An infant snuggled in a black Air Jordan hat and striped romper gulps down baby formula from a bottle. One may get the impression the baby looks well off, but it turns out the clothes are hand-me-downs provided by a local charity.
“Come and help us,” says one individual at a shelter who’s guarding himself from the frigid temperatures.
A reporter then pans over a block of boarded up two-family houses.
“The neighborhoods are falling apart not because they are bad people,” a man tells the young enterprising journo. “We’re underpaid, undereducated, and so many of us have been living like this for second or third generation until we don’t know how to change. Despair is a way of living.”
Such is life for many residents in Baltimore.
When reading the headlines, it’s easy to get the impression that the last couple of years have been a boom period for America’s economy. But economic and jobs reports rarely capture the gritty accounts that are commonplace in many neighborhoods of our major cities.
As many readers know well, Baltimore was recently disparaged by the president, who tweeted that the city is “rat-infested.”
Such mean-spirited potshots do little to improve the lives of the long-suffering. Yes, people can work harder, adopt better and more optimistic mindsets, and take responsibility for their actions.
But individual effort often is not enough to solve structural, longstanding problems. Consider the following statistics about Charm City, which are anything but charming:
- Baltimore’s poverty rate is 23.8%, based on Census data.
- The city’s kids have above average rates of asthma, obesity and other chronic diseases, according to a 2016 study by the Big Cities Health Coalition.
- Some 25% of the city’s residents live in food deserts, or areas that lack access to a supermarket or nutritious food
The question is: Do sufficient resources and support systems exist to enable people to climb up the proverbial ladder? Do we still provide the tools and access necessary to make the “American Dream” a reality?
The answers remain debatable for the time being. But what is clear is that many people in Baltimore, among other major localities around the United States, are not seeing the benefits of the booming economy.
While short-term solutions are just that, they are nonetheless necessary to ease the pain. An example is Baltimore Day of Dignity, an annual campaign organized by Islamic Relief USA (IRUSA), a nonprofit humanitarian and advocacy organization.
Baltimore Day of Dignity will take place on Saturday (Sept. 21) at Masjid al Haqq, located at 514 Islamic Way. In this event, IRUSA partners with local community leaders to help provide items like health screenings, hot meals, haircuts, winter coats and hygiene kits to those in need. The event also provides information on various services necessary to enable individuals to receive care, job leads, counseling, among other resources.
In the best sense, the Baltimore Day of Dignity is a one-stop shop that nurtures the individual’s personal, physical and spiritual needs. The goal is not to just hand out things. Rather it is to uplift, to help pave the road to self-sufficiency.
But to help individuals become self-sufficient, our society needs to do more. We need to create more jobs that provide workers something close to a living wage. We need more affordable remedial and continuing education services to help people learn better, especially when current economic and job megatrends call for it. And, we need to make expand access to health clinic services and nutritious food.
Until those structural problems are addressed, expect more Days of Dignity around the country. While IRUSA and other community-based organizations will continue to do their part, influential policymakers, institutions and other stakeholders must ask themselves: Are we addressing the root causes of poverty?
Anwar Khan (email@example.com) is the president of Islamic Relief USA, a nonprofit humanitarian and advocacy organization that works on alleviating poverty and hunger in more than 40 countries.