questions to consider before one dismisses the urban poor

my heart is grieved with the division i see within the nation (acutely highlighted with the events of this past week), within my cultural circle, and even within myself. in the midst of the chaos i have been reminded to take a step back and not so much seek to be understood (important as that is) but to understand (and Lord knows there needs to be more of that) if there is to be any progress.

i grew up middle class (and if i consider the context of global poverty, probably upper class).   somehow from there i found myself teaching at an inner city high school in one of the poorest neighborhoods in LA for eight years. for the past three years now my family and i have chosen to live in a urban poor neighborhood. through walking a little with the urban poor i have learned some things in terms of understanding my neighbor that i hope will be helpful in your journey.

let me first start by making clear this is not a post to justify any kind of violence. if you want to read about a response to that there are those who have articulated the temptation of that sentiment much better than I could.

now then, i believe that all people have equal value. but I also recognize that not all have been afforded equal resources. it may be tempting to think achievement in life and generosity of spirit is simply gained if you work hard enough. hard work is great. with hard work amazing things can be accomplished. but not all have the equal amount of hard work they must endure. and not all hard work produces equal results. please consider some of these questions with me before you are tempted to dismiss the experience of the urban poor…


– did you get to choose the neighborhood that you grew up in?

– did you grow up in a setting where people having a college degree was a minority?

– have you witnessed or experienced someone close to you being killed?

– have you or a family member been pulled over/aside by law enforcement even though you had committed no crime?

– did you grow up in a culture that has a heritage of being conquered/oppressed

– are you a part of cultural group that to this day does not enjoy the privileges that most other citizens of your country do?


– did you grow up in a single parent household?

– did your parent(s) grow up in a single parent household?

– were you raised by someone who was not your parent?

– do you know your father and/or do you have a relationship with your father currently?

– did you grow up in a home where at least one parent was laid off or unemployed for an extended period of time?

– did your parents work minimum wage jobs and have difficulty providing for your physical needs?

– did your parent/s complete high school? college?

– were your parents able to help you with your homework?

– were your parents home when you were home?

– did you grow up having different people coming in and out of your house?

– were you emotionally, physically, and/or sexually abused as a child?

– did you have a parent addicted to some chemical substance?

– did you ever have to buy food with food stamps or experience not being able to eat for extended periods of time?


– did you have to be careful not to be robbed by people or accosted by gang members to and from school?

– did you miss school because your parent needed help with translation or needed you to take care of younger siblings?

– did you have to take care of younger siblings when you came home from school?

– did you have classes in which there were not enough seats or books for students?

– did you go to a school where having a teacher new to teaching was a common occurrence?

– did you have classes in which students being kicked out of class for disruptive behavior was a common occurrence?

– did you have classes in which teachers quit or left inexplicably before the school year was over?

– did you grow up in a school setting in which achieving academically was interpreted as trying to act like another race?

– did you often have teachers who would just show videos for the duration of the class?

– did you have classes where the assignments were frequently to copy things out of a book?

– did you meet with an adult in your high school for academic counseling only once or less?

– were you asked to shoulder the financial needs of your family once you passed the age of 18?

– did you have to work while going to community/college in order to make ends meet?

if you answered no to most of these questions consider that you may have had an upbringing of privilege or at least an upbringing that was more conducive to having a variety of options in life.  maybe we are where we are not simply through our own hard work but through the hard work of others/another we have not fully acknowledged.   maybe because we have been recipients of generosity we can afford to be more generous.

if you answered yes to most of these questions consider that you may have something within you greater than you think to have survived what you have. maybe you have more to offer than you might currently believe. maybe i can learn something from you.


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