Equal opportunity = a brighter future for us all

In January, I celebrated my grandson’s first birthday, a momentous event joined by grandparents, parents, sisters, and friends. An abundant variety of food and a stack of brightly-colored presents waited in the living room for my grandson, whose lack of understanding of opening gifts gave his older sisters a chance to show him how it’s done. Needless to say, my grandkids don't lack creature comforts or love, and the opportunities available to them are endless.

But I know that’s not the case for many children growing up in impoverished communities, even in the United States. More than 8 million families in the United States live in poverty, defined as a family of four living on less than $22,050 annually. Parents everywhere are desperate to provide a better life for their children, but their choices are limited because of poverty.

As a World Vision photojournalist, I am blessed to travel to many areas across this nation and to witness the deep need that exists in this country. Budget cuts and a poor economy result in fewer donations, which takes a toll on local organizations that are helping to improve the difficult circumstances of families. World Vision seeks to step in the gap and make up some of the shortfalls by providing supplies and training to nonprofit organizations like St. Anne’s Place in North Minneapolis.

Last year, I met 2-year-old Quincy, who lives with his mother, Shemika, at St. Anne’s Place shelter. Shemika, 31, was married on February 13, 1999, and on that same day four years later, her husband was killed in a car accident. Finding nothing but a life of nightmares on the streets in her hometown of Baton Rouge, La., after turning to drugs and alcohol, Shemika left home to stay free of the addictions that threatened to consume her.

Shemika was upbeat when I met her, with a ready smile that lit up her face. For now, she and Quincy had food and a place to stay at the shelter, but she needed to find a job and a permanent home to provide for Quincy. St. Anne’s Place offers a daycare for the children while parents spend days looking for jobs or attending school.

Staff at St. Anne's Place in Minneapolis encourage Shemika to read with Quincy. (Laura Reinhardt/WV/2010)

St. Anne’s staff members also help parents get the age-appropriate medical tests and assessments to see where their children rank developmentally. That way, they can address any problems at an early age. In The State of America’s Children, a 2010 report by the Children’s Defense Fund, it says that by the age of 9 months, American children born into poverty are already behind their higher-income peers developmentally. By kindergarten, it’s difficult for children to catch up.

At St. Anne’s, staff encouraged Shemika to spend time reading to Quincy to help with his intellectual development. “[What] I want him to have is a great education,” said Shemika, “because he’s a very smart little boy. I want him to get all the education that he can have just so he can grow up to choose to be what he wants to be.”

Having that choice can mean the difference for Quincy’s future. But across this wealthy nation, families continue to struggle, and children’s opportunities for choice are buried beneath low-wage jobs, no transportation, no affordable housing, and limited education.

We believe in the power of young people to change the world. The fact is, many children in poverty face difficulties that severely diminish that power.

As I watch my grandkids grow, and another birthday comes to pass, I have great hope for what they might do with their lives. They can be whatever they want to be. My prayer is that children like Quincy might have the same wide-open future opportunities. Then, the future will look brighter for us all.

    Comments

    I would encourage you to check out how the federal reserve is destroying the value of the dollar. Right now is the time to speak out against this private banking cartel to end it and bring about a currency in America that will lift up Americans and our economy. If not, the dollar will continue to devalue into worthlessness and more Americans will be living at the poverty level.

    I LOVE THE QUINCY CHARACTER.BUT OF THE MATTER AS THE THE STORY SAYS THEIR ARE MANY QUINCYS ALL OVER AMERICA... I EVEN HAVE A QUINCY MOTHER CLOSE TO ME... I THINK ITS A GENERATION GAP ALMOST DESIGN TO KEEP THE POVERTY IN POVERTY... NOW WHAT SHOULD BE DONE TO CLOSE THE GAP NEEDS TO ADRESSED... I WOULD LIKE TO SAY WE NEED TO GET RID OF WHO EVER IS SUPPOSE TO BE REPRESENTING THEIR CONSTIUENT AT A LOCAL LEVEL... AS YOUTH I HAD PROGRAMS TO ATTEND IN THE SUMMER TIMES AND PROGRAMS WHENTO TO GIVE ME SOME KIND OF KNOWLEDGE OF WORK ETHINIC IN THE SUMMER TIMES AND AFTER SCHOOL ALSO... WE HAVE GOT TO DO BETTER WITH OUR MOST PREECIOUS RESOURCES OUR YOUTH.... EVERY KID IS GONNA BE COLLEGE MATERIAL.... DOES MEAN THEY GOTTA BRING THEIR FAMILY UP IN POVERTY... MY GRANDFATHER TAUGHT ME TO USE ALL TOOLS AT MY DISPOAL AND FAILURE WAS NOT AN OPTION... WE GOT GET SOME PROGRAMS BACK IN ACTION IN THE CITIES WHERE YOUTH ARE EXPOSED TO GANG ACTIVITY AND DRUGS THAT TAKING YOUNG FAMILIES OUT OF THE LOOP EVERYDAY.. OUR OWN CULTURAL LOCAL LEADERS SEEMS TO BE TURNING A BLIND EYE... SEE BUT DONT SEE UNTIL IT HITS HOMES.,, SUMMER YOUTH PROGRAM NEED FEDERAL ASSITANCE...

    What a great article! Derect & to the point.
    Very relatable to all!
    Thanks for taking the time to address this isue!

    Helping sponsoring a child has changed my life and view in this world. That there is still hope and strength. Thank You World Vision.

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