“We need to treat poor people with dignity”, was just one of the many awe inspiring and chilling statements from Bill Stricktland, President and CEO of Manchester Craftsman’s Guild, who spoke at Allegheny Colleges Annual Theme. I think this statement alone is one worth discussion and reflection. While he spoke of many impressive achievements and landmark movements that have been created through his programs, I believe that his message of how we treat people is of great importance.
It is easy to hold negative stereotypes of poor people. And it is even easier to blame them for being that way. We see these people as lazy welfare leaches, as people who choose to be this way. Yet, there are many factors that we either don’t see or choose to ignore. Factors that continue to put at risk people in a continuous cycle of poverty and weak education systems. It was Bill Strickland that broke this cycle by challenging the system with a simple solution, respect. Instead of continuing to use failed methods of intervening he approached the issue from a new direction and saw real change in his community.
Bill Strickland took a social issue that was damaging our youth and gave them something beautiful and in return students knew they were beautiful. He brought resources and new environments to an area that had never had the resources to experience this before. He brought respect to his community and invested in the people who needed it the most. His speech brought excitement that the chain in poor areas can be broken and that change is possible. He showed us that there is a road of hard work ahead of us but there are also solutions that can be found.
My question is how do we combat these stereotypes reflecting social class? The idea that only the wealthy deserve the beautiful and that the poor deserve what is left. Furthermore, I wonder how much these students in poor areas begin to self-stereotype themselves into future roles.
Here is a short clip with Anderson Cooper interviewing young children on skin color.