Dr. Donna M. Beegle is on a mission to educate Americans about poverty. With awareness and understanding, she believes, we can take steps to change the structural causes of poverty.
She brought her message to Kansas City last week at an event sponsored by Swope Health Services (SHS) in celebration of National Health Center Week. Nearly 50 people attended, including SHS associates and board members as well as members from SHS partner organizations and community support advocates.
Dr. Beegle has firsthand experience with her topic. She grew up in “generational migrant labor poverty” and dropped out of school to get married at age 15. By the time she was 25, she found herself with no husband, little education, no job skills and two children.
“Poverty steals your hope,” she said. “Yesterday is gone and there is no tomorrow. You just have to make it through today.”
Through personal experiences of homelessness and hunger, she explained the role of the media and social policies in segregating those in poverty from those “in privilege.” She gave examples of well-meaning but ineffective social programs — handing out literacy brochures to people who can’t read, for example.
She also recounted a story that gave some insight into why people in poverty might be reluctant to seek out healthcare. When she was young, her school sponsored a dental screening. She was scared to death and cried so much, she ended up not being seen. Why was she so terrified? Everyone she knew who went to the dentist went to have their teeth pulled, due in part to living in poverty and not having the proper nutrition to support healthy teeth. In fact, she didn’t know anyone over 30 who still had teeth — all the adults she knew had dentures.
At the luncheon, Dr. Beegle also shared a preview of a video documentary, featuring her and her family. Due out later this year, she feels this is another way to raise awareness and launch community action. A preview of the documentary is available on Facebook online at https://www.facebook.com/102238439830427/videos/1442934325448/
“We have to consider the humanity of people in the crisis of poverty,” she said. “It’s not that people don’t care. It’s just that they don’t understand. There is an ignorance of poverty that we need to change.”
She called for a community-wide approach to removing the isolation of poverty.
“We can shift the paradigm from fighting people to fighting the systems that perpetuate poverty,” she said.
SHS President and Chief Executive Officer David Barber wholeheartedly agrees and promised the audience that Dr. Beegle’s presentation was just a first step. Stay tuned for ways you can learn more and join the dialogue.
About Dr. Donna Beegle
Donna Beegle, Ph.D., is president of Communication Across Barriers, a consulting firm based in Portland, Ore. She is the author of “See Poverty, Be the Difference,” a resource book for professionals who work with people in poverty.
Dr. Beegle has an undergraduate and a master’s degree in communications. Her doctorate degree is in educational leadership from Portland State University.
Resources for those working to better understand and assist those in poverty are available in her book and on her firm’s website: http://www.combarriers.com