It is Lee’s and my 22nd Thanksgiving together and our 12th with Darwin- I could not imagine more to be thankful for. It may seem hackneyed to the cynical to annually list what we are thankful for and it may seem redundant since, for many of us, that list doesn’t dramatically differ from year to year. Regardless we are obligated to take stock of our blessings because we need to ponder the importance of our good fortune and to contemplate the poverty in our own backyard.
For most Americans Thanksgiving is the quintessential American holiday and evokes universal images: family, food, prayerful thanks for the blessings we have received throughout the year. Yet, these images of American bounty run counter to a growing reality; some 49 million Americans face food insecurity. Of that number, some 17 million are children, which means that half of all American children will need to use federal food stamps at some point in their lifetime and of that a staggering 90 percent of African American children will rely on foodstamps during their lifetimes.
For most Americans hunger in the developing world – Africa, Asia – is a familiar sight. Today some 13 million Ethiopians in the Horn of Africa rely on food relief, as do approximately 2.8 million people in the Southern African nation of Zimbabwe. While pictures of hunger in Africa are pervasive throughout the United States – and a constant feature in the fundraising appeals of the international charity industry – for most people in the U.S., the idea that 49 million Americans suffer from food insecurity seems unthinkable.
The hard fact that hunger and access to nutritious food is as critical for 1 in 6 Americans as it is for 1 in 4 Zimbabweans certainly diminishes the distance between us all. So, as we look around this Thanksgiving the face of hunger can be our friends, our neighbors, our extended family — here or in Africa — and for some, our own.
In our nation 39.8 million people, 13.2 percent of the total U.S. population, live in poverty and one out of five children in the United States live in poverty. The racial disparities for poverty are striking. Poverty rates for white Americans are 8.6%, for blacks it is nearly 25%, Hispanics 23% and Asians 11%.
One out of three Americans under 65 were without health insurance at some point during 2007 and 2008 according to a study commissioned by the consumer health advocacy group Families USA. It found 86.7 million Americans were uninsured at one point during the past two years. At any one time, there are approximately 46 million Americans without healthcare coverage leaving millions one illness away from homelessness.
Those of us who have the good fortune to sit down to a good meal today should not feel guilty about it, but we should remember that many Americans do not share that good fortune. Many of us complain about our taxes, our credit card interest rates but we should put that in context.
As a nation we have a shared responsibility to one another. We have a sacred obligation as a civilized people to lift up those in pain and to help those in need. As a wealthy nation we should strive to eliminate poverty and hunger in our nation. We should not have any family or any children living without a roof over their heads every night and we should all have the right to healthcare. We should have an educated nation where illiteracy is eradicated. If the price of that be higher taxes – so be it. Part of the gift of being human is the ability to be compassionate and to act on that compassion.
I know I am exceptionally fortunate. I have a comfortable home, I have a partner who I love and adore and who is my best friend, I have a sweet dog who lies by my side no matter what I have done and who is my constant companion. I am blessed with good friends and many people who love me and who I love. I am privileged to advocate on issues I care about and have the honor to be, in a very small way, a part of efforts that help the least fortunate among us.
2009 has had its challenges for us. In addition to my battles with AIDS and Hepatitis C, Lee now is battling with prostate cancer. Like everyone, our finances are tight and we have cut back. But we know that millions of Americans struggle every day to make it to the next often without dignity and little acknowledgement. As we give thanks for our blessings, we should remember our obligations to all those in need and that those obligations do not disappear on the fourth Friday of November or on the 26th of December.