The Missing Link: Success and Poverty

What is the missing link between the poor and higher social classes? What’s the key indicator of the impoverished’s ease of mobility to rise above the poverty line? One word, exposure.

Growing up in an impoverished environment, you are not as readily exposed to the same opportunities as those on the other side of the tracks. Many of the wealthier kids are exposed to parents and friends of their parents who are doctors, lawyers, and business owners. They sit at tables and eat dinner around business oriented conversations. They hear the ups, downs, ins, and outs of different careers. Their networking circle includes access to people with resources who can and often time do help them succeed in their careers. Do you remember those essays we had to write the first day back in school about your summer break? The wealthier kids groaned about having to work in their dad’s friend’s clinic and got excited when talking about going out of the country for the first time. Mine sounded like a submission to the the Make-A-Wish Foundation. A plea of some sort.  A bunch of should’ve-would’ve-could’ves. I was too ashamed to tell them that all I did all summer was listen to gunshots, watch the drama of seeing cops ride down the street looking for my neighbors. Or that I read headline after headline all summer of young people dying in the streets, some of which were classmates. Or how I went to church and listened as the pray list got longer each week, listening as they prayed for jobs that never came, welfare checks that were barely enough this month, and how Mother Bernice’s leg got cut off due to diabetes because she couldn’t afford healthcare. I was embarrassed that my family couldn’t afford vacation, let alone summer camp. So I wrote about all the things that I should have done, all the places I would have gone, and all the ways in which I could have had a productive summer break.

I know life is more than the sum of summer breaks. Life is less about what neighborhood you grew up in and more about seizing opportunities. Making the best of what you have, playing the cards you are dealt. Knowing this, how does the theorem that ‘people are a product of their environment’ fit in the dialogue on poverty in regards to exposure? Jay-Z said it like this, “We ain’t thugs for the sake of being thugs, Nobody do that where we grew at, nigga, duh”.

Being a product of your environment is a detriment to success when the environment is not conducive to beneficial exposure. Exposure is a vital part of the crossover between poverty and success. It’s that crucial piece of the PIE, quite literally. According to Harvey Coleman in his book, Empowering Yourself, The Organizational Game Revealed, career success is based on the 3 key elements of Performance, Image, and Exposure (PIE). Most surprising, he writes that exposure makes up 60% of career success with performance making up 10% and image, 30%.

So, where is the fundamental exposure that facilitates success for those living in poverty? How is it cultivated? What does it look like? It looks like a team effort of reaching across the aisle. The haves working with the have-nots. This reaching across the aisle of course takes effort but also responsibility and obligation on both sides. An exchange of sorts. To create exposure is to extend opportunities, the seizing of which are steps to success.  

Since exposure is such a big deal and the lack thereof allows the perpetuation of poverty, why is exposure not a priority? And how do we cultivate exposure in poor communities across the nation as 46.7 million Americans live in poverty? What about across the globe? Because poverty has but one name and a thousand faces.

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