Poor, disabled, criminalized poverty skolaz create a book about their lives, solutions and theory – and go on a book tour


by Tiny aka Lisa Gray-Garcia

“The notion of poverty scholarship was born in the calles, prisons, street corners, community centers, welfare offices, shelters, kitchen tables, assembly lines, tenements, favelas, projects and ghettos – all the places people don’t look for educators, experts, leaders, researchers, lecturers, linguists, artists, creative thinkers, writers and media producers.” – from “Poverty Scholarship: Poor People-led Theory, Art, Words and Tears Across Mama Earth”

“We have no such event listed,” said the 20-something man dressed in all black at the “alternative” book store counter as he looked us up and down with palpable disgust in his face. Me in my jail suit, partially covered by a camouflage jacket pushing my brother, co-author of “Poverty Scholarship” and co-founder of Homefulness Leroy Moore, through the tiny entrance to the store in Manhatten.

We were dragging our book bags, tote bags, suitcases and paper bags in a beat-up wheelchair. As we walked in, they all stood together, 20-something anarchist-ish, looking in our direction. Not speaking or offering to help us or even coming over to us. Without saying it, they said, “Here come the homeless people.” And then it happened.

“I don’t have any email from you about the event.” After several denials that they even knew who we were at all, and us continuing to insist, finally the “events coordinator” of the space reluctantly came out to speak with us. “You never sent me an email, you never confirmed, and there is nothing we can do,” he said with annoyance, also looking us up and down.

“There is no one here. Can we do a short presentation?” me and Leroy asked, dumbfounded.

“Oh no, you can’t do that.”

Now there were a lot of weird wrong-nesses in this moment from hell, like when the events coordinator wanted to see my email on my phone as I desperately searched through it looking for the oddly lost email that me and Leroy had sent last Sunday, making me feel like he hacked my email and was making sure it was successful, but who knows.

What I do know is he and his staff were so rude, so annoyed, and yet oddly seemed to be waiting for us. And when all is said and done it was another example of traveling while poor, houseless, disabled to write, speak, share and teach poor and homeless people’s actual solutions to our own problems. What we po’ folks at POOR Magazine call poverty scholarship.

It was another example of traveling while poor, houseless, disabled to write, speak, share and teach poor and homeless people’s actual solutions to our own problems. What we po’ folks at POOR Magazine call poverty scholarship.

“Poverty scholars are the people usually silenced: incarcerated, criminalized, displaced, homeless, disabled, marginalized, sorted, separated, and extinguished. Poverty scholars are told our knowledge is not valid or legitimate. Our speech is improper; our work and our choices, criminal; our words, inept.” – excerpt from “Poverty Scholarship”

In POOR Magazine’s ghetto herstory, it’s always been this way. “They are the mentally ill homeless mother and daughter duo I was telling you about,” a well-known, elite, trust-funded “artist-filmmaker-feminist” said loudly enough for me and mama to hear as we walked into a gallery show featuring this person’s film about “poverty.”

“Fuck that hypocritical bitch.” My Mama Dee, ghetto fabulous skola from the streets of Philly, never the one to hesitate her fury, her intuitive brilliance or her on point poverty scholarship on anything, called out said artist-filmmaker-feminist to her face and within seconds we, the two realest people in that privileged space, were met by armed security guards with guns drawn “escorting” us out of the “art” show about homelessness.

But in case you think this was a special moment of poor people profiling hell, think again. This shit happened all the time. People were always blocking our entrance, giving us aside comments, calling us bums, kicking us out of places – parking lots, homes – saying the art we created about our homeless lives in poverty while living in poverty, homelessness and disability wasn’t real art, media or film.

All the while, countless artists, filmmakers, journalists, academics and writers produce art, media, films, studies, books, archives and photographic essays about us without us, as I often say. Our writing, radio, art, media is too messy, too much Spanish, or ebonics, or not enough grammar – linguistic domination, I call it in the book.

Like one of my NPIC bosses used to say when she wouldn’t let me write for the organization, “You need to learn how to write, Tiny.”

“Anthropology, Ethnography, Psychology / The Studies About Us, Without Us.” – excerpt from the poem, “Poverty Scholarship.”

Which brings me to the new book, “Evicted,” created by a Princeton professor, about evictions of, you guessed it, people like me and my mama and son, Leroy and his mama, and Queennandi, Vivian, Jewnbug, Laure, Muteado, Dee Allen and so many more of us poverty skolaz at POOR Magazine and across Mama Earth.

Yes, the topic, the struggle is important and real stories about evictions of our poor bodies are getting out there, but like I always ask the countless academic students who try to “study” us po’ folks, how does that “study, book, story or film” benefit us? Are you sharing your grant, or your proceeds, or more importantly your byline privilege with us, the people you are writing about, filming, photographing and studying?

Like I always ask the countless academic students who try to “study” us po’ folks, how does that “study, book, story or film” benefit us? Are you sharing your grant, or your proceeds, or more importantly your byline privilege with us, the people you are writing about, filming, photographing and studying?

It’s the unseen shit, like my mama used to say, that propels your career, gets you media, notoriety, resumes, more grants, endowments and publishing contracts that us po’ folks never get. Those are the reasons we worked for the last 22 years at POOR Magazine as a poor people-led movement to create, share, teach and love fellow poverty skolaz so they could write their own stories, publish their own books, and manifest our own solutions, solutions to our own problems like Homefulness, Deecolonize Academy, Community Reparations, the Sliding Scale Cafe, WeSearch, Revolutionary love-work, Poor People Art work and more, all the powerFULL poor people-led solutions, actions, cultural work, spirit and manifestations we teach and speak about in the newly released book, “Poverty Scholarship: Poor People-led Theory, Art, Words and Tears Across Mama Earth.”

“I’m trying to get the story published … again,” a really sweet published journalist who has tried to use her byline privilege to lift up our poor people voices, with a comprehensive article about Homefulness which included our words and love and solutions, has received over 25 rejections, in every media channel from the Huffington Post to the Guardian, and basically cannot seem to get any love for a story about poor people coming up with their own ideas, theory and actionable solutions.

A comprehensive article about Homefulness which included our words and love and solutions, has received over 25 rejections, in every media channel from the Huffington Post to the Guardian, and basically cannot seem to get any love for a story about poor people coming up with their own ideas, theory and actionable solutions.

In this midst of all this about us without us “work,” there are powerful examples of liberation and actual sharing like Dr. Christina Owens, who invited us to Florida State University, Emily Nusbaum from University of San Francisco, Jasmine Sydullah (one of my Mama Dee’s mentees at Vassar College), Cecilia Lucas, Hoi-Fei Mok, Lucas Guilkey, Edwin Lindo and Susan Schweik from UC Berkeley, all of the powerful cats in POOR’s solidarity family – Yael, Paige, Lex, Jess Hoffman, Sandra Estafan, Andrea Ikeda, Rho, Noa, Roan, Iris, Toby, Cynthia, City Lights, James Tracey, the SFPL and Oakland Public Library and all the powerFULL indigenous leadership and sharing of SisSTAR spiritual guide to Homefulness and teachers Corrina Gould and Loa and so many more. Without whom there would be no “Poverty Scholarship” book or Homefulness project.

And tomorrow we go to Columbia University Teachers College, thanks to the liberation and infiltration moves of Yolanda Sealy-Ruiz, who is doing her serious darnedest to lift up the voices of poverty and disability scholarship, in all the realest ways.

“We aren’t saying smash academia. Poor and indigenous peoples don’t move that way. We are asking for folks with institutional access, byline privilege, connections and resources to make space, share space, share resources.” Share space on the bench, Howard Zinn and Paolo Friere, cause this time the population is bringing the Popular Education and practice what I call #RadicalRedistribution.

“At least 10 people offered me a dollar, someone else offered to push the wheelchair up the hill and several people just gave me dirty looks. Yeah, being Black and in a wheelchair in Amerikkka, you already know, Tiny,” partner in crime and poverty scholarship laughed as he waited for me outside a corner store in gentriFUKed Harlem.

After the sad fiasco with the “alternative” bookstore, we walked, stumbled, dragged our discouraged bodies to an over-priced gentriFUKed cafe only to plunk down at least $50 just to get two burgers, putting us back even more money than we were already out. Somehow a perfect end to a sad night on the road wit’ us poverty skolaz. The tour, the work and the struggle continues.

“Poverty skolaz’ schools are everywhere. Our teachings are essential, haphazard and immediate, fluid and static. We are your mama, your cousin, your elders, your corner-store owner and your recycler. Our research is based on our lives and our experience, our solutions, our vast knowledge of what works and what can work. Our visions are based on the dreams of our ancestors, our elders and our youth.” – “Poverty Scholarship: Poor People-led Theory, Art, Words and Tears Across Mama Earth”

Poverty skolaz’ schools are everywhere. Our teachings are essential, haphazard and immediate, fluid and static. We are your mama, your cousin, your elders, your corner-store owner and your recycler. Our research is based on our lives and our experience, our solutions, our vast knowledge of what works and what can work.

And for real poor people led organizing, join the Poor People’s Army with fellow poverty skolaz from Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign on March 30 and 31 in Washington, D.C.

Tiny – or Lisa Gray-Garcia – is the author of “Criminal of Poverty: Growing Up Homeless in America,” published by City Lights, and co-author of “Poverty Scholarship: Poor People-led Theory, Art, Words and Tears Across Mama Earth,” just released on poorpress.net. To reach Tiny, go to her website, www.lisatinygraygarcia.com.