(NNPA)—Traveling across America on speaking engagements this holiday season, I talked to many of the 14 million kids now living in poverty. In the past eight years child poverty rates have sky-rocketed over 80 percent and high school dropout rates hit 68 percent in many communities. Currently, America is undergoing a national crisis with 20 percent of all children living in poverty. These findings are supported by organizations such as The National Center for Child Poverty and The Kenneth Allen Youth Foundation.
During my speaking interactions with teens from diverse cultures, many ask questions like, “Farrah, does it matter anymore to honor family traditions like Christmas, Kwanzaa or Islamic New Year’s?” Others ask, “Will I be able to find a job one day?” Looking them straight in the eye, I respond confidently without hesitation, “People can achieve whatever their dreams are in life with faith, hard work and honesty, regardless of temporary circumstances.”
Kids are perceptive, able to instinctively sense hesitation or attempts to conceal doubt. However, I am able to answer solidly as living proof that it is possible having grown up in poverty on gang riddled streets of Southside Chicago’s public housing by the age of 15 I earned over $1 million. As a Black male in America, I defied the expert’s statistics claiming I should be dead or in jail.
At times, I field questions such as, “Will I receive a holiday present, toy, piece of candy or loving hug from my parent?” Perhaps, they live in one of the 18 percent of underemployed households that now dots the landscape of Americans living in poverty. Increasingly, poverty is no longer only confined to low-income neighborhoods, it is making its way into middle class communities. Many barely survive delinquent mortgages or utility bills and are collecting food stamps.
Despite it all, celebrating holidays by giving thanks to God, loved ones and neighbors, does make a huge difference in people’s lives. The genuine spirit of the holidays is not found in material items but rather the moments of personal bonding between people. I recall at age six sitting in the kitchen during the holidays as my mother baked pies, cooked gourmet meals and reminisced about family traditions. True holiday spirit includes valuable time spent passing down the family legacy of knowledge, wisdom and love that inspires hope in future generations. These unique mentoring experiences and personal development tools are far more useful to young entrepreneurs and adults alike than any material gift could ever provide.
If you have no spare money, try making a special holiday card using recycled materials, a scrapbook of family photo memories or enjoy a family hiking trip outdoors—it’s FREE. Perhaps, spend the day reading, playing board games, visiting the public library or helping out at the local homeless shelter serving meals to those most in need.
Many times, I have found that giving my personal time towards a worthy cause is most rewarding. Find a local nonprofit or community organization in need during these tough economic times as charitable donations have declined 6 percent or more. It’s a great experience for the kids and family to share the true spirit of holidays with others. It is amazing the gratitude we receive in return from those in temporary need.
Remember our elderly seniors, many live alone in assisted living, retirement, and nursing homes. These are the quiet heroes who made us what we are today— the grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts and uncles who mentored us while growing up. Whether suffering from illnesses such as Alzheimer’s, dementia, high blood pressure or diabetes, make the holidays more complete by sharing it with a loved one. Each moment spent together builds spiritual wisdom.
Most importantly, the holidays are a time of joy and healthy laughter spent exploring new passions. Celebrate family heritage with pride, confident in knowing who you are and where your family comes from through continuous education. I often use the free public library during my travels, reading new materials even if it’s just to spend a few hours between engagements. Other times attending holidays like Christmas, Kwanzaa or Islamic New Year’s can add spiritual and social opportunities for people to share new ideas and remember loved ones.
Yes, holidays are important. A time meant to support the people in our family and community. Genuine holiday spirit means inviting others into your home to share the joys of tradition. By celebrating together, it creates harmony, love and leadership for children and those in need seeking the strength to develop their unique talents and gifts therefore benefiting all people worldwide.
(Farrah Gray is the author of The Truth Shall Make You Rich: The New Road Map to Radical Prosperity, Get Real, Get Rich: Conquer the 7 Lies Blocking You from Success and the international best-seller Reallionaire: Nine Steps to Becoming Rich from the Inside Out. He is chairman of the Farrah Gray Foundation. Dr. Gray can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or his website at http://www.drfarrahgray.com/. )