'I know how it is to struggle': A bridge out of poverty in Mississippi town

NBC News - A program in Starkville, Mississippi is helping people in poverty identify strategies and come up with a game plan to transition out.

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

NBC News – STARKVILLE, Mississippi – Standing among a crowd recently in rural Oktibbeha County watching youth football games, Sara Moye could have been mistaken for a social worker, sociologist or cultural anthropologist.

She stood near the fence separating spectators from the boys playing football and commented about poverty conditions affecting approximately 1 in 3 county residents, according to Census data.

Moye, 43, a Starkville native, can discuss poverty with a hint of detachment, mentioning hidden rules members of different economic classes follow, the need for impoverished people to have strong support systems of family or friends and misconceptions that many people in poverty have about those in the middle class.

Along with taking classes for nearly two years now related to poverty’s causes and ways to overcome it, Moye has lived in it her entire life.

While many people in poverty feel shame discussing what they don’t have – money, nice clothes, a good job and car – Moye speaks of her life with an honesty and objectivity that few people will, at least not publicly, and certainly not while watching her children play football on a hot Mississippi Saturday.

Since participating in Starkville Bridges Out of Poverty, a program aimed at helping people in poverty identify strategies and come up with a game plan to transition out, Moye’s thoughts about her life situation have changed dramatically. The program is modeled after a national program used to connect people in the middle class and poverty so that they can understand and communicate with each other to better help those in need.

“If somebody said I was in poverty, I was ready to fight,” Moye said, still watching the football game. “I thought my life was normal.”

With 1 in 4 Mississippians living in poverty, this lack of resources is relatively common in the state, which had the highest rate of poverty nationwide, along with one of the highest rates of child poverty. Many such people rely on government assistance, which drains resources that could otherwise help fund education, better roads and other state services.

High poverty rates also affect quality of life in an area and can create stigmas for communities, leaving some desirable businesses reluctant to locate there.

Moye describes her life until recent years as a series of bad decisions mixed with tough luck that have forced her to try to make it better her and her family.

After dropping out of a year of college at Mississippi State University, the African-American woman from a close-knit family began working low-skill jobs at a convenience store, cleaning hotel rooms and other work she could find.

By age 21, she had her first child and was in a relationship with a man who would hit her in the face. Moye would lie and tell her mom the marks came from falling on a coffee table at home.

Five years ago, Moye quit working low-paying jobs to take care of her mother, who had a stroke. They lived off of income from disability payments to Moye’s mother, child support and food stamps.

And in 2011, one of Moye’s sisters died from liver hepatitis. That’s when she felt her life unravel. She never felt suicidal, just angry at the world.

Along with helping her mother, Moye took in her sister’s son, Keyon, 8, to raise as her own child.

“When he really wants something, he’ll call me ‘mama’,” Moye said.

Click here to read more.