We recently caught up with Dr. Karen Bankston, new Executive Director for the Child Poverty Collaborative, to discuss her experience living in poverty, and her vision and priorities for hew new role.
1. Talk about your experience living in poverty. What did you learn from this experience that drives you today?
Karen Bankston: I am a native of Youngstown, Ohio, and grew up in the home of my maternal grandparents. I am the eldest of four children, my mom never married. We never had “our own” -- we lived under the authority of my grandparents, as it was not “good” that my mom had us illegitimately, as it was called then (the 50’s and early 60’s). The shame and emotional distress that went along with that played a significant role in many of my life’s decisions, I have since learned. However, because of Brown vs Board of Education and being “smart,” I was placed in a group with other smart students, and that became my way of coping. Indeed, I found my solace in books. I did well in school, and my mother, aunt and grandfather supported that. Subsequently, I did very well, but never filled the hole in my heart for the love that a child looks for when dreaming of a life as experienced by one’s peers. So in the fall of my senior year, I found myself pregnant. What a shock to my mom and the rest of my family, as I was all set to go away to school on full scholarship. However, I graduated, and two weeks later delivered my son and started college that fall, graduating on time with an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) in nursing. Working as an RN, married and raising a son, should have been an okay life; but my husband was a batterer and cheater, so the marriage did not last. We divorced after five years.
There is much more to the story, but what I learned and what drives me today, is that one can overcome anything if you 1) believe in yourself; 2) have faith in God; 3) believe that there is always tomorrow (having hope).
2. Why were you interested in this opportunity with the Child Poverty Collaborative?
KB: Interesting question. When the opportunity presented itself, I looked at all of my experiences, personal, professional, education and volunteer and said to myself “people are right, you have been on a journey that uniquely positions you for this work.” Specifically, I have spent the better part of 30 years doing my best to support others to be the best that they can be in whatever endeavors they want for themselves. And now, I can put all of these experiences and collate them to facilitate making a big difference in the community that I now call home.
3. How will your experience in nursing and healthcare help you in this role?
KB: A couple of ways, one is that as a nurse I have a keen sense of being able to view things wholistically. Additionally, I have great listening skills, some of which comes from having a graduate degree in mental health nursing. Secondly, my years as an emergency/trauma nurse and hospital administrator enhanced my ability to think strategically and to become comfortable with ambiguity. It also facilitated my being able to think on my feet and be grounded in my thoughts. (I tend to be a conceptual person).
4. What is your message to people living in poverty in our community today?
KB: That there is a community of people who want to work with them to build upon their life’s structure to be what they envision for themselves in order to thrive.
5. What is your first priority for the Child Poverty Collaborative?
KB: My first priority is to strengthen the operating structure and develop a clear purpose statement to support the vision of the CPC. This is necessary to drive our strategic planning, evaluation and measurement decisions. Concurrently, I want to talk to as many people as I can about their thoughts on the issue to continue to inform what we are doing.
6. What is your long term vision for the Child Poverty Collaborative?
KB: If we do this thing right, we should work ourselves out of a job!!