Each year this event raises nearly $100,000 for the Boys and Girls Club, as well as another charity to improve the deteriorating main streets of our county’s largest town. This year was the first year I was able to attend, so I jumped at the chance. What I learned was more than just the names of some of our county’s most affluent individuals. I also learned that as much as they are willing to give, they are also severely disconnected from the reality so many of us face.
During his speech, the Assistant Director of the Boys and Girls Club listed many reasons to donate to that cause. Of course, helping children is always a good enough reason, but these children he mentioned were, apparently, a special case.
“These kids,” he lamented, “come from homes where the only father they know are whatever boyfriend their moms drag home that week.”
He never mentioned that the youth who attend his daily club are talented, intelligent youngsters often facing the barrier of poverty for a plethora of reasons.
Never did he say many of them have fathers who have left them with no support. The man never mentioned that many children from our community have experienced, alongside their mothers, domestic violence. The speaker never said that many of the children who utilize the Boys and Girls Club come from homes where their caretakers work, often multiple jobs. He also never articulated that some of these kids come from homes where the single parent is the father.
The words bolting from this man’s mouth were only disparaging remarks about single moms, intimating that all single mothers are promiscuous, neglectful, and poor.
Perhaps he was only speaking to the largely ultra-conservative audience in order to garner large donations. However, his message might as well have been in large flashing lights:
RICH PEOPLE DO NOT UNDERSTAND POOR PEOPLE
Yes. Let’s all give to “those poor people.”
It reminded me of the book The Help when the ladies were collecting monies for “the poor people in Africa.” They didn’t have any empathy for them. Rather, they felt it was their “white duty” to help “better” the lives of Africans, and I think these people with whom I was breaking bread felt exactly the same way.
My children were boys who went to the Boys and Girls Club when they were young. We struggled to figure out how to keep my young sons entertained whilst I worked a few extra hours so we could pay our rent, and my sons enjoyed the group activities and sports.
I was married at the time my children utilized the facility, and we paid the dues necessary for them to use it and play sports. We were low income, but we worked and struggled without public assistance. I was not promiscuous, nor was I a neglectful mother. My sons knew their father.
The remark made by this assistant director knocked the wind from me for a moment. I was embarrassed that my children had been members of that club. Had he thought the same thing about my young sons while he watched them play basketball? Was this his opinion of me as I picked them up in the evening?
“Poor” was a disease he and the large group of attendees had seen, but never experienced. It was something for which they had the luck of being inoculated, probably since birth. The old money present in this room had been all the preventative care needed to keep these folks from ever experiencing poverty. What’s more, they didn’t seem to care to understand. Filling out their checks was all they needed to do. They had set out to save “those people” by handing over a few dollars, and there was no need for empathy or understanding.
The plight of the poor was beneath them.
The atmosphere of the event changed for me as this man continued his speech. My $200 a plate dinner—a gift to me I felt guilty eating—seemed spoiled by his words; by the attitude of those around me. Sure, lots of money was floating about, but what really mattered to me, kindness and empathy, wasn’t present.
I left shortly after he finished his speech.
I may not be rich, but I understand one thing: The longstanding stereotype that poor people have no morals, specifically poor, single mothers, disturbs me. I’ve known far more single moms who are too busy trying to bring themselves and their children up out of poverty to worry with finding a boyfriend. I’ve also known many poor kids who have worked hard to achieve success and end the cycle of poverty.
Maybe the poor folks of my community should hold a benefit for the very rich. Instead of giving them money, maybe we could give them something they don’t have: Understanding and empathy.
Tammie Niewedde shares her life with 24, 21, and 16 year old sons. She also has a 2 year old grandson whose energy level reminds her exactly how old she is (40, and she owns that proudly!). In her home, you will find a 120 pound fur factory named Dexter and a few cats whom have decided that she is merely their staff. The root of her love for books, writing, and animals comes from being a child whose only siblings were books and her animals. She is a full-time student, mother, coordinator of all that is chaos, and a hopeless list maker. Most of her writing is creative non-fiction that describes her real life adventures. Her acerbic, biting sense of humor may capture your heart, or it may induce rage. Nonetheless what she writes is true to life. You can often find her hanging out with the kiddos, studying, reading, writing, and making lists…of everything! You can find her on Facebook!