After dinner tonight, I sat down and watched the end of North Carolina People with William Friday and guest Gene Nichol of the UNC School of Law Center on Poverty, Work & Opportunity. Nichol was quite animated in his description of the extreme poverty being suffered by the citizens down east.
During my professional career as a computer consultant, I had the opportunity to travel all over this great state and witnessed the crushing poverty endured by those in rural areas, particularly down east, caused by a lack of employment opportunities. Back then, Latinos competed for menial jobs, but I understand things are so bad now, many of them have left.
Here is a recent article by Nichol in the N&O:
[O]ur speaker of the North Carolina House announces his aim “to divide and conquer people on assistance.” We need “to show respect for that woman who has cerebral palsy… and get [her] to look down [on] people who choose to get in a condition that makes them dependent on government.”
Another stalwart legislator claims, flatly, unapologetically, in committee hearing, “we have no one in the state of North Carolina living in extreme poverty.” He rejected the Census Bureau’s finding that over a half million Tar Heels, and about 300,000 of our children, live in deep poverty. Nor was he moved, one guesses, by the determination that over 10 percent of the kids in his home county (Onslow) endure extreme poverty.
The words Nichols said tonight on WUNC nearly brought me to tears and will haunt me for days. However, what is worse is that his pleas continue to go unheard. According to him, Elizabeth City has 26 beds for the homeless and nearly 1000 people vying for them. We need to recognize that life down east is hard in the best of times. Therefore, they are the first to suffer and to feel it most in hard times like these. If we consider ourselves moral people responsible for the least of us, it is crucial that we remember no matter how hard things are for us, they are immeasurably worse for others who have never enjoyed our opportunities and never shall. Indeed, for most of them the stark choice is to leave or perish.
I am encouraged that people like Nichol and his organization exist to speak on behalf of our most impoverished. Likewise, my resolve to oppose those like the John Locke Foundation, whose benefactor’s profits are derived from such communities and who seek to keep them down, is strengthened in like measure.
My concern is less about bringing down the richest .1% and more about raising up the poorest among us. As a developer of software for insurance companies which supported slum lords, I feel a duty to undo some of the damage I may have facilitated. If nothing else, I can at least shed some light on the social darkness which persists in our rural areas and especially in our eastern counties where minorities and women continue to be treated as chattel.
Nichol mentioned something which I have seen again and again: that the poorest among us normally conduct themselves with the utmost dignity, as though that was their last possession. These people can teach us, who enjoy so many blessing which we take for granted, much about rectitude in the face of unbelievable and unremitting hopelessness.