Rev. Ernest Flores from Germantown Baptist Church reflects on the systems that set up poor and working class people in Philadelphia to fail, and how we can change it.
“You shall no longer give the people straw to make bricks, as before; let them go and gather straw for themselves. But you shall require of them the same quantity of bricks as they have made previously; do not diminish it, for they are lazy…” Exodus 5:7
In this portion of the Exodus story, Israel’s supervisors were told by their Egyptian taskmasters to complete the same daily assignment, even though the additional work of gathering straw was so time-consuming that made it impossible to complete the same amount of tasks in the same daily time frame. The text further reveals that the task masters blamed the Israelites when, surprise surprise, they failed to produce the same amount of bricks of the extra tasks they had to perform.
It was a system that was set up for the Israelites to fail. As a pastor serving the Germantown section of Philadelphia, I find several haunting similarities between such a system, and the realities of what people face every day in our city.
In Philadelphia and across the country, we have a system which demands of our inner city residents, many of whom are minorities and immigrants, that they produce, get jobs and money, and move on up to the middle class. The system is demanding this of them at the same time that it is providing substandard public schools and jobs that in may cases pay below the poverty line. We’re expecting people to buy a home, raise a family, go to church, and be productive members of society. But like with Pharaoh, there is no straw.
Schools are underfunded and under-supported. Wages are not enough to make ends meet. People are forced to collect their own straw. They must go get another job, or two, taking away time from families. Less time with family results in in more children lacking proper parental supervision. Less parental supervision produces negative behavior and run-ins with the legal system. Negative behavior and run-in’s with the legal system prevents those children from getting a good education, and thus, when grown, from getting a good job. Poor education and low-wage jobs leads to the need to work multiple jobs, leaving out time for family…and so on, from generation to generation.
The system is set up for their failure. The system is designed to increase suffering. The system is designed to further wreak havoc on the lives of inner city families.
I know no one wants to admit to being the Pharaoh in such circumstances. But that’s what we are when we as a society refuse to consider the plight of the inner city. When we refuse to investigate the unlivable wages so many people are making. When we refuse to contemplate the negative outcomes for so many people in America who are trying to work, trying to make the American Dream come true, taking on the extra job, doing all kinds of tasks so many of us would not do because they’re trying to make bricks without straw.
If we want to see our inner cities become a haven of healthy neighborhoods, free from crime, free from violence, filled with good schools, with talent being nurtured, minds being molded, futures being secured, then it’s time we stop asking people to make bricks without straw.
It’s time we stop asking inner city youth to be well-educated, well-behaved contributors to society when we do not provide them with a quality education; when we spend far more on schools for the children of the affluent than we do on the schools for the children of the poor; when we aim as a society for their demise by building more prisons instead of investing in children’s success by spending more on education. That’s why POWER is building a coalition across the state to demand a full, fair, funding formula for education in Pennsylvania so that money for schools is distributed according to what our state’s neediest students require to be succesful, not political whim.
And it’s time we stop asking people to add to their workload and take time away from their families. That’s why this spring, POWER will be telling Philadelphians to vote YES to raise wages for airport workers and all who work for City-subsidized projects. It’s time we lift our voices—and our votes—so that everyone from the lawyer to the street sweeper, from the Mayor to the garbage man, from the people who fly airplanes to the people who handle our bags at the airport, earns a wage that they can not just survive on, but thrive on.
Come be a part of this work. Join a Voter Sabbath this weekend to learn more about our campaigns, pray, and sign up to get involved this spring.