Back Row America





I just completed the book by Chris Arcade entitled, ‘Dignity’ which is comprised of a series of stories about the people who live in what Arcade labels, ‘Back Row America.’  It’s a category that transcends race, focusing on what has happened to those (black, white and Latino) who live in communities that were once thriving but now, because of the departure of industry and the outsourcing of other services, lie fallow, forgotten. Their economic heart has been removed, though the body remains.  Many that Arcade interviews were once ‘Middle Row Americans’ (blue collar, middle class) but are no longer so.  


The hardship and the hopelessness is palpable.  Drugs, as they often do, rush in to first ease, and then multiply, the pain.  The church, which is consistently demeaned by ‘Front Row Americans’ (what some call, 'the elites,' or 'the management class') is portrayed by Arcade in a heroic light as they welcome and care for prostitutes, drag queens, drug addicts and homeless men and women, when no one else is willing to.  


When I was finished, I was overwhelmed to the point of paralysis.  It's easy to get paralyzed by all the chatter, accusations  and hand wringing.   Sociologists pull out their pie charts, politicians refer to statistics and budget items, attorneys pontificate under the guise of debate, activists virtue signal, others blame and shame.  On and on it goes. 


The truth is that I don't do much for Back Row Americans, which, ironically, keeps me from doing nothing. 


Let me repeat that:  The truth is that I don't do much for Back Row Americans, which keeps me from doing nothing. 


The little I do involves volunteering as a mentor at the Good Samaritan Shelter in Phoenixville, which is a fancy way of saying that I get together on a regular basis with one of the residents at the shelter.  They call me his mentor, but in reality, the mentoring is reciprocal.  It's not much, but doing 'not much' is a perfect way for paralyzed people like me to actually do something.  


The reason that mentoring is little is because it's simple.  It requires nothing more than regularly sitting down, across from Michael (not actual name), over dinner at a local restaurant, to ask him questions, all the while, keeping an ear open to something I can do to help Michael continue on this new and better trajectory.

Questions like: 

  • How’s your job going?  

  • What, in the bible, has been most meaningful to you of late?

  • How are you dealing with the other residents at the shelter?

  • How are your sons  and grandsons  are doing?

  • What are your sons like?  

  • What are their dreams?  

  • What are your dreams?

Are you paralyzed by wanting to change the world?  Let someone else pull out their pie charts, propose their political theories and offer sociological statistics....


Come do something simple and small.  

Become a mentor at the Good Samaritan Shelter 

One person.

One visit.  

One act of grace at a time. 


All the best,

Greg Porter



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