May 2, 2013
“Radically accepting the poverty of one’s own life and community while simultaneously depersonalizing it makes possible a certain kind of growth/development – especially if one is simultaneously involved in activities that engage the underdevelopment that accompanies poverty.”
So says Dr. Lenora Fulani in her just-released, ”Helping the Poor to Grow A Special Report on Solving the Poverty Crisis in America.” Lenora is a developmental psychologist, grassroots educator, political activist and co-founder (with Fred Newman) of the All Stars Project. She didn’t just say these words at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA). She showed its power.
This happened last Sunday at an invited Presidential Session, “Education, Poverty, and Development: Breakthroughs in Addressing the Subjectivity of Poverty,” I organized and chaired at the AERA Annual Meeting in San Francisco. Lenora gave a version of her paper and then interviewed three young people who participate in the San Francisco Bay Area All Stars. (The All Stars Project also operates in NYC, Newark NJ, Chicago and Atlanta.) They spoke openly and intimately with the audience about their lives, touching upon ways that being poor narrowed their identities, limited their hopes, and made them feel they didn’t belong to the broader society. When asked how it felt to be in the Hilton Hotel addressing a ballroom full of professionals, they said, “Great.” “It’s a relief.” “We need to speak about poverty.” “We need to grow.”
Professors A. J. Franklin of the Boston College Lynch School of Education and David Grusky, director of the Stanford University Center on Poverty and Inequality, added passionate and important commentary. They highlighted some of the characteristics that make the All Stars uniquely successful. The organization brings development back into the education equation. It’s been a pioneer in using performance—on stage and off stage—to help young people from poor communities to develop. It’s also 100% independently funded. Professors Franklin and Grusky urged that we follow in the footsteps of Fulani and the All Stars: buck the orthodoxy, reject the established wisdom on who young people are, how to help them, and how to fund projects—and help our kids to grow.
Many in the audience cried. I believe everyone in that room grew right then. We were having a new kind of conversation together. And people grow from that.