By Bankole Thompson
A recent email sought to determine if I had a Jesuit background or training because of my consistent emphasis on addressing poverty. The sender noted he’s been following my work and how I constantly highlight the need for economic justice in a world where many are marginalized.
I’m not a Jesuit, the Roman Catholic order of the Society of Jesus, founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola in 1534. This religious order counts among its members, Pope Francis, the first Jesuit in history to head the world’s 1.1 billion Catholic congregation.
About 70 million or 22 percent of the U.S. population profess the Catholic faith. The Jesuits are known for speaking boldly and candidly about poverty and the need to care about other people.
“With 16,000-plus priests, brothers, scholastics and novices worldwide, we are the largest male religious order in the Catholic Church. We are pastors, teachers, and chaplains. We are also doctors, lawyers, and astronomers, among many other roles in church and society. In our varied ministries, we care for the whole person: body, mind, and soul,” reads a Jesuit website dedicated to preserving the mission of the religious order.
That explains why Francis since his election by the papal conclave has made poverty, a central focus of his papacy, and has become this era’s most influential voice against inequality.
But unlike Francis, who was trained in the Jesuit order, I’m a journalist who simply cares about the fact that many families including children in Detroit are going to bed every night in a state of despair. I care because the root causes of structural inequities that leads to the increase in poverty does not get the deserving spotlight in the media.
Think about the fact that Detroit has the highest levels of poverty at 35.7 percent for any major city in America according to the Census.
How can we not talk about inequality?
While I was flattered by the inquiry about whether I was trained by a religious order that has long espoused the evils of poverty, what should matter is that we demonstrate concern about the debilitating impact of poverty on many lives.
That is why I write and talk about the issue. That is why I continue to push for it to be treated as a matter of urgency at the highest levels of Detroit’s government.
The issue is even more pressing in light of the fact that Detroit is currently undergoing an economic boom or a renaissance, that has been touted as the best the city has seen in decades.
And if that is the case, the rest of the city should be a part of that economic revival, not just some selected clustered areas.
In fact, Mayor Duggan in the wake of the five-year anniversary of the city’s bankruptcy indicated that the bankruptcy has placed the city in a stable financial condition. That is in line with some of the arguments in favor of the bankruptcy in that it would allow the city to start on a clean financial slate to provide needed services for Detroiters.
But the irony is that in post-bankruptcy Detroit, many are waiting for an inclusive recovery. Detroit continues to stand out as an epicenter of social inequality and an important part of the larger narrative about extreme inequality in the U.S.
A recent United Nations report about poverty in the nation underscores why there ought to be concrete and realistic plans from our local government leaders to tackle this scourge.
“There is no magic recipe for eliminating extreme poverty, and each level of government must make its own good-faith decisions. At the end of the day, however, particularly in a rich country like the United States, the persistence of extreme poverty is a political choice made by those in power,” the report stated. “With political will, it could readily be eliminated. What is known, from long experience and in the light of the government’s human rights obligations, is that there are indispensable ingredients for a set of policies designed to eliminate poverty.”
“They include: democratic decision-making, full employment policies, social protection for the vulnerable, a fair and effective justice system, gender and racial equality, respect for human dignity, responsible fiscal policies and environmental justice.”
The report stated that the nation has fallen short on each of the measures cited. Detroit’s leaders should especially take note of the report and work towards an equitable city. And one shouldn’t be schooled in the teachings of the Jesuit order to understand the perils of economic inequality. All that is required is to simply care even if you are in the non-poor class.
“Without a solution to the problems of the poor, we will not solve the problems of the world. We need projects, mechanisms and processes to implement better distribution of resources, from the creation of new jobs to the integral promotion of those who are excluded,” Pope Francis admonished.
Bankole Thompson is the chair of the Academy of Fellows and Editor-in-Chief of The PuLSE Institute, an independent anti-poverty think tank based in Detroit.