01/04/2012 11:11 am ET Updated Mar 05, 2012

A Winter Journey to Poverty in North Carolina

In Raleigh's historic First Baptist Church, a somber group of advocates of social justice announced the Truth and Hope Tour of Poverty in North Carolina this winter.

The backdrop was stark. One in five North Carolinians live in poverty. In the minority community, the situation is far worse. 40 percent of African American children and 42 percent of Latino children suffer the constant pain of poverty. Since the onset of the Great Recession in 2007, North Carolina's poverty and unemployment have surged out of control while income has fallen off a cliff. North Carolina faces a harrowing job deficit of 500,000 unemployed that hits the African American community the hardest where 17.4 percent are now unemployed.

Promising to shine a powerful searchlight onto the multitudinous faces of poverty in the Old North State, Rev. William Barber of the NAACP invoked Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who led the Poor People's Campaign to address the problems of economic justice, inadequate housing and hunger in America. Emphasizing the glaring fact that Dr. King was brutally killed because of his simple and legitimate quest for economic justice, Rev. Barber called for serious, systemic, structural changes.

In moving terms, Rev. Barber recalled the harsh bone-crushing journey of an impoverished teenage woman great with child and very late in her third-trimester forced by tax collectors to cross rugged mountain ravines in the dead of winter to bear her first baby in the stench of a stable and then to place him into a humble manger, a crude, uncomfortable, unhygienic and rough-hewn feeding trough fit only for barnyard animals.

Expanding his religious theme, Rev. Barber pointed out that the Bible is rippling with prolific references to the poor. Citing the Prophet Isaiah, Rev. Barber excoriated the systematic plunder of the poor that deprives the neediest people of their rights and withholds justice from the economically repressed.

Remarking that our society speaks freely of the wealthy and the middle class, Rev. Barber zeroed in on the mysterious silence enshrouding the growing presence of poverty he defined as "attention violence," the deliberate exclusion from public discourse of the rapidly advancing plague of pauperization spreading like an anesthetic across the cities, plains and mountains of the United States.

Rev. Barber repeatedly emphasized that individual charity alone will not address the wildly mushrooming problem of poverty.

The winter journey in search of the deepest depths of poverty will involve a tour of North Carolina's black belt in her northeastern counties of Beaufort, Edgecombe, Halifax, Hertford, Washington and Pasquotank. These counties constitute an arc of chronically entrenched black poverty from slavery unto the present. North Carolina's black economic backwater suffers from systemic economic exclusion characterized by the lowest rates of education in North Carolina, pitifully low levels of investment, deepening indebtedness and acute never-ending unemployment.

Organized by the highly acclaimed jurist and liberal firebrand, Professor Gene Nichol who serves as the head of the Center for Poverty, Work and Opportunity at the University of North Carolina, the Truth and Hope Tour will tightly focus on the explosion of impoverishment and child poverty that is swiftly setting the United States apart from other industrialized democracies.

Prof. Nichols explained:

In the richest nation on earth, the richest nation in human history, we countenance stunningly high levels of poverty -- especially child poverty - among our sisters and brothers. Poverty at rates far beyond other advanced western democracies. Nations that brag less about their commitment to equality. Brag less but do more.

The Winter Truth and Hope Tour begins on Jan. 19 with a journey by bus from the bustling state capital of Raleigh into the northeastern economic wilderness of broken dreams, shattered lives, dashed hopes, embittered psyches, haunted children and the invisible people who have and have not living on the violent fringes of their internal oceans of doubt.