In the newly released “Platform for Economic Justice,”  one of our planks argues that people from poverty, middle class, and wealth need to be at planning tables in our communities, especially when we’re planning for economic stability and wellbeing.

This week I saw this begin to take shape in an interesting way. I’d been asked to speak to a group of donors who wanted to learn about aha! Process and how communities were using our methodology. A couple who lived in an art-filled home in a gated community hosted a dinner party for about twenty people. After the catered meal I had the pleasure of leading a discussion in the living room.

Over the years the hosts and their guests have been donors to many projects that address community problems. To a person they were well-informed, generous, and eager to learn. Most of them commented that they had read Dr. Ruby Payne’s A Framework for Understanding Poverty.  Given the topic and the work that I do, I was particularly conscious of the people who catered the meal and wondered what they thought of the evening’s topic. After all, being at the table as a caterer is not quite what we have in mind when we say we that all classes must be at the table.

As I began speaking I saw a young woman from the catering staff pull up a chair in the hallway, out of sight of those in the living room, and lean forward to listen. At the close of the evening I found her in a deep conversation with the host and some guests. They were comparing notes on the hidden rules of class and talking about the barriers faced by low-wage workers who are trying to gain a stable foothold in our economy. I was struck by the intensity of interest and curiosity expressed by everyone in the discussion.  

To me it looked like a case of mutual respect, which is one of the precepts of our work, to develop relationships of mutual respect across class and race lines. The hard work of developing and funding high-impact strategies follows from there. I’d say we made a good start that evening, thanks largely to the young woman who helped cater the meal. It could be that not long from now, their community will have a Circles initiative with allies from wealth and middle class working with Circle leaders from poverty to create economic stability for everyone.

To learn more about the ideas expressed here, please follow the links to Planks 5 and 11 in the “Platform for Economic Justice.”

-Phil DeVol

About the Author/Consultant:  Phil DeVol, of Marengo, Ohio, has been consulting on poverty issues since 1997 and is co-author of Bridges Out of Poverty: Strategies for Professionals and Communities. He works with organizations and communities to redesign programs which ensure sustainability and better serve people in poverty. Philip is the author of Getting Ahead in a Just-Gettin’-By World: Building Your Resources for a Better Life, a workbook that combines Dr. Ruby K. Payne’s work on the hidden rules of class, research on knowledge transfer, and the knowledge of participants living in poverty. Philip served as director of a substance abuse treatment facility for nearly 20 years. He consults for aha! Process, Inc.