Philadelphia’s Poverty Problem

This is the problem we never talk about

But a different view of the problem has increasingly ardent backers. A couple of years ago, when she was district attorney, Lynne Abraham said this to me about our inner-city culture of babies born to girls not ready to have them:

“What do you want us to do about your kid that you conceived when you were drunk or high, and you don’t care about your kid, don’t even know who the partner was, and never go to a doctor? You drink, you abuse yourself, you bring this kid into this world, and he’s just a little thing to play with for a couple days, and then you lose interest. You give him to your best friend or oldest kid to take care of. What do you want us to do about that?”

Don Schwarz believes we have a responsibility  —  as a city, a culture, a country  —  to help people in desperate straits who see no way out. Lynne Abraham believes it’s high time African-Americans in the inner city got their act together.
I believe they’re both right. The problem is, neither path seems very likely.

THERE IS A POSSIBLE SOLUTION, though it happens to be in New York at the moment. Geoffrey Canada is a longtime educator who conceived the Harlem Children’s Zone a decade ago to take on what’s wrong with kids’ lives comprehensively. Now stretching 97 blocks, the zone includes a charter school, a Baby College offering prenatal care and child-rearing classes, pre-kindergarten for four-year-olds, and after-school instruction. The idea was to create a safety net woven so tightly that children in the neighborhood couldn’t slip through. The results have been impressive  —  the Zone wiped out the achievement gap in math between its black students and New York’s average for white students, for example  —  though the expense is enormous. Something on the order of $20,000 per student, per year. Canada spends a great deal of his time tapping deep-pocket donations.

The idea, though, of getting to children earlier, partnering with the parents, and sticking with children despite the parents, if necessary, is now “the gold standard,” says John Kromer, a Fels Institute consultant at Penn and author of Fixing Broken Cities.

It’s a method that would allay a key Don Schwarz frustration: “We don’t have our hands on children until they enter school.” And by kindergarten, a lot of kids in the inner city are already in deep trouble in terms of development, nutrition and basic medical care.

There are pockets of help here, isolated victories like Canada’s Harlem Zone in microcosm. Sister Mary Scullion of Project H.O.M.E. has made a four-block-plus area around Berks Street in North Philly an oasis of counseling and training. Herb Lusk, the former Eagle, is pastor at Greater Exodus Baptist Church on North Broad Street; the church has mushroomed to include a charter school, job-training services and a prenatal center.

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  • Jack

    To often do large metropolitan areas throw most of their resources towards convincing the world they are an attractive place to live and work. In the meantime, there are so many living harsh lives wit

  • Rita

    You seem to feel you are qualified to state what Black leaders should be doing, and then add a “maybe it’s our problem” simply as a rhetorical strength to your writing. You’re right. Our children are everyone’s problem, but instead of pointing your finger at what Black leaders should do, how about owning what whites have done to make our inner cities what they are? once you own what whites have done, and continue to do, then you may be honest about the work that YOU can do, to help this process unfold, like get involved in a Whites working against racism group (WIARS, UHURU) or starting your own. Then, you can make alliances with those Black leaders and find out what they are already doing, but that mainstream media doesn’t acknowledge, except in passing (as you yourself do) If you sit and analyze your own privilege, you may discover that going for a walk and collecting a couple of stories in a poor neighborhood does not make you and expert compared to Blacks or whites who live in that neighborhood everyday. You may decide to write an article, where you ask Black leaders what they think about the inner…

  • Rita

    city, interview people from the organizations that are making a difference, or make alliances with them. You may choose to share some of the power that you are writing from.
    You pointed your finger at Black leaders. As a white antiracist activist, I point my finger at you. What will YOU do about it?

  • Donna

    I think part of the problem is articles like this one, titled Philadelphia’s Poverty Problem and somehow only mentions the predominately African American neighborhoods as the problem, this is a largely populated African American city and I’m not naïve to the fact that there are statistics that points fingers at “us” so to speak. But “we” don’t own the rights to single parenthood, promiscuity, drug addiction, crime etc. But when “we” get into our minds that these are our issues, this is what we do because we are black, than the cycle continues on and yes only a few will go against the grain. So it is very important to paint the entire picture, if this was an article about issues specific to AA neighborhoods I could understand that but Philly’s poverty problem, that needs to expand a bit further I’m much more concerned when visiting my bro in his Northeast neighborhood due to his drug addicted neighbor who happens to be white than I am my own where these things exist but on no grander a scale than my white counterparts.

    Also, and because I only read Phila mag on occasion I don’t know if this has been done in…

  • Lando

    This has to be one of the most offensive things I have ever read, and the subtle language used by the author reveals both his own prejudice, feelings of himself as some sort of savior, and conceptual separation from those of us in the “inner city” As long as you continue these “poverty” field trips and point the finger from on high with this “us” vs. “them” mentality, nothing will change.

  • mike

    Two words could put an end to the problem: stop welfare. Decades of rewarding single females who have babies with free housing, free food, free medical care, etc. When you stop the gravy train, you

  • Niki

    Blaming Black people for poverty? That’s a hell of a stretch! Do you seriously think you can answer the poverty problem in Philly by walking around Black neighborhoods for a day? Maybe if Philly mag actually paid attention to minority neighborhoods they would discover the wonderful people living here instead of buying into the stereotype first and fitting an article into it later.

  • Joe

    Why should the author DO anything about it? Why should I? Besides shooting you degenerates when you break into out homes, we should have as little contact with each other as possible.

    We aren’t having 10 kids with 5 different dads. We aren’t eating crack, heroin, and pot on a daily basis. We don’t spend out time on the porches and corners guzzling 40′s….
    …..

    ….and the few of that do? Well…they don’t blame it on the blacks.

    Be accountable for your own actions, first, and maybe then whites will hold out an olive branch

  • walter

    Your article is very interesting. You make some valid points regarding poverty and cycles of poverty. Unfortunately, you paint a picture of these areas as places which solely contain individuals who are stuck in generational poverty and perdition but no one who has a history of generational honor, morality and goals. I am black and very familiar with the west Philadelphia areas you speak of. I know families from these areas who generation after generation have put out productive law abiding citizens. You see Mr. Huber, these neighborhoods are more than just the 2 dimensional morality free slums you paint them to be. But thanks for the sensational read. And I would implore you to take Rita’s advice.

  • Jay

    The author doesn’t go far enough. This intractable poverty isn’t white people’s fault and hasn’t been for a long time. It ain’t white people telling Black men to abandon their children. It ain’t white people telling them it’s cool to be in jail. It ain’t white people who say a man who gets a job, takes responsibility for himself, and takes care of his kids is a p*ssy and a f*gg*t. The Black community is like a barrel of crabs. Anytime a Black man tries to do something with his life he’s dragged back down by the others. I’m a C/O in the prison system and I see it all the time.

  • Jay

    The author doesn’t go far enough. This intractable poverty isn’t white people’s fault and hasn’t been for a long time. It ain’t white people telling Black men to abandon their children. It ain’t white people telling them it’s cool to be in jail. It ain’t white people who say a man who gets a job, takes responsibility for himself, and takes care of his kids is a p*ssy and a f*gg*t. The Black community is like a barrel of crabs. Anytime a Black man tries to do something with his life he’s dragged back down by the others. I’m a C/O in the prison system and I see it all the time.

  • Mooreae

    Has Anyone Visited Kensington To Find Out Why The White People There Are Poor? Stop Pretending Black People Are The Downfall Of An Already Corrupt City.