The College of St. Scholastica Dignitas students are preparing for their annual Community Day dinner this year by taking a look at poverty in Duluth. The students began one recent class time by watching the film "Wages for a Living," which gives first-person accounts on living a impoverished lifestyle through the eyes of people across the U. S.
After the movie each Dignitas class was paired up with a speaker who represented some organization that deals with poverty or homelessness issues in Duluth. Xavier Bell began his speech to Chris Godsey's Hip Hop and Dignity class by stating that he represents Community Action.
"Community Action is a non-profit organization established in the 1960s during a time called the war on poverty by President Lyndon Johnson," Bell said. He has been working there for more than six years and before that he was a community pastor in Oakland, Calif.
Bell stated that the primary focus of Community Action is the "root causes" of poverty. "About 22,000 people in Duluth are below the poverty level that is measured by government standards,” Bell explained. “Another 25,000 people are experiencing some sort of poverty as working poor, about 47% of Duluth's population."
Poverty also causes people to feel a great deal of shame, Bell said. “There is a lot of shame and blame associated with poverty, 'It's your fault that you are in this situation for not making all the right choices,' and very rarely do people actually look at the systemic aspect of poverty," Bell said.
"The infrastructures, the policies, the things that allow poverty stay in place and make it hard to address the issue of poverty; which we have been trying to address for over 40 years," Bell said.
Bell disclosed that his position at Community Action is known as the community engagement manager which he runs programs which engages people in the lives of people who are affected by poverty. One of the programs he runs is called Circles of Support.
"What we do is we intentionally build relationships across race and class lines so that we can dispel some of the stereotypes we have about each other and so we can dispel some of the perspectives we have about people in poverty," Bell said.
Bell also explained that the highest percent of people who are experiencing poverty are single women with children.
Bell then singled out a student by asking "Which one of you were raised in upper class society," on the topic of a caste system. The student then began to explain the expectations of him growing up and the leisure’s he took for granted before the class.
"You expect that you get certain things and enter certain plateaus in life such as college and you will get a job and live a better life I suppose," said the student.
When Bell asked "how many students grew up in poverty?" a student replied that he had that due to a divorce, he was subjected to work as soon as he turned 16 in order to help feed and clothe his family. When he was asked by Bell "Was this expected of you?" He replieD, "My mom never really came out and asked me but I was indirectly responsible."
Bell stated that a primary aspect he wanted to address about the movie "Wages For A Living" is that even though the people displayed in poverty has cigarettes and cosmetics and other leisure’s, those people may spend that money to maybe mask the fact that they are impoverished and do not have the money to spend on those types of leisures.
Bell had observed that most the students only noticed the surface of the people displayed in the movie and these people may buy these things in order to maintain their standard of living or socioeconomic norms.
In a followup interview after the speech with Chris Godsey, he explained that year to year students watch the same movie for their Dignitas classes and the most common observation is in fact the cosmetics of the impovirshed people in the video.
In response to the reaction of the students, Godsey remarked,"It is something that has baffled me every year, and that is partially about the different perspectives people have in the world," said Godsey. "I used to think that it is my job to get these kids to think right. Now I say it's my job to get these kids to think, period, to ask questions about how and why they go about seeing the world as they do."