Reflections from a 94-year old social activist

Robert KrouskoffThis week we were honored to receive the following from one of our avid readers – Robert Krouskoff – our 94-year-old father and father-in-law. We were so impressed and share his unedited words with you.


What a story I have to tell!

Pantheon of Freedom

Pantheon of Freedom: collage of original paintings of Mahatma Gandhi, Archbishop Romero, Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, Dorothy Day, Old Testament Prophet, Black women of the civil rights movement.

My mother was left a widow with two children in 1932 at the start of the Great Depression, with no job experience. Yet several years later, after a few low paying jobs she managed to reach the position of manager of the Catalog Department of the local Sears & Roebuck store. The salary was just enough to keep the family afloat during the war years. Looking back now, her family takes pride that she had the guts and determination to “pull herself up by the bootstraps” as the saying goes.

That expression, “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” is a familiar one often used as a recommended prescription for success, especially for a person in desperate circumstances. It is a glib formula which does not consider for a moment the particular circumstances of the troubled person — usually black, dark skinned or native Indian.

“But,” it could be said, “look Bob at your mother. She pulled herself out of a dire situation. So should Mr. So & So. He should do likewise.” So it would seem. But first let’s consider the differing circumstances of the two cases.

Although my mother’s situation presented her with tough decisions, she was fortunate enough to have had four years of a college education. That also provided her with social skills, access to middle class networking and subsequent success.

That’s a striking contrast to the bleak prospect facing the young black attempting to overcome the disadvantages of a poor education, deplorable living conditions, the burden of an unjust prison record, and a host of other discriminatory obstacles. Then there is the ex-GI trying his best to deal with any one of an array of disabling after-shocks of active duty, or of a young single mother having to choose which bill to pay — the rent or the medical bills for a sick child. And let’s not forget the American Indian forever isolated, facing another cold winter unprepared and denied some of the full range of benefits available to the rest of us. And the list goes on.

I hope these observations give us pause to reflect on the reality behind the fact of a poverty rate of close to 25% in our country. The “bootstraps” way of looking at the reality of poverty gets us nowhere. Where did such a myth — or attitude come from? Presumably, it came from the casual conversation around the dinner table of our youth reflecting middle class attitudes of the day. No doubt you’ve heard the old expression, “What’s bread in the bone comes out in the flesh.” But it doesn’t have to be that way. In the service of truth and simple justice as well as compassion and respect we can be open to solutions rather than be caught in a phony concept.”

Robert Krouskoff is an artist and life-long social activist. View his artwork at www.rkrouskoff.com.


Don’t forget:


Copyright 2020 – Mel and Pearl Shaw

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