There is a persistent and ever widening divide in our country between those who have plenty and those who suffer poverty. Nowhere are the effects of that divide more harmful, and often irreversible, than in the lives of the children born into poverty. It is in the experiences of those early years, from conception through age three, when the brain develops to 80 percent of its capacity, that a course for long-term well-being is set.

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A new study by Harvard and University of California Berkley found children in Memphis who are born into poverty are more likely to stay poor because the city is the most economically segregated in the nation, meaning poor neighborhoods are clustered together and more wealthy neighborhoods are off on their own.

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A few weeks ago, I talked to Gov. Bill Haslam about toxic stress, brain development and epigenetics. Those may not have been my exact words, but in asking for the state's help to fight Memphis' intractable poverty, I was discussing them nonetheless. In the meeting in the governor's office in Nashville, I mapped out the city of Memphis' Blueprint for Prosperity, a 10-year plan to reduce Memphis' current 25.4 percent poverty rate to the state's rate of 16.5 percent.

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According to The Urban Child Institute, a positive home and family environment is essential to promote optimal brain development in young children, and is also paramount to their future success. Language and thinking skills, self control, and self confidence are all aspects of school readiness that are largely determined by the level of support that exists in the home during the first three years of life.

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Memphis Mayor A C Wharton recently talked to Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam about toxic stress, brain development, and epigenetics. The mayor may not have used those actual words, but in asking for the state's help to fight Memphis' intractable poverty, he was discussing them nonetheless.

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Malcolm Gladwell famously wrote about the tipping point, that moment when change happens quickly. It's the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point. Memphis appears to be at the tipping point when it comes to early childhood development.

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