Deion Sanders (via WikiCommons)

Philanthropy & Nonprofits

Deion Sanders and the Koch Brothers Want to Solve Dallas’ Poverty Problem

The former Cowboy's Prime 5 hopes to raise millions to fund programs that can 'break the cycle of poverty in Dallas.' Will it work?

A few weeks ago, news broke about an unlikely partnership between one of Dallas’ most well-known athletes, Deion Sanders, and the oft-vilified billionaires and political contributors, the Koch Brothers — all based around a mutual desire address poverty in Dallas.

Sanders’ new Prime 5 initiative, backed by the Koch-funded Stand Together organization, promises to “break the cycle of poverty in Dallas” by raising $21 million that will “unleash the power of community to help Dallas residents improve their own lives by finding a clear path out of poverty.”

What that all means, exactly, isn’t very clear yet, but Inside Philanthropy took a look at the ideas and motivations behind the odd couple’s initiative, namely, a poverty-focused program designed to adapt free market thinking to solving Dallas’ poverty problem:

Sanders’ fundraising initiative through Stand Together, dubbed Prime 5, aims to raise $21 million for anti-poverty “catalysts” in the city of Dallas. As you’d expect, the Kochs’ libertarian up-by-your-bootstraps philosophy runs deeply through most of Stand Together’s initiatives. As Sanders said in a Prime 5 promotional video, “If you’re willing to work hard, there are people willing to work hard with you.” No handouts here, thank you.

Stand Together launched in 2016. The organization backs programs around the country that address social issues, and it’s philanthropic philosophy is tinged with the libertarian ethos that fuels much of the Koch Brothers’ political spending. A mission statement, Inside Philanthropy points out, emphasizes its preferences for nonprofit organizations that “focus on outcomes and operate with the same management principles as for-profit businesses,” and it’s belief that “the most effective solutions to poverty address its roots while harnessing the gifts and talents of an individual to foster self-sufficiency.”

To which, I say, if you think your ideas will work, give it a go. After all, regular readers of this space know full well that Dallas is experiencing rising rates of poverty, boasts the highest number of people living below the poverty line, and claims the highest rates of income inequality. Most unsettling, 38 percent of Dallas children live in poverty. The city could use all the help it can get, even if that funding comes from sources who have also expressed a desire to privatize social security, medicare, and public schools, as well as eliminate minimum wage.

Not that there isn’t reason for skepticism, even just based on Sanders’ track record in adopting business-minded solutions to social issues. His last foray into philanthropic waters, the Prime Prep Academy charter school, was pretty much a colossal failure.

Will Prime 5 fair differently? It is still a little early to tell, but to get a sense of how it will operate, perhaps the best indication are some of the ideas tossed around at a poverty conference hosted by Sanders’ pastor Omar Jahwar at the J. Erik Johnson Library in January 2016 — a conference that featured a visit from House Speaker Paul Ryan.

Jahwar, Inside Philanthropy reports, is how Sanders connected with the Kochs in the first place:

The sports legend hooked up with the libertarian funding juggernaut through Sanders’ pastor Omar Jahwar, who runs a Dallas-based program to help former gang members become anti-gang advocates. Jahwar’s program, Urban Specialists, is one of several dozen members of Stand Together’s “Catalyst Network,” which receive funding and operations support from the wider Koch network.