In the Keeping It Real department, the Mayor's Anti-Poverty Commission is now filling seats on its new citizen's advisory board with people who actually live in poverty.
Few of the commission's 49 members can claim much current, direct experience with what it's like to be poor in this city. That's not to say all are strangers to poverty or haven't known it personally. The commission includes advocates, nonprofits that work with the poor, representatives of city agencies that serve those struggling to make it, and experts on past and present poverty in Richmond. It includes enough wonks to report that if you lack a high-school education in this city, you're six times more likely to live in poverty than someone with a college education.
But as far as people on the board who live it day-to-day? Not so much.
"No one has ever stood up and claimed the commission was an ideal model of inclusion," says member Thad Williamson, a University of Richmond professor (and occasional Style Weekly contributor). Nor was it intended to be, he says. The commission's job was to define the scope and breadth of poverty here and recommend how to reduce it. "But the Citizen's Advisory Board is a way to have the voices of low-income people in more than a token way," Williamson says.
The commission's various task forces (job creation, education and work-force development, transportation, etc.) have the next few months to prepare specific steps forward. Each will meet with the advisory board for feedback and input, Williamson says.
"It makes sense to have someone who can look at the totality and say what's working and what's not, to call things out," he says. "I think we'll hear some skepticism and it will be a good thing for those making policy to see how things are being perceived."
It also will be good to have people who can report back to their neighbors on what the commission is suggesting, he says.
The goal is to have 8 to 9 members from low-income communities. Various agencies and organizations put forward names and invitations have been going out during the last two weeks. No names will be released until later this month.