By Courtney Howell
I was lucky enough to be part of the audience during a talk with Tavis Smiley and Dr. Cornel West, two of the key activists for equality in the United States. Tavis Smiley hosts a talk show on NPR, as well as a talk show on PBS. His latest work focuses on the eradication of poverty, with a campaign entitled A Future Without Poverty. Dr. Cornel West is a Harvard graduate, a former professor at both Yale and Harvard, and currently teaches at Princeton University. Smiley and West appear together on a weekly radio show.
The dialogue discussed and the questions asked raised many good questions about our society and also affirmed my future career choices. Many of my colleagues here in D.C. will disagree with much of this blog post – but, in my mind, that is part of the purpose of this blog. My views align closely with those of the speakers today, so I was very inspired by their talk this morning.
Smiley and West discussed the eradication of poverty within the next twenty-five years, using political and social strategies. I don’t want to get into the hardcore logistics of poverty eradication because it is far too controversial and complicated for me to address in a single blog post.
Instead, I want to talk about the fact that no one is talking about poverty in a meaningful way. The two speakers suggested that this silence signifies a bipartisan acceptance of poverty, which I think is certainly true. Even though income inequality has increased in the past thirty years, Americans, including those in Congress, have largely stayed quiet on the issue of poverty, even as more people, including children go to bed hungry. Minimum wage is not enough for most families to live on. These issues should be on the minds of every American, and they certainly weigh on me in a big way.
That is the reason these two inspired and affirmed my views on where my life should take me. Some people may say that they are overly idealistic and, therefore, unrealistic. I disagree. We can make a difference by being leaders in our communities. They told us this morning that you cannot lead people unless you love people, and you cannot save people if you don’t serve people. You should be able to look back on every day and present something that you will not be ashamed of. What are you doing each day to make a difference and make yourself and others proud?
This morning, they told us we will have to be a voice, not an echo, and to go against the grain. I want to work to make the world a better place. I would love to work on their project to eradicate poverty and to work toward addressing issues of inequality in this country and bringing justice to all. Those who say it is impossible underestimate the compassion that exists within individuals; we just need to tap into it. We are on the right track by doing a day of service tomorrow, but I encourage everyone on this trip and reading this blog to continue to serve your community in the rest of your college years and the rest of your life. By being at Drake, you have immense privileges and it is my firm belief that you should work to pay those forward to those with less. Hopefully, someday, the number of the underprivileged will shrink in the years to come. And this should put a smile on everyone’s face.