Home > DSO News > Those Sneak’n Poor Kids: Random Thoughts about Franklinton’s Bicycle Kitchen, Pt I

Those Sneak’n Poor Kids: Random Thoughts about Franklinton’s Bicycle Kitchen, Pt I

28 June 2010

Full-disclosure time: I used to be poor.

Seriously. There was a time in my life when I was severely economically disadvantaged, therefore poor. It happened when I was a teenager.

During that time, believe it or not, I dined on welfare cheese. And anyone else reading this who has also, knows that it is excellent for grilled-cheese sandwiches, and also mixed in with those cheap mac & cheese meals you buy at Aldi.

Also, there was a time when I walked three miles home in the snow, to a house that had no heat. The reason it had no heat is that the electric bill hadn’t been paid. And the reason the bill hadn’t been paid, is because there was no money to pay it. The next day, I woke up with a fever, trying to get better in that house with no heat.

Now that friends, is poor.

Well, sort of.

Several years after that, I visited a third-world country. There were several images that have etched themselves in my memory, that have made me change my mind about the so-called “poverty” I experienced as a teenager. One in particular haunts me to this day:

Think of a bustling suburban household on a Saturday. The husband is working on his honey-do list, the wife is doing laundry, and their two kids are playing. The house is a curious mixture of chaos and order.

Now, picture the same scene with no house, with the scene being played out on a riverbank. That’s what I saw, long after my “poor” years as a teenager. I knew instinctively that this was a family and that they had no proper home. No brick-and mortar, no simple wood frame, not even a hut. I confirmed this with the person sitting next to me.

That’s when I knew I have never really been poor. I’m also pretty sure that most of the people in America who we consider to be “poor,” are more aptly described as, ‘economically disadvantaged relative to their surroundings.’

I offer these perspectives to you, Gentle Reader, because in my expert opinion, the good people in the neighborhood of Franklinton, are probably just like I was as a teenager – “Economically disadvantaged (with qualification),” rather than truly poor.

With that in mind, I’d have to say that the ENS article about the bicycle kitchen exaggerates when it characterizes the Franklinton residents as poor.

The seeds for this practical plan for transportation self-sufficiency took root when a handful of Christians in their 20s pooled resources to buy a house remodeled by the Franklinton Development Association.

All the members were raised in upper-middle class, suburban homes, but they have moved to this low-income neighborhood in response to a deep call to follow the Gospel by living into the ancient Christian disciplines of simplicity, hospitality and service. That starts with taking plenty of time to listen to the concerns of their neighbors.

“When we first moved to Franklinton, our initial outreach was to the homeless,” said Jonathan Youngman, part of the fledgling community (which has no formal name) and a vestry member of St. John’s. “They were talking to us about bicycles because they can’t afford bus fare, and the bus service to this neighborhood is so irregular.

“Three of us — Greg Lanham, Jonathan Ryder, and I — are really into bikes so we were intrigued. We looked around to see if this need extended beyond the homeless,” Youngman said. The three soon discovered that many people in Franklinton depend on bicycles for transportation but ride unsafe, undependable bicycles because they do not have the resources to maintain them. Additionally, children aimlessly bike the streets without helmets or even brakes.

“Franklinton needs a Jubilee-minded bike shop that caters to the poor and cares more about the people it serves than turning a profit,” 

The reason I say this is that it is clear to me that the residents of Franklinton to which the bicycle kitchen caters, are as economically advantaged as I had been as a “poor” teenager. There’s no shame in that, either. It’s just that .. they’re not “poor.”

Having dispensed with the illusion that Franklinton’s residents are “poor,” I think it’s helpful to consider the opposite side of the coin. While they’re not poor, they’re not counter-cultural movers and shakers, either, as the ENS article insinuates:

As petroleum poisons the Gulf and President Barack Obama challenges Americans to overcome their addiction to fossil fuels, an intentional Christian community has won a victory for people-powered transportation in inner-city Columbus.

Eh .. Nor are they probably interested in weening our addiction to fossil fuels, per Obama.

Nope.

Again, having been there, and done that .. my gut tells me that they ride run-down bikes out of necessity; out of a need to survive the day / week / month; and out of the hope that next year will bring in something better for them… perhaps even an upper-middle class standard of living, like the 20-something’s who run the bike kitchen, left not long ago.

To put it another way – The bicycles are a means to an end, and not the end.

(gasp!) 😉

So, what have we learned, boys and girls? Well, it’s pretty simple. We learned that the good folks of Franklinton aren’t poor, nor are they sneak’n surreptitious countercultural instigators.

Dispensing with what they are not, what’s left over is pretty simple. They’re people who have been impacted by the Fall, differently than the rest of us have been impacted by it.

If that’s too much to groc, we can just call them, “people.”

Wow.. Now that, friends is counter-cultural !  😉

– Elder

PS – More to follow. There are at least two more articles I’d like to do about the kitchen. One, with what is commendable about it; and another with some (hopefully, constructive) criticism.

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Categories: DSO News
  1. M
    4 July 2010 at 6:06 AM

    While I agree with you regarding those young affluent activists, and can understand your contrasting your experience with poverty, with the poverty of the third world and why you arrived at your conclusion, I have to differ with you. Your suffering was much less, because government programs like those that provided the assistance that ensured you didn’t go without food. That you had a roof over your head, and while you occasionally went without heat, you weren’t subjected to the privation that you saw in the third world. Again, I agree with you re: the young activists and their disconnect, but you don’t get off the hook that easily.

    There are US citizens who are living at the level of poverty that you saw in the third world, and we are at a time when our government, in collusion with corrupt corporations, business people and others who want to drag our wage standards down to third world level, while maintaining our first world cost of living. What’s more, it’s insulting to whitewash the subject of poverty in America, and infer that it’s not really poverty because it doesn’t look to you like third world poverty does. Any criticism you have regarding third world poverty, should be directed to the governments of those third world countries, and their abuses of power, corruption and their diverting aid money into their own pockets and towards further oppressing their people. It’s disgusting for someone who isn’t suffering, to threat the issue so disrespectfully.

    While there are still welfare programs that help some US citizens in poverty, those programs will be going away very soon. They’ve been burdened by subsidizing the cheap foreign labor, illegal and legal, that has been displacing US citizens from their jobs. What’s more, the never ending spending, the bailouts of banks, investment corporations, many of which are foreign owned, and so on, is going to reduce our country to a third world. There are tent cities across the country, because people, actual citizens are discriminated because they are citizens. They look for work every day, but can’t get a break. We’re told these citizens, from the unskilled, to the moderately skilled all the way up to the most highly educated and skilled can be found in these tent cities, and they’ve done nothing wrong. They aren’t addicts, alcoholics, they weren’t bad employees, they were fired to fatten their employers bottom line by outsourcing jobs, or hiring cheap foreign labor, illegal or legal. There are plenty of videos online, try youtube, of tent cities, with interviews with these displaced citizens, from the east coast, to the west, to the northern states, to the southern, and the midwest. Many of these videos can be traced back as far as 2008, some even earlier. Here’s one to start with http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jmeHiFZUWtE

    I can guarantee that you have zero experience of the poverty these US citizens are going through, because if you had, you wouldn’t treat the subject of poverty in the US as cavalierly as you have. What’s more, malnutrition and pernicious anemia have been on the rise among citizens in the US since the ’90s, in fact as far as 10 years ago, we had more US citizens suffering from those conditions than we did during the great depression, and no, those citizens aren’t the children of illegal aliens, but US citizens, black, brown and white who have been routinely displaced from their jobs since the 1990s.

  2. Elder Oyster
    4 July 2010 at 8:46 PM

    First, thank you for commenting. As I mentioned in another article, things are a little bit on hold right now with the blogging thingee; and it had been my intention to return to the Franklinton series when I had a better chance.

    RE: “While I agree with you regarding those young affluent activists,”

    I guess I’m not sure where you agree with me with respect to the young activists, because I’m pretty sure you’ve misread me regarding my experiences as a teenager with respect to the residents of Franklinton.

    RE: “Your suffering was much less, ”

    Yes, my suffering was much less than many economically disadvantaged people here in America. It was however, what it was – hardship, and hardship that took effort to overcome. It’s also hardship that many people in America would themselves classify as poverty, even though (as I pointed out), the label is patently false.

    RE: “..because government programs like those that provided the assistance that ensured you didn’t go without food.”

    What an odd statement. The disadvantaged people in Franklinton are worse off than I had been, because I had access to government programs? They have similar access.

    The reason I know that is because I have a nephew who lives in the Detroit Area, whose life is pretty messed up right now. I had been worrying that he would have to sleep under a bridge, or something equally harsh, but as it turns out, there are LOTS of helpful programs available to him. He could get by okay if he had to, with a bit of elbow grease. So, I stopped worrying.

    RE: “There are US citizens who are living at the level of poverty that you saw in the third world, and we are at a time when our government, in collusion with corrupt corporations, business people and others who want to drag our wage standards down to third world level, while maintaining our first world cost of living.”

    Another odd statement, in light of the other odd statement about the relative helpfulness of government programs. Since you don’t know me, you know nothing about how the hardship fell into our laps (hint: it had nothing to do with unemployment, corporate corruption, two-dollar Whoppers at Burger King, or the standard of living of people who live in Bp. Breidenthal’s neighborhood).

    Also, since (again) you do not know me, you have no idea how I was able to climb out of the hardship. I will tell you that I read and re-read the book of Proverbs several times during that period; and I attribute some of my good fortune to taking a lot of it to heart.

    RE: “I can guarantee that you have zero experience of the poverty these US citizens are going through, because if you had, you wouldn’t treat the subject of poverty in the US as cavalierly as you have. ”

    Gee, if only I watched the youtube videos of people who are more destitute than I have ever been, then you’d have more respect for my thoughts about financial hardship. I suppose it’s the Almighty’s fault that He taught me with experiences rather than youtube videos.

    😉

  3. Elder Oyster
    4 July 2010 at 9:16 PM

    Wow. I just watched the first 80% of the youtube video, and I couldn’t watch anymore.

    I’m not belittling the hardships of the people in the California shanty-town, but realistically, these are NOT third-world conditions.

    Not even close.

    Not even in the ballpark.

    Not even in the parking-lot, adjacent county, or within the same solar system.

    And the violin music makes me want to puke.

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