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It isn’t up to someone else

Can we get real about something?

Poverty is a problem. It’s pervasive. And it isn’t up to someone else to solve it – none of us can make real inroads alone.

Recent Census findings indicate that in other metropolitan regions, incomes are on the rise and poverty is receding. But here in Philadelphia, that’s just not the case.

Here’s Philadelphia’s reality: we are the poorest big city in the nation. 705,000 people in our communities struggle to make ends meet while earning $24,000 or less. One out of every two children born in poverty will likely remain poor for a lifetime.

Behind those stats are real people – our neighbors, co-workers and friends – who are simply seeking a better life. But not only are they not making any progress, they are falling further and further behind and losing hope.

That fact alone is troubling. But the reaction to findings is equally disturbing: instead of seeing the reality of poverty as a chance to change the equation, I’ve seen people place blame and point fingers, leaving those trying to solve the issue on the defensive.

Here’s another reality: we’re all a part of the solution – there is no individual, singular answer. And the failure to understand, accept and embrace that is perhaps the greatest missed opportunity in our region’s recent history.

To make it personal, that’s the reason I came to United Way nearly nine months ago. There’s a common thread that appears in every instance where real progress has been made on intractable social problems: a comprehensive, strategic plan where all of the key drivers of economic mobility were coordinated, aligned, and marching in unison toward clear goals with measurable targets and timelines. Multiple partners from philanthropy, government, the private sector, and citizen leaders with specific skills and values were at the table, and recognized that in order for a “Big Hairy Audacious Goal” like ending poverty to be achieved, leaders needed to put aside grievances, partisanship, and pettiness in pursuit of something sacred and noble. That means nothing short of stepping up and making a sacrificial investment in changing our disappointing status quo – and that’s something we can all participate in.

I came to United Way with the confidence that this organization had an important role in driving that type of approach forward and with a deep-rooted belief that until and unless we arrive at a place where everyone has a role to play in lifting our neighbors out of poverty, we will not make progress. What we’re capable of achieving when we respond to the call to invest and serve sacrificially changes lives and transforms communities.

More than ever, I believe that poverty isn’t larger than us. If we are united in our cause and approach, we can make a difference. But it starts with a vision and a plan where everyone knows the role they can play. It ends in accomplishment when and only when we are willing to dig in. That's the leadership of which we are all capable and what our region needs.

It isn’t up to someone else. It’s up to me, to you, to United Way and to every other person who calls this community home. I’m excited to start a series that showcases how together, we’re making a tangible difference for our neighbors. So I’m calling on you: will you join our journey and play your part?

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