4. Being poor ≠ being irresponsible
I was the only child of a mother who was born to migrant workers. My mother taught me how to pay bills on time. When I was 16 years old, I started working 40 hours a week as a cashier at Long John Silver’s to help pay for bills and food. I understood the importance of being responsible.
And yet, I made mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. But my mistakes led me to a lot of different consequences. My friends with resources made similar mistakes, but they did not have to face the same consequences.
At 18, I had a job but no driver’s license. We did not have the money for driver’s education, but I had to drive to work. Like many 18 year olds, I got a speeding ticket one day, and I was fined for driving without a license. I could not afford to pay for the fine, so it became a warrant. When I was 21 years old, I was arrested and spent two weeks in jail to pay the fine. I had my second baby four weeks before my arrest.
It was not a lack of responsibility that led me to being a young mother in jail. It was a lack of resources—every mistake I made sent me down further into the poverty rabbit hole.
5. Our dreams are your dreams
When I was living in the depth of poverty, I wanted a garage fridge and a car that did not leave me stranded on the highway when it broke down. I wanted to go to college, and I wanted my children to go to college.
People living in poverty have dreams and hopes that are pretty much like yours. They are not dreams and hopes of cashing in on their welfare checks and not working. They are dreams of having a safe place for their families to live and to work a job that affords them food, vacations, and a trip to the doctor when they are sick.
I learned how to survive from my family, who always found a way even when it felt like there was no hope at all. The gift of grit and perseverance should not come because I found a way to keep my children fed and alive in a country that claims to be the most prosperous country in the world. If we truly have a right to life, the children of those who are born into poverty have the right to eat and thrive just like the children of those with money.