Lessons From the Least of These: The Woodson Principles Explains Poverty in America and What You Can Do to Help
The biggest problem that poor communities face isn’t racism, says civil rights activist Bob Woodson. It’s elitism. Founder of the Woodson Center, a nonprofit serving those in the underserved communities, he recently spoke with The Stream about his new book.
In Lessons From the Least of These: The Woodson Principles, he explains the cycle of poverty in the U.S. and what people can do about it. It will be released December 15.
The problem, he says, is “this notion that solutions to problems can only be solved by well-credentialed professionals who then parachute their remedies into low-income communities. And that has been the fatal mistake of anti-poverty programs over decades.” Effective answers come from within the community.
Finding Healing Agents
While many nonprofits and others seek to help poor communities, they don’t understand the best way to assist those living in them. Woodson explained that those looking to help need to find people living in the communities who are already trying to help those around them. He calls them “healing agents.”
“If you go into the communities, identify these healing agents who I call social entrepreneurs. Provide them with the means, the training and the access to capital that allows them to expand their influence.” Nonprofits and other givers should not be quick to offer solutions.
“What what we ought to do is once we find a trusted healing agent in those communities, rather than come in as professionals and impose on them expectations, find some of them, [ask] what are their remedies. And then we need to give in a way that we’re on tap but not on top.” For most, it means providing financial help, access to people and resources as well as in-kind contributions.
Woodson explained how to do this. “If you say that 70% of the families are raising children that are disruptive, it means 30% are not. And why not knock on the doors of the 30% to find out how people are managing to achieve and thrive in the midst of these very challenging circumstances?”
Studying that 30% is important. Woodson encourages people to study successes, not failures. “You can learn nothing from studying failure except how to create failure,” he writes in the book.
“Begin your inquiry by recognizing the capacity people possess,” he continues. “People are inspired to improve when they are presented with victories that are possible, not injuries to be avoided. Provide them with the tools for self-determination and help them strive to succeed above all reasonable expectations. Then, look for ways to celebrate even modest improvements.”
Woodson hopes his book inspires people to realize the importance of humility and the insignificance of race. “My goal as a civil rights veteran is to deracialize race … and desegregate poverty. I want people to walk away understanding that our problem in America is not tribalism or race, but it is [elitism] from people across racial [lines].”
The takeaway, he says, is that “answers do exist and … we have to come together across race and class lines to address the presence of evil in this society. The enemy of good is evil. And so, we must not permit those who are trying to divide us by race to prevail.”
Woodson points out that his book is not about policy. It was written to challenge people to change their thinking about poverty in America. “There are three things that I hope to accomplish by the book. To inform, to inspire, and more importantly, to challenge people.” But he also wants it to be a hopeful book. “I hope it will inspire people. I hope folks can come together and recognize that the forces trying to divide us by race represent a minority and not a majority.”