By Conference Minister Diane Weible
This is the fourth part in a series about impressions and thoughts from the trip I took to Alabama with the other Conference Ministers in November. We visited Civil Rights sites in Selma, Montgomery and Birmingham.
On Monday, the day we honored the birth and life of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I went to see the movie “Just Mercy”. Having been to the Equal Justice Initiative sites in Alabama in November, I was particularly moved by one of Bryan Stevenson’s quotes that I heard repeatedly when I was there in November and again while watching the movie (and even on a t-shirt I bought): “The opposite of poverty is not wealth. In too many places, the opposite of poverty is justice.”
This is one of those quotes that stays with you if you let it. It can motivate you to change the way you see the world and the way you see your everyday actions. We talk a lot about the 1% in this country and I have come to believe that this allows the rest of us to consider ourselves “off the hook” when it comes to understanding our wealth and the advantages that we have received because of where we were born, who our parents were, where we grew up and went to school, who our teachers were and the kinds of resources our schools were given. There are so many factors that went in to my becoming the person I am today. I always say that understanding this doesn’t take away from the effort I put into the school and my career but it does invite me to think about the privilege and the opportunities I received that has allowed me to excel and for which I had no control over.
Understanding that important fact about how I came to be who I am, I can begin to look at the world around me and wonder how different someone else’s life could be if they were given the same kinds of opportunities, resources and advantages that I received. What would it mean to individuals and communities if they didn’t have to live in fear of violence or being arrested because of the color of their skin? What would it meant to countless school children and their teachers to know that they have the resources that can help them excel.
I remember a conversation with my mom when I was young. The conversation was about bussing in St. Louis. I asked her to explain it to me. She explained that the schools in the city didn’t have the kinds of resources that the schools in the county did and bussing was an opportunity for children in the city to attend schools with better resources. I remember asking her why they couldn’t just make sure the schools in the city had the same resources that we did.
As I grew older, I began to realize that it’s not that simple and there was a lot more to bussing then equal resources. And, I realize that providing those resources and opportunities for all human beings is a basic right and a great place we start—the fundamental place we start if we want to move people and communities out of poverty. It is the just thing to do. And, until we all realize that we have a part in making this happen, we cannot make these fundamental changes that bring justice to all humanity.
There is more and more talk in our society about reparations and I realize that word can stir deep emotions in people. Without a doubt, I believe that reparations are the way that we begin to bring justice to all members of our society. Reparations can move someone from poverty to justice. Moving from poverty to justice is not something those in poverty can do alone because they didn’t get to where they are because of a fault of their own. They got there because our society gives benefits and resources to some and not to others. Correcting this imbalance requires ALL of us to understand the privilege and power that has created a wealth divide in our country—not a wealth divide of the 1% and the 99% but a wealth divide that is much bigger. The solution lies in all of us coming together to fight against it and fight for justice.
The opposite of poverty is justice.