odede

Kennedy Odede has made one of the most compelling statements I’ve heard in discussions on urban poverty, violence, hopelessness.

The urban poor are so close to the city’s opportunities — but they always remain out of reach.

I’ve tended to think in categories of developed and developing worlds.  North American and the now outdated term ‘third world’.  American and everywhere-else worlds.  Poverty is relative, dependent on these large geographic and socio-economic distinctions.  Sure, poverty exists in Chicago but compared with Kibura

But what if the categories today are urban and non-urban?

Odede points at poverty lived in places where a person can see how others live in contrast to their life.  So close yet so distant.  In our most densely populated places, our cities.

A 2011 study in the Journal of Peace Research found that the perpetuation of Islamist extremism was more significantly associated with urban poverty than with variables like religiosity, lack of education and income dissatisfaction.

During the late 20th century children grew up in public housing high-rises in Chicago within blocks, even within sight of life lived out by some of the most affluent Chicagoans.  Cabrini-Green and the Gold Coast.  Henry Horner Homes and streams of Blackhawks and Bulls fans on Madison Street.  It would have been cruel reminders if not for getting used to it.  But at times most became aware of the gulf between their trapped existence and one that they eventually came to accept was unattainable.

Gail and I saw boys and girls starting to realize this around age twelve.  I wonder, is there a correlation between this realization and that of the Santa exposé?

They still remained boys and girls.  But whenever this realization took place a somber quality entered their boyishness and girlishness.  They began a journey to a reality of inner city adulthood.

There is a story in the Gospel of Luke of a rich man and a poor man.  The poor man lay suffering at the gate of the rich man who feasted daily.  Watching and wishing for the food which dropped from the table.  The poor man dies, angels carry him to be with Abraham.  The rich man dies and tormented in Hades sees far away the poor man with Abraham.  Pleading, he receives no relief.  Why?  Justice. And an immutable condition:  between you and us a great chasm has been fixed.   There is no movement between Abraham and Hades (Luke 16:26).

Distance plays in this story.  The sumptuous table within sight of the hungry.   Comfort seen by the damned, yet far away.

Recently I posted the New York Times story of Dasani, a girl living with her family in one of New York’s homeless shelters.  Located in Brooklyn five blocks from a $1.63 million penthouse.  A neighborhood of $3 malt liquor in a deli across the street from $740 chardonnay at Gnarly Vines.

Poverty makes a second hit on those who do not have what they see others with.  Living in want comes with its own exhaustion and anxieties.  But a smoldering pain comes with seeing the sumptuous banquet from the gate.  Wealth made conspicuous on the street, the TV screen.  It also brings the danger of coveting which can lead to a host of rather unpleasant outcomes.

Coveting inoculation.  My mother enjoys recounting her young boy’s Sunday church recitation of the Bible verse be content with what you have (Hebrews 13:5).  Can it be done?  Somehow we must for the sake of our own soul.

But woe unto any who put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea  (Matthew 18:6).

It’s quite a contrast to make during these recent days of opinions on the 50th anniversary of America’s war on poverty.  Odede says that the best strategy in Kenya is to fight poverty.

Instead of investing billions of dollars on drones, let’s focus on augmenting economic opportunities and providing basic and essential services like health care and education.

And in America?  It may not be as in Kenya, terrorist groups recruiting young people from slums.  Other scenarios of hopelessness play out in our cities when there seems only one option.

Movement was needed, in the here and now, between the rich man and the poor man.  Movement here and now.  It’s not too late for either the poor or the rich.

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