Generational Poverty: Trying to Solve Philly’s Most Enduring Problem []


Mattie McQueen was about five years old when her mother offered a surprise: “Let’s all go for ice cream.”

McQueen and three of her siblings scrambled out to Mom’s old blue station wagon. They talked, on the way, about what flavor of ice cream they’d get, till Mattie noticed they weren’t traveling the usual route to Dairy Queen.

“Don’t worry,” her mom replied. “We’re going for ice cream.”

Minutes later, she parked and led them into an office waiting room. “I’ll be right back,” she said.

She didn’t come back. That night, the children were placed in foster care.

Mattie McQueen is 52 years old now, but this story still brings on the tears. McQueen is a big woman, round all over, with straight black hair cropped just above her shoulders, and when she cries, all of her shakes. Throughout her life, she’s been on the move, from Bridgeton, New Jersey, to North, South and West Philly, and through a series of relationships that left her with five kids of her own. “I wanted to do right by them,” she says, “but early on, I was in and out of taking care of them.”

Today, McQueen is unemployed and cares for her three grandchildren the best she can. Her living room in West Philadelphia is almost barren. What looks like a 20-year-old TV, with its heavy backside, sits against one wall, facing a few metal folding chairs. A tricycle stands in one corner, parked there by her youngest grandchild, Khaalid Casey, known as Booda.


[For more of this story, written by Steve Volk, go to]

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