Growing up poor, the death of his mother and difficult circumstances of his sister’s life, led Mauricio L. Miller to join a nonprofit and the war on poverty. But just two months into his first social service job he could see flaws in how most poverty programs worked. Later he realized he wouldn’t bring his own family through his programs although they were considered some of the best in the country.
A chance call from then Mayor of Oakland, Jerry Brown, gave Mauricio a chance to start over. His Alternative approach to make poverty escapable, and not just tolerable, is shaped by his mother’s lament that charitable programs “take my pride away” by failing to recognize people’s hard work and talents.
Although Mauricio’s mother only had a third-grade education in Mexico she was an amazing dress designer and seamstress. “They never ask me about what I’m good at doing. We would be so much better off if they just gave us a fraction of what they spend trying to help us.” With this new opportunity, Mauricio decided to trust the families and use technology to capture the information about their talents and initiative, rather than weaknesses. The alternative challenges the basic assumptions across the political spectrum that low-income families are either lazy or victims needing to be saved.
His simple solution is to invest in people’s demonstrated strengths, rather than weaknesses. The evidence provided shows that families, when working together with friends creates sustained positive change. Recognizing low-income families as contributors rather than takers from society begins to break the negative stereotypes that divide us and helps to bring our society together.