A Letter from Mama Dee to the Poverty, Race, and Media Justice Interns at POOR Magazine
We have read all of your résumés. Many of you have had access and privilege beyond anything we, and many of the people we work with, have ever known.
Many of you have had exciting extracurricular and postgraduate volunteer work. Exciting is the operative word here. Some of you have had well-paying and interesting jobs as well.
When I see that kind of race and class privilege experienced by people, some still in their twenties, and contrast it with some of the people with myself and many of our POOR Magazine povertyskolaz and other community of poor and houseless peoples with whom we work, in their thirties, forties, fifties, and more, who have never had the opportunities most of you have had, I am almost at a loss for words and thoughts.
You owe so much and yet I do not want to see people helping others out of guilt because it often becomes nothing more than positivism, something you can forget when you go back to the next interesting job or advanced education program.
We, the originators of POOR, have come from poverty, and only because of our intelligence and ability to organize our thoughts — itself a form of privilege — have we been able to take these experiences from poverty, racism, and suffering and be at one with them, to create this grassroots organization that hopefully gives opportunity to others who have experienced similar backgrounds.
Do you have the ability, I wonder, to understand the nuances of your access and privilege? Your health, your optimism, your dental care, and on and on and on.
We need people who have the ability to understand the subtle and not-so-subtle differences between yourselves and the people with whom we work.
I wasn’t impressed by your insights on your applications. I didn’t get the feeling that you were in touch with what I’m talking about.
It is possible for you to learn. However, places like Global Exchange that provide exciting volunteer work for people with privilege, to keep them stimulated and excited, is not what we are about here at POOR.
There is a lot, a lot, a lot of drudgery in poverty—very little intellectual or creative stimulation. Much sadness and much, much frustration and isolation.
What can you do about this?
Beyond all else, you need to see those tiny differences that occur between yourself and those that exist in poverty. That is the beginning.
We at POOR need people like yourselves that can do the frustrating tedious chores like grant writing and other types of fundraising, as well as other administrative work. You need to pay your dues with work that is not very exciting. Working with the political events and assisting impoverished and disenfranchised people in writing from their voice and their experience is the exciting part. Even copyediting for these folks is more interesting than some of the day-to-day frustrations of maintaining our vision.
If you are interested in being here at POOR, you will be required to help with both, whether or not you are bored, annoyed, or frustrated. It is part of running a grassroots organization and it is what we do.
You can benefit by using your strength and optimism and abilities that have come to you from privilege and access to help us, and I hope that, at least in part, you experience some of the boredom and frustration that we have experienced. That, in fact, you do not feel intellectually stimulated. That you are annoyed and have a pervasive sense of hopelessness from feeling overwhelmed, like us and the people with whom we work.
From these feelings, you will learn about poverty. Be thankful if this happens to you. Include that in your résumé. Those feelings are more meaningful than any travels in India, Africa, or other faraway places with strange-sounding names, Ivy League college degrees, or honors from the dean’s list, Phi Beta Kappa or Magna Cum Laude, stimulating and informative college classes, books with new and edgy thinking, or any of the cumulative warm and happy holidays that you’ve experienced with family and friends.
I did not see any mention of this kind of experience on your résumés. I did see a lot of near clichés about wanting to “help” people.
I suppose you have gotten in the habit of writing this kind of résumé because it is what graduate schools and good jobs require, but if you work here at POOR, I would want you to rewrite your résumé including these feelings based on your experience here — and then convince future employers that this is, in fact, the way a résumé should be written.
If you want to work at POOR you can let us know in writing how you understand what we expect of you. Do tell us what you think you can learn here as well.