Smiley and West Bring Poverty to the Forefront

Barrington M. Salmon | 9/18/2012, 7:19 p.m.

"I'm looking for anything; I'm not looking for handouts," said Turnage Spencer, who has a bachelor's degree in psychology from James Madison University and who also has completed master's degree coursework at the University of Virginia. She said she returned to live in Alexandria last year and has not been able to find any traction since.

As Turnage Spencer spoke to reporters, several people came up to hug her, offer encouragement, commiserate with her and tell her that they would try to help her find a job.

"I'm in the exact boat you are," said Cindy De Niro, holding Turnage Spencer's hand in both of hers. De Niro said that she volunteers at three shelters in Alexandria.

"Your story is so similar to so many women out there. We're losing two of our four shelter systems [in Alexandria]. There are people on the street because the shelters are too full."

Oxon Hill, Md., resident Erika Walcott said Turnage Spencer's story is hers too.

"It resonated with me 100 percent," said Walcott, 49, who has had turns as an entrepreneur, technician and broadcaster. "It's crazy. I've been looking for work for the last three years. I don't even know what criteria they're using to decide who they hire and who they don't," said the mother of four.

"I'm really upset with [President Barack] Obama - what the hell is going on? Are you so insulated that you can't see that people are suffering? People are truly suffering. Hell, I'd vote for Michelle."

Smiley has proposed a roadmap to abolish poverty. The tour is a way to force politicians to act. He wants debate moderators to raise the issue; to push Obama and Romney to delineate their plans; and demand that the next president, after inauguration, makes his first official act a call for a White House conference on the eradication of poverty. Smiley said experts can create a national plan to cut poverty in half in 10 years and eradicate it in 25 years.