Speaker: Poverty hits kids hardest
DeWayne Street spoke Wednesday night as part of Diversity Week at BTC.
Street said poverty nationwide has been on the rise since 2000, leaving the United States with numbers of poor people not seen since the Great Depression.
Add an economic downturn that some predict in the next six months, and things could get worse, Street said.
The cure is education, said Street, an eighth-grade teacher who also runs his own diversity-training company.
Street believes poor children can learn as well as their peers. He said he grew up “economically marginalized,” and the teachers he remembers most were the ones who held him accountable.
Many poor children have more strikes against them than he did, Street said. Some are over-medicated. Some have to raise their younger siblings. Some move several times a year, holding them back academically and socially.
Some are picked on by their peers.
“(Poverty) affects their ability to make friends. It also affects the way some teachers see them,” Street said.
People sometimes judge poor people as unworthy, and children can sense that judgment, Street said. He said he felt it as a child growing up in Milwaukee.
Worst, some are ignored by their parents. Rich or poor, such emotional neglect is creating large numbers of emotionally damaged children, Street said.
He described a type of poor children dubbed the New Jacks. They have grown up as no other generation before them: Bombarded long hours by the TV or computer screen, overly medicated, abandoned by their fathers, living dysfunctional realities with their mothers.
“Their level of dysfunction is unlike anything we’ve seen before in our society,” Street said.
Such children may adopt sex, drugs and other behaviors in an effort to be more like adults and escape their lives as children. He estimated a quarter of students locally are New Jacks.
The New Jacks can be helped, but it’s difficult, Street said. The goal is to give them structure and high expectations in a place where they feel safe, valued and respected.
Society’s future depends on how these children are integrated into it, Street said.
If they are left to believe they have no place in society, their reaction will be to want to destroy, he said.
“Most poor children grow up to be poor adults,” Street said. “If we start with the children, maybe we can break that cycle.”