Associate Superintendent Dr. Paul Bauer was prepared to introduce the speaker but planned to rely on a formal bio. He stood in front of the full house at Southview’s gym when from stage right the speaker interrupted him, “Don’t read that. Just say why I’m here,” she pleaded with some degree of humility. Bauer placed his notes to the side and assured the audience that Dr. Donna Beegle had a long list of academic credentials and an important message. He indicated that it was great to have such a large group of teachers, staff and employees gathered in anticipation of a great school year here to listen to our distinguished speaker.
With this, Dr. Beegle took the mic and showed all of us at the Special School District (SSD) of St. Louis what it means to be passionate. She wasted no time diving into the content. She is on a mission to provide life-changing information that shatters myths about people who live in poverty. She herself lived in Generational Poverty – dropping out of high school at age 15. She described a cycle that left her with deficits in the use of language. Her story from that point showed how she was inspired and motivated by people who believed in her and how she herself managed to get her GED, move on to college, earn a Masters degree in Communication and a Doctorate in Educational Leadership and so much more.
She reminded us that Albert Einstein said - If you expect a fish to climb a tree it will spend its life thinking it’s stupid. She went on to explain that so much of learning depends on the context of which they can build. The characteristics of different life experiences labeled poverty she advises fall into different segments: Generational Poverty, Working-Class Poverty, Immigrant Poverty, and Situational Poverty. Millions of Americans live in poverty and it remains a barrier to education. She only briefly mentions Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970) and Abraham Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs (1943) but it is clear that her remarks are both intensely personal and very well researched.
Her own story is the subject of a one hour PBS special entitled The Invisible Nation which is soon to air. The filming of this documentary has been ongoing for 20 years. The producers began filming in 1996. Several books were available in the back of the room of which the author graciously offered to sign. She signed my copy of SEE POVERTY…Be The Difference! with these words: Wes – Change Lives! Donna M. Beegle.
She concluded her speech with what she referred to as her one and only poem. (It appears on page 142 of the signed book I now own.)
I find myself more late with every crisis
more angry with every injustice
more greedy with every deprivation
more rude with every judgement
more disorganized with every eviction
more negative with every untreated illness
more unstable with every insecurity
I find myself more civil with every bite
more respectful with every kindness
more hopeful with every chance
more grateful with every opportunity
more ready to learn when I am safe
more motivated when there is hope
more happy when I am valued
I find myself like the 37 million people in poverty
responding in very human ways to my environment
Poem published in SEE POVERTY...Be The Difference! (2006)