Hunger Pangs Trump Pride, PrejudgmentsNovember 8, 2010 No Comments
Day 11: Walking in the shoes of the homeless and unemployed
I’ve just completed and turned in an application for food stamps. One month prior, I would have sat here and formed opinions about each and every one of the people sitting in this waiting area: the young, bald Caucasian guy, maybe mid-20s with the newish, tan, wool-lined leather coat; the elderly, wrinkled-faced Latino-looking male decently dressed; the teenage-looking Latina wearing the latest hip-hop gear; the 30-something Black female with flat-ironed, shoulder length hair, wearing a short, dark brown leather coat and a stylish knit, black beret; the two Black males who are dressed like they just walked off the set of a Snoop Dogg video.
I sit here knowing who I am and knowing why I am here, and I cannot make any pre-judgments about them. I cannot formulate any opinion about why they are applying for assistance based upon their outer appearance. One month ago, I would have guessed they were too lazy to work, too busy going out clubbing, just looking for a free ride. Today, the only thought traipsing through my mind is God bless them.
[A record 38.2 million Americans were enrolled in the food stamp program at latest count, up 246,000 from the previous month and the latest in record-high monthly tallies that began in December 2008. Read more...]
While I was waiting to get my SNAP card, I was filled with God, pull me out, pull me out, pull me out. I wrote on Facebook:
“Ok, God. I am ready for you to pull me out. Not sure how much more I can handle. If there are other lessons that I need to learn, find another way. Otherwise, I am on a plane back to Houston. Not sure I am strong enough for this. Sorry.”
“Sapphire, tell me what you feel. Be honest. Be truthful,” was His response to my plea.
I never saw them. I never saw the people I spent countless volunteer hours and donated dollars to help. I realize now that I subconsciously made prejudgments, unwarranted and possibly inaccurate opinions, and biased deductions about them. I was disconnected from the truth of my constituents. I was out of touch with the realities of their plight. Because I held these masked biases, I couldn’t really help them. These veiled presumptions formed a thin but impermeable barrier between their authentic needs and the solutions I sincerely worked so hard to provide. I can’t help but to wonder if my efforts ever reached the core of their hurts?
Intensive Community Leadership Training
This has been the most intense Community Leadership Training that I’ve ever experienced. The lessons over these past 11 days are bound to change the operational approach and effectiveness of my future work. First and foremost, my constituents need sincere understanding from the person who pledges to help them. Second, they need to be seen for who they are at the core of their spirits rather than on the surface of their appearances, actions, and current circumstances. Third, they need the person called to serve them to look them directly in the eye and verbally acknowledge “I see you, the truth of who you are” rather than solely the bleakness of their plights. Fourth, community leaders, such as I, who are called to serve their identified constituency literally need to walk a week in their shoes—an authentic walk where the urgency of their needs mirror the urgency experienced by their constituents.
Quite frankly, whether or not a person is called to serve the homeless or another disadvantaged group of citizens, their training should take place with the homeless. Just the words “homeless” and “homelessness” seem to automatically activate a scrim of muted misconceptions, biased opinions, and whispered embarrassment. I know my heart. I know that within my heart, I had a sincere desire to help people better their lives with the community work I did prior to arriving in Rhode Island on October 27, 2010. I know in my heart that I have a sincere desire to help people transform their challenges into triumphs going forward from today. Yes, I could identify with my constituents because I overcame many of the challenges they now face. However, being in this situation with all of the successes I have had over the years has raised my caring to higher level of compassion.
I no longer hesitate out of fear to reach out and touch someone in need—literally or figuratively. Fear that I may someday end up in a place that I personally fought so hard to transcend no longer guides even an ounce of my actions. I have faced the fear. I am staring the fear in the face and rejoicing because I know that I can survive. It’s not about me being able to meet them on their level as if they are beneath me. I can now call them to meet me on my level—the highest spiritual level present within all human beings of value. All human beings have value by virtue of being alive. Free from the invisible prejudices, I can now reach out to the Higher Self in each of my constituents and call their blessed spirits to share with me their hurts and needs. I can call to their divine souls to step up and meet me at their highest spiritual level rather than me stepping down to meet them at their socioeconomic level or troubled emotional-mental state. Only in the presence of another’s great spiritual value can community leaders give authentic assistance and their constituents receive authentic relief. Thank you, God, for showing me the light and the way to being your humble and true servant on this Earth for your people.
Opportunity to Celebrate
Obviously, we should all celebrate the roof over our heads and the nourishment we receive no matter how it is viewed by economic or social standards. Yet, how can you “celebrate” blessings if you are homeless, hungry, unemployed, and cannot provide for your family? How, as a citizen or community leader, have you honored the value in all individuals regardless of their economic status or living situation? I celebrate by giving praise to God for providing for my needs and then sharing that praise with others as I do with this blog.
Share your story on our official Sights n Sounds Blog.