Special to South Florida Times
Educators, social service providers, legal and corporate types joined hundreds at Bailey Hall on the Broward College central campus recently to see and hear author Ruby K. Payne talk about her book, Bridges Out of Poverty: Strategies for Professionals and Communities.
Payne said from the outset that, before the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, poverty in the United States had become invisible. “Katrina blew away the generally held belief that welfare reform was a success and the U.S. economy was working for everyone,” she wrote in the introduction to her book.
What has become evident since the current economic crisis is the shrinking middle class. Payne saw it happening in 2004. She writes, “The median household income has been flat for five straight years and only the top 5% of households experienced real income gains in 2004.”
“The structures that created the middle class — well-paying jobs, the 40 hour workweek, assistance with college loans and home mortgages, and employer-provided health care and pensions — are falling away,” she continues.
Economic insecurity, a fleeing middle class from cities — which reduces the tax base and spending power — Main Street’s viable businesses leave and, with the downturn of other indicators, as Payne writes, “when the free and reduced-price lunch rate at the schools hits 50%, our communities are becoming unsustainable.”
Payne holds a doctorate in educational leadership and policy from Loyola University in Chicago. She has written or co-authored a dozen books and is also an internationally recognized speaker, publisher and career educator.
Her biography, provided by Broward College, adds, “She also offers strategies for successfully raising student achievement and overcoming economic class barriers. An expert on the mindsets of economic classes and on crossing socio-economic lines in education and work, as well as for social change, she has trained hundreds of thousands of educators and other professionals in seminars throughout the world.”
During her Bailey Hall talk, Payne used power-point materials and a call-and-response interaction with her audience. She wants audiences to look on Bridges Out of Poverty as “a starting point where one can develop accurate mental models of poverty, middle class, and wealth.”
“Readers can begin to work on front-line staff skills and to develop new program designs in order to improve relationships and outcomes. The purpose is to give community leaders from all disciplines a start on that path,” she says.
Payne’s definition of poverty is: “the extent to which an individual does without resources.” Some of the key points that this educator of 30 years experience as high school department head, principal and staff development administrator wants listeners and readers to remember, include the following partial listing:
Poverty occurs in all races and in all countries . . . Generational poverty and situational poverty are different . . . Schools and businesses operate from middle-class norms and use the hidden rules of the middle class. . . We cannot blame the victims of poverty for being in poverty . . . We cannot continue to support stereotypes and prejudices about the poor.
Photo: PHOTO COURTESY OF OSCAR H. VARGAS/BROWARD COLLEGE
RECEPTION: Those at an AutoNation-sponsored reception for Bridges Out of Poverty author Ruby K. Payne, center, at Broward College’s Bailey Hall in Davie included John W. Ruffin Jr., chairman/CEO of Ruffin Associates Inc.