has invited people to write about Child Poverty. Here is my submission:
With skin the color of milk spilled into dirty dishwater, you could tell something was not right. His eyes were a hungry abyss, reflecting the physical emptiness of his belly. He never had breakfast. And he was always late to school, so even if his mother had bothered to sign him up for the school's free breakfast program, he never would have had the opportunity to benefit from it.
Lunch was a baggie of Ritz-like crackers... he told me proudly that he had made his own lunch. Tomorrow it would be goldfish... if his mom made it to the store, he told me... and sighed. We both knew that would probably not happen. He didn't even notice the smell of pizza in the cafeteria as he ravenously savaged those pseudo-Ritz. I think at that point he had conditioned himself to not notice that which he knew he wouldn't be getting. Too bad his mom didn't take the time to sign him up for the lunch program either.
His pants were at least 4 inches too short. His sleeves also. His shoes were too big, and the laces were busted. Never had a jacket. When it was cold, he wore a thin, zip-front, grey hoodie that almost matched his complexion. His fingernails were blackened crescents. The other kids stayed away from him. "Kyle is weird," some of them would say. "Kyle is gross," others said. But mostly they just ignored him, tuning out that which they couldn't really understand and found distasteful. He was all but invisible.
When he was absent for two weeks in a row, no one noticed. And when he came back with new clothes and a lunchbox (!) the change was unacknowledged. Apparently he had gone to his grandmother's house for the holidays. She had tried to get custody of him and had failed. But at least she was able to set him up for a little while with a few things that can make all the difference to maintain a child's sense of hope.
Parents of his classmates only noticed that Kyle was a disruption. "He is violent!" they protested. "He should be expelled!" was a familiar refrain. No one asked, "How can I help?"
I would go home from my 3-days a week, volunteer classroom aide experience and talk about having Kyle come over after school so that he wouldn't have to go home (though from what I heard, it oughtn't really have been called 'home') to an empty place and be alone. I never really knew why his mother wasn't there in the afternoons... she didn't work.
Kyle was just one of the invisible children of poverty in that particular classroom. Another was Sariyah who missed more days than she attended because they were always moving around; they were homeless. And her mom was often too out of it to get her to school at all, let alone on time.
This school is not in some inner city ghetto or some backwater rural town, it is located in a very progressive, middle class, medium-sized city that houses one of America's most renowned universities. Even with social programs in place, these kids are still victims of poverty. They are not on the other side of the globe... they are sitting in classrooms with our children. Instead of turning a blind eye and relying on failing (though ambitious) social programs ... or even worse, striving to eliminate social programs that especially help children... it is up to each of us as caring and compassionate individuals to SEE the essence of what is in front of us. It is time to look beneath the distasteful, dirty, scary, painful surface and NOTICE the child that sits there... hungry for attention, hungry for knowledge, hungry for food. It's time to reach out a hand and endeavor to bring the invisible into our collective line of vision.
I wonder what happened to Kyle. He was a brilliant child... tested off the charts on all of the state-mandated testings. He would be 24. I wonder if he made it.
Children's Defense Fund... end child poverty
A Call to End Child Poverty