MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Tuesday, October 16th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from member-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher.
We’ve talked many times about the difference between government poverty-fighting programs, and faith-based anti-poverty efforts. We’ve said the best programs are challenging, personal, and spiritual—pretty much the opposite of government efforts.
WORLD editor in chief Marvin Olasky has written extensively on the subject. But his most profound writing comes from simply listening to the voices of those who do the work.
MARVIN OLASKY, EDITOR IN CHIEF: For years in evaluating poverty-fighting groups, I thought about heroic Hannah Hawkins, the widow of a husband murdered in 1969. For thirty years, from 1985 until just before her death in 2015, she ran Children of Mine. It was an after-school program for 50-100 kids in Anacostia, a poor neighborhood in Washington, D.C..
She taught me to look beneath the surface of glowing programs. On one visit she had just come back from a government-sponsored meeting about Southeast Washington revitalization. She fumed, “The beautiful people were there, looking for money.”
Children of Mine met in an old, crowded building. The roof sometimes leaked. Inside, children chattered away. Outside, police sirens wailed and gunshots sometimes pierced the air.
Well-funded organizations sometimes asked Hannah to bring her kids to certain events at their shiny facilities on days when officials were visiting. She knew those host programs wanted to create the illusion of vibrant activity. She called it “pimping” her kids and declared, “I will have no part of that.”
She was tough, yet children flocked to her even when she issued commands: “Wash those dirty hands.” Or, “Your armpits stink. Wash them before you come tomorrow.”
They came and listened because most of the adults they knew were selfish, but Ms. Hawkins wanted what was best for them. “I ain’t easy to deal with,” she said, ”but my children know I love them and care about them.” Her goal was to bring them “from disgrace to grace.”
She often gave children maxims such as, “Stay on the street called straight . . . .Get that ugliness off your face . . . . People who pick fights end up dead or in jail.” She wouldn’t accept government money because then she “couldn’t have prayer.” Besides, when she once agreed to take federally supplied meals, quote, “The milk was warm, the tacos were cold, and the watermelon was sour.”
Along with a handful of volunteers, Hannah led Bible studies, tutored children, and gave them grammar lessons along with a meal. Money was tight but she hated waste, so she didn’t serve milk to children who refused to drink it. Officials upbraided her: “They said I didn’t give the children complete meals. I said I wanted to teach the children not to waste.” She scorned the government response: “Give it to them anyway. Give them a complete meal, and let them throw it in the trash.”
Hawkins was not a favorite of child advocates on the left, so she often went unnoticed by all except the children she saved. In a way, she was like Chuck Yeager, who broke the sound barrier in 1947 — but a dozen years later he was breaking new records in relative obscurity while publicists made the Mercury astronauts seem like the greatest pilots ever. Those astronauts, though, knew that Yeager was greater.
Though Hannah Hawkins helped her children break through barriers, she received little recognition in her lifetime –and made no money. Still, she’s the best anti-poverty warrior I ever saw.
For WORLD Radio, I’m Marvin Olasky.