At first glance, the two make an odd couple: Rep. Paul Ryan, the campaign-polished Wisconsin representative, and Deion Sanders, the two-time Super Bowl champion. But they aren’t here to talk politics. And, despite their very different backgrounds, they share the same goal: finding a more effective way of to fight poverty.
“We can do a lot better than what we’ve been doing,” said Ryan at the 2015 Anti-Poverty Summit hosted by the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise on Monday, “When you get out of this city [Washington] and go around America, you can find things that work.”
It’s a lesson he learned campaigning with Mitt Romney in 2012, when Ryan pushed for a round-table meeting with community organizers in Ohio. Bob Woodson, the founder of the Center of Neighborhood Enterprise, arranged for the vice presidential candidate to meet with a variety of ministers, halfway house managers, and homeless shelter volunteers. By all accounts it was a moving experience for Ryan and one that continues to influence his work.
“We all share the same values and principles, and we express them differently. There is a lot to learn,” Ryan said of the leaders he met with. They are part of what he termed the “human side” of policy making, distanced from the detatched approach of the halls of Congress.
Ryan was impressed by the results they achieved. Poverty, he said, shouldn't be an issue of “red vs. blue,” but rather “just be what works.”
For Ryan, this means working on the Hill to shift poverty approaches from means based to results based, looking at how many people were actually helped by a program, rather than just how many tax dollars were spent. To further this end, he and Senator Patty Murphy, a Washington Democrat, introduced the Evidence-Based Policymaking Commission Act of 2015, which would study how to best expand the use of data to evaluate the efficiency and efficacy of government programs.
In short, he wants to target and help more leaders like those involved in the Center of Neighborhood Enterprise and Opportunity Lives.
“We have isolated and marginalized the poor from among us,” he said, “[but] everyone has a stake.”
His message was echoed by Sanders, the son of a single mother raised without a father-figure in his life. Since retiring from professional sports, he has made it his mission to give back to inner-city communities.
“All of us are dealing with some sort of comeback in our lives. That’s the commonality,” said Sanders, who stressed the need for communities to come together to help each other and highlighted events in Dallas to help single parents find jobs, transportation, and other resources.
Comeback is not only a sports term. It also is the title of a documentary produced by Opportunity Lives, which highlights the success of the one-on-one approaches that the event’s speakers championed.
In part, Comeback is another step in the journey, which, for Ryan, began in an Ohio church in 2012. It’s a long road, but for Sanders, it’s a worthy journey.
“This country has heart. We just have to uncover it.” Sanders said, “We just need to get back to the heart of who we really are.”