Overcoming poverty is not an act of charity, it is an act of justice. -Nelson Mandela
On Wednesday, October 17, 2012 UMass’ Center for Social Policy held their 20th Anniversary Celebration. Hosted by Chancellor J. Keith Motley, PhD and Donna Haig-Friedman, the event highlighted the hard work, dedication and achievements of CSP, which “increases the economic and social well-being of low income families and their communities by generating research and advancing policy that give voices to those living in poverty”.
The theme of the event was Honoring Leaders in Economic and Social Justice, and it was quite fitting. Not only is October 17 CSP’s anniversary, but it is also the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, as declared by the United Nations. To receive the Chancellor’s Medal Honoree was Congressman Barney Frank. In order to truly capture how logical and inspiring his speech was, you really just had to be there…it is impossible to duplicate. Politics are always best left away from the dinner table, but at this dinner, it was more than appropriate. The thing that resonated with me the most was his notion that the way to save money is not by taking from people who have the least. With the upcoming election, the national debt is a hot topic. Barney Frank noted that if we didn’t get into Iraq, our debt would be 10% less. When it comes to cutting spending, we should be talking about the America’s world-wide presence of military mobilizers. Mr. Frank made the point that the best military can stop bad things from happening, but even the best military can’t make good things happen, however we do unify the countries we are “at war” with by making them pissed off at us.
With dueling ideologies, Republicans and Democrats often find themselves with opposing ideas, one of these being how involved the government should be. Barney Frank ended by reminding us that less government isn’t always better…better government is better. We need to do what’s right with no apologies…with an emphasis on what’s right.
Other honorees were Charles “Chuck” Collins, John Connors, Julia Tripp, Elaine Werby, who (in true awesome social justice warrior fashion) inspired, entertained, engaged and motivated. Their stories of how they achieve success and happiness through helping others make me want to create my own, similar story to hopefully tell one day and leave the same effect on others as they had on that room.
Chuck Collins recognized many things that night. Among them being that our nation is living in a period of extreme in equality and that poverty is one of the core issues of our time. He ended by recognizing his daughter. She works. She volunteers. And while the event’s attendees could go home and sleep, she would be up late finishing her school work. Not only does this remind us how powerful and important our youth is, Ms. Collins joked that it shows us that generational cycle of privilege can be broken. All jokes aside- if she can, we can.
John Connors is the creator of Small Can Be Big, a non-profit that is very near and dear to Homes for Families’ heart. What drives Mr. Connors is the notion that if you see someone in need, you help them. And that is exactly what SCBB does. He spoke on how small acts can truly make a big difference- sometimes bigger than big acts intend to. He told a story of when the NY Times ran an article on their organization. While good publicity is always a good thing, it generated $0. A secretary, who sent the SCBB link to her email contacts (not including her family), raised $2,000. That small act is certainly big. This illuminates the power of people, and how powerful we can be when we engage in these small acts. The story, and the organization, reminds us that “you can’t think about social policy from an ivory tower”. (Also- shout out to my girl Kelsey, keep rocking!)
And up next was Julia Tripp- my own words will do this speech no justice. I also don’t have great notes because I was too busy hanging on to her every word and wiping tears away from my face. On a day that refuses to accept the intolerable, Julia Tripp is a woman who exemplifies that idea. She demonstrates this by overcoming her own struggles, and helping others overcome theirs…all while she is still struggling. However, instead of sharing her own story that night- she shared another’s. An on the job injury was hushed and ignored, all because he didn’t have access to health care. He died. “We are all potential Rays”. Julia Tripp spoke on power- and the power that experiencing poverty can bring. It is quite beautiful, as she reminds us, “The inequalities that once kept us separate in the past, can no longer keep us apart”.
Like I said- I am not doing this speech justice and I apologize. However, we managed to get our hands on a copy of her speech, and it can be read in its entirety here. Reading it just might be one of the best decisions you ever make.
Last, but certainly not least, was Elaine Werby. More than just an honoree, Mrs. Werby is getting her very own internship scholarship named after her because of her incredible dedication, work and impact. I think everyone was a little nervous for her when she went up. Julia Tripp was a hard act to follow. But in reality, that worry was all for nothing. Elaine Werby- Telling it like it is. That is literally the first note I wrote down on her speech. She jumped right in and began the entertaining motivation, without skipping a beat. She acknowledged the transition from work on paper to electronics. “I-what?” just might be my new favorite phrase. While she was hilarious, she was also genuine, energized and, true. It is easy to see that she does what Barney Frank suggested to do- what’s right and with no apologies.
Congratulations to the Center of Social Policy for 20 years of hard work, dedication and results. Your commitment to the community is incomparable, and we can all learn something from that.