Compensation and Opinion and Editorials

EDITORIAL: Circles program is peace plan for class warfare

October 29, 2011

When it comes to class warfare, it’s easier to lob grenades than to sow the seeds of peace.

That’s why Dr. James Lemons, a local neonatologist, deserves recognition—and support—for his quest to bridge the widening gap between the country’s haves and have-nots.

Rather than get caught up in the noise of the Occupy Wall Street movement or wringing his hands over the worsening concentration of wealth in our country, Lemons is doing something about it by making Indianapolis a focal point in a national anti-poverty program.

As IBJ reported last week, Lemons, 67, is launching a training center here for a national anti-poverty program called Circles. He hopes the program can reach 4,000 low-income people in Indiana and recruit up to 12,000 volunteers over the next five years.

Circles, created by New Mexico-based not-for-profit Move the Mountain, operates on the theory that the poor can work their way out of poverty by making meaningful connections with the middle class and modeling certain middle-class behaviors.

But it isn’t just the poor who can learn a thing or two. Middle-class participants gain a better understanding of the causes and challenges of poverty, making it more likely they’ll support initiatives, such as improvements in access to transportation, that can help people boost their economic standing.

Lemons has been busy recruiting not-for-profit, government and business leaders to the cause, which matches low-income people who want to escape poverty with two or three middle-class volunteers over a period of 18 months.

So far, he’s lined up $800,000 in startup money, including sizable grants from the Indiana State Department of Health and the Indiana University School of Medicine. And he hired Nick Reich from Goodwill Industries as director of the local training center, the first of 12 that Move the Mountain wants to establish in the United States.

“This is the most important thing I’ve been involved with,” Lemons told IBJ reporter Kathleen McLaughlin in describing why he intends to spend the rest of his life working on the project.

The work Lemons and Circles are doing is important to people at all income levels.

Decent people can disagree over the causes of poverty and how best to lift people out of it, but there should be no argument that it takes a toll on all of us. Some can turn a blind eye to the suffering it causes, but no one can escape the economic costs of the crime, dependence and lost potential that poverty imposes.

Rather than simply lamenting those costs, Lemons has made an effort to understand the plight of the poor and is taking action to help them. We hope our readers will consider giving some of their time or treasure—or both—to help Lemons change lives.•

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To comment on this editorial, write to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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