By Margaret Brinson, Managing Editor
To what extent do our surroundings influence the people we grow up to be?
This is a question I have been asking myself a lot lately. Jackson, like many cities in the United States, is very much divided across racial and socioeconomic lines.
How many times have we as Union students been told to stay away from the east side of the city and keep out of the South? How often do we take that advice and stick exclusively to the North — within the bubble of our brick buildings and nice neighboring grocery stores and restaurants?
The segregation of cities is nothing new. It has been brewing since the 1920s, made manifest by the rise of minorities to the middle economic class — a good thing. However, when minorities could afford homes in formerly affluent, all-white neighborhoods, the white population emigrated as quickly as the minority population filtered in. That flight has not stopped since.
Some students are looking to help change the situation. Five Union women have signed a lease on a home on Highland Avenue, nestled into the lower-income area in midtown Jackson.
In doing so, they say they hope to meet and make friends with neighbors who may not be like them, or anyone they have interacted with before, for that matter. Through those relationships, these women can begin to make a difference — and a lot of that will be by example.
In his research, “Truly Disadvantaged,” William Julius Wilson, Lewis P. and Linda L. Geyser University professor and director of the Joblessness and Urban Poverty Research Program at Harvard University, argues that “the exodus of middle- and working-class families removed a social buffer.
In poor neighborhoods, these families had provided mainstream role models that keep alive the perception that education is meaningful, that steady employment is a viable alternative to welfare and that family stability is the norm, not the exception.”
Without those families in place, Wilson said, “The chances are overwhelming that children will seldom interact on a daily basis with people who are employed. … Joblessness, as a way of life, takes on a different social meaning.”
While regular exposure to a society that places value on family stability, regular income and healthy living, would, in itself, make a difference in the still-forming foundations of impoverished youth, relationships that develop out of communal living would do even more.
A 2000 study by the American Medical Association on the effects of mentorship on high-risk behavior in adolescents found a “strong positive relationship” between young adults and children who were mentored, which included decreased involvement in high-risk behaviors, such as drug use, sexual relations and the ownership of firearms.
We, as educated and relatively privileged people, should strive to assimilate into areas of need, hurt and pain. Let’s stop passing off the poor as a problem for the government’s eyes only — sticking to our safe side of town until we cannot even see them.
In an article for the New York Times, author Paul Krugman lays out the prospects for impoverished children in America. Brothers and sisters, it is bleak: “American children born to parents in the bottom fourth of the income distribution have almost a 50 percent chance of staying there — and almost a two-thirds chance of remaining stuck if they’re black.”
If we, as the properly employed, continue to simply complain about the dollars we lose to tax funds for those on welfare, we are missing the fact that without good guidance, the problem never ends. The next generation, raised only in an environment of joblessness and government aid, can only imitate that which they have seen.
Have they seen much of you?