By Micha Green, AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor, [email protected]
On a cold, snowy Thursday, students, professionals and the politically active packed into the Heritage Foundation for an Anti-Poverty forum, Nov. 15, where several panelists spoke on the topic of poverty and how to combat it in 2018.
Speakers included Sen. Marco Rubio (D-Fl.), pastor, author and former Fire Chief of the Atlanta Fire Department Kelvin Cochran and several advocates for faith-based support services, who spoke on the importance of determination to improve life, holding onto the American dream, family values and how faith in God is key to a more stable life.
The United States Census bureau reported in 2017 that people of color are disproportionately affected by destitution, with Blacks making up for 21.2 percent of the poverty rate, and Latinos accounting for 18.3 percent. Many conversations seemed to directly relate to Black and Brown people. Even with current success, Rubio and Cochran each shared their own family’s struggles with poverty.
“I try to remind myself every day that I am literally just a generation removed from poverty and despair. And sometimes I wonder where I would be at this very moment, or whether I would’ve even been born, if there had never been America,” Rubio said.
Cochran talked about his family’s trials and tribulations. After his father, an alcoholic, left his mother, his family struggled with six siblings sharing a room, the boys on one mattress and girls on another, eating mayonnaise sandwiches and drinking sugar water.
“We were poor when dad was living with us, but… we went to a lower socio-economic class called, ‘Po,’ just P-O. Because we didn’t have enough money for the whole word, P-O-O-R anymore,” Cochran told the crowd.
“I also realized that having a mom raising six kids alone was not God’s design for a family,” he said.
He knew from childhood he wanted to be a firefighter and a family man unlike his father. He was taught from his church community that faith, discipline and respect helped people achieve their dreams.
“If you believe in and have faith in God; if you go to school and work hard and get a good education; if you respect grown ups and treat other children like you want to be treated, all your dreams are going to come true. That got my attention and I focused on those four principles all of my life,” Cochran said.
“Because I continued to apply those principles, ultimately my dream came true and I became a firefighter in 1981. My dream to become a family man eventually came true. I married my 4th grade girlfriend when I became a firefighter,” he said, later revealing he has been married 36 years with three children all of whom are college graduates.
Focusing on the four principles taught him as a child and his mother’s belief in God and her children is what Cochran said made him successful.
“Back in the day and even today, our family would have been called, ‘At-risk families.’ You know what I’ve discovered ladies and gentleman? An at-risk family is a family that doesn’t have a vision for the future of their children. Has nothing to do with race, has nothing to do with socio-economic levels,” he said.
Another panel member spoke on faith-based religious organizations having the freedom to serve.
“Faith-based organizations provide irreplaceable help to our society,” said Emily Kao, director of the Richard and Helen DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at the Heritage Foundation. Kao, who moderated the panel, said faith-based organizations provide services adding up to over $303 billion per year.
Sherrie Laurie, executive director of the Downtown Soup Kitchen Hope Center in Anchorage, Alaska, explained why she feels her faith-based organization has been successful in offering shelter, showers, training and more for women in need.
“We’ve really stopped focusing so much on the hand out starting to focus more and more on the hand up and coming alongside them. But that can only be done with the transforming love of Jesus Christ,” Laurie said. “So it’s really focused on introducing them to Jesus Christ and calling them into their destiny and calling them into who he created them to be.