July 20, 2017

Children March On City Hall With Empty Plates To Raise Awareness Of Childhood Hunger

I love a good demonstration. There’s something fundamentally energizing about them. Day in and day out most of us do what we’re told and do our best not to make any noise. But sometimes you have to stand up for your rights.

Demanding your rights can fun. At the same time, if we’re being honest, it’s a little childish to stand in the streets and yell demands. That makes children naturals at demonstrating.

Yesterday’s March To Save Our Plates was a fresh and energetic demonstration. It was delightful to see children braving the mid-day summer heat, marching from Corpening Plaza to City Hall with anti-poverty signs, singing songs. On the steps of City Hall, the children told the mayor why childhood hunger is a priority for them. (There was at least one more March To Save Our Plates yesterday. Freedom School students marched from Kimberly Park Elementary to Samaritan Ministries)

The March To Save Our Plates was a little reminiscent of the Children’s Crusade, when thousands of school-aged children came out into the streets to protest segregation in Birmingham, Alabama. Martin Luther King later credited the Children’s Crusade with being a turning point in the campaign to desegregate Birmingham. (I’m a critic of President of the W-S Alliance/Mayor Allen Joines-but he’s no Bull Conner)

The Children’s Defense Fund called for a Day of Action to protest the deep cuts to SNAP and WIC included in President Trump’s budget. Seeing the children marching yesterday, it was a powerful reminder that when social safety net spending is slashed (such as WIC and SNAP) it is the children who suffer.

I hope that the National Day of Action brought some much-needed attention to the issue of childhood hunger and food insecurity. Forsyth County ranks shamefully high, among the worst communities in the country in terms of food insecurity and child poverty. Any cuts to SNAP and WIC on the federal level will only compound the problem of poverty in Forsyth County.

The non-profit industrial complex is doing some good work in Winston this summer. Here is an excerpt from The W-S Chronicle explaining the whos, whats, and whys of Freedom Schools:

Students from elementary schools across the county are getting a taste of the college life this summer thanks to Wake Forest University (WFU) Anna Julia Cooper Center, several local organizations and a partnership with the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) Freedom Schools.

CDF Freedom Schools is a summer program that seeks to build strong, literate, and empowered children prepared to make a difference in themselves, their families and communities. Freedom Schools plays a major role in helping students curb summer learning and close achievement gaps. CDF Freedom Schools have been helping students in need since 1995.

Danielle Parker-Moore, director of the Freedom School at Wake Forest, said along with helping students improve their reading skills, the program also helps build confidence.

Freedom School began on Monday, June 26, and will end on Friday, Aug. 4. The program serves students in grades three through five. The program model curriculum supports children and families around five essential components: high-quality academic enrichment, parent and family involvement, social action and civic engagement, intergenerational servant leadership development and nutrition, health and mental health.”                                                                                  -Tevin Stinson

Freedom Schools are an excellent initiative, similar to SciTech and other summer programs. I don’t want to downplay the importance of Freedom Schools in Winston-Salem, Forsyth County.

But I did find yesterday’s march a little off the mark. First of all, what does Mayor Joines have to do with the federal budget? Joines said that he would contact members of Congress to express his support for federal anti-poverty programs. But I don’t think Virginia Foxx can be swayed. She’s as right-wing as they come.

Yesterday’s staged march to City Hall ignores the role of the city and county in fighting poverty in our community. Both branches of our local government (the city council and the county commissioners) need to prioritize anti-poverty initiatives instead of subsidies to developers and corporations.

Mayor Joines delivered his Poverty Though Force’s findings earlier this year. Yet, after months of work little action has been taken by the mayor or community leaders. We don’t have a “Poverty Czar” and apparently we never will.

Federal and state funding of anti-poverty programs is crucial. Winston can’t address poverty on its own. But it can and should do more to fight poverty. That starts with Mayor Joines and Wake Forest University (the driving force behind the Freedom Schools and yesterday’s Save Our Plates March).

Wake Forest operates like a private city unto itself. They’re constantly putting money into new buildings at their main campus, the Innovation Quarter and the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. Wake’s money needs to go directly to fighting poverty in Winston-Salem. Wake should be funding community co-ops and engaging in other projects that are worker-driven, not foundation driven.

We are a community of meds and eds. Gone are the Tobacco and Textile jobs of the past. As R.J. Reynolds funded the city’s tax base for decades, it’s time for Wake Forest to step-up and play a different, but a similar role. That means no more subsidies for Innovation Quarter. The money needs to flow in the other direction. It’s time for Wake Forest to invest in Winston-Salem.

Wake Forest can and must do more to fight poverty in our deeply segregated and unequal city.


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