“True compassion is more than flinging a coin at a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.” -Martin Luther King, Jr. (Beyond Vietnam)
As we celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. today, we reflect on the many profound statements he made throughout his journey to justice and equality. We are more aware than ever that his impassioned words still ring true today, more than 60 years later. The unemployment rate in our neighborhood stands at 12.3%, more than double that of the State of Illinois. We note that the absence of meaningful work is directly correlated with the increase in violence. And because of our biblical worldview, we believe God cares deeply about this reality and injustice.
MIT economist Peter Temin wrote in his book The Vanishing Middle Class, that escaping poverty (effectively moving from a working-class minimum wage economic status to one of higher earning potential) takes nearly 20 years of uninterrupted momentum forward. “Education is key, but that means plotting, starting in early childhood, a successful path to, and through college. That’s at least a 16-year plan that can easily be upended.” Noting that any traumas that are experienced within the family or community could quickly detract from that momentum forward, the reality is many families continue in poverty for generations.
Sunshine’s response to this is multi-leveled. Certainly, our youth programs seek to establish long-lasting relationships with youth that move them from elementary school through high school and beyond. The College Life program, in particular, sees the importance of crucial support to college students, particularly those first-generation students, to ensure they navigate the challenges of college effectively towards graduation. Studies show that students who receive coaching support through college are 15% more likely to finish. Director Arnold Sojourner shares, “Many students are needing that extra guidance and accountability when obstacles arise. Often they are trying to balance a full course-load with also 2 jobs in order to afford college. But I expect them to come with an attitude of how we can figure out a solution, not all the reasons they can’t do it.”
The Sunshine Enterprises program was established in 2012 as a response to the need to support entrepreneurs in the community. Realizing that for many adults higher education is not an option to lift their families out of financial struggle, having a side-business often provides that extra boost. Sunshine Enterprises partners with these individuals to offer business classes, coaching, and access to capital. Oftentimes the result is not only in personal growth but also economic opportunities and networking for the entire community.
Within the core philosophy and values at Sunshine is a deep respect for the strengths that lie within the community. We are not a charity, handing out services and resources. We are part of a vibrant and complex community coming alongside many who are working to improve the community and opportunities for people within it. From the schools to churches, to parents, to businesses, it takes a collective effort to both support the community as well as address the injustices it is facing. As Dr. King so fearlessly confronted injustice head-on, we follow his example humbly.
Hebrews 12:1 “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”