Happy New Year!
The first weekend of the New Year found me at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, PA. Perfect for a cold, damp, rainy day.
Truly a fantastic place filled with interesting facts about how and why the American Revolution happened. For a fact wonk like me, heaven on earth. In addition to the permanent exhibit detailing and exploring the full document, was an exhibit about Thomas Jefferson and his home/plantation, Monticello.
Monticello was Jefferson’s experiment in architecture and agriculture. But one can also learn a great deal about the mentality of that era and how it is still reflected today.
On the grounds of Monticello were 200 enslaved people. Within the exhibit is a large sign in naming most of the enslaved that were born or bought, worked and died on the premises. Many names are repeated for various workers, including several John’s and three Sukey’s, plus more Sukey’s with variety of second names. People with names no one remembers who had little to no hope of being in charge of their own destiny due, mainly, to circumstances beyond their control.
The signers of the Constitution were smart, caucasian, male, land and business owners. Many believed that the entire economy, not to mention their own wealth, would collapse if slavery were abolished. What would happen to their inferiors – women, the poor and non-whites?
At the time of the revolution, 1 in 5 citizens in the colonies was enslaved. Currently,1 in 5 US citizens goes to bed hungry, 1 in 31 citizens of the United States is on parole, probation or incarcerated, 1 in 3 has a criminal record, 1 in 2 homeless are under the age of 18.
If you have read this blog you will know that I work in a small residential treatment facility for teens with “anger management challenges.” That’s the politically correct or let’s-keep-positive-at-all-times term for problems. They and their families are represented in the statistics listed above. Many encompass all categories. What are we doing, as a society, to give these folks hope for a better future?
I am a big believer in the idea that I am in control of my destiny, but I had help. I was not born in poverty or had to live with multiple families because my parent, the one not incarcerated, couldn’t keep a decent roof over my head. I never had to figure out how to get to school from a new homeless shelter. I never had to go to bed hungry as a child or without a winter coat, albeit my coat was a hand-me-down. I was never sexually abused as a child or beaten into submission.
What is the long term outlook of those who have grown up with these “challenges”? When the kids I work with made posters of occupations they would like to have, the jobs were: bereavement counselors, hair and nail stylists, parole officers, therapists, lawyers and basketball players. Where were the doctors, nurses, pilots, actors, writers, business owners, teachers, real estate agents, chefs, journalists, mechanics, welders, engineers, hospitality professionals, architects, scientists and designers?
These kids see themselves as a cog somewhere within one of the fastest growing businesses in the country – the prison system.
The United States has, by a wide margin, the largest amount of its own people in lock up. Being at the Constitution Center, I read this incredible, historic document put together to govern a country, not by rule of a family or separate section of the populace, but by the people as a whole. The difference of 1700’s slavery and 21st century poverty is apparent. Yet, we share the same percentage of the citizenry who have little notion of liberty to pursue their happiness. Now a paycheck deems where they live, what foods they can eat, life expectancy and future possibilities, or lack thereof.
Even though Wall Street is having a huge resurgence, the notion of increasing the minimum wage is shunned because it will “put businesses out of business.” Again, the wealthy few breed fear of a collapse in the economy for the majority of minimum wage workers – women, the poor and non-white.
Is this the modern form of slavery?