I Am a Sister Giant

I sat in my chair in the Saban Auditorium among 1,500 other attendees at the Sister Giant conference, listening intently as Marianne Williamson talked about the dark side of poverty and how our culture demonizes the poor. Remarking upon the popular sentiment that the poor "are just takers," Williamson says, "even if the parents are takers, the children still deserve to be cared for." I can feel myself beginning to perspire. Shame rises within me as the word "takers" resonates throughout my body. I take a deep breath, attempting to calm the anxiety and heat rising from my belly. I find it difficult to hold the complexities of this issue of poverty within me as I also work to transform my current life experience.

I know the face of poverty very well. I have become closely acquainted with the beast since giving birth to a child with special needs and divorcing. Relying on state and federal assistance has kept me afloat the past couple of years as I worked to redefine the idea of parents, particularly women, who are citizens of a nation so divided and ashamed of people like me.

The face our nation portrays as impoverished has historically looked like my child and me. Single black women, unmarried and giving birth to babies for which they cannot provide. Williamson calls this experience the shadow side of poverty, not to be ignored but also not to be seen as the totality of a group of people. The women of Sister Giant are called to awaken, to move through typical cultural divides and bring love to the broken places in our society. In my brief time sitting with Williamson, she spoke of honoring one's race and gender. I hear that as a call to stand as a black American woman, who is also a single parent and face within myself the shadow and the light.

One thing I have learned from the past few years of my life is that poverty is no easy beast to kill. Personally, I have experienced poverty like a maze where each turn leads back into the belly of the monster. One extended illness, car accident or parking violation gone unattended can change your life. The journey out of poverty has been filled with booby traps, and I have made calculated lifestyle changes, with tempered success, to move my son and me forward. If poverty is so daunting for me, someone who is educated and surrounded by loving family and friends, I can't imagine how it must be for the hundreds of women I've stood in line with waiting for their turns at social service offices.

An event and movement like Marianne Williamson's Sister Giant aims to unite and support women as we work to gain more political power in a nation where issues facing us and the children we care for are becoming increasingly marginalized. It is the mission of Sister Giant to confront childhood poverty here in the states and abroad. As budget cuts swarm about on all levels of government, the fiscal cliff we are approaching becomes a doomsday for families like mine, who rely on services for the disabled and early education/child care. Electing more progressive women to the state and federal legislatures can give us the power to change the direction of poverty in this nation.

During the Sister Giant conference, Ms. Williamson stated that our very attendance, our witnessing of this very difficult and painful issue will begin the change. "Thank you for staying in the room," she said at one point. Each time I'd take a deep breath because I know the face of these experiences up close and personal. Budget cuts, food stamps, unemployment, long nights, and difficult days have been my daily experience for years. When Williamson says poverty is just a few blocks away from this very plush theater in Beverly Hills, I say "Amen sister" and think of my address.