In the last couple of years, I have had the great privilege of visiting with Dr. Ruby Payne on a number of occasions. I can think of no one who has had more influence on the national conversation around childhood poverty in America over the last two decades than Dr. Payne. Every time I hear her speak or am able to sit down and talk with her in person, I come away with a new nugget of wisdom.
Even if you are not familiar with Dr. Payne’s work, I think we all understand the significant impact rising poverty rates are having on our children, our communities, and our nation. The implication of growing poverty rates across our country is the greatest threat to national security we face today.
"Hope" is a word that is often used to describe a pathway for children trying to lift themselves out of poverty. I have heard it said many times…"As long as they have hope, they have a chance.”
I disagree. Not with the concept of hope, but with the belief that hope has the power to change our children's trajectory and turn dreams into reality. Hope is an ideal that comes from the heart. Although it is part of the equation, frankly, it’s not enough.
There are two salient points in Dr. Payne’s work that resonate with me:
First, as they face many challenges on their life journey, children in poverty need to have a “future story” in mind. Conversations, and many of them, must be had with kids about not just their hopes, but their dreams and aspirations. They need to talk, write, and draw about the things that are spurring them on toward a brighter future.
The second point Dr. Payne makes is that children need to have an integrated system of support (ISS) built to help them make their future story a reality. I would also add that system of support must be built on a foundation of love. It is at this juncture where the adults - parents, educators, and community members - play an incredibly important role. When loving adults take a coordinated and active part in the lives of children, the future stories of the hopes and dreams of those children can become a reality.
If I were mathematically express the variables that provide a pathway to success for a child it would look like this…
The multiplication function in this equation is important. Unlike addition, if any of the variables equates to zero, the product is zero. Furthermore, love is the foundation of the ISS that communities create. Without love, this equation, or expression if you will, has no meaning...the system is in error.
The point is, instilling hope in our neediest children is not enough.
To make hope a reality, more than anything, children need to know they will make it because they know 1) where they are going and 2) they aren’t walking the difficult path of life alone.