I believe we can build a better future. And I know that advocacy can play a key role in removing obstacles to racial and economic justice.
July 27, 2022
The last two years have changed everything. Millions lost their lives to COVID-19, and millions more were driven into poverty. The pandemic laid bare the ways that racism, bias, and discrimination are woven into our health, social, and economic structures.
And yet, as the Shriver Center’s new Vice President of Advocacy, I remain hopeful. I believe we can build a better future. And I know that advocacy can play a key role in removing obstacles to racial and economic justice.
My approach to advocacy is rooted in what people require both to meet their basic needs and achieve their dreams. Picture a typical family. They need a home that is safe and affordable. They need work that can sustain them, put food on the table and gas in the car, and pay the rent. They need healthcare so that they can stay well and productive. And they need educational opportunities for themselves and their children so they can remain independent and reach their full potential.
Many families experiencing poverty face challenges meeting these needs. For example, a father returning from prison may encounter barriers to finding employment. A mother looking for a safe place to live may face discrimination based on the source of her income or a tenant screening report. A person with a disability may be unable to work due to transportation barriers. A sudden illness or health challenge can lead to unemployment and a loss of health insurance.
Often, these barriers are imposed by systems rife with racism. Residential segregation, perpetuated by unfair lending practices and redlining, keeps people of color in poor neighborhoods. Real estate taxes fund public education, leading to under-resourced schools in communities of color while schools in white suburbs thrive. Bias in the criminal legal system, and in the foster system that runs parallel to it, surveils and criminalizes poverty based on race and separates families.
But it doesn’t have to be like that. We can change the rules—and we can change people’s lives.
We know how to solve the problems that keep people, in particular people of color, in poverty. If you give people cash, they will spend it on things that their families need. If you extend eligibility for unemployment compensation to self-employed people, you protect the economic security of millions of workers in the burgeoning “gig” economy, many of whom are working more than one job just to get by. If you expand the child tax credit, you lift millions out of poverty. If you provide health care benefits to immigrants, you end the suffering of thousands.
We also know that it is important to take a holistic, intersectional approach to antipoverty advocacy. A single parent experiencing housing challenges does not generally have excellent healthcare and a great job with great benefits. A grandmother living in subsidized housing may have trouble obtaining health care. An immigrant mother working at a restaurant may have wage claims and require help feeding her children. A father returning to the community from prison may have difficulty getting housing, stable employment, and healthcare. That’s why the Shriver Center practices across multiple issues, including healthcare, housing, economic security, and family and community justice.
People living in poverty encounter an array of complex systems that impact their lives. And, because these systems were designed with race in mind, we must approach solving poverty with a racial justice lens.
Shriver Center advocates come to our work as servants of the community. As lawyers, we have a unique ability to understand the law. But our clients bring a clear understanding of the inequitable systems that hold back people with low income.
Ultimately, we are not so very different. And when we ensure that everyone has a voice in decisions that affect their lives, we are immeasurably enriched by the diversity of our collective human experience.
That’s why I’m optimistic about the future. We live in a time of unprecedented opportunity for progress in the fight for racial and economic justice. Join me, and let’s work together for a better, more just future.
Shriver Center on Poverty Law