Healing & Thriving Communities Requires Expanding Opportunity for All

By Melissa Young, Director, National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity, Heartland Alliance

The city of Ferguson is, unfortunately, not unique. Ferguson is emblematic of far too many American communities home to millions of Americans facing barriers to opportunity and justice.  When we take a deeper look at Ferguson, we see a community burdened by significantly higher and deeper poverty than the rest of the country and its surrounding area – many residents being one or two crises away from experiencing homelessness and many facing significant food insecurity [1]. Sadly, hardships like these are felt in countless other large and small places across the country. If Ferguson and communities like it are to heal and thrive, we know we have to achieve policy change that expands opportunity.

The path to opportunity and justice in our communities includes restoring dignity through work that pays enough to have a roof over your head, food in your stomach, and heat in your home; robust safety nets to fall back on when times are hard; equal protection under the law and second chances for all; and expanding opportunities so that everyone can contribute to the building of a more sustainable future.  Particularly for communities of color, several hundred years of intentional and unintentional policies and practices at virtually every level of government and community created and sustained current social and economic inequities and embedded structural racism. Bringing about the kind of change we seek will require a broad coalition of stakeholders, policy change at all levels of government, and a commitment to ensuring equity in policy reform.

While Ferguson isn’t unique, its people—and especially the young adults who are working toward solutions—are unique and deserve a voice.

In the days ahead we will highlight stories from young adults working for change in Ferguson including the voice of our colleague James Jones, whose roots are in Ferguson. We know that lifting up the voices, experiences, and solutions generated by those living in communities across the country is essential for responsible and authentic policy change. We hope that their stories can begin to chart pathways forward for Ferguson and the country.

[1] Social IMPACT Research Center’s analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2008-2012 American Community Survey 5-year estimates.


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About National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity

Heartland Alliance’s National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity is dedicated to ending chronic unemployment and poverty. We believe that every person deserves the opportunity to succeed in work and support themselves and their families. Through our field building, we provide support and guidance that fosters more effective and sustainable employment efforts. Our policy and advocacy work advances solutions to the systemic issues that drive chronic unemployment.

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