“Mankind is my business” – a lesson that Scrooge learns the hard way in Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol” – but unfortunately this holiday season has been more of how the Grinch stole the spirit of Christmas and charitable deeds from Jefferson County (Birmingham, AL) for those in desperation and left destitute and in need this year.
Yes, Birmingham is tenth worse city in the nation to live because of the crime rate, violence and racial tension and disparity. We are a city of homelessness, suburbs filled with abandoned houses, unemployment at a high rate and jobs very scarce for those with limited education.
Some of our neighborhoods are full of drugs, prostitution, violence and despair. Our county teeters on the verge of bankruptcy, yet our current mayor is constantly in the news for needless travel to foreign nations yet we do not see any new industries being brought to our county as a result. This year we celebrated the Civil Rights movement with “50 years Forward” yet we are still going backwards.
But even with these blights in our county, half of our city has a wealth disparity with luscious tree lined streets, large cozy houses, income from high paying jobs and all the luxuries that come with this lifestyle – an envious situation for those who are homeless and live in the streets and under the overpasses, with hunger, shelter and health so vicarious and prevalent for these who are in desperate need.
Just as the Ghost of Christmas Present revealed the children of “Want” and “Ignorance” to Scrooge as a lesson for such flippant statements as “ Are there no prisons or poorhouses? Or “Then they should die and decrease the surplus population”, we are just the same. We provide lip service to charities and organizations asking for donations to provide food, toys, clothes and personal hygiene items to those in want and ignorantly turn our backs and walk away thinking – “Let someone else help them”.
But what happens if in this next year, instead of blessings and success that you have taken for granted, you or your family loses their jobs, bills mount and foreclosure of your home is lurking just around the corner. You are faced with life changing issues that are not of your own making – just part of life. Then what will you do?
The very same people who last year asked you to help others, now have to turn their attention to helping you and yours in these situations. Now you will be met with “We have taken all the applications that we can at this moment”, “We don’t have the money to provide you with any service” or “We will put you on the waiting list”.
I have been met with this very same experience as I have tried to beg and plead with businesses, social service agencies and churches in Jefferson County for the past three weeks to try to assist three families that have had deaths of parents and children, and have learned that the single parent has a cancer that spreads quickly to no avail.
I am appalled and ashamed of this city, this county, in refusing to acknowledge the needs of its citizens unless it benefits them in some way – what happened to the spirit of the 1930’s and 1940’s when neighbors helped one another and a town gathered together in times of need to share the bounty of all. Have we become so hardhearted, as the Pharoah of old, and detached that we refuse to look and see the need, the want and the justice for those who were faced with insurmountable obstacles and no relief insight?
Don’t turn your back on your fellowman for one day you may need to ask him or her for help and you will be the one “turned away at the inn.”