Giving folks the gift of hope

One of the issues we wrestle with in this country, and all over the world, is how to reduce the level of poverty and crime. The two issues are linked in a cause-and-effect equation.

To my knowledge, no society in history has succeeded in eradicating poverty, but I do think there are high-level goals we can set and pursue that will help reduce the misery. We need to do this at all levels of society-national, metropolitan and even in neighborhoods like Magnolia. We can't wait for our political leaders to find the solution.

First, we need to look at what sows the seeds of misery. I would say that it is the loss-or the nonexistence-of hope. To illustrate my point, I'll try to summarize a movie we watched the other night titled Born Into Brothels.

The movie is a 2004 documentary, taking place in Calcutta, India. It features the stories of a half dozen children, ages 6 to about 12, who were born into the illegal brothels of that city. Most of them have little or no chance of ever getting out.

A photographer, Zana Briski, begins teaching them photography, and gives them each a camera. They take to photography with typical, childlike glee, and a couple of them demonstrate a real talent for the art.

One young boy, perhaps the most talented, is traumatized by the loss of his mother, who is burned to death by her pimp. He loses his interest in photography even as he has a chance to go to Amsterdam for a photography event. At one point, riding in a car, he says: "There is nothing called hope in my future."

The movie is gut wrenching, yet tinged with hope that some of these young children may escape the dead-end path their lives have been set upon.

In Avijit's statement, I believe, lies the greatest problem in our or any society: the sense that an individual has little or no hope of improving their lot in life. And therein lies the solution to many of the problems. We have to create an environment where children have hope for the future.

Not all will take it, and not all will succeed completely. But, given the chance, many will.

In every neighborhood and city in this country, we have children living in poverty who, like Avijit, see no hope for their future. It may be because they have a dysfunctional family, no education or because they are members of a minority group whose faces never appear as board members in the annual reports of major corporations. That's what we have to try to change.

We can't tell an African-American or Hispanic student that they can succeed, when 99 percent of the upper echelon positions in society are commanded by white males. They are not stupid; they can see that today those are empty promises. What they do see as success models are professional athletes, rap artists and drug dealers.

The goal of our society should be to ensure that the opportunities to not only get an education are there, but that the education can realistically lead to success. The only way to do that is for the doors to open up to all people in all areas of society.

There's no guarantee that all of the children will succeed, just as there is no guarantee today that all affluent, privileged children will succeed.

Given a society where everyone has an equal chance to achieve their goals, I think we break down into three basic groups: those who are driven and want to succeed so badly that nothing will stop them; those who are not particularly goal-oriented or driven, and are quite happy living a quiet, more subdued life; and an element that I'll call dysfunctional who, for many different reasons, will fall to the bottom of society no matter how many opportunities are presented to them. That is simply how humanity is organized.

I don't know what the percentages for these groups may be, but I'd estimate that the first two groups could comprise as much as 95 percent of society. The point is that, the 5 percent of dysfunctional individuals is not where we should focus our energies and resources.

I'm happy to say that Avijit, with the help of Zana - who has a heart as big as all of India - did go to Amsterdam and, as a result, recaptured his hope and dreams of being an artist and photographer.

That is what I would hope we could do as a society: give our children, all the children, the hope that if they want to work and want to succeed, they will have that opportunity. I don't believe that hope is there today for all of them.[[In-content Ad]]