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Dr. Leonard Brock: My Mission as The Director of the Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative

Op/Ed By Leonard Brock –


staff_Leonard-BrockWe have all heard the falsehoods about people living in poverty, that they are lazy, ignorant or simply don’t want to work.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

In Rochester there is a generation of people living in poverty who fight every day to reach self-sufficiency, making a better life for themselves and their families. These are hard-working individuals, striving for success, but fighting against a lack of opportunity for equitable participation, as well as institutional forces in place for decades that have created significant barriers.

My mission as the director of the Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative (RMAPI) is to take on these misconceptions head-on, while addressing the real root causes of poverty in our community.

Poverty exists not from lack of motivation or ignorance on the part of any individual, but instead as the result of a series of much deeper and more complicated factors.

In taking a deeper look at people living in poverty, and the forces that make it so difficult to climb toward self-sufficiency, RMAPI has identified three common underlying needs in order to address this poverty in a comprehensive and effective manner—building neighborhoods, addressing structural racism and its impact, and addressing the effects of trauma.

RMAPI’s role is to help the community address these root causes of poverty, and RMAPI does this in three ways:

  • Building trust and relationships among people living in poverty, and those working to end it;
  • Bringing individuals and organizations working to reduce poverty together in order to increase coordination, and reduce duplication of their efforts;
  • and Coaching the community on how to include the guiding principles into processes, programs, funding, and decision-making.

Through these key strategies, RMAPI will create change at five levels:

  • Taking a person-centered approach that eliminates barriers, and allows people to more easily access the services and support they need;
  • Adopting an “open door” policy that ensures programs, services, and supports are coordinated, and focused on producing positive outcomes;
  • Ensuring that organizations and individuals use the guiding principles in their practices;
  • Emphasizing and promoting effective policies so that key decision-makers implement anti-poverty practices;
  • and Improving data-sharing and tracking-focused data related to RMAPI’s strategies, to create a greater sense of transparency, and accountability among stakeholders.

In order for this work to be effective, it is critical that these guiding principles serve as a guide for community decision-making.

Adopting these principles is the first step to creating the conditions necessary to reduce poverty in Rochester and Monroe County, but they must be accepted and adopted by all. When people living in poverty come up against the powerful forces of structural racism, and the impact of trauma, it can make the fight for self-sufficiency a difficult one. Taking on those forces will be up to everyone.

When people in our community spread falsehoods about people living in poverty, it hurts not only our efforts, but also stings me personally. I grew up in poverty, and have dedicated my entire professional life to helping those in poverty. I understand the need to change the narrative to more accurately reflect the plight of people in poverty, rather than perpetuating those negative and damaging images.

And, most importantly, we need every organization, religious leader, elected official, and individual in the area to support our ambitious goal of reducing poverty by 50 percent in the next 15 years.

Poverty is not the work of any one person or one initiative, and I don’t know a skeptic, pessimist or cynic that has successfully led any positive systemic change efforts across the world. Are you with us?

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