Recently I was fortunate to be honored by the State Bar of Georgia at a ceremony in Atlanta attended by Attorney General Sam Olens and State Bar of Georgia President Robin Frazer Clark, for winning the Small Firm Division of the 2013 Georgia Legal Food Frenzy. Statewide, law offices, legal organizations and law schools raised the equivalent of 842,317 pounds of food in 2013 to help meet the spike in demand that food banks experience over the summer months while students who receive free or reduced school lunches during the year are at home.
This accomplishment by the Georgia Bar in only its second year in participating in this endeavor exceeded the state goal of 750,000 pounds and is a 38 percent increase from last year.
I WOULD BE remiss in not extending credit to members of American Business Clubs, Congregation Children of Israel, clients, family and friends who jointly helped me attain this achievement. For those of you who missed the opportunity to donate locally to Golden Harvest Food Bank, there are many other opportunities available in the near future to include Smart Lunch, Smart Kids; Empty Bowl and It’s Spooky to be Hungry.
The generosity and goodness of our fellow citizens in the fight against hunger in our community is beyond any doubt. Our community exudes kindness and compassion for those who are less fortunate.
Yet food drives such as the just-completed Georgia Legal Food Frenzy are merely a first step and generally just target the symptoms of hunger, not the root causes. Therefore, I feel compelled to challenge and encourage my fellow colleagues and professionals to shift their focus toward the root causes of hunger and poverty. It is not nearly enough to just throw money at the symptoms without addressing the root causes of these deep-seated problems.
OVER THE PAST 50 years or so our federal government has taken the liberty to indulge in massive amounts of public spending initiated under President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs in a well-intentioned but feeble effort to address hunger in America. Yet what do we really have to show for it? An ever-increasing number of Americans on disability and addicted to food stamps are the Great Society’s unintended legacies.
How do we get to the root causes of what has turned out to be a vicious circle?
First, we must acknowledge that money is not the sole answer.
Second, we must reach out to our political leaders of both parties in Atlanta and Washington and demand a long-term commitment. One area that should be focused on is our current tax policy in this country. Perhaps the implementation of a “fair tax” or a similar tax model would be more conducive to a fair and equitable system that would encourage the individual and act as an incentive to private employers to hire the chronic unemployed.
A “fair tax,” if properly enacted, would ensure that individuals are not taxed on their earnings but at the point of consumption, and thereby encouraging the individual to consider saving. Certainty in the tax code and elimination in the loopholes also would incentivize small businesses to hire those caught in the cycle of poverty full time when they might otherwise be reluctant to do so.
Third, we must insist upon devising more creative school choices for our young families by the development of additional charter schools and magnet schools, which would be designed to tap into the God-given abilities and strengths of our children. Our federal government should initiate a Peace Corps-like program to encourage many of our retired senior citizens to share their talents and remarkable work experiences by volunteering in classrooms throughout our country.
Furthermore, if we are willing to insist upon the cutting of the red tape that our educators must circumvent every school day and grant our local school boards the oversight that is currently held in Washington, much can be done to enhance the educational opportunities of future generations.
Next, it is incumbent upon each of us to renew our commitments to churches, synagogues and civic clubs. As affiliations with these noble and worthy institutions have declined over the past generation, likewise the level of poverty has seen a correlating increase. There is substantial data suggesting that we have grown accustomed to our ill-equipped federal government fulfilling the roles of caregiver, carried out with pride by so many civic and religious organizations of yesteryear. These charitable undertakings must be delegated back to the institutions that are better able and capable of dealing with the needs of our local community that they are far more familiar with than a federal bureaucracy that is removed from these needs in time and distance.
EACH parent also has the duty to share with our children the amazing and heart-rending stories of men and women such as pediatric neurosurgeon Benjamin Carson, Carnegie Medal and Medal of Honor recipient Jimmie Dyess, and noted author and activist Helen Keller, who all were each able to overcome substantial adversity to make an indelible difference to the lives around them, leaving us with their remarkable legacies. We should embrace their real-life stories as a source of inspiration to our youth, and to redefine success in the eyes of our young people.
So often out of naïvete our children worship at the alter of tarnished athletes and actors/actresses such as Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods, Lindsey Lohan and the Kardashian sisters. It is tragic that the national media have chosen to focus on the latter depraved individuals who offer no redeeming value to those in need of a genuine role model. Success should be defined by accomplishment and work ethic, not celebrity.
FINALLY, EACH of us can engage in a concerted effort to devote at least one hour of our time a week volunteering in our community, whether it is mentoring children at the Boys and Girls Club; taking the time to show the less fortunate in our society how to cultivate gardens at local community centers; or by simply volunteering time at a food bank, homeless shelter, soup kitchen or hospital. These hands-on opportunities can change the face of our community and can offer hope for the future which money cannot buy.
In the short run, the outpouring of your generosity as reflected in the results of this recent food drive will ease the demand for nutritional sustenance this summer in Augusta and throughout Georgia. However, this is no time to sit on our laurels, as much remains to be done if we earnestly hope to break the cycle of poverty in our midst. As it has been said by anthropologist Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”
(The writer is an Augusta