By now I’m sure you have all heard the words of Republican presidential candidate, Newt Gingrich about children from low income homes, but for those of you who have not, allow me to refresh your memory.
In a December speech in Iowa, Mr. Gingrich declared:
“Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works…So they literally have no habit of showing up on Monday. They have no habit of staying all day. They have no habit of ‘I do this and you give me cash’ unless it’s illegal.”
Being one of these so called “poor children” myself, I take issue with this statement. By saying this, Mr. Gingrich suggests that all children from low income neighborhoods are the same, which of course is not true. Every child is different and has a unique situation.
My goal here today is not to disparage or pass judgment on Mr. Gingrich. My goal is to show you, through a series of examples as well as my personal experience, that there are children from these “poor neighborhoods” that defy his stereotypes by managing jobs, internships, school work and domestic responsibilities.
I currently attend Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School. As a Cristo Rey Student, I participate in a national movement that is getting high school students into the work place and teaching them good work habits at a young age. Each Cristo Rey school features a work study program that allows its students to attend high school and work regularly at many different corporate jobs. The Cristo Rey Network caters to those students in lower income or urban areas.
As a junior, I have had three different jobs since my freshman year at DBCR, jobs that I never imagined I could have as a teenager. Every day I go to work I know that I am representing my school and the Cristo Rey Network. My school has taught me, as Mr. Gingrich would say, to “show up on Monday” and to “stay all day”. My school has also taught me how to behave in a professional setting and how to dress as well. I know how to give a proper, firm handshake and how to greet adults.
Gingrich’s statements about low-income teens’ work habits in the United States are not an accurate image of the actual work habits that teens possess today. Teens all over the United States are a part of a movement that is getting teens into the work place and that is still growing. Mr. Gingrich’s words are not only inaccurate, they are also insulting. When he makes those statements Mr. Gingrich suggests that teens not only do not work, but they just don’t want to. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Teenagers do want to work. I chose to go to Don Bosco Cristo Rey so I could work. I want to work, I want to develop my work habits and become a great employee.
Instead of standing at a podium and rehearsing stereotypes, my classmates and I are transforming low-income communities from within. The future is in our hands, and we are prepared to sacrifice the typical teenage experience to ensure a better future not just for ourselves but for our communities.