From Poverty to Public Allies: My Path of Personal Transformation

13 Nov

What I remember most about being poor as a child is the unwavering sense of family, kinship, and connectedness. Although I was teased at school for wearing cheap clothing and hand-me-downs, and for eating free lunches, I never felt shame for being poor when I was with family.

I remember having a friend who refused to go with me to the playground I liked because it was “where all the welfare kids go.” When my mother would take my sister and I there, though, I enjoyed myself. I never felt embarrassed or uncomfortable with my family. I knew that even though we relied on public assistance, we always had one another.

When I look back on my childhood, I see that certain doors of opportunity were closed to me and my family because we were poor. We lacked choices in various aspects of our lives. For instance, since we were on food stamps, we could only purchase specific items that were covered by the program. Sometimes, when we didn’t have enough food to feed all of us, we would have to go to the food bank. At the food bank, you don’t get a choice in the food you get. Boxes are prepared for you before you even get there.

Another opportunity I never had as a child was the ability to think about or create a plan for my future. I couldn’t envision a future for myself. All I ever knew was that I had to find a way to be the first person in my family to go to college. My mother constantly drilled this into me because she didn’t want me to end up like all of the women that came before me: poor, struggling, and working long hours at a low-paying, thankless and tiring job.

Although I was denied certain opportunities as a poor child, I was fortunate enough to learn some tools and strategies that perhaps people who are new to poverty or who have never been poor don’t know or understand. I’ve learned that being poor is about making do. I’ve learned how to skimp, scour, and stretch what little I do have. I’ve learned patience and humility and non-attachment to material things. I’ve learned to live in the present and to relish every moment I am given. Most of all, I’ve learned how to leverage my familial connections for strength. Without the love and support of my family throughout time, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

My experience as a poor child shaped my view of what social justice means to me. I have insight as to what it means to be economically disadvantaged and what it means to live a life wrought with hardship, constant struggle, and a lack of opportunity and choice.

As a poor, queer, disabled Appalachian, I am part of a marginalized community. I have learned to be a guarded person. I know how to be evasive when certain topics of discussion arise and to brush off insults and snide remarks. I know to keep my childhood and my culture a secret. Though, it can never really be hidden because it is constantly expressed and identified through my mannerisms, my eating habits, my style of dress and my language.

My working-class identity often precedes me because it is such a huge part of my way of being. However, with Public Allies, none of that matters. I am accepted and respected for who I am, and that to me is the core of social justice.

Being with Public Allies is a wonderful opportunity for me to become a better social justice advocate by affording me the chance to meet new people, have new experiences, and learn new skills. It is an opportunity for me to develop my capacity as a leader by allowing me to bring all of my new skills back to my community to help create positive change for my friends, my family, fellow marginalized folks, and myself.

I am beyond grateful for this opportunity to learn and grow, and I am looking forward to undergoing a great personal transformation during this term, as I serve with Public Allies.

By Meghan Dillie, Public Allies Pittsburgh (an AmeriCorps program) Class of 2013

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One Response to “From Poverty to Public Allies: My Path of Personal Transformation”

  1. Dara November 29, 2012 at 11:44 am #

    Thank you so much for sharing your story and your journey to Public Allies.

    “Being with Public Allies is a wonderful opportunity for me to become a better social justice advocate by affording me the chance to meet new people, have new experiences, and learn new skills. It is an opportunity for me to develop my capacity as a leader by allowing me to bring all of my new skills back to my community to help create positive change for my friends, my family, fellow marginalized folks, and myself.”

    You’re exactly right. I can’t wait to read more about where you’re placed and the what you’re working on. Good luck and welcome to the Public Allies family!

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