There is a empty lot in Southeast Washington, DC. 1/10th the size of Washington Redskins' FedEx Field, Skyland Town Center is an emblem of pride for the surveyors of private-public collaboration. The promise was JOBS! Jobs, Jobs, Jobs! The vision promised over 340,000 square feet of retail development and over 400 residential units. The dream of enjoined living, shopping and gathering would transform one of the most glaring economic deserts in the City into an Urban Economic Renaissance. It all seemed so real. Then, we hear "CRASH"! Wal-Mart walks. There is a Cry of Racial Injustice. Claims are made that private corporations will suffer. Suddenly, silence erupts. The winds blow dust across the empty terrain. The fences that separate the people from the promise have witnessed the murders of Charnice Milton and Ivy Tonett Smith. In spite of the most noble intentions, the unoccupied lot is merely a dusty memorial to a unyielding territory of "the least, the last and the lost". Businesses close. Jobs are lost. The people suffer. The promise suffers. Yet, the cycle prevails, "Stay the Course, Full Speed Ahead!"
Skyland Town Center's empty lot is a metaphor for the many empty lots in the homes of East of the River families. Filled with promise yet, yielding the results of systemic poverty. David Steib, Ayuda Board member and Director of its Language Access, speaks to the "duress" in Poverty and Participation, East of the River:
"...several other obstacles faced by those who live east of the river. More than a third encountered crime, including the sale of illegal drugs, in their neighborhoods. Nearly 70% had received food stamps in the past two years and more than 60% had felt uncertain about having enough to eat. And nearly a fourth had received Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) in the past two years; the DC Council is currently determining whether to terminate from the TANF program over 6,000 families—including over 13,000 children—who have reached the 60-month time limit on October 1, 2016."
Poverty advocates had sworn that the most coveted and costly War ever to be fought by America would result in prosperity for "the least, the last and the lost". U.S. taxpayers have spent over $22 trillion on anti-poverty programs since their inception under President Lyndon Johnson's Administration. That is three (3x) times more than the amount spent on all US Wars since the American Revolution. Since we have combated poverty, the American family, especially those East of the Anacostia River, have suffered the greatest collateral damage: the Father.
Governments, since Johnson's 1964 State of the Union Address where he announced “This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America”, have sought to manage the cultural loss of the Father from the Home. Gone is the Pro creator responsible for grooming the spiritual, social and familial well-being of the household. Gone is the upward mobility of the second income that is tied to wealth creation rather than poverty maintenance. Gone is the disciplinarian whose success kept many a testosterone laden teen from succumbing to the discipline of America's police forces, mercy of our judicial system and grace of our gender bending correctional facilities. It was Father who set the pace for the family while imparting Biblical standards of respect and reverence for Mother, duty to family and God and responsibility to serve one's neighbors. Governments have raced to keep families together with variant subsidy types. However, no amount of subsidy fully rectifies the poverty experienced with the loss of a Father.
There is a need for a new P.R.I.M.E. Directive in Urban America. One not seeking the economic edge of social justice through regimented outcomes for all but initiatives that seek essential economic opportunities for all balanced on the firm foundation of strong families and strong neighborhoods. The acronym P.R.I.M.E. stands for "PEOPLE REINVESTING IN MARRIAGE AND ECONOMICS". I pray that some in Urban America will use these ideas to legislate economic freedom and familial reconciliation that will boost prosperity, reduce civic costs and produce law-abiding citizenry that seeks to defend themselves and the City. Over the next few weeks, we will explore how a commitment to strengthening marriages in Urban America will improve economic outcomes for all. As well, how economic "strategeries" that deregulate entrepreneurial efforts and reduce dependence of healthcare services on major urban hospitals, reduce overall taxes and allows for urgent capitalization through securing more banks and credit unions in impoverished neighborhoods.