One of the speakers that I enjoyed the most on Saturday was Jay MacLeod, who is a parish priest who wrote the book Ain’t No Making It. I was very curious how a priest was going to engage a room of sociologists, but he brilliantly walked the line of being a researcher, story teller, and prophetic voice. MacLeod's book follows a group of mostly white boys called the “Hallway Hangers” and a group of mostly Black boys called the “Brothers” as they grown up in the housing projects called Clarendon Heights. The first edition was published when the boys were in their late teens and the most recent addition follows up with the boys, who are now men in their 40s. The Hallway Hangers largely rejected the American Dream at an early age and were not expected to succeed. They sunk further and further into marginality, largely due to the world the immersed themselves in. In contrast, the Brothers were encouraged by their parents to go to school; they worked hard, and got good grades. It was expected that the Brothers would be able to work themselves out of poverty. Coming back to them years later, however, only three of the boys from the Hallway Hangers or Brothers had made it out of the projects. The Hallway Hangers weren’t expected to rise out of the life they were born into but the Brothers struggled with not being able to get out of low wage jobs, lack of access to white networking, and the stereotypes that our society has engrained in us about young Black men. We have a myth in this country that all you have to do is work hard, but the reality the United States is one of the countries with the least social mobility- if you are born into poverty, you are likely to stay there. We are a class based society that is completely committed to the denial of class and this leaves us ill-equipped to address economic inequality.
MacLeod was a powerful speaker because of the way he directly spoke the truth. It seemed like his years of working with those young men had given him the clarity to be able to speak without sugar-coating. He said that we must accept that “our country is founded on the near genocide of one race and the enslavement of another.” He believes that spirituality allows us to see the truth about ourselves, sociology allows us to see the truth about our society, and that taking action on that understanding can lead us to redemption.