The Poverty Initiative
The Poverty Initiative was established in May 2003. The founding mission remains the same: to raise up generations of religious and community leaders dedicated to building a social movement to end poverty, led by the poor.
The cornerstone of the Poverty Initiative is the Scholar-in-Residence Program. Willie Baptist has served as the Scholar-in-Residence since its inception in 2004. In 2006, the Poverty Initiative launched the expanded the Poverty Scholars Program.
The Poverty Initiative's signature event is Poverty Truth Commissions inspired by Truth Commissions held in South Africa and elsewhere. Poverty Truth Commissions are organized to hear the stories of people from around the country whose lives are in jeopardy due to poverty. Prominent religious, academic, and community leaders hear and respond to these testimonies.
In 2007-2008, the Poverty Initiative commemorated the 40th anniversary of the Poor People's Campaign launched by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In December 1967, King called upon all people of good will to "lift the load of poverty" in the United States and across the world. Today millions still bear the burden of poverty–without homes, health care or jobs.
The Poverty Initiative has sponsored numerous educational and public events to mark the 40th anniversary including: immersion courses, a Truth Commission, a Symposium on Religions of the World & Poverty, arts events & exhibits, the Bonhoeffer Lecture Series, and partnership with leaders in Marks, MS who led the Poor People's Campaign in 1968.
In 2008-09, the Poverty Initiative continues to celebrate the Poor People's Campaign as we work to finish the unfinished business of uniting the poor across color lines to build a powerful movement to end poverty.
The mission of The Poverty Initiative is to build generations of religious and community leaders, led by the poor, dedicated to building a social movement to end poverty. The Poverty Initiative seeks to address the root causes of poverty in the United States by bridging gaps between community organizations, religious communities, and the academy.
Three National Poverty Truth Commissions
April 2005, April 2007, October 2007
Grassroots leaders from throughout the country testify to economic human rights abuses before an esteemed panel of Commissioners.
Six Poverty Immersion Courses
New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Appalachia, Mississippi Delta on the 40th anniversary of the Poor People's Campaign, New York City and State, Haiti
A delegation of faculty, students and grassroots antipoverty leaders investigate conditions of poverty and build partnerships with local religious and community actors
Faculty and students from 12 religious and academic institutions trained in replicating the Poverty Initiative
Five Faculty-Sponsored Poverty-themed Courses at Union Theological Seminary
Leaders of poor people's organizations invited into classes including Reading the Bible with the Poor, Women's Experience as a Resource for Worship, Poverty and Poor People's Movements: Social and Ethical Analysis, and World Religions & Poverty
Ongoing Support for Poor People's Organizations
Successful campaigns include: Coalition of Immokalee Workers (YUM! Brands & McDonald's Corporation negotiations), Restaurant Opportunities Center – New York (prayer vigils and law suit against the Fireman Hospitality Group), Picture the Homeless (Potter's Field Campaign), United Workers Association (Camden Yards Living Wage victory)
Organization and Sponsorship of National Conferences, Consultations, and Strategy Meetings
New Testament & Roman Empire Conferences and Lectures 2004-2008, Bonhoeffer Lecture Series 2007, Religions of the World & Poverty Symposium 2008
Union is proud to announce a one-year grant of $55,000 to The Poverty Initiative from The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation’s Pathways out of Poverty Program. This award will support the year-round Poverty Scholars leadership development and training program, which seeks to lift up the hidden genius of grassroots leaders most affected by poverty, while further developing their leadership, voice, organizing skills and capacity for intellectual engagement.
The Program brings together a unique network of leading grassroots organizers (men, women and youth from urban and rural communities) – Poverty Scholars – with proven local-level success working on issues of economic justice including
- community revitalization,
- water privatization,
- ecological devastation,
- eviction and foreclosure,
- low-wage workers’ rights,
- organization of poor youth,
- public education reform,
- grassroots media production,
- and living wages.
Pedagogy of the Poor: Building the Movement to End Poverty
In this book, the authors present a new kind of interdisciplinary pedagogy that brings together antipoverty grassroots activism and relevant social theories about poverty. Closely linked to the Poverty Initiative at Union Theological Seminary, this unique book combines the oral history of a renowned antipoverty organizer with an accessible introduction to relevant social theories, case studies, in-class student debates, and pedagogical reflections. This multilayered approach makes the book useful to both social activists committed to eradicating poverty and educators looking for ways to teach about the struggles for economic and social justice. Pedagogy of the Poor is an essential tool of self-education and leadership development for a broad social movement led by the poor to end poverty.
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For more information visit the Poverty Initiative website at povertyinitiative.org.