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Sincerely Brooklyn is a lifestyle blog that provides cultural commentary of my life in Brooklyn. With cultural insight and perspective, this is a creative outlet for the beauty obsessed, social and political observer in constant pursuit of great food, great company and fun times. 


Filtering by Tag: poverty

Ramblings about Solidarity




Solidarity scares me. Solidarity reminds me of the word that you say in public when you really mean something else in private. Solidarity reminds me of the recent marches on Washington to commemorate the anniversary that led to a speaking list full of everyone from Pepsi representatives to organizations that have never elected Black leadership. Solidarity triggers something very sad in my soul that brings up images of forgotten poor people. When I think of solidarity, I think of the 99% who just as culpable for the problems of the lower 5% as the top 5%.


Am I confusing solidarity with unity? Perhaps. What’s it all mean if we aren’t unified? Am I confusing solidarity with the things that happen after the closed door meetings? Maybe. What I’ve experienced of solidarity as of late is the erasure or censoring of poor people from the forefront of the liberation movements. When I think of those who need to be free the most, I think of poor folk. When I think of the folks who are not making room for poor folk and taking up space, are the folks in the middle.


Could it be that middle class folk and people who are economically moderate and politically liberal are taking up too much space out of fear that the targets of some of the problems we face could be them? I should include myself in the “them.”

I hate when Americans, especially middle class Americans, specifically declare themselves in solidarity with anyone in the Global South. It becomes almost a joke if we are not uplifting the margins of poverty. It becomes almost a joke if we are advocating for more wages in a vary narrow westernized context but we fail to advocate for living wages of the people in the Global South. Sometimes our advocating leads directly to marginalized people being over policed, underfed, and having no access to goods. We do this in the name of solidarity and jobs. But what happens when we have a job and we fight to protect that job at the expense of even more marginalized people?

I’ve watched unionized security guards advocate against policies that seek to minimize sentencing for Black men who became pawns in the War on Drugs. I’ve seen them march, hand and hand, as working class men to disenfranchisement poor men. Men who they've deem disposable. Men who they don't even include in their 99%.  I’ve seen those same security guards join with plumbers, in the name of solidarity to protest laws that would eliminate faulty pipes therefore eliminating jobs for plumbers but decreasing apartment problems for the poor. I’ve seen this. I’ve seen white mothers in Brooklyn join hands for an increase in minimum wage in New York, while paying their Black, immigrant nannies under the table crumbs. I’ve seen unionized public teachers march, write letters, yell, and complain about the parents of students they teach in poor communities. I've seen them lobby against getting fired as working class people all while refusing to teach students in poor communities they've failed to include in their 99% narrative.  I’ve seen them, in the name of solidarity, march alongside racist police officers who kill, brutalize, and humiliate the very students they claim to want to teach.

What are we, as progressives, doing in the name of solidarity? How much are we willing to advocate for ourselves as a collective group when the truth is, it's the least of these that need most of our advocating? 

The Curious Case Against Poor People’s Parenting


“When are we going to hold these parents accountable. The teachers are great. It’s what comes to them that is the problem. These parents don’t read to their kids. We need to teach them how to parent.”

 -said some self-proclaimed liberal that was not me

My amazing nephews

My amazing nephews

All I knew was: I was broken. That I had come from a place too wrong; that the good teachers, just like the good pastors, in my neighborhood were going to make me right. The fix: Helping me understand why being a CNA making $10 an hour would be my dream job. That’s what Ms. Jackson told me I should be. That was a “good job” she called it for a Black girl. This was in 1991 not 1931.

 I was broken.

I saw the extra clothes given to me at school. I saw the extra boxes of lunch thrown in my backpack. I heard the whispers from adults around me. They thought we were hungry. They thought we needed counseling because of the gun shots at night. They always wanted to give my mother services-after school, Saturday soup kitchens, free basketball programs. I heard the whispers from the adults in the building that we didn’t know who our father was and that our mother was working so many jobs she didn’t know where the school was.

We were poor, yes. But almost none of those statements many of the teachers in my schools made about me and my siblings were true.

The dreams many of our teachers had for us were crushing. Many of them found compromising careers for us because well “…everyone can’t go to college, after all.” Our parents, many of whom, never graduated high school and couldn’t find a university on a map, were accepting of teachers’ professional career advice. My parents, and many in my neighborhood, sent us to school in good faith. My mother never questioned an A. She didn’t know an A in my inner city elementary school was not the same A on the other side of town where the white children played. And yet we rose, she sent me to school always on time. She sent me there fed and clothed. And when there were gun shots outside she turned the Cosby show up louder and we watched from under the bunk beds. And she scrubbed me down until I smelled like Ivory soap. And she read stories to me at night and would pop our hands if we lost focus while reciting multiplication problems. And when she worked nights, my father would make us veal parmesan while reading us stories about Langston Hughes. I wanted to be Langston.

The truth was, we ate pretty well. Sure, we were poor, but during tax time, we were riding high. My mother was and is a hard working, God fearing, union member, who believed that if she just sent her children to school and they worked real hard, they would go far. Very far. Because that’s what we do in America she would say with naiveté.


My mother, and my father for that matter, sent us to school with full faith in the system. That not only what we were learning was preparing us for college but for some amazing career. My parents, to their knowledge were engaged parents. They didn’t think that their neighbors or pseudo-intellectuals, or the people that sat on their pews in church were making judgments about how they parented.  They didn’t realize that they were fodder and gossip for teachers during lunch time who made gross stereotypes about how poor people parent. My parents had no idea that they, and parents just like them, were subject to so many debates on parental responsibility.

They didn’t know that there were people, real people, many of whom consider themselves liberal, who believed that if my parents and parents like them just had the sense enough to read to their children, instill values in them, reinforce a culture of learning, then that would change the trajectory of our lives. That somehow if they, as parents, could be held accountable, then the drop out rate for African American children would drastically reduce. My parents would be shocked to know people thought that way about them.

Some people call it respectability politics. I call it bullshit. Condescending bullshit. In fact, there is nothing more conservative and bootstrappy than to blame poor people for having poor people problems like faith in a failed system.

When did this vicious rumor start that poor people don’t read to their kids!?!?!

What’s even more fascinating is this liberal condensation that it’s not about teacher accountability but parental accountability. Because people love binaries. It’s about holding the entire system, which has failed generations of people (including the parents) accountable.

I continue to struggle with this embrace that my newly minted middle class sisters and brothers have with blaming parents. Because they had parents who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and were deeply invested in their education then somehow people who didn’t “make it” parents must have not? Many of them, light intellectuals, but intelligent nonetheless believe whole hardly that poor people, very specifically, poor Black and Brown people inhabit a culture that prohibits them from valuing educational success. I suppose that’s a daring statement if you take it straight like that. And yet I hear it in insensitive statements, calling into question poor people’s judgment for even having children at all. It is also a common theme that is echoed in the whole “Education starts at home.” They mean poor homes, because they just assume it starts in middle and upper class homes already?

How do you expect to change an education system, a system you find uniquely insurmountable, by denigrating the millions of poor parents who rely on it as their only service for education? I suppose educational excellence and the expectation of high results from a public system is a middle class value that poor and minority people must not know anything about?

That is fundamentally classist and deeply harmful. And I am not torn on that fact. There is the undercurrent of disdain for poor people, especially Black poor people.  There is a need to want to fix them. There is this myth that if we fix the way poor Black people parent then we will have fixed the problem of education in America. I would venture to say that there is such hatred, such a need to want to fix as if they are uniquely broken, poor Black parents.

What is liberal about finding disgust with how poor Black people parent? And please explain to me how the decision to chose parental accountability over systemic failure, which should not be a choice, is progressive?

If you are looking for something to be mad at, a place to point your rage, a place to expend your critique of what is wrong with the educational system, you should investigate the policies of bureaucracy and the politics of the status quo. You would find that there are people who are deeply invested in your blame of poor parents. You will find that there are people invested in your desire to want to legislate parenting.

And if I were to blame my parents for anything at all, I’d blame them for not challenging, standing up and marching in the streets against an education system that not only failed them but their children. If I were to blame my parents at all, I would blame them for not understanding that all teachers are not created equal. I would blame them for not understanding that having good faith in a broken system is not going to fix it. 

Milwaukee, NYC and Poverty Deniers


A young me

A young me

So somewhere along the line somebody thought it was a good idea to make light of poverty in Milwaukee because of the stereotypes they have of poverty in New York City.

Let's get this straight...

I didn’t just have an ‘aha’ moment. I didn’t seek to drag people into relentless rants about poverty politics one day. I talk about poverty for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I’m not staying up late nights convincing people that my childhood in Milwaukee was so terrible that I can barely go on with my life. That just simply is untrue. It’s not necessarily genius to tell one’s story of poverty. It’s not a new or innovative idea to write about what it means to grow up poor in America.

But it was important to me to elevate and publicize the trauma of poverty in small urban cities like Milwaukee.

My mother, who has lived in Milwaukee most of her life, is convinced that poverty in Milwaukee can’t be bad in comparison to larger cities like New York. Or, even worse, that poverty in Milwaukee can’t be expressed with contempt. But the truth is, I saw those very comments on this blog. Of course criticisms tended to converge on the familiar and limited argument that people should not speak about poverty as anything less than a triumphant experience, especially since it ‘can’t be as bad as New York City’s poverty’.

Oh right, and how exactly do you know?

Milwaukee is not New York City for a whole host of reasons but namely because of its sheer population difference. New York City is 16 times larger than Milwaukee.  It is depicted in movies like New Jack City and Precious. It is rapped about in songs like Hard Knock Life and Hate it or Love It. It is showcased in television shows like New York Undercover and Law and Order. Take any Spike Lee movie and the average American thinks they have a good understanding of New York City poverty. Try to think of songs, movies, and popular culture that depict poverty in smaller urban cities like Milwaukee, Flint, Cleveland, or even St. Louis and you may come up with a handful. But poverty in these cities are equally as important and should remain stories for people to learn about as valid examples of despair.

While I believe the arguments of poverty deniers that ‘poverty in Milwaukee is not that bad’ and is ‘not worse than New York City’ are fundamentally wrong, they tend to resonate with people for several reasons. One, we as Americans tend to be drawn to a culture of resiliency. It doesn’t matter the trauma, we are supposed to be stronger, right? Two, people are convinced through the media that they know more about New York City than they actually do. Finally, people tend to mistake their own personal experience in a city or region for a shared experience. Because you were poor in Milwaukee and feel just fine doesn’t mean that the experience wasn’t deeply damaging to the next person (and vice versa). And since you have never experienced poverty in New York City or Milwaukee or anywhere else, how can you accurately tell me how I felt? And why are you interested in distancing yourself from me by ‘otherizing’ my poverty?

I'm really concerned that there are people who believe that if poverty doesn’t happen in the Marcy Housing Projects of Bedford Stuyvesant as outlined in a Jay Z song then poverty has to be outright denied, tempered down, or seen as some victorious hazing exercise. But I didn’t grow up in Marcy, I grew up in Milwaukee. There were not a lot of rap songs helping me cope with that. And I didn’t feel strong, or proud, or tough, I just felt hurt. I was hurt that I had to see my brother’s face lay bare on the concrete with a police’s gun pressed on his cheek. I was hurt that my mother worked relentless hours and couldn’t make ends meet. I was hurt that I couldn’t afford college application fees. I was hurt when I saw empty refrigerators, broken stoves, broke down cars, and empty food stamp books. 

Comparing Milwaukee to New York City, doesn’t elevate Milwaukee in any way.  Comparing the poverty people face in Milwaukee by using stereotypes of New York City compromises the real, valid, and equally as disastrous conditions people face in Milwaukee each and everyday. Milwaukee doesn’t have to be some fantasy oasis in order for us to actually see poor people walking down North Avenue.  I get it: Reading about poverty doesn’t elicit happy thoughts from people. Hearing that your hometown is not Pleasantville, is probably astonishing to people who are oblivious to it. But we can’t continue to be ashamed to name it.  We can’t continue to deny it exists on a sizable scale.  We can’t continue to think that people in Milwaukee are accidentally and only temporarily poor while people in New York City are institutionally and permanently poor. It’s called denial.

How do we move past polarization and comparison? How do shift the conversation past individual responsibility and geographical uniqueness to collective accountability? How can we all meaningfully contribute to a productive conversation (and then action) about addressing poverty if we are disillusion to poverty in our own backyards? 

 I guess we just say it.

This isn’t the Poverty Olympics. Nobody’s city wins by making another look bad. Poverty is just as merciless in well-known cities as well as in historically underrepresented cities like Milwaukee. Don’t be a poverty denier. It’s time we give a voice to the voiceless.


Coming from where I'm from...



I just returned to what I consider to be home, Brooklyn, after spending just over a week in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Milwaukee is where I spent most of my childhood but I haven’t called it home for years.  

Milwaukee is considered to be one of the most segregated cities in America where close to 60% of the residents identify as Black or Latino. Milwaukee, like most other rustbelt, Midwestern, former industrial towns has seen an increase in crime, decrease in jobs, and a political push for urban gentrification that has displaced some of its poorest residents. Milwaukee is where my grandparents migrated after first settling in Chicago from Mississippi during the 1940s to escape the treachery of the south.

It is in Milwaukee though that my fondest memories were not great. Tuetonia and Locust is where I remember playing on the playground before bullets rang out. When I think of Milwaukee, I think of it as the physical place where my brothers failed to escape its destructible trajectory. It is in Milwaukee where I’ve experienced some of my scariest moments.  I remember waking up in the middle of the night to a burning house. It was in Milwaukee where several men beat me as a young woman with bats and the hardiness of the concrete. It was right there in that city, where I slugged on public transportation to get minimum wage just to buy basic necessities. When I think of Milwaukee I think of the food stamps, the hours of waiting for healthcare, the roaches on the wall, the desperate competition for school clothes, the long lines at Aldi, the boys who got shot, the men that went to prison, the girls who became mothers, the babies who were left alone.  It is there, in Milwaukee, where I learned the instant gratification of sex, drugs, and money. It is there where I learned the disillusion of basketball dreams and rapping careers.

It didn’t build my character, as people say poverty does, it built angst, dejection, and posttraumatic stress. It harbored in me, for years after going down south for college, a deep sense of inadequacy and eventually survivor’s guilt. I began to feel guilty that all of my greatest memories-falling in love, meeting lifelong friends, traveling the world, finding amazing mentors, becoming engulfed in life altering projects, getting married, graduating, starting a family-were not in Milwaukee. Even driving, learning to pay bills, becoming independent, discovering how to control my emotions, turning away from a culture of violence, and other basic life changes happened to me away from my family and surely outside of the small city I grew up in. I grew further and further away from the people whom I considered my family and visiting became much more of a chore and far less of a comfort.

Every time I returned to Milwaukee, I was forced to be 15 again. I was forced to remember people I had long forgotten about. I was forced to remember restaurants I could never afford to eat in.  I was forced to remember neighbors who had long gone to prison. I was forced to remember the playground I was beat up at, the goodwill store my mother shopped at, and the welfare line so many of us used to stand in. I was forced to have unnatural conversations with old friends I was disappointed in, who gained so much weight I barely recognized, who lived lives I was unacquainted with.  I was forced to hear old stories that were glossed up as if they were amazing ones. I was forced to remember all the people we never got to see become whole again.

Every time I step in the city limits, it conjures in me an uncertainty, an ambiguity, a deep sorrow that there are people here who I love but who will forever be faint memories.

There are times and people in Milwaukee that continue, and I hope will always bring me great joy. There are friends and family who I continue to speak about with great pride.  I remember buying laffy taffies and Okie Doke popcorn from the corner store on 38th and Meineke. I remember spending summer days at Afro Fest and summer nights sitting on the porches drinking Kool Aid. I remember shopping at Northridge Mall and going to Immature concerts down at the Riverside Theater. I remember as a teen getting all dressed to go to Vincent and King high school basketball games.  I remember, it was in Milwaukee, where my third grade teacher Mr. Smith inspired me to be anything. Milwaukee is where my Girl Scout troop became a place of solace. It is where the youth group became a saving grace. There are memories that are so vivid in my mind of important people in Milwaukee who, surely, without them I would have met the fate of so many of my peers.

Yet moving ‘away’ from Milwaukee as a teenager, was absolutely the best thing I could have ever done for myself. Moving away, going to college several states away, and then graduating with no desire to return to Milwaukee was probably the single most important act of courage I could have ever pulled off. Not because Milwaukee is some God awful place where no good ever comes, but because it was important for me to grow as a person without the weight of familial pressure and the destitute destiny of unemployment, violence, and generational poverty that awaited me on the Northside of Milwaukee.

The High School I graduated from 

The High School I graduated from 

I’ve struggled with telling this story, especially to my family and friends who compare what they consider to be a working class life to our poorer peers who met a much harsher fate. While neither one of my parents were addicted to crack, or died, or let us go nights on the street or without food, I learned that my own traumatic experiences weren’t less worthy to tell. My complaints of memories are seen as trivial and escape is seen as a reflection of some biological desire, divine intervention or intellectual supremacy. But I don’t tell the story of Milwaukee as some heroine’s dream of hard work and perseverance. I know I’m not any more deserving of freedom than my own siblings who did not survive generational poverty’s unquestionable destruction. I know I didn’t ‘work any harder’ or was given any more grace.

I am fully aware that what plagues my family and so many people in Milwaukee is a combination of poor public policy, mass segregation, over incarceration and an even poorer education system. I chose to move away from Milwaukee not the work. I choose to focus my energy and adult working life on public policies where zip code doesn’t dictate destiny, where parental income doesn’t so easily transfer, where schoolhouses can be an oasis of hope.

I left my burden somewhere on the sidewalk cracks of Hadley Street on the north side of Milwaukee just as I would in the torn up rubble of the Cabrini Green housing projects in Chicago. I’ll never get Milwaukee tattooed on my chest. I probably will never be able to vacation with my family members in some incredible safari resort in Kenya and many of them will likely never board a plane to see what life is like for their cousin, sister, friend in Brooklyn. And while I continue to mourn that Huxatble dream of going back ‘home’ to a place that is safe, supportive, and where people understand me, I’ve learned that the best I could do is be safe, supportive, and understanding to them.

I learned from Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie that: stories matter. I learned that stories empower, humanize and can also repair broken dignity. But, as Ms. Adichie often says, this is just one story. It is just one story of Milwaukee and the memories I bury at the airport each and every time I board my plane back to my home where my friends, job and family await me on the East Coast. I will reminiscence about Milwaukee as my grandparents once did of Mississippi, as a place with much history but with no future for me.

Editors Note: 

When I wrote this piece, I never knew that it would be tweeted, shared, and spread to over 21,000 people in just 48 hours. Not a lot of people knew I spent my childhood in Milwaukee. I've not seen a lot of stories of the intersections of poverty, segregation, and race told by young people from this place. I chose to write just one of those stories. But this story was my story. My story of poverty that goes beyond mere geography. This is my story of a village that was burning. Due to a whole host of political and economic reasons became an unsafe place for me where the outcomes were dim.  This is a story about how children inherit poverty and what that does to the human spirit. This is a story of luck, when it should never be about luck. 

This is not a story of why people should leave Milwaukee.This is not a story advocating for the mass flight of people from Milwaukee or even the 'hood.

I spend my life organizing and advocating for children like me. For children who because of generational poverty became victims of inadequate education and pitiable teaching, aggressive policing, etc. but who by no fault of their own are relegated to second class citizenship. I don’t advocate for escaping the ‘hood with no return. I’m an advocate for the inevitable defeat of poverty-anywhere, for anyone, always. 

The comments are a reflection of the inconsistent experiences people within this city and people who see, experience, and encounter poverty face everyday. Thank you all for your support and be well.