Tuesday, August 14, 2012
Ending the cycle of poverty transportation
“A black man can’t make it in this country,” an animated rider declared as the bus turned right on Dowd Street. “The white man has everything. Ain’t nothing we can do to change things.”
A woman dressed in scrubs did her best to persuade him to consider a different outlook. She held in her hand a novel with pages folded back, indicating progress made to get to the end of the story. Her calm demeanor exposed a familiarity with men made wild by disappointed and injustice.
“There are some things you can do to make it better,” she offered as the roar of the engine made it difficult to hear what was being said. His face said more than the hostility in his words. I sensed that something had happened during the day. Maybe it was the pain of rejection – a woman who gave up after waiting or an employer unwilling to risk offering a job. A few beads of sweat flowed from his forehead and traveled like a river to the vein on the side of his neck.
A quick canvass of others on the bus exposed a deep angst that a conversation about hope wouldn’t make go away. The faces of the men on the bus, all black, suggested a burden deeper than the shallow words that challenged them to pull up their bootstraps. I considered my own journey to undo the deep tension caused by walking in skin too dark to gain common approval. Each conversation was a pitch aimed at proving I’m not like other black men.
The calm voice of the woman in scrubs caused the man to grind his teeth to hold back the scream brewing in his belly. “You don’t understand what it feels like to be a black man,” his words touched the part of me made tired by the need to constantly gain approval. Something was wrong. Something was dreadfully wrong.
He was not alone.
“There is hope my brother,” I began to chime in thinking the journey of another black man would encourage him. “My faith has helped me achieve a level of success.”
“Then why you on the bus,” his retort slammed the door on crafting hope from that place too weary to listen.
It didn’t matter that I have degrees from the University of Missouri, Duke University and the Princeton Theological Seminary. It didn’t matter that I write columns for The Durham News, was named Tar Heel of the Week by the News & Observer and have led congregations for close to 30 years. All that mattered in that moment was the mode of transportation we used.
It was the ride on poverty transportation that added fuel to the flame of disappointment. Each corner turned, each stop made unearthed another reminder of the cruelty that comes with being forced to board boxes packed with tragedy. Like misery loaded on slave ships, they made their way to places that promised more burdens once the trip ended.
There was too much on board to unpack with a rousing sermon with promises of a better day. There was too much defeat headed down familiar streets to unleash fury caused by living the same day over and over again. Those on board needed more than the standard promise that trouble don’t last always. Their faces seemed tired of the rhetoric designed to kick start a desire to keep breathing. They needed more than route changes and promises of better customer service. They needed a way away from reminders of a life limited by what they can’t make go away.
My cynical friend made his exit from the bus on Avondale Drive. “A black man can’t make it in this country,” he hurled his parting words for those sitting in the amen corner. He held firm to his discontent like a missionary sent to convert the heathens. It was an easy sell for those on the edge of giving up.
A mother with three children made their way off the bus at the next exit. A group walked across the street to make their way to Oxford Manor 15 minutes after the angry black man made his parting declaration.
The journey on poverty transportation is a trip moving in a circle. Those on board end up in the same place each time they get on board. The ride is a reminder of a vicious cycle leading to the same mound of pain. There are too many on board with the same story.
The conclusion may not be true, but what do you say to a person who can’t get off the bus?