Thursday, March 29, 2007

Eradicating Poverty and Racism

Part of being an Americorps*VISTA is being committed to mymission to eradicate poverty in our communities by providing capacity building for the organization to whom I am assigned. That means I help establish community partnerships and facilitate new ways in which these programs can benefit one another as they seek to benefit their communities, right?

That means part of my job must include pounding the pavement and meeting other groups doing similar work. I chose last week to visit a nonprofit in northwest Georgia, which is very rural and so far as I can tell our office in Atlanta has yet to identify the right partnerships way out there. I was on a mission to change that. I met with my contact and discussed our mission and asked about theirs and tried to identify ways in which my organization could lend value to theirs. After some talk about our services came the following comment, "Y'know, there are all these programs for the Latinos, and women, and African Americans... what about the white man, what's he s'posed to do?"

I didn't know what to say to that. On the one hand I thought maybe he was saying that it's frustrating for his constituency, but then again, wasn't he also making a racist comment?

Fast forward to tonight. I am at another speaking engagement and I am talking to some women outside of City Hall East. It's a couple of black ladies and we're talking about the fact that the services they are seeking are only being offered in English here and in their home county, Gwinnett, it's only offered en Espanol. And this middle-aged, black, woman was going into how it's not fair, "They need to be learning how to speak English, I don't mean to sound, that way, but you know what I mean?"

I did not. So I replied,

"Y'know, immigrants are 4 times more likely to being a small business owner than a person born here. These entrepreneurs are the primary economic engine driving the NYC economy, actually, since 9/11."

"Yeah, but, they need to speak English here, why can't I get this business training in my own community when they be havin' all the opportunity."

I cut her off, "It sounds to me like you're describing a need in your community for a service which you might be able to provide. Why isn't this your small business?" I gave her a second to process this.

"I bring it up because at the last meeting held by this organization I met two women who were having the same problem as me: getting the Douglas County Chamber of Commerce to return my emails and calls. I know they have small business owners that would love to know more about micro-finance options available to them. Why won't the Chamber call me back? These ladies knew exactly what I was talking about because they, too, were not able to get the Chamber to contact them."

What did these ladies in Douglas County do? They formed their own, informal, Chamber to address the needs of fellow business owners in their area that were not being served by the Chamber of Commerce. Now they are filing as a 501(c) and can begin another stream of revenue.

I looked at these ladies, in the City Hall tonight and said, "So, rather than talking about how these people should learn your language, you should try to start your own network, make that your business, you obviously can see there is a need for it. And you don't even have to know much about how to start a business, just call me up and my nonprofit, Accion USA, will come do financial literacy classes for you, for free. We can tell other financial literacy programs that you're looking for partnerships, and there you go - free services that you can capitalize on."

They were sold on the concept.

Georgia has a serious problem with racism. We try to mask it under the catch all immigration, but immigration isn't the real problem. Healthcare is the real problem, real services to communities - that's a problem, but it's easier to blame immigrants than it is to buck up and admit that it's the laziness of those born here that brings foreign entrepreneurs here. There's little native competition.

Pardon my frankness, but: if you've been here this long and still haven't taken advantage of the advantages you've got, don't complain about how it's not fair. Turn it to your advantage, reinvest in your community by identifying those who are working in your community.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Some Financial Resources

So it's tax season and I've been doing some reading on Refund Anticipation Loans (RALs). These are those "rapid refund" deals that you see advertised on public transit. Heads-up: if it ain't advertised in your local Starbucks, it probably ain't a public service, or a good deal to the general public.


In short, when you elect to get these rapid refunds you are paying to have access to your money sooner. Sounds like a reasonable proposition, right? But, you're paying for money you've already earned, and it's at an interest rate hundreds of times greater than you'd pay if you simply had direct deposit with a bank or Individual Development Account (IDA).