I wanted to to write about the best kind of conspiracies: not the “secret plan to do something unlawful” kinds; no, let’s focus on “acting in harmony towards a common end” stories. About the ones acting to close the opportunity deficits that exist across America.
I wanted to tell you about a recent visit to Richmond, where the memorials on the grounds of the Virginia Capitol not only pay tribute to Thomas Jefferson but also Barbara Johns, who led a strike to protest the deplorable conditions of her racially segregated school on an April day in 1951.
I wanted you and my kids to know: Barbara Johns was sixteen years old when she decided to change the world. Her brave act led to a lawsuit that conspired with four other state cases, which led to the Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka that racially separate educational systems are inherently unequal and unconstitutional.
I wanted to share this quote from Justice Thurgood Marshall: “The legal system can force open doors and sometimes even knock down walls, but it cannot build bridges. That job belongs to you and me.”
I wanted to tell you about A Wider Circle, not far from the nation’s capital, which is dedicated to building bridges and widening circles, to closing that opportunity deficit.
I wanted to tell you about Senator Cory Booker, who spoke at Wider Circle’s community ball last year and humbly acknowledged he was the living result of a conspiracy of love; that all kinds of people from all kinds of walks of life helped dislodge his family from poverty.
I wanted founder Mark Bergel, the board and staff at a Wider Circle to know how inspired so many of us are by the work of the organization and its mission to end poverty for one individual and one family after another.
I wanted them to understand they called to us with their new Wraparound Support program, one that recognizes an inherent truth: the number one reason people are in poverty is birth. The number one reason people rise out of poverty is support. And that it’s up to each of us to offer that support. As Wider Circle put it: “We say that love is a verb. It doesn’t matter what we say we care about. It matters what we do. Each of us. Every day.”
I wanted a Wider Circle to hear that because of their program, it finally feels like I’m doing the things that I say I care about. That, by working with a group of five families to offer support to our friend M and her family, we are not just problem solving and addressing barriers, we are active participants in a conspiracy of love.
I wanted M (using her initial to protect her privacy) to know that we are all in this together. That my son said M and her children are like family now.
I wanted to share a quote from a middle school student named Vidal Chastanet, who explained to Humans of New York that one time his principal, Nadia Lopez, “made every student stand up, one at a time, and she told each one of us that we matter.” And one from Principal Lopez, who leads Vidal’s high poverty, high promise school and said, “My kids don’t need to be saved. They need opportunities and access.”
I wanted us to recall the story of Barbara Johns, who did not need saving but understood, as a teenager, that she and her fellow students needed opportunities and access to a quality education. And with support — from family, community, and NAACP lawyers — her movement led to a groundbreaking legal decision. It also led Ms. Johns to college, a family and a career as a librarian.
I wanted our friends associated with Wraparound Support to know this: we understand that the heart of this program is about providing opportunities and that conspiracy of love that everyone deserves, but not everyone gets in this beautiful but still a work-in-progress country of ours.
I wanted to thank the speakers at a Wider Circle’s community ball who reminded me that so many of us owe our success to the friends, communities and family who continue to lift us up and support us. Because when we do that for motivated, hard-working people, they can accomplish so many things.
In the last six months, here is what our friend M did. She stopped smoking. She visited career centers and job hunted (while not working her current 1pm-9pm shift). She made countless health and educated-related appointments for her and the kids. She found quality child care and camps. She worked on budgeting and organizing; she enrolled herself in a GED program and her kids in reading and sports activities. She secured a new license and started cooking more. She got a job offer in her field of choice.
And she has a group of supportive friends who celebrated her accomplishments at a Wider Circle’s latest community ball this week, the one where Congressman Jim Clyburn (D-SC) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) were lauded for their bipartisan conspiring to fight poverty in communities across this country. Communities — urban and rural, white and black, Native American and Hispanic — where access and opportunities have been limited for years.
I wanted you to know my favorite conspiracy story. It’s the one that lifts us all.
NOTE: Our friend M has read and approved this post. She’s considering writing or recording her own soon to inspire others. To learn more about how A Wider Circle’s conspiring to end poverty, visit their website here or message me if you have questions. #EndPoverty)