Here at Advance Memphis, we are extremely grateful for the opportunity to witness so often the transformation that happens when genuine relational interaction takes place between our neighbors and others who live in different circumstances. These interactions are not transactional encounters; rather, they go beyond relief to create real empathy and understanding. Recently we had the opportunity to join our neighbors in the 38126 neighborhood and employees of SouthernSun Asset Management in a “Cost of Poverty Experience” (COPE) simulation, which occurred in the Advance Memphis Warehouse. Advance Memphis graduates volunteered to role-play neighborhood institutions, while SouthernSun employees played roles of people in poverty.
A SouthernSun employee described the experience: “During each week [the simulation included four 15 minute “weeks”], you had to complete what seem like simple tasks, such as going to the grocery store, paying rent, and getting to and from work (if you are fortunate enough to have a job). These roles turned out to be much more stressful than I anticipated. Trying to prioritize what had to be taken care of first to not lose your home or job was a struggle… It was a very overwhelming hour.” She also noted, “There were many circumstances that arose that put people in a place to make difficult decisions to provide for their families.”
During the event, we were able to see some light bulbs go off and see our neighbors learn and teach others about what it is like to live in poverty. Here are some of the thoughts from our neighbors who chose to volunteer to be a part of the COPE simulation:
“[The simulation] shows the reality of so many people in the community: just because you have a job doesn’t mean that everything will be easy. “- J. Reeves
“It really is something that we in the urban community deal with. [We] helped people see what poverty feels like and that it is not a myth but what many people deal with every day”- A. Williams
“I liked that… we were able help people see just for a moment what we go through every day” -J. Reeves
“I think we should do it every class to help others not just judge from the outside”- Q. Pitchford
And from a SouthernSun employee:
“It was a beautiful experience to witness this vast group of people come together and empathize with one another while also discussing what one could do going forward to help alleviate poverty.”
So often in America we break down society into categories such as the “haves” and the “have-nots,” but the reality is that we are all in need because poverty goes beyond material possessions. Our hope here at Advance is that, through fiercely loving our neighbors, providing services for sustainability, and engaging people with the truth of the gospel, we will help enable our neighbors in 38126 not only to feel advocated for, but to contribute to changing 38126 and the city of Memphis.