I just finished a book called “Whatever It Takes” by Paul Tough; borrowed from the good people at the Great Start Parent Coalition. It’s about Geoffrey Canada and the Harlem Children’s Zone; a comprehensive effort at changing the lives of kids who are pretty much destined to repeat the cycle of poverty. It stunned me.
The book also looks at differing ideas on what causes poverty. I feel like I can now at least semi-intelligently discuss why some people think social programs help. I can also completely understand why some people think they hurt. I am beginning to grasp that poverty is a very different phenomenon in different populations, but with similar outcomes. Should even bother to have hope that it can be ended? I think it can. Geoffrey Canada thinks we not only can, but that we should.
I’m fascinated and when I get fascinated with something, I also become insatiable. Within an hour of finishing the book, I went online to see if I could find more. More books, ideas, solutions. I had no intention of writing a blog post about this subject, or this book, but then I found this. It’s a poem, written by Geoffrey Canada. I feel like I am reading his diary, or eavesdropping on a prayer. It frustrates me because I don’t know how much is enough. I don’t know whose responsibility it is to fix the problems of poverty; or to what extent they can be fixed.
Don’t Blame Me
The girl’s mother said, “Don’t blame me.
Her father left when she was three.
I know she don’t know her ABCs, her 1,2,3s,
But I am poor and work hard you see.”
You know the story, it’s don’t blame me.
The teacher shook her head and said,
“Don’t blame me, I know it’s sad.
He’s ten, but if the truth be told,
He reads like he was six years old.
And math, don’t ask.
It’s sad you see.
Wish I could do more, but it’s after three.
Blame the mom, blame society, blame the system.
Just don’t blame me.”
The judge was angry, his expression cold.
He scowled and said, “Son you’ve been told.
Break the law again and you’ll do time.
You’ve robbed with a gun.
Have you lost your mind?”
The young man opened his mouth to beg.
“Save your breath,” he heard instead.
“Your daddy left when you were two.
Your momma didn’t take care of you.
Your school prepared you for this fall.
Can’t read, can’t write, can’t spell at all.
But you did the crime for all to see.
You’re going to jail, son.
Don’t blame me.”
If there is a God or a person supreme,
A final reckoning, for the kind and the mean,
And judgment is rendered on who passed the buck,
Who blamed the victim or proudly stood up,
You’ll say to the world, “While I couldn’t save all,
I did not let these children fall.
By the thousands I helped all I could see.
No excuses, I took full responsibility.
No matter if they were black or white,
Were cursed, ignored, were wrong or right,
Were shunned, pre-judged, were short or tall,
I did my best to save them all.”
And I will bear witness for eternity
That you can state proudly,
“Don’t blame me.”
‐ By Geoffrey Canada