When Ruby Payne came to the University of Memphis in late March with her message about children and adults transitioning from a life of poverty, she left attendants in the crowded ballroom with one overall theme: There is so much undeveloped talent in individuals in poverty simply because the understandings and the tools for transition out of poverty have not been available.
The sold-out seminar, sponsored by United Way of the Mid-South and the Assisi Foundation, brought educators, public defenders, police officers and other social service professionals together to learn more about the challenges people in poverty face in everyday living.
Payne took attendees through many scenarios for improving poverty including identifying tools and resources necessary to become educated, but more than that, she shared an examination of the experiences of living in poverty, middle class and wealth.
“Class, like race, is always experienced first at a very personal level where it impacts thinking,” Payne said.
Mid-South teachers from DeSoto County’s Hope Sullivan Elementary, Tate County’s Coldwater Attendance Center, Fayette County’s Central Elementary and Shelby County’s Dexter Elementary were introduced to Payne’s solutions for helping children from poverty in school settings learn. Payne’s explanations of “intergenerational” transfer of knowledge resounded with many in the crowd, as did the importance of learning in a “situated” environment.
Payne concluded with ideas about correcting the problem of poverty in our community and communities nationwide. She continued to bring focus on two important words, “community sustainability.” Payne explained that sustainability is a process that involves a large number of people getting involved in a twenty to twenty-five year plan.
“It is my recommendation that communities secure endowments,” Payne said. “What an endowment does is ensure that for 25 years the ensuing process is followed, data are collected and three groups are always involved: people in the community, outside experts and government officials.”