COLUMN: Will you join in the fight to eliminate poverty in Greater Cincinnati?

'The right voices can make things happen'

CINCINNATI -- Nicole Chambers-Cunningham is glad that Greater Cincinnati is having a community conversation about poverty.

She’s just not sure we’re talking about the right things.

That’s why Chambers-Cunningham has organized her own community forums related to poverty, hunger and homelessness through her nonprofit organization Rising Stars of America. Her next meeting is from 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday, July 8 at Greater Liberty Baptist Church.

“This is a situation I think that we can turn around and we can turn around fairly quickly if we all join hands together and we come together with the right tools in support,” she told me. “My hope and goal is not to reduce poverty. I want to find ways and solutions that we can eradicate it all together.”

Nicole Chambers-Cunningham

It’s a lofty goal, to be sure. But Chambers-Cunningham has enlisted a number of influential local leaders to take part in her Poverty, Hunger and Homelessness Seminars. Her organization held the first gathering in March. The meeting Saturday is the second part of the conversation.

Ohio Sen. Cecil Thomas and Dr. O’dell Owens, president and CEO of Interact for Health, both attended the first seminar and have pledged to be there for the second one, too, Chambers-Cunningham said, with Owens serving as the keynote speaker.

Other panelists Saturday will include Kurt Reiber, the CEO of Freestore Foodbank, and Arlene Nolan, the executive director of Shelterhouse, along with representatives from Cincinnati Works, Lighthouse Youth and Family Services and Greater Cincinnati Behavioral Health Services, among others.

“We want to help those organizations,” Chambers-Cunningham said. “See what we can do to help to fight this thing.”

Chambers-Cunningham is aware of the work that the Child Poverty Collaborative has been doing for more than a year. Her concern is that the focus on childhood poverty misses the point that poverty is an adult problem with systemic causes that can be addressed by changing policies and laws.

“Once we face it at that angle,” she said, “then we can deal with what’s really going on.”

Owens, who also is one of the co-chairs of the Child Poverty Collaborative, said he thinks community gatherings like the ones Chambers-Cunningham has organized complement the other work that is happening in the region.

“The more we can get the dialogue started, and the more we have people talking about it, the greater chance we have of success,” he said. “For me, it’s really trying to inspire people to listen, get educated and go out and try to do something.”

While the first Poverty, Hunger and Homelessness seminar in March included discussion of the impacts of poverty, this second gathering will focus on the causes of poverty. Chambers-Cunningham said those causes will include everything from racism to mental health to legal frameworks, education and a lack of affordable housing.

“If we don’t start doing something right now about this, we are really in trouble. We’re in trouble as a nation,” she said. “One way or another, we’re all affected by it. So why would I want to sit back? Maybe I don’t have the money to help. But maybe I have the time or the talent. That’s all it really takes, for us to all come together and do something about it.”

Dr. O'dell Owens

About 75 or 80 people attended Chambers-Cunningham’s first Poverty, Hunger and Homelessness Seminar. She’s hoping to get between 150 and 200 people to the meeting Saturday.

The event is free and open to the public. Chambers-Cunningham requests that people register online so she can get a feel for how many people will be there.

If you can’t make this one, stay tuned. Chambers-Cunningham pledges that this won’t be her last seminar to address these issues.

“I’m going to continue to do these seminars until something happens, especially for the city of Cincinnati,” she said. “We have a great city, and I believe we can really make a difference world-wide. But all hands would have to be on deck.”

Chambers-Cunningham said she has been encouraged by the response so far.

“All you need are the right voices, and the right voices can make things happen,” she said.

Will you add yours to the conversation?

More information about the Rising Stars of America Poverty, Hunger and Homelessness Seminar Part 2 is available online. You can register for the event here.

Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. Childhood poverty is an important focus for her and for WCPO. To read more stories about childhood poverty, go to www.wcpo.com/poverty.

To read more stories by Lucy, go to www.wcpo.com/may. To reach her, email lucy.may@wcpo.com. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.

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