The Spirit that Sustains our Work

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I often say to people that I fell into this job at NPQ with little journalism/publishing experience, but on the anniversary of President Johnson’s declaration of the War on Poverty, I remember that that is not so. In fact, when I was around fourteen, someone asked me to go to South Boston to pitch in with a group of young activists who were working out of the community action agency, ABCD. This was before busing and the changes in the neighborhood that have followed, so South Boston was very white and much of it was relatively poor.

The guys I was to work with were of South Boston—insanely witty, and just as tough. They wanted to put out a newsletter, and I was to help with the editing and with the art and layout. (As I remember, it was more the latter two.) I must confess that I hand lettered the headlines, and that they probably looked a little psychedelic—but what the first edition was about, was this: poverty cuts across racial divides, providing common cause for much of the country. It was a call for racial solidarity, basically, with poverty as a common focus.

Unfortunately, South Boston was not ready for the message, and after threats were received, ABCD (as I remember it) suggested that the activity cease. It has been a long time, but that is my memory.

That was my first experience with both a War on Poverty organization and being part of a publishing endeavor. Over the years, I have been involved with many similar groups, trying to get out an unpopular message in whatever ways possible. It has always been a risky business, but I think about those guys in South Boston —especially Mikey Glynn—often, remembering their chutzpah and brilliance. That spirit is why I am still here in this work.  

Do you have similar memories of the moments that are still vividly keeping you in the work? Let us hear about it.





  • Patsy C. Lewis

    My first professional position was in 1968 with a new antipoverty program in Columbus, Oh, called New Careers. Under the umbrella of the Community Action Agency (CAMACO), New Careers provided both internships at local nonprofits and college courses at Ohio State University. Low income students were paid for their participation, and provided important services to community agencies while improving their employment opportunities for the future. It was a great model. Successful, but expensive. After moving East and positions in other organizations, I returned to Community Action. First as the Exec. Dir.of a CAA, then as part of a team that promotes best practices among CAAs in our area. It has been a fascinating journey, and an affirming one. Critics suggest the Antipoverty movement “failed” and point to studies that document poor perfomance or management. Too little attention has been paid to success. Programs like Head Start, Energy Assistance, and successful Employment and Training programs grew out of the War on Poverty and continue to provide “ladders” of opportunity out of poverty. There are lessons to be learned, improvements to be made, but we should continue to support and expand our efforts to diminish poverty in this country. Community Action Agencies are an important part of that effort.

  • Janet Rechtman

    Ruth, you remind me of the time as a high school student that I had an internship at the Job Corps office in Atlanta, around 1968. Nowadays, for some folks, its the fashion to denigrate federal and state employees and rant about the inefficiency and insensitivity of government. I don’t believe that guff today, in part because the inspiring spirit of the folks I worked with at Job Corps. My colleagues were on fire to make a positive difference in the lives of at risk youth, through camps, job training, and general support, inventing programs that today are gold standards in the field. In the early days of the war on poverty, we knew that public service was important work and we honored people who took up that higher calling, whether in government, nonprofits, ministry or business. Perhaps, as the zeitgeist swings away from sensationalism, name calling and wedge issues, we can once again appreciate the gifts of time, talent and treasure that people who chose to serve the general good make every single day.

  • Burt Waller

    In the summer of 1966, I was one of several high school students recruited to work in our county’s first Head Start initiative. Bolivar TN was a typical small segregated southern county seat town. My experiences that summer forever changed my understanding of equality, justice and opportunity. We were shocked to work with 5 year old children who had never used an indoor toilet, didn’t know how to use toothpaste, and had never been taught the alphabet. I don’t know what happened to any of the children but I know our 2 month involvement provided some little help in hope of a better future. For me, my personal trajectory was changed forever.