Diversity Forum Preview: Classism vs. Racism

Diversity Forum Preview: Classism vs. Racism

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - Fifty years after President Lyndon Johnson declared a war on poverty, many feel the fight is far from over.

Millions of American families nationwide struggle with poverty, leading many to believe that today's civil rights fight is more about classism than racism.

This week News Leader 9 and the Mayor's Commission of Unity, Diversity and Prosperity will present a special town hall meeting to look at issues surrounding poverty in our community.

The meeting is called "The Dream Lives - Breaking the Cycle of Poverty" and will be held this Thursday Feb. 13 from 7:30 to 9 p.m. in the Council Chambers of the new City Services Building on Macon Road.

News Leader 9's Barbara Gauthier has a preview.

With nearly 19 percent of people in the Columbus metropolitan area living in poverty, some say the Fountain City, like many others across the country, has become a community of haves and have-nots.

"To me it's not white or black, the only color that many people see is green and I think that's wrong," said Marquese Averett with the Young Minority Leaders.

Averett says that green, or the lack thereof, splits the city of Columbus right along Macon Road.

"You can't divide, slice and dice your city along one street and say the haves live over here and the have-nots over there," Averett said. "That's not right, that's not growth."

For years the so called "north-south" divide along Macon Road has separated the city of Columbus largely along economic and racial lines.

But some say classism is the new racism in America as the financial gap nationwide continues to widen with continued unemployment, more families living on minimum wage, and the increase in single parent households.

"I don't say on the south side either, but I'm concerned about the conditions of my brothers and my sisters that stay down there," Averett said. "We can't go around saying that we're equal and we're just if everything is not equal and is not just."

Mayor Teresa Tomlinson sees the divide. She also sees ways the government can help bridge it by creating what she calls "well-built communities" throughout Columbus.

"People are much more comfortable segregating people by economics and class, they don't feel it's as inappropriate to do so," said Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson.

She says urban communities must look for ways to change the paradigm of having those with money and means moving out of cities and into the suburbs -taking their resources with them.

"The object for a city that wants to fight poverty wants to fight classism is to bring people at varying levels of resources to closer proximity to each other," said Mayor Tomlinson. "And when you do that you're going to broaden the tolerance level, because now you're my neighbor, I'm your neighbor, we may be at varying levels we know each other and we share a community."

The mayor says "sharing a community" means shopping there, eating there, opening businesses there, all of which helps to minimize poverty

In this city of some 200,000 people that is split almost 50-50 among whites and African Americans, the Mayor says plans are in the works to help bridge the economic divide and create communities that can embrace diversity.

"We certainly can make policy decisions to invest in areas of poverty to encourage and entice other people with abundant resources to come to that area," said Mayor Tomlinson. "We can plan communities that are exciting and interesting and would bring people if different age levels and different income levels that begins to tear down the classism."

"If I don't know you there's probably less of a chance that I'm going to care about what happens to you," explained Dr. Mark Strunk, counselor with the Pastoral Institute in Columbus.

Dr. Strunk says it may sound simple, but getting to know people who are different from you is the first step to understanding.

He says in order for Columbus to be a great place for all to live, everyone from those who "have" and those who "don't" will have to learn to care for their communities and each other.

"Everybody's got a story, do we take the time to find out what each person's story is and then respond to those needs?" asked Dr. Strunk. "But we've become much more isolated and distant and as a result the divide seems to have increased."

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