Putting faces on poverty is a necessary first step to solving the chronic problems that face communities across the state
ROCKY MOUNT (January 20, 2012) – Seeing the faces of poverty in North Carolina can and should have a profound impact on lawmakers, say advocates for the poor who have just completed the first leg of a state-wide tour of the state's communities.
The first leg of the "Truth and Hope Tour of Poverty in North Carolina," a state-wide tour of rural counties and inner city neighborhoods where North Carolinians have struggled to find work, decent housing, transportation, and sufficient food for their families, concluded today with a stop in Rocky Mount. The bus tour also stopped in Winton and Scotland neck Friday.
The North Carolina NAACP, NC Justice Center, UNC Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity and the Institute For Civic Engagement and Social Change at North Carolina Central University departed from Raleigh on Jan. 19 with a bus full of activists, reporters, foundation leaders, and scholars. The group visited six communities during this leg of the trip.
"We met and talked with parents who can't afford healthy food for their children, homeless men without a place to sleep, and a host of people who struggle to meet even the most basic needs," said Rev. Dr. William Barber II, chair of the NC State NAACP. "No one can look at these faces and not agree that we must begin the long, hard, necessary and righteous work of changing this harsh reality for the good of the whole of our state and nation."
Traveling through the northeast portion of the state, the group met with hundreds of local people struggling with poverty, joblessness and homelessness.
Among those people: a pastor with elderly parishioners who must rely on cat food to survive; several of the 1,000 or so homeless men in Elizabeth City who must try to find one of the city's fewer than 30 shelter beds; and tornado victims still struggling to put their lives back together after the loss of their homes and all their possessions.
"Poverty is a wound on the human heart, and we found people throughout the trip who wanted to share their pain," said Gene Nichol, director of the UNC Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity. "We wanted this tour to be less about shocking economic statistics, and more about the words of those most directly affected."
Underinvestment plagues rural North Carolina, the tour found. Some towns had to fight for decades even to get adequate sewer and clean water infrastructure for their communities. In Washington County, Truth & Hope tour participants heard about the dozens of lost teacher jobs and the people who start lining up at the food bank at 8 p.m. for the morning food delivery at 9 a.m. They stay all night.
Rural communities and communities of color have been hit particularly hard by the economic crisis. Organizers say the tour is a way to listen as well as a means to highlight the concerns of North Carolinians most affected by poverty and economic injustice.
"If we're serious about a North Carolina with real opportunity and prosperity for all, we have to address the legacies of neglect, isolation and racial discrimination that has a continual effect on our state's communities of color," said Melinda Lawrence, executive director of the NC Justice Center. "It's long past time we stopped the chronic underinvestment in rural communities and communities of color across North Carolina."
These areas of North Carolina, tour participants said, face chronic underinvestment. Hope for the future must come from renewed attention to these historically isolated communities.
"The folk we met are hardworking, resilient, hopeful people,” said Barber. “It's no sin to be poor. But it is sin to ignore our brothers and sisters who are in poverty, and to make economic decisions that continue to keep them poor."
The multiracial tour group called on state leaders, including both lawmakers and business owners, to act against poverty, defend voting rights and place a strong emphasis on economic justice. Truth and Hope participants also urged people from around the state to march on Raleigh this Feb. 11 with the Historic Thousands on Jones St. (HK on J) coalition.
A video trailer of the tour, which contains footage from listening sessions, is available online here.
The tour stops for this first leg of the trip included Washington, Roper, Elizabeth City, Winton, Scotland Neck and Rocky Mount.
The second leg of the Truth and Hope tour will visit southeastern North Carolina, and will begin shortly after this year's HK on J.
FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II, President, NC NAACP, 919.394.8137; Mrs. Amina Turner, Executive Director, NC NAACP, 919-682-4700; Jeff Shaw, Director of Communications, NC Justice Center, 503.551.3615 (cell).