The statistics about poverty in the Syracuse City School District are well known, but students' needs and the effects of poverty aren't always completely understood. Reggie Kelley started Rise Above Poverty to bring greater awareness to the basic necessities students don’t have and the stigma that they face for not having those items.
When Reggie Kelley read an article in 2017 about poverty rates in the syracuse city school district, it felt like it was a call to action.
"The school that they mentioned specifically in the article, Danforth, their homeles percentage rate was about 11 to 12 percent, but their poverty levels were 75 percent," said Kelley. "So after reading the article, I read it once. I read it twice. I said to my wife 'I think God wants me to do something about this.'"
So Kelley and Rise Above Poverty started collecting items like underwear, socks, and feminine hygiene products. Not having these items is not just uncomfortable or inconvienent. It also contributes to the stigma students in poverty face. Sara Burke is a Professor of Psychology at Sryaucse University and says getting out of poverty isn't easy.
"A lot of Americans tend to believe that money is a malleable charateristic," said Burke. "That it's easy for people to change their behavior in order to change their socio-economic standing. Now those beliefs are by and large false. Class mobility is very difficult."
A 2018 study from New York University found that children whose parents have high-status jobs are much more likely to get high-status jobs themselves. Burke says these kids are facing stereotypes that they don’t have control over, and these stereotypes have consequences.
"Being aware that a negative stereotype about your group is relevant to a situation that you are in can distract from your ability to concentrate from the thing that you're trying to do," said Burke.
Removing those distractions is one of Reggie Kelley and Rise Above Poverty’s ultimate goals.
"We want to take that away from the students, that burden," said Kelley. "Where they're kind of focusing on, you know, 'What I'm going to wear today to go to school?' and focus on 'Okay, what am I going to school to learn today in math class?'"
Kelley adds they always are looking for volunteers and would like to expand to address mental health with the assistance of trained professionals. In a facebook post, Rise Above Poverty says they dropped off over 1700 pairs of underwear at Delaware Academy in April. Their next event will be in June.