Thursday, Mayor and Winston-Salem Alliance President Allen Joines held a press conference announcing a new privately-funded initiative. Educators, business people, and a member of the clergy, all praised Joines’ new workforce development and internship program for high school juniors and seniors who qualify. This new internship program is in addition to the Winston-Salem College Guarantee program that was announced late last year.
Thursday was an important day. It was the beginning of early voting in our state. It’s a statement to Allen Joines’ political power that he was able to dangle a major initiative in front of voters as they headed to the polls. But Thursday, February 13, was also the third anniversary of the release of the Poverty Thought Force’s final report. No one at Thursday’s press conference mentioned the Poverty Thought Force even once. Three years after the 60-page report’s release, it has quietly been abandoned. And that’s unfortunate because the Poverty Thought Force’s final report explains why the Mayor’s new program isn’t enough:
Anti-poverty efforts across the
U.S. often take the form of “one-off” programs: a local plan to
provide job training, for example. Both academic studies and a
wealth of experience strongly suggest that only a system-wide
approach can make a meaningful, enduring difference. Hence
our simultaneous attention to five broad action areas—
education, health, housing, hunger, and jobs. Coordinated
resources from across these areas, brought to bear on a
particular neighborhood, promise more positive results than the
same monies devoted to a single city-wide program.”
Poverty Thought Force, Final Report, pg. 14
Many of us in the activist community were skeptical of the Poverty Thought Force from day one. It was hard to ever have confidence in an antipoverty effort led by a Wake Forest administrator making approximately $600,000 per year. It was unlikely that the report would produce anything that upset the status quo or helped people who need help the most. But lo and behold, it did provide something of merit. The PTF’s final report called for a ‘poverty czar’ to help coordinate the anti-poverty efforts of the City, County, and a myriad of non-profits. That’s a great idea.
But no one at City Hall ever made any serious attempt to create a poverty czar. Instead, Allen Joines continued the City’s patchwork approach to fighting poverty. In August 2018, he announced his ‘Think Orange’ campaign to combat food insecurity. In March 2019, he announced the Partnership For Prosperity, “a new non-profit initiative that will work to implement the recommendations of the Poverty Thought Force.” Former Winston-Salem Journal editorial page editor, John Railey was named the partnership’s executive director. Chanel Nestor was the partnership’s community engagement point person.
Railey and Nestor hosted a series of community listening sessions at local churches and non-profits in 2019. But to my knowledge, they never published anything based on those listening sessions. They merely reported back to the Partnership for Prosperity’s board. Sadly, journalist turned spokesman John Railey was as close as Winston-Salem ever got to having a poverty czar.
And it appears that the czar has been deposed. The PFP is now led by Interim Director, Paula Mccoy. Asia Pepper serves as a Community Engagement Associate, according to its website. Instead of listening to the poor and working-class, the Partnership is teaching them how to get ahead in a just-gettin’-by world. Budgeting lessons have replaced discussions on systemic barriers in Winston-racist-Salem.
I can accept the fact that the Poverty Thought Force is dead. But re-reading the PTF’s final report, I was reminded what an excellent source of data it was. Section II of the Poverty Thought Forces’ final report is a nerdy, deep dive into poverty in our community. That data should be reproduced annually. We need a consistent barometer on poverty in Winston-Salem, Forsyth County.
Our community is still struggling with disproportionately high levels of poverty and social dysfunction (pg. 2). The legacy of Jim Crow is visible throughout the city, but it’s painfully evident in East Winston.
Addressing poverty should be the City and County’s top priority. A program here and a program there aren’t enough.
CHAIRMAN, MAYOR ALLEN JOINES
Mayor, city of Winston-Salem
Assistant City Manager, Winston-Salem
REP. DERWIN MONTGOMERY
Executive Director, The Bethesda Center, and state representative.
Provost and Professor of Politics and International Affairs, WFU
Chief Impact Officer, United Way of Forsyth County
President and CEO, Goodwill Industries of Northwest North Carolina