I grew up extremely poor. We were so poor, our dog ran away to the dog pound; he turned himself in!
I lived in this house with my momma, my daddy and my three sisters for seven years. There is no running water, there is no electricity; my grandmother lived in the house next door. It still stands; I took my children down so they could see it. And this is just outside downtown Dallas, Texas.
The only reason I’m showing that to you is because I was elected mayor of Kansas City, and one of the things I did when I became mayor was concentrate on housing. And I am offended when anybody starts putting down poor people.
This is a two-room shack that I lived in, and everybody on our committee knows, you start talking about poor people, you’re going to get a reaction from me.
The thing about it is, there are still people who live in this kind of situation, in the most powerful nation on earth! I moved out of this house with my family, and we moved into public housing. Moved out of this shack, moved into public housing, and we stayed in public housing five years.
My father worked three jobs – three – saving money to buy a lot in the Black neighborhood. He bought a house in the white neighborhood, where they were getting ready to build a shopping center, and then moved the house across the tracks to the Black community.
My daddy lives in that house right now, I just spoke with him today. When my family got a house of their own, the house is spotless. And if you throw paper on the ground anywhere around, he might shoot at you. Now I’m not proud of that fact, but everybody knows, Mr. Cleaver will not allow you to throw a cigarette butt anywhere near his property.
The point is, I came out of as difficult of poverty in my generation as you can come out of. And I listen to people over on Capitol Hill, talking about people moving in to public housing, saying that they just want to take advantage of people.
Look – my family needed a helping hand. The government gave my family a helping hand. I have three sisters – two of them with masters, one of them with a PhD, coming out of this shack!
We’ve got to fight for housing. Right now, in the United States of America, we’ve got somewhere in the neighborhood of 50,000 people sleeping on the streets every single night. This government, run by Donald Trump and his Trump Tower tricks, is leaning toward helping everybody else and the developers; it leans towards developers.
Look – we’ve got to allow our voices to rise, we’ve got to stand up, we cannot be quiet, don’t let anybody tell us to be quiet, we will be noisy until a change comes! Stay on the job - don’t stop!
Emmanuel Cleaver represents Missouri's 5th district in Congress, and he spoke at the People's Hearing On Housing in Washington, DC on December 6, 2017.