You’ve probably heard the saying, “give a man a fish and he eats for a day; teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime.” Most anti-poverty nonprofits help people by either giving them fish or giving them fishing lessons. We take a different approach. We figure out why so many people don’t have the opportunity to learn to fish, why they lack the necessary fishing equipment, and why the fish in their neighborhood lake are so scarce.
In other words, we look at the root causes of poor child and family well-being, which are systemic — meaning they are the result of policies, practices, and public structures that disadvantage some people while advantaging others. Public schools are a good example of this. Because of the way most states fund education (policies), more money is sent (practices) to public schools (structures) in well-off communities than to schools in lower-income communities. With smaller class sizes, newer books, and more resources, the children who go to the schools in the well-off communities are advantaged, while children who attend poorly resourced schools are disadvantaged. There are systemic faults like this throughout our society. What’s more, most policies, practices, and public structures disproportionately advantage white people and disadvantage people of color. And because these inequities have been in place for decades, the disparities they cause become more and more entrenched over time.