Friday, September 01, 2006

Fighting Poverty for Dummies 4

Time to focus on the US inner city and another home grown Jedi.

John Perkins

Who’s Who? African-American Christian leader and founder of the Christian Community Development Association.

Must Read: Beyond Charity: The Call to Christian Community Development and With Justice For All.

What’s the Big Idea? Some background to Dr. P's stuff.

--His butt and soul kicking experience of racism and class and cultural prejudice in both pre-civil rights Mississippi and post-civil rights LA convinced him that unless people can get together in spite of those barriers you can forget about ending poverty.

--He noticed that white people fled urban neighborhoods for racially segregated suburbs as fast as they could after WW2, just about when "colored people" started showing up in the hood.

He recognized that middle class blacks took their cue from white flight as soon as legal segregation ended and also fled their old black urban neighborhoods.

This left huge communities of very poor and unskilled inner city blacks—and later Latinos who followed a similar pattern—‘marooned’ in huge urban pockets of multi-generational poverty. Perkins saw that when you take the most educated and achieving people out of a community you get a community without the resources and role models to grow in healthy way. "Middle class flight" consigned the poorest of the urban poor to a poverty trap they couldn't escape without serious efforts and intervention. Very similar to Sachs' take on the the poorest of the international poor.

--Finally, he came to believe that the Christian church should take the lead in bringing about both reconciliation and the long term effort to transform poor urban neighborhoods in the US.

He rejected the saving individual souls alone approach. He argued that the church should focus on influencing whole neighborhoods and communities for the better. Perkins recognized that the hopelessness and desperation in inner city communities required a spiritual antidote that no government program or market oriented intervention could provide. He came to believe that spiritual renewal and even revival were critical in raising poor communities out of poverty.

As a response, he developed The Three R’s, a mini-me summary of his poverty fighting approach and philosophy:

** Relocation: He calls on middle and upper middle class people of color as well as whites to move into urban poor neighborhoods. In particular, he challenges Christian people to relocate among the poor, live there over the long haul, and become full community members sharing the struggles and challenges of those communities. Rather than simply showing up to impose programs or solutions from the outside, or simply “throwing a check over the wall,” Perkins argues for a development approach where the poor and their relocating neighbors are ‘in it together’ and working side by side to overcome the challenges of urban, inner city life.

** Reconciliation: He challenges both relocators and neighbors to build friendships and relationships across racial, cultural and socio-economic barriers. Perkins understands that unless people get down to caring for one another as 'actual' neighbors, de facto segregation and economic injustice will persist and the inner city poor will stay stuck right where they are.

** Redistribution: Perkins means the redistribution of every kind of resource into inner city neighborhoods to help those communities develop. Primarily, he’s talking about the experience, education, skills, and financial resources that relocators can bring to poor communities, but he also stresses that everyone—poor or not—has important contributions to make in the community effort to improve the neighborhood and the lives of the people there.

Who’s Walkin’ the Talk? At this point hundreds of churches and non-profits in inner cities all across the US are members of the CCDA, which is the organization/movement that serves as a kind of umbrella for groups and individuals pursuing Perkins’ development approach. The numbers continue to grow as the movement and philosophy spread.

My Take: Full disclosure here. Dr. Perkins is the only Jedi type I know personally, and my family and I spent many years advancing and living his approach.

His greatest contributions in my mind:

The focus on racial and ethnic and socio-economic reconciliation. He’s the only one of my model poverty fighters who insists on the importance of reconciliation. Lots of international anti-poverty efforts fall apart because they don't take reconciliation seriously. When they do--just take a look at South Africa--economies tend to grow and more people get a chance to make a decent living.

It’s pretty obvious really. When people hate or distrust each other it's hard to get anything done. Period.

His insistence on personal responsibility. Not just for the poor, but for the middle class and the wealthy. Dr. Perkins believes the government has an important role in helping lift the poor out of poverty—he was arrested doing civil disobedience just this year in DC protesting Republican efforts to slash important and useful programs for the poor out of the federal budget--but he rejects fundamentally paternalistic approaches and demands that both the poor and the fortunate jump in and get their hands dirty in coming up with solutions.

His recognition that spiritual renewal is central to economic development. Others--like Martin Luther King and Gandhi and even in some respects Mandela—have recognized this too, but you’d be hard pressed to find mention of it in most current development approaches. Development that proactively involves people of faith tends to get it done. That should be obvious to anybody with their eyes open (doh!) but it isn’t for whatever reason.

As much as I like Dr. P’s approach and philosophy, I think the jury is still out on the CCDA and The Three R’s. Thousands are involved in CCDA style groups around the country, but so few people have gotten on board with the movement that it’s a tiny drop in the bucket in urban America.

Also, many CCDA style communities stop growing after they relocate and build relationships across barriers and start working with inner city youth. Until these communities get more disciplined and sophisticated in their approaches to community development—with tools like community organizing, political influence, housing, job creation, etc—I fear they’ll be just another idealistic Christian effort that means well but doesn't accomplish much.

In spite of all of it, though, Dr. P's got some key clues to the long term anti-poverty mystery. No doubt in my mind.

Next time: Mike Davis--the “Cyber-Punk Prophet”--Takes on Capitalism


Anonymous vonstroh said...

Thanks for this post. I gotta get my hands on Perkins' books, I think that would be good for me to read at this stage. The relocating thing, that's so attractive to me. And of course, I've done it in a major way. But still, I don't feel like I'm really there yet. I think its the difference between being a fundraised misso and being a guy with a good job and connections who then decides to live in the 'hood to be salt and light there. Sometimes I think it would be easier mentally/spiritually to do the latter than to be the fundraised misso. And I feel like my life would make more sense to my neighbors and I might have more to bring. And my life would make less sense (and thus be more prophetic) to other westerners who already have a box for misso's, but not crazy working relocators. Thus, it would be easier to pull in others as partners and teammates. (Though still a tough sell.)

1:11 AM  
Blogger Seven Star Hand said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

6:41 PM  
Blogger Wordcat said...

Definitely no boxes for relocators :^)

Could be a good option Dave.

8:38 PM  

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