Saturday, January 21, 2012 12:53 AM
'We've got to come together'
Poverty in Eastern North Carolina draws the spotlight
By Olivia Neeley | Times Staff Writer
Davette Bulluck’s house is so cold she and her three daughters sleep with all their clothes on. After they bundle up, they get in the bed — all four together.
"It’s not pretty,” Bulluck told the crowd about her situation.
Bulluck is one of the many faces of poverty in Eastern North Carolina. The single mother of three shared her plight among hundreds Friday evening inside the auditorium of Rocky Mount OIC as a part of the North Carolina NAACP’s Truth and Hope Tour of Poverty. Various leaders and volunteers toured six northeastern counties Thursday and Friday, holding town hall meetings, visiting neighborhoods and listening to the stories of those directly affected by poverty each day.
While Bulluck has lived in Rocky Mount for six years, half of that time she hasn’t had a job. Her monthly income? $800. Her utility bill last month? $1,300.
Bulluck said her lights were cut off at one point and she had to pay $480 to get them turned back on.
"Have you ever tried to cook collard greens on a kerosene heater,” she asked the crowd. "Have you ever had your child do their homework in the dark?”
Despite her circumstances, she does what she can so that her family can survive. She’s even knocked on people’s doors, asking them if she can clean their yards or wash their dishes.
"Many people have seen me on the street picking up cans, cleaning people’s yards,” she said. "I do it because I have three little girls. There are times when my children had to eat and I couldn’t. There are children in my neighborhood ... if they’re not in school, they don’t eat.”
And when she walks those same streets looking for work, Bulluck often sees a sign that makes her upset.
"I love Rocky Mount,” she said the sign reads. "Now you tell me that I don’t want to kick one of those signs.”
But she doesn’t. Instead, Bullock moves forward, clinging to hope that one day it won’t be that way.
"God teaches us every day that faith is the hope of things we cannot see,” Bulluck said firmly. "I’m going to see my way out of this. To all these single mothers out here who say I can’t, you can. Get on your knees and pray.”
Edgecombe County’s poverty rate was 24.5 percent in 2010, according to an economic snapshot by the N.C. Justice Center.
Nearly 51 percent of Edgecombe County’s residents were low-income during 2008-2010. That means their incomes were less than twice the federal level.
The Rev. William J. Barber II, president of North Carolina’s NAACP, gave a speech Friday before those faces of poverty spoke.
"We need help from another source to fight this reality of structural poverty,” said Barber. "We have seen so many people speak truth about their pain, yet exhibit so much faith and hope, which makes it even more shameful. We are either going to hold each other and go up together or we are going to go down individually.”
‘TRUTH WILL SET YOU FREE’
Wilson County’s poverty rate for 2010 came in at 23.7 percent — more than 6 percent higher than the state’s rate. But those numbers were grimmer for the county’s children, according to the U.S. Census American Community Survey.
The county’s child poverty rate was nearly 38 percent in 2010, up from 30.9 percent for children younger than 18 the previous year, according to the survey.
Wilson residents and officials made the trip for the tour on Friday.
Hundreds listened to Barber’s message. The crowd either stood on their feet, clapped or said "Amen” during the speech.
"There is a certain dissatisfaction we have to have and a certain truth we have to speak, which is why we invited you here in order to properly challenge and heal because only the truth can set you free,” Barber said.
Barber said it’s not a sin to be poor, but it is a sin to create systems in which people have to exist in extreme poverty. He said it is not shameful for those to tell their stories and talk about the system that created poverty.
"It is a shame for us to go to election to election and never hear our politicians talk about the poor,” Barber said sternly. "They talk about the wealthy and the middle class. But never talk about the poor. That’s shame. Structural poverty is not the result of personal morality, but it is the result of public immorality.”
‘A TIDAL WAVE OF HOPE’
Across the country, there were 46.2 million people living in poverty in 2010 — the fourth consecutive annual increase and the largest number in the 52 years those poverty estimates have been published, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The 1st Congressional District, which includes Wilson County, is ranked second in the country for food insecurity — or the inability to afford enough food. Ranked No. 1 in the country is Bronx, N.Y., according to 2010 study by the Food Research Action Center, an organization that advocates and works to end hunger in America through stronger public polices.
Barber said he hopes this tour will shine a light on the truth of poverty and despair in North Carolina.
"We believe our leaders in governments, media, businesses, churches and schools need to focus on the good of the whole,” he told the crowd. "We believe we can act in accordance with this idea, we can set (in) motion, a tidal wave of hope. But we can’t do it unless we face it and tell the truth.”
Barber contends that neither the government nor the private sector has adequately addressed historical and structural causes of deep poverty in North Carolina, he said.
"We’ve got to come together,” he said.
And poverty, he said, has many faces that we all need to be able to see.
"That’s why we’ve come here,” Barber said. "To hear from the people. We must put faces on those thousands and millions ...”
The UNC Center on Poverty and Opportunity and the North Carolina Justice Center teamed up with the NAACP for the tour.
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