I am lucky to constantly have mentors and friends inviting me to events that they know I would be interested in attending. Last week was no exception and I was invited to hear David Brooks and Tavis Smiley speak at Butler University. The event was open to the public and tickets were complimentary, but it was wise to plan ahead because it was a packed house as the two discussed poverty in Indianapolis.
This year, the Christian Theological Seminary launched an effort to help reduce poverty in Indianapolis and through annual public events and monetary awards given to various community organizations, the Faith and Action Project was created. Beginning in January, three organizations will receive awards of $50,000, $20,000 and $10,000 for their innovative ideas to conquer poverty in our city.
The first event to celebrate the Faith and Action Project was the Brooks and Smiley forum. I have been an avid reader of the New York Times and columnist David Brooks for years and got the opportunity to hear him speak at an education conference at Stanford a few years ago. He is incredibly smart, witty, and while I do not always agree with him, he writes thought-provoking pieces.
Brooks is also fully aware that he is the ‘token Republican’ for the Times, but accepts his role nonetheless. “Being the conservative columnist at the New York Times is like being the chief rabbi at Mecca,” says Brooks. He also commented that his son is an IU student and had told him to speak slowly if they’re Purdue grads in the audience. As an IU grad, he instantly won me (and most of the audience) over.
Dr. Leah Gunning Francis, author of Ferguson and Faith, did a wonderful job as the moderator. I lived in St Louis during Ferguson and her perspective helped guide the conversation.
Let this sink in: Indy’s child poverty rate is at 33 percent. Smiley remarked that “Poverty is a matter of national security. There is a highway into poverty, but barely a sidewalk out.” It is an issue that should be taken just as seriously as our safety. It is the well-being of the community and his comments reiterate how difficult it is to get out of poverty.
It is easier for a child to become a felon than a high school graduate. There was no single solution provided as to how to address poverty and there will never be a perfect solution, but forums like this will lead us in the direction of change and momentum.
“The best way to transform lives is spiritual, not just professing reasons why you should change,” said Brooks. While the Christian Theological Seminary is leading the project, CTS welcomes all faiths. A higher power than yourself is the component that will bring our community together, whatever that force might be for you.
Brooks is known for his wonky articles about economics and he related the issue of poverty as to how it affects the larger picture of society. “When culture shifts to ignore marriage, economics suffers. Living in stress, lowers a child’s IQ.”
As a Christian, Brooks hit home with me when he said: “You don’t serve the poor because it will be rewarding. You serve them because God wants you to. Through love and humility.” Serving others is not always rewarding. Hard to swallow, but it is true. You serve because the reward is the gift of knowing you have served God. At the end of the day, it is not all about you.
Smiley left us with a few knowledge bombs that stuck with me: the idea that equality means that everyone gets the same thing. In contrast, equity is meeting the needs of those without means. Many people confuse the two. There’s also a difference between charity and justice. We all want to live in a country that will one day be as good as its promise. I don’t think anyone can disagree about that statement, regardless of their political persuasion.
Smiley reminded the audience that most of the things that Martin Luther King Jr. did were incomprehensible at the time. People did not understand, but it took someone passionate and willing to step outside of their comfort zone to make impactful change.
I’ll leave you with sentiments about love because I think that’s what life is really all about. My grandfather always said, “You can never work too hard or love too much.” While I am sure I have been overworked, I have never been over-loved. Smiley believes the notion of love in public discourse is missing. Love means that everybody is worthy JUST because. “We all came here tonight to lead. You can’t lead people unless you love. You can’t save if you don’t serve,” says Smiley.
I couldn’t agree more. We may never solve poverty, but we can certainly close the gap and love with all our hearts. “Our very best days in Indy are yet to come,” says Indy Mayor Joe Hogsett.
A quote that Brooks shared with the audience. “Love is both an art and a fortunate accident.”
Love in video form:
Have a wonderful week, y’all.
Xx, Libby and Winston