Indianapolis is one of the poorest cities in America. One in five Marion County residents lives in poverty, and among children, the rate is even higher – one in three. A new initiative called the Faith & Action Project aims to galvanize the faith community, nonprofits and government to fight poverty.
Beginning in 2017, the project led by Christian Theological Seminary, with support from the Mike and Sue Smith Family Fund, will offer grants to organizations that create innovative, replicable programs to reduce inequality.
On Sept. 29, the project will hold its inaugural event – a discussion about poverty with journalist and public media host Tavis Smiley, a native of Indiana; New York Times columnist David Brooks; and Leah Francis Gunning, the dean of faculty at CTS and the author of Ferguson and Faith: Sparking Leadership and Awakening Community.
Smiley said that for communities to mobilize against poverty, they must first get beyond their stereotypes about the poor.
“Poverty is not what we think. It’s not just a homeless guy sleeping on the sidewalk. There are everyday people who’ve done all the right things, who through no fault of their own find themselves on hard times," Smiley said. "Poverty is not ‘color-coded’ – it’s not just black or brown.”
We also have to recognize that there is a highway into poverty, but barely a sidewalk out. So once you get in, it’s hard to get out,” he said.
As a journalist, Smiley has focused on issues of poverty, race and equality. In 2011, he went on an 11-city tour with scholar Cornel West for a PBS special, “The Poverty Tour: A Call to Conscience.” In his travels, Smiley said he found innovative community programs working to lift people out of economic hard times.
“We can’t let misery be the winner, so when you find programs that work, you need to be able to scale them up," he said. "I believe that Indianapolis is only a city that can be great when everybody has a chance to succeed. You can’t leave people behind.”
More information about the Faith & Action kickoff event is here.