I initially picked up Class Lives to read more about three of our Bold Givers; Anne Ellinger, (also one of the co-founders of Bolder Giving), Jennifer Ladd, and Chuck Collins, but I found myself drawn into each of the 40 very different and unique brief essays from authors who represent a range of classes, genders, races, ethnicities, ages, and occupations across the United States. Class Lives is an anthology of narratives dramatizing the lived experiences of class in America. The contributors describe their class journeys in narrative form, recounting one or two key stories that illustrate their growing awareness of class and their place, changing or stable, within the class system.
Through story-telling, as we do here at Bolder Giving, this collection of stories offers a way to try to understand class and the differences that define and often separate us. The stories are by and about those born into poverty, working class, the middle and owning class, the mixed class—and every place in between.
From those within all economic levels, shame is often present – too much, too little, and the frustrations of extreme inequalities are expressed by many. Not only are the stories personal and insightful, but they are thought provoking and challenge the reader to examine some of their own experiences and background.
When the woman at the school lunch check-out line at Wendy Williams’ high school offered her a discounted lunch, Wendy never went back in that line in order to avoid the humiliation of having her school mates know she was on a reduced lunch program. Years later Wendy would have liked to have thanked her for trying to be empathetic.
Many of the stories are uplifting, Fisher Lavall says, “Survivorship is a gift of my poverty-class upbringing. Resiliency, the ability to take the blows and come up swinging. Empathy, generosity, an open heart; things you acquire from being rejected, doing without, and carrying a burden alone.” Fisher earned her master’s degree, has published fiction and now works as a school counselor serving predominantly working-class Canadians.
Jennifer Ladd shared the following, “I, like many others, have felt the pain of living in a society with such extremes of wealth and poverty. I, like many others, have searched for an appropriate response that faces that pain, while appreciating the true value of what I have and who I am, without cringing with guilt or shame. Now I do what I can with the money, time, attention and passions that I have. Taking action to create a thriving sustainable world with whatever resources we have seems like a mandate for us all.”
As Felice Yaskell, co-founder of Class Action, who initiated this compilation but unfortunately died of cancer before it’s completion, said, “When we do talk about class, we tend to talk only about the strength of wealth and the limitations of poverty. But in reality it’s much more complex. All of us derive strengths as well as limitations from our class position and experience. Because of intense class segregation in this county, few of us have the opportunity to learn about each other’s strengths and to grow past our limitations.”
The book doesn’t attempt to define class – but rather effectively dispels some of the myths and misconceptions about class and mobility in America. I encourage everyone to buy, read, ponder, share and discuss the personal stories in Class Lives.