Faces of Poverty In America

by Adriana Murphy

Yes there is poverty in America…

Getting up in the morning isn’t always easy; restless sleep is about as productive as a virgin martini, and the gray clouds outside aren’t doing much for my motivation. Deonte is counting on me to show up today, we’re going over fractions – his dad is only serving 3/5 of his sentence. Monae wants me to swing double-dutch with her at lunch and Antwon wants to play Hangman after school. They finally get me out of bed.

I take attendance in the morning – my team is all here, gotta go fill out the form. We drive to work, where we pick up trash for two hours, and then we work with kids whom the system has thrown away. It’s easier to pick up an empty can than it is to pick up America’s public school wastelands. Most Americans don’t notice the difference. Sometimes, it’s hard to see it behind the cloud of drugs, violence and systemic disillusion that faces the faces of America the Beautiful’s antithesis. No forms are available to keep track of the lost boys, but it’s not like anybody’s looking for them either. I wasn’t. I didn’t even want to get out of bed.

I stand staring at the crack bag floating in the puddle near the sewer. Somebody’s teddy bear was thrown out the window and now it just lies face up in the sewage channels. Teddy bear meets crack bag, now that’s America’s story, but there ain’t nobody telling it. Maybe nobody’s listening. The screams, gunshots, and sirens are never going to let anyone hear the message that the urban heart is preaching: “Don’t count me out”! Not even the church counts on these lost sheep. Where’s the faith-based initiative now, Mr. President?

A pair of shoes hang from the power lines. A little money was owed for a few lines and now, those shoes will never be worn by their owner again. The hanging shoes are a reminder of those who have died by never getting the chance to walk in someone else’s shoes. Safety is one of America’s promises to youth, whose youth? Some neighborhoods aren’t even on the maps, or rather, some neighborhoods were erased from the maps. Can’t catch what you can’t see, but people seem to be catching a lot of things these days. Catch is no four-letter word for dead. AIDS is.

Bloodshed on the playground; two seven year olds fighting like their daddies. Ain’t no mama’s boys over here- nobody’s boys actually, just a school full of angry little men, dangerous by the age of eight, dealers by the age of twelve, dead at age sixteen. No time to waste with school or structure, life is just too short. Pegged at birth.

White girl, black neighborhood, ain’t no Mr. Rodgers’ neighborhood, that’s for sure. I wouldn’t want it to be. Somebody dies in the Projects, they say it’s life. Somebody dies in suburbia, they say it’s death. Nobody’s saying nothing about whether or not it’s fair.

America has not changed from when I was growing up…

And I scream at the top of my lungs for some wretched soul to hear me, but as long as my momma’s high, I don’t even exist. As for my father, he doesn’t even know I do. I wonder if I look like him. I sure as hell don’t look like anyone I know. My veins aren’t burned and my eyes have circles because I’m tired, not because I’ve been smokin’ crack in a corner of the house. Before I could prove that I’d be ok, my momma used to hush me to sleep in that corner, but I’d hear them come in late at night. Sometimes, I’d wake up and sit on the foot of the bed, I could’ve poked my head out and seen them all, but I didn’t want to. I knew what my momma was doing. She’d cry sometimes when the men would kiss her, but the next day, I’d have a new pair of shoes. Other times, the smoke was so thick I could barely make out what everyone was saying. All I knew was that the next morning, it was better to let momma sleep for a while.

During the week, my brother would wake me up and we’d get to school so we could eat breakfast. The food at home didn’t taste so good with cockroaches crawling all over it. Momma used to think the bugs were crawling all over her, but mostly, they just stayed in the boxes of food. She used to swat at the air and curse up a storm, but the roaches didn’t want much to do with her. Not even a roach wanted my momma. But I did and if I saw a roach, I’d kill it. Maybe that would make momma happy. That’s all I want.

Maybe it is not the same as it is in Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa but there sure is poverty in America…I know.

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