Discovering the Power of the Poor: A TEDx Talk by Rick Guzman

The following is a slightly rearranged version of a recent story on the North Central College website.  Go HERE to see the TEDx talk by Rick Guzman it reports on.  TED is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks. TED began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment and Design converged, and today covers topics ranging from science to business to global issues. Independently run TEDx events help share ideas in communities around the world.

Rick GuzmanNorth Central College alumnus Rick Guzman ’99 delivered a TEDx talk about using new strategies to combat cyclical poverty by harnessing the earning power of the working poor.

Guzman was one of 12 presenters at the inaugural TEDxNorthCentralCollege event Feb. 13. The theme of the TEDx was “Changing the World for Good” and his talk was titled “Discovering the Power of the Poor.”

Guzman is an assistant chief of staff for Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner. He serves as the city’s primary liaison to Aurora’s nonprofit and faith-based organizations and oversees policy areas such as housing, human rights and cultural activities. Guzman and his wife Desiree in 2002 co-founded Aurora’s Emmanuel House, which helps lower-income families break the cycle of working-class poverty through a pathway to homeownership.

Through his work at Emmanuel House Guzman said he has come to understand how difficult it is for hard-working, low-income parents to acquire enough savings to buy homes. Their entire monthly incomes are spent on essentials, with the biggest expense being rent.

“Unfortunately we know from long-term social research that this cycle is not only hard for most working families to overcome but it’s a generational cycle that is statistically certain to repeat itself in the overwhelming number of poor families,” Guzman said.

Entire nations can turn their economies around, raise standards of living and narrow income gaps, he said. In 2000, for example, the U.S. economy was three times that of the Chinese economy. But over the past 15 years the number of people in China living under the World Bank’s measure of extreme poverty of $1.25 a day shrunk from 450 million people to just 84 million, and China has overtaken the United States to become the world’s largest economy.

“Fifty-one years ago President Lyndon Johnson declared an unconditional war on poverty,” Guzman said. “In the area of senior citizens we’ve seen some dramatic drops in the poverty level. But for nearly every other population the attempted solutions to poverty reduction haven’t moved the dial. And poverty rates for many groups have actually risen, negating all the gains in poverty reduction for seniors.”

In Illinois, for example, the overall poverty rate was 14.7 percent in 1960 and it’s 14.2 percent today, he said. Meanwhile, today the 400 richest Americans now have more wealth than all 41 million African-Americans combined, Guzman said.

“These problems have persisted or grown because we’ve primarily been presented with poverty-alleviation strategies that say the answer is either in getting the poor to take on greater personal responsibility or in providing more and more aid and assistance to the poor,” he said.

In Aurora, a network of nonprofits is working to create homeownership opportunities.

“For working-class renting families their largest expense year after year is rent,” he said. “That results in $10,000 to $12,000 every year with nothing to show for it.”

About 20 percent of Aurora’s 200,000 people are lower income residents collectively paying an estimated $125 million in rent each year, he said.

Bryan House

The first five Emmanuel House apartments were here at Bryan House.

“So what Emmanuel House did was create a temporary disruption to the outflow of incomes for some lower-income families,” Guzman said. “We got some apartments that we’re running more efficiently with the help of a network of churches and dedicated volunteers.”

The effort has grown from five apartments to nearly 20 apartments in the past few years, he said. The money paid by families for monthly rent is diverted into savings accounts they own to be used for future down payments for homes.

“It’s working,” he said. “We’ve gone from two or three or four homeowners every year, and we’re on track now to create 20 or 30 or 40 homeowners every year in the not-too-distant future.”

Businesses are more likely to locate in a community with higher rates of homeownership, which leads to a stronger tax base, lowering the tax burden on working families, creating more funding, better schools, and other benefits, Guzman said.

“Let’s not repeat the same mistakes of the past 51 years of policies that have moved our poverty rate exactly nowhere. Let’s try this different, more inclusive strategy in all of our development endeavors.”

 Go to the EMMANUEL HOUSE main page on this site.

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Race and Business Branding

Starbucks-RaceTogetherHas Starbucks done it again? Yesterday, at a meeting where CEO Howard Schultz announced a 2 for 1 stock split, a new delivery service, and other initiatives, the big news was his efforts to encourage baristas to engage people in talking about…race.

The “Race Together” campaign caused immediate, often vituperative, backlash.  I have often said that Americans would rather talk about anything but race—talk constructively, I mean—so the backlash was surprising in no way whatever.

I will be expanding this post in the coming weeks, but wanted to get the news out as soon as I heard, which was on this evening’s Nightly Business Report.  Go HERE to see the broadcast for today, March 18, 2015.  The report segment, which approaches it from the perspective of business and business branding, starts at 19:01 into this video of the entire show.  The branding expert interviewed thinks that, despite all the furor, it will make good business and brand sense in the future.  And why not a business leading the way in discussing something so important that needs discussing? he asks.  Most every other body has failed, especially as it has tried to start a broad, national discussion.  That President Obama has failed to lead us into such a discussion is perhaps my biggest disappointment in his presidency.

One of the main reasons people don’t want to talk at all is that most still hold to the belief that the U.S. is colorblind, and that talking about race will only make the situation worse. When I led in the writing of a diversity plan for Naperville schools in District 203 (see that plan Here), people battered me with these beliefs constantly.

Meanwhile, as the chart below shows, Starbucks stores are densest in white communities. That may be ironic, but it may also make Starbucks the most appropriate company to take up this important cause.  The people who battered me with their faith in colorblindness weren’t generally people of color, though a growing segment of these also increasing lean towards the belief that if we don’t talk about race it will just fix itself and go quietly away.


  Go to the TEACHING DIVERSITY main page.

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Ornette Coleman: Lessons in Freedom (excerpt)

Voices and Freedoms: A History of JazzThis is the first of 16 short excerpts from my radio series Voices and Freedoms: A History of Jazz.  Based on my book of the same name, the series and book were produced at the University of Virginia in the nation’s Bicentennial Year.  The radio series ran for five years across the U.S., with Vassar being the first college to pick it up.

 Go here to learn more about and BUY the book Voices and Freedoms.  We plan to release it as a pdf download and an e-book on this site.

 Go to the Radio Shows page and scroll down to the list of episodes from the 16-part Voices and Freedoms radio series.  Anyone can listen to the excerpts, but full shows will be made available only to those who buy the book in either form.

Coleman-Shadows2Below is an excerpt from Show #14.   It’s about ORNETTE COLEMAN, one of jazz’s great innovators.  But as the excerpt insists, it’s Coleman’s great art and its ability to reach us emotionally that finally counts.  Without that, innovation can sometimes turn out to be no more than mere novelty.  From the late-50′s until today—Coleman won the Pulitzer Prize for music in 2007—Coleman has continued to challenge music orthodoxy and, most important, to create more and more beauty.  ”It is Coleman’s particular genius,” said one music critic, “to create situations where beauty can happen.”

The title Voices and Freedoms refers to the two themes central to my tracing of jazz history and the history that surrounded the music’s creation.  ”Freedoms” follows the evolution of jazz form, from the relatively tight constraints of its beginnings into greater and greater freedom of form.  In this, Ornette Coleman may be jazz’s greatest influence on form.

As “Freedoms” follows the constant changes in forms, so “Voices” follows something that remains constant throughout these changes.  Voice.  The human voice, signifying the constant presence of the striving, surviving, overcoming human.  Jazz has always been obsessed with this voice, and Ornette Coleman’s voice remains one of jazz’s most distinctive and humanizing.

 Go to a list of Radio Shows.  Go to the Voices and Freedoms page.

 Go to the TEACHING DIVERSITY main page.


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