Opinion & Commentary - J. J. Peloquin
I just finished reading David Brooks column in the NY Times: The Nature of Poverty. It is, of course well written but rather inconclusive. His principle conclusion seems to be that money alone cannot cure poverty ... well no S**t! While the blame game is still in progress. Baltimore has a young, AG, with poise, courage, and initiative who pulled the plug on the violence by being both black and competent ... the immediate culpability for Mr. Gray's death is being aggressively pursued. Still, this leaves the larger question unanswered and some may even say unanswerable. In industry, we often use the 5 Why's to get to the root cause of a problem. However, in this instance it seems that the 'why's may well stretch out to, "...infinity and beyond."
On April 21st I published a piece on Linkedin’s Pulse titled: "The War on Poverty is Over - We Lost” Earlier on March 3rd. I published another titled: Global Poverty: A Meta Systems Problem. I am neither a social scientist, nor am I a trained sociologist, or an Economist like poverty expert, Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, author of numerous books, advisor to the UN and creator of the Millennium Development Goals for eradicating poverty. A man with whom, by the way, the State of Maryland should immediately confer.
I am a trained forensic analyst of human behavior, experienced in event cause and analysis in business and industry, hence my view of poverty as a Meta system. I submit that the opinions and conclusions presented in my earlier PULSE posts contain some clues that need to be pursued. These are factors and issues necessary for a systematic analysis of Baltimore's plight, I am also quite familiar with places that would make West Baltimore look like the proverbial lap of luxury, places like the Kibera slums of Nairobi, Kenya. For a number of years I worked as Managing Editor for Micro Finance Focus Magazine and covered the many organizations seeking to address global poverty. I got a chance to study them and have come to a number of conclusions. Some of them are in the two pieces mentioned above.
West Baltimore is no paradise no matter one's perspective. Burned out hulks of houses, blocks boarded up, with no jobs and no hope of jobs for anyone who lives there. One thing I learned when studying the issue from the perspective of low resource environments (euphemism for poverty) it's hard to lie to the poor because they are experts. They have a very strong bull***t detector. I can also tell you this without any fear of contradiction. Poverty like economics is more psychology than numbers. A sense of apathy, 1hopelessness and even despair is pervasive. That of course and suspicion.
The poor have been hustled so many times by politicians, non-profits, and our governments that they believe no one. This is true not only in this country but in all countries. Here is the post traumatic social event scenario:
In the Sandown-Winchester section of Baltimore, the home of Mr. Gray (the victim) and most of the rioters as well, a wave of civic minded folks will descend upon them, spread some cash, a few developers will make some money as will some local and national non profits and in a year or two it will all be gone and the problems, the poverty, and the crime will still be there. A few hustling residents may make it out but they will quickly move out of the neighborhood.
Ok, so what's to be done? First, let's stop talking about creating jobs ... there are no jobs! Not for the people in West Baltimore. We have to bring jobs. We can bring sustainable jobs but jobs, although critical are not the only answer. Jobs must be decent paying jobs with a future. Not menial, and not demeaning. This is a critical part of the challenge of poverty.
Anyone who would create a successful intervention must first and foremost gain the trust of the people. Failing that, as we have seen in case after case, the effort will ultimately fail. Trust is a crucial prerequisite. It cannot be externally derived. It will not and cannot come from outside. Trust must be earned and it is constantly under stress. Trust is like virginity. It is easily lost and impossible to retrieve. Trust of the community will come from inside. It will come from the people who live there, or it will not come at all.
Another principle I found common to successful interventions. Any sustainable solution strategy will be found in the creative and engaged people of West Baltimore. Anyone who would facilitate such a solution would do well to attend the words of Edith Monroe, founder of Kenya's Jamil Bora (Our Family) her first rule of engagement is: Link organically to the people! That means bring them into the planning and management of the rebuilding process.
Another lesson from global poverty interventions: Hopefully, we have learned the lessons of, ... too much charity. Charity is a wonderful and compassionate human characteristic but like sugar, or salt, easily overdone and it spoils the dish. Success will come from an artful mix of charity, investment (not outright grants) and select enterprise. Without question enterprise is a key component. Charity is only a Solution for emergencies. Any comprehensive and sustainable solution must be economically viable, first!
Solution strategies, tools, and resources acquired in the developing world can be applied to in Baltimore. The most important resource here is NOT MONEY. It is the engaged and empowered energy and intelligence of the people of the community. First and foremost one must deal with them from a place of total integrity and remember it is the psychology of hope in a real and practical future that is most necessary to bring to West Baltimore back and to reunite the citizens of Sandtown with the City of Baltimore.