On March 4, 2019, the Alabama Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival gathered in Montgomery to hear from Alabamians who have been confronting systemic racism, poverty, militarism and ecological devastation at a Poor People’s Hearing.
There are 2.1 million poor people in Alabama. These are their stories. And this is why they are joining the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, and why thousands more are joining across the country. Following its historic wave of activity in the summer of 2018, the Poor People’s Campaign is building a movement of poor people, clergy, activists and people of conscience, coming together across age, race, gender and sexual identities, geography and experiences to confront the structural and systemic causes of their suffering and misery.
My mom did everything she was supposed to do. She went to college and worked hard. She had to raise me and my brother and my sister on $17k a year. Because she made it work, and with a little luck, I got a full scholarship to Harvard University. And while my peers at Harvard were getting thousands of dollars a month from their parents, I remembered the lessons my momma taught me. I moved off campus because it was so much cheaper, and took the train an hour across town to get the most affordable groceries. And when I’d make Southern dinners for my friends, I’d send them home with leftovers. Because the first rule of country cooking is that nothing goes to waste.
I wonder how many folks here can relate. I bet my momma isn’t the only one who couldn’t always afford to feed her kids nutritious meals, and who did not have the time or energy to cook or go to the grocery. I bet my momma isn’t the only one who couldn’t always afford to foster her kids’ passions because they just didn’t fit in the budget.
And I know my momma isn’t the only one here who, even though she did everything she was supposed to do, had to tell her child, “I’m sorry, honey, we can’t afford it.”
The cost is clear: There are little girls and boys out there who can’t afford food and basic necessities, who can’t afford to live in a safe environment, free from violence, environmental hazards, and systemic prejudice, who can’t afford to get a quality education, and who can’t afford to go to the doctor when they are sick. Aren’t our children worth more than that?
After 3 years in the Navy, I decided that I wanted to come home. My family was still impoverished. I tried to get a job and was told that what I did in the military didn’t translate to civilian work. I found a minimum wage job, lived at home, and we still struggled very much. Many of my friends were in the streets living better than us. So I decided to join my friends, making money any way I could. I ended up catching a case and going to prison for 18 years. I got out of prison in 2014, determined to become a better person, a better citizen. I went to work at a steel plant. I paid my fines, got my driver’s license and I registered to vote. That’s when I found out that even though I am a veteran, having a felony meant that I couldn’t vote because of restrictions for “crimes of moral turpitude” in the state of Alabama.
I didn’t know what that meant, and I still don’t really know, but I know that they used it in the 60s to stop blacks from voting. And that’s why I dug into the 1901 constitution and decided that I needed to fight for this right. Because this right was not my right to give up. People before me, my grandparents, my ancestors fought long and hard to get this right. So I began to fight. The way I feel is this: I made bad choices and bad decisions. But I paid for them. I did my time. I did what I was supposed to do. I’m a military veteran and I fought for my country. There is no reason that because of a mistake I made as a 25 year old man I should not be allowed to vote at 52. Ensuring that everyone has the right to vote helps with recidivism, building connections to the community, and general public safety. It’s also the morally right thing to do.
My mother was a single parent. She raised four children since she and my father separated back when I was 11 or 12. She had never gotten a speeding ticket in her life. But, that year, she did get a tail-light ticket. Later on, the police came to our home and told her that the ticket had not been paid, although my mother claimed otherwise. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find the receipt. I immediately asked for a warrant. The officer stated that he did not need a warrant to arrest my mother and proceeded to do so. At the station I quickly explained that I was there to bail her out. The lady told me that I was not going to be able to bail her out because she had an ICE hold. My entire world was destroyed, my future was uncertain, not only for me, but for my siblings. As the oldest of four, I had questions running through my head. Will I have to give up on college? Do I have to get a full-time job in order to maintain the well-being of my siblings? Will I ever see my mother again?
My mother was detained for about four weeks; those were the hardest four weeks of my entire life. At the moment when my mother was released and I saw her walking alongside her attorney, I knew that I was destined to become an immigration attorney. There are currently more than 11,000 unaccompanied children in the care of U.S. Health & Human Services. This policy is inhumane and it is immoral. This policy must stop!
One of my great friends, Arrielle Parker, whom I considered a big sister, was innocently killed while sitting in a car. Her killer has still has not been found. As the thoughts & prayers rang in from politicians near and far, I sat back constantly saying to myself, “Thoughts and prayers won’t stop a speeding bullet.”
The night of Arrielle’s death, I realized that gun violence was not just an inner-city problem, I realized that gun violence isn’t a black or white issue, it’s an issue that affects us all. Because of the Poor People’s Campaign, I’ve opened my real eyes, to realize real lies!
Alabama is one of dozens of states in the Poor People’s Campaign that is organizing a bus tour to different parts of the state this spring to call attention to policy violence, reach out to new communities and build new connections across the state. These bus tours are happening over six weeks from April to May across the country. Watch the Kairos Center blog for more updates and reflections on the tours!
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