Remember the concept of people-first language? Placing the person at the center versus the description of their social identity makes them the agent of their own story and minimalizes generalizations and stereotypes of who they are based on how we perceive their situations. There are some families living below the poverty line whose income is sufficient to meet their needs and they don't self-identify as living in poverty. Those who receive backpacks and gifts from us are not "needy". They are not "the homeless" or "the poor." Despite what you may read on your NextDoor or local news, they are not the ones at fault for your neighborhood trash, blight, or crime. To speak respectfully of the many children and families living in poverty in this community, we need to keep a few things in mind:
- Poverty is not anyone's fault or choice.
- Poverty does not take away the importance of a person’s inherent skills, talents, or value to society.
- People living in poverty can often be determined, resourceful, and resilient.
- Children living in poverty are as capable as anyone else to succeed in life.
- Children in poverty often have families who love and care about them just as much as children living under any other socioeconomic umbrellas.
What we do for our neighbors facing financial hardships or experiencing homelessness is helping to empower them by working to provide more equitable opportunities in the classroom and in the community so that they have a greater chance to succeed. We should never position ourselves as "saviors" for these communities as they don't need saving; they need uplifting. The sooner we can change our habits to adjust to more compassionate and respectful language to talk about those we support, the better allies we can be.