Poverty Is Real is a non-profit organization based in Decatur, Georgia which unites music and music lovers locally to fight poverty and homelessness. Poverty Is Real chooses to keep it local and brings musical concerts that are sponsored by local businesses, to give proceeds to local communities that are impoverished. Poverty Is Real believes “that poverty is a local issue that affects all of us—from the quality of our schools, to the safety of our neighborhoods, to the ability of business owners, employees, and customers to work together and create jobs and better lives for those they love.” To date, Poverty Is Real, has donated more than $62,000 to fight poverty at the local level since 2011. They have worked with such renowned venues like Eddie’s Attic and worked with prolific musicians, such as Caroline Herring, Bobby Bare Jr., Matthew Mayfield, The Skipperdees and many more. Their sponsors have included Lenz, Alston and Baird, Decatur CD, Paste Magazine and many more. To donate and get involved with Poverty Is Real, click HERE.
We chatted with Spencer Smith, Poverty Is Real’s Executive Director, about how the organization developed, what their overall goal as a non-profit organization is, how we can encourage more people to help fight local homelessness and poverty in their area, and so much more. Smith provides a wealth of information. Read on:
How did Poverty Is Real develop?
Spencer: There’s a couple versions of this story! PIR was always Mike (our founder) Killeen’s vision, but he shared it early on and I’m grateful to have been around since the early days. In 2010 he played a little show at Eddie’s Attic and decided to donate the money to a great local organization (shelter/temporary housing/etc) called Decatur Cooperative Ministry. When the show was done, he thought, “why can’t we just do this all the time?” Both Mike and I play and love music, so when he shared his idea with me and a few of our other friends, we got very excited. We formed PIR, got 501c3 status, formed a board, and all that other stuff. The first year we put on 2 shows with tons of great musicians, which seemed daunting at the time. Since then we’ve had over 10 shows and we’re growing at an exponential pace. Putting on these music shows has been an education. But when people hear about the shows and what we’re doing, the reaction has been so amazingly enthusiastic that it catches us by surprise sometimes. I think that speaks to how much people love music and want to find ways to help others.
You mentioned in conversation that you guys are expanding in certain regions. What is the overall goal for Poverty Is Real?
Spencer: Our goal is to change the way people talk and think about poverty in this country. We want to use music to help people realize there are great ways to lift up their neighbors. That may sound lofty, but 40 years ago people could not talk about breast cancer openly, and now NFL players wear pink socks, and NASCAR has pink cars. We want to become a presence, and we intend to expand to as many cities as possible. The 1 year plan is to continue to do shows in Athens, Decatur, Nashville, Asheville, and Suwanee, and add Charlottesville and three or four other cities, likely Charleston, Winston-Salem, Raliegh/Durham, and New Orleans. In 3-5 years we’d like to be nation wide with shows in NYC, LA, San Francisco, Denver, Chicago, etc. We hope we become a household name and people get excited about the music we bring in, while learning about the great local charities in their communities we support.
Poverty is very real and many people overlook homelessness and disregard it. Why do you think that is, and how can we encourage people to change their mindsets?
Spencer: We think the first step in changing people’s mindset is to help them realize poverty is a local issue and that it doesn’t look like what they think it does. In Georgia, about 40% of the homeless population are kids under 18, many of whom are in school and have parents that work. When we change our thought process away from thinking about the stereotypical image many of us have, which is usually of a male living under downtown bridges away from our homes and schools, to thinking about poverty as an issue which affects families in our community, it’s a lot easier to be motivated and sympathetic. PIR finds organizations that work on the local level to combat poverty, and then celebrates the work they do by putting on music shows to support them. Our shows help communities become more aware of those great local organizations. In time, as we grow and our shows grow, we hope more and more people will realize that making a difference in their community is the way to solve poverty nationwide.
Music is very much an active resource for and with Poverty Is Real. What is your process and method for involving music with the endeavor of PIR?
Spencer: I read recently that there is a theory that humans learned how to sing (like a songbird) before we developed words. PIR believes music is at our core, and we chose music as how we want to make a difference. PIR goes into a town (like Decatur, or Athens), finds a charity that works locally on the front lines combatting homelessness and poverty, and then we organize a concert series to benefit/celebrate them. We involve the local businesses community in promoting and sponsoring the shows. Every dollar we raise in a town is donated to the local organization, so everything stays local. And the best thing about what we do is that we get to hear amazing music donated by some of the most talented artists around. We couldn’t do this without them. We’ve yet to have a show with sub-par music, and everyone has a great time celebrating. Our shows are just great, fun, uplifting music shows where the proceeds go to make a difference. What could be better?
Can you tell us a few success stories with Poverty Is Real?
Spencer: Our Nashville beneficiary is a group called Open Table. They’re a newer organization that does amazing work by pairing a volunteer with someone in need to help them get on their feet. The money we raised for them was critical to their ability to keep pursuing their mission, and they continue (in small part because of us) to do great work. I got an email from their executive director saying that in June of this year they helped 48 men, women, and children find housing. 48 people! That concert series was so much fun, with 2 shows at the Bluebird and a blowout at the Exit/In. We had such a blast last year doing those shows (so did the audiences who came!) and it blows my mind that what we did has helped to make so much of a difference in real people’s lives.
Who’s your dream artist to collaborate with for Poverty Is Real?
Spencer: Jeff Tweedy of Wilco. I could name 50, but he’s my favorite, and we’d absolutely love to do a Chicago show with them.
Who was your first concert and do you have a favorite?
Spencer: Haha. My first concert was the Goodie M.O.B. opening up for the Roots, opening up for the Fugees at the Variety Playhouse in Atlanta. This was before Goodie and the Roots were huge, and the Fugees were the hottest thing around then. Amazing show, and the whole time I was concerned that I wasn’t bobbing my head to the beat right. I was 16, so I guess that can be forgiven My favorite show of all time was easily seeing Wilco in Berkeley outside at the Greek Theatre. They played “California Stars” as an encore, and I remember looking up at the stars thinking it probably can’t get any better than this.
What was your first album on CD, cassette, and/or vinyl?
Spencer: I’d like to be cool and say it was Nevermind and The Chronic, purchased simultaneously (7th grade), but that would just be for CD. And I also bought Shanice too, which isn’t as cool. But my first cassette was the Beatles or Weird Al. My parents had Thriller on vinyl and I did a karate dance to the songs. This amused my parents to no end.
What are five albums or bands you wouldn’t want to live without?
Spencer: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Mignonette (Avett Bros), Rainy Day Music, Fight Songs, and Pinback (by Pinback). I wonder if you asked me this once a year since I was 16 how many different albums would have made it on there over time? I’d guess north of 25.
Do you have a guilty musical or TV pleasure?
Spencer: I don’t feel guilty about the music I listen to, no matter how cheesy (and it gets bad around Christmas time), but my wife watches The Bachelor on tv. I’m not saying I watch it with her or enjoy it, just that she watches it and I like spending quality time with her. Seriously, I haven’t watched the last 6 seasons or anything, at least not on my own.
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Source: Poverty Is Real