From the desk of Julia Hayden, Community Relations and Resource Development, Habitat for Humanity of Schenectady County, Inc.
On April 25th over 135 community leaders, elected officials and engaged community members attended Habitat for Humanity of Schenectady County’s community symposium entitled “It Takes a Community – Building a New American Promise.” Covenant Hall at the First Reformed Church of Schenectady was filled to capacity. The symposium generated a resounding commitment to better connect our community resources.
Tackling the complexity of poverty is not easy. Discussions can grind to a halt. Not so during this recent symposium. Schenectady’s Mayor McCarthy welcomed the Keynote speaker Brenda Kenneally, who grew up in poverty in the Capital Region of Upstate NY. Kenneally quickly engaged the audience with her perspective as a mother, teacher, multiplatform documentarian, Guggenheim Fellow, Pulitzer Prize nominee and a TIME Magazine award-winning photojournalist. Leading the first session of the morning, Kenneally offered an in-depth presentation examining the local history of poverty to present day needs. Kenneally brought to the conversation more than thirty years of work that has produced visceral portraits of disadvantaged children, women, and families in America.
Two panel discussions followed Kenneally’s presentation. One included local families, as well as individuals Kenneally has worked with in documentaries. Each shared a stark voice of reality, describing their daily struggles to make ends living at the threshold of poverty. A member of the audience said; “This segment overwhelmed me. It gave the local data real faces and stories – we cannot continue as we are!” The second panel, composed of community leaders, was a straight talk round table highlighting the initiatives underway to tackle substandard housing and poverty in our neighborhoods.
The Symposium wrapped up with attendees discussing how they personally, and through their organizations, could better work together to unite community efforts to eliminate substandard housing. Now, follow up sessions are being launched to coordinate efforts with projects underway. Keynote Brenda Kenneally will be holding an open door “nuts and bolts’ conversation later in May at Schenectady Habitat.
Shaming people who live in poverty is an old reflex in America. Kenneally reminds us that the fault lines of capitalism are everywhere within our nation, running through the very foundation we keep building upon. Her excavations blast through any attempt to deny it. In her book’s opening essay, she refers to her photographs as “new fossils.” With taking pictures, Kenneally writes, “comes the power to manufacture a record that future generations will consider fact.” Whether we choose to look or not, these images are facts.