Conference seeks to reduce poverty in Macon

pramati@macon.comApril 19, 2013 

State Rep. James Beverly solicited ideas from more than a dozen community, education and business leaders Friday in an effort to tackle poverty in Bibb County.

“In my district, 40 percent of the people are below the poverty line, and it’s about 35 percent (overall) in Bibb County,” said Beverly, D-Macon. “How do you promote good living?”

After seeing Roger Clay, president of the Center for Community Economic Development, take part in a discussion on poverty for Tavis Smiley’s talk show on PBS, Beverly contacted him to see what expertise he could lend in combating poverty in Macon.

The result was the 1st Poverty Summit held Friday at Mercer University. Clay and Todd Greene, vice president of community and economic development for the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, were Beverly’s featured guests for the discussion.

Greene talked about some of the challenges facing communities across the country, pointing out problems that people don’t even know exist.

For example, many trade schools and junior colleges offer computer programming courses, but much of what they teach could be five years old -- an eternity in the computer industry -- and won’t help those students get jobs.

In some places, Greene said, high schools and vocational schools have stopped teaching skills such as welding or machinery. When a company opens a plant in the community, it must import its workforce to fill jobs such as machinists, meaning members of the community where the plant is located can’t get a job there.

Clay said a “healthy” community is comprised of six aspects for being successful: housing (including ownership, rentals, and housing for seniors and the disabled); health care; education, including preschool and vocational training; security, including lowering crime as well as disaster response; income security, which ranges from having good jobs to having assets available for those out of work or in retirement; and civic engagement, which includes political work and the cultural environment.

Clay, whose organization is based in Oakland, Calif., said a community needs to identify how it should approach poverty issues and then figure out how it will carry out solving those issues.

“The first step is to figure out what’s going on,” he said.

Beverly said his first step will be to try to collect data over the next six to nine months to find out specific issues and problems related to Bibb County. During that time, he hopes to have data ready in time for next year’s legislative session so he can work on any bills necessary to solve those poverty problems.

He also hopes to work with members of the community to develop a plan of action.

Beverly Blake, program director for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in Macon, said the conference is a good way to begin attacking the problem of poverty in Macon.

“This is an extremely good start,” she said. “It creates the conversation about how we can increase prosperity. I’m really pleased.”

Blake said she was able to gain perspective of the assets available in Middle Georgia to help reduce poverty.

“We have to figure out how we take these assets and move forward,” she said. “We need those community indicators -- know what the data says, and move forward.”

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.

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