Gary mayor: We must recognize poverty as a problem
By Amy Lavalley Post-Tribune correspondent January 24, 2013 9:08PM
Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 26, 2013 6:31AM
VALPARAISO — In some ways, this country is in the same place it was when Martin Luther King Jr. fought for civil rights, Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said Thursday during a presentation at the Valparaiso University School of Law.
Economics now, as they did in the 1960s, create a battle between the haves and the have-nots, and between the takers and the taken, Freeman-Wilson told her audience of more than 60 people.
“We all determine economics are a problem when they hit our pockets. I’m not talking about that kind of economics, because we all get that, but economics as it impacts humankind,” she said, adding that the lack of economic resources in rural Kansas is the same as it is in Gary.
“Until each of us acknowledges that this is a problem, it won’t take priority,” Freeman-Wilson said. “Until we understand that poverty has an impact on each and every one of us, then we have a problem as a country. In Gary, it’s 42 percent. In Kenosha, it’s ‘only’ 11 percent.”
Freeman-Wilson, the first African-American woman to be elected mayor of an Indiana city, presented the law school’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Lecture, part of a campuswide commemoration of King’s accomplishments that spanned all week.
Noting that it took three attempts before she was elected as mayor, Freeman-Wilson said her life changed after she lost her second election, because that was when her family decided to care for her mother, who had suffered several strokes, at home.
She saw the challenges of the working poor, who are primarily women, as she helped her mother’s caregivers through their everyday struggles with substandard housing and inadequate schools for their children..
“This decision prepared me to be a voice for a community, an advocate for a community, with a 42 percent poverty rate,” she said, adding the mayor of Selma, Ala., told her that because of Gary’s poverty rate, she would face things that most mayors don’t even think about, “and he was right.”