I’ve had a wall banner I love entitled “My Name is Not ‘Those People’” by Julia Dinsmore hanging on my various doors at Simpson for the past 5 years after I had gotten it from Julia whom I knew when she was in the midst of raising her children, sometimes on welfare, always passionate. No one ever commented on this poem until today when not one but two moms who are in our Elliot Park program came into Simpson’s Elliot Park office at separate times and read it as they waited for me to finish whatever I was doing.
I’ve known both women for more than a year. I’ve heard their stories, the shame they feel sometimes because of the harshness of being poor and of systems that are more interested in paper and computer input than human input. Words like “inadequate”, a “problem case to be managed”, a “lazy dependent welfare mother” need not be spoken directly in order to harm those to whom they are directed. They show up in the decisions our legislators make when they cut school programs, busing, child care; or processes that make people jump through numerous hoops; forms that are unintelligible; letters that “sanction” or “close your case”; utility companies that shut off service; housing that is too expensive. Or having to say “no” to your child who wants a particular toy or treat because you don’t have the money to pay for it.
“Look!” I say to the two women as I point out a line in the poem. “The amount of an MFIP grant today is the same as it was in 1992! $621 per month!” Food stamps have gone up, but it appears that the amount of cash a family of 4 receives today is the same as it was 16 years ago. This would mean, if my facts and figures are correct, people are even poorer than they were in 1992 when you factor in the cost of living, cost of health care, cost of housing, gas, utilities etc.
Two moms. From two different cultures. For both women, the words in Ms. Dinsmore’s poem are as powerful in their lives today as they were in Ms. Dinsmore’s life when she wrote it in 1992.
Here’s the poem.
My Name is not “Those People” by Julia Dinsmorfe
My name is not “Those People.”
I am a loving woman, a mother in pain, giving birth to the future, where my babies have the same chance to thrive as anyone.
My name is not “Inadequate.”
I did not make my husband leave – he chose to,
and chooses not to pay child support.
Truth is though, there isn’t a job base for all
fathers to support their families.
While society turns its head, my children pay the price.
My name is not “Problem and Case to Be Managed.”
I am a capable human being and citizen, not a client.
The social service system can never replace the compassion
and concern of loving Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, Fathers,
Cousins, Community – all the bonded people who need to be
but are not present to bring children forward to their potential.
My name is not “Lazy, Dependent Welfare Mother.”
If the unwaged work of parenting, homemaking and community building was factored into the Gross National Product, my work would have untold value. And I wonder why my middle-class sisters whose husbands support them to raise their children are glorified – and they don’t get called lazy and dependent.
My name is not “Ignorant, Dumb or Uneducated.”
I live with an income of $621 with $169 in food stamps.
Rent is $585. that leaves $36 a month to live on. I am such a genius at surviving that I could balance the state budget in an hour.
Never mind that there is a lack of living-wage jobs.
Never mind that it is impossible to be the sole emotional, social and economic support to a family.
Never mind that parents are losing their children to the gangs, drugs, stealing, prostitution, social workers, kidnapping, the streets, the predator.
Forget about putting money into schools – just build more prisons.
My name is not “Lay Down and Die Quietly.”
My love is powerful and my urge to keep my children alive will never stop. All children need homes and people who love them. They need safety and the chance to be the people they were born to be.
The wind will stop before I let my children become a statistic.
Before you give in to the urge to blame me,
the blames that lets us go blind and unknowing into
the isolation that disconnects us, take another look.
Don’t go away.
For I am not the problem, but the solution.
-Nikki LaSorella, Simpson Family Advocate