When I was younger, I volunteered at elderly living facilities. This was an incredible experience because the residents often expressed gratitude at me being there, so I came to learn that I could make an impact on other people’s lives.
My senior year of high school I became passionate about fighting injustices, focusing on racial disparities and police brutality. I went on a few marches and protests, but I realized the organization I was part of had flaws. I thought protestors’ use of derogatory language about police, even if warranted, could in no way aid or create momentum for change. Additionally, the marches felt like the goal was the march itself, when I felt that the marches should have been steps toward progress, meant to draw attention to issues and invigorate current and attract new members. Freshman year at Pitt I joined a social action committee where we discuss a variety of issues. The problem, however, is the complete other side of the spectrum; we do a lot of talk and little action.
Around the same time I joined social action committee, I also joined an organization called Pitt Prison Outreach which works to raise awareness and educate students about issues of mass incarceration and the unjust criminal justice system. The organization also volunteers sending books to prisoners and fundraises for organizations that aim to create better quality of life for those whose lives have been affected by mass incarceration. I found a lot of satisfaction in learning about these issues and in volunteering.
In both the fall and spring of my freshman year I also volunteered at different homeless shelters. It was rewarding because I got to know a lot of interesting people. When you look at a societal injustice, you often envision a group of people struggling with a problem. You tend to forget or ignore the individual. To meet people who struggle, means you put a name, a face, a story to the cause. You remind yourself that you’re fighting for people, as opposed to just fighting against an issue.
Since I started learning about different societal ills I have found that many link together. Race and class disparities; poverty; environmental, education, and food injustice; and mass incarceration all have ties, and some can become a vicious cycle. And I don’t know how you solve this.
I know that there are problems. I know students of color are more likely to be suspended or expelled, often for subjective offenses. I know that suspension and expulsion make it hugely unlikely that students don’t graduate high school or go to college. I know that not graduating high school extremely raises the likelihood of incarceration. I know that students can’t study when they don’t have clean clothes to wear or food in their stomachs. I know the recidivism rate is around 75% and that re-entry is almost impossible. I know that those trying to re-enter struggle to find jobs and housing, and often don’t have people to help them on the outside.
Society makes a lot of effort to try to hide what they see as unfit. People complain when they have to walk past those dealing with homelessness on the streets. But instead of wanting to help people obtain a better life, many people just want to be able to walk down the streets and not have to see the homeless population. People want prisons but don’t want to see the ugliness and abusive nature of prisons or to have those who have served time living in their communities. People don’t want to see hungry children, but they also don’t want to spend their money to feed them.
I don’t know how you make life affordable for the poorest people in a capitalist system. I don’t know how you convince society that those who get out of prison have paid their debt to society and are supposed to be able to rehabilitate and re-enter. I don’t know how to convince people that barely have enough to send their kids to college in a day where higher education is almost required for a good life, that they should pay more in taxes to take care of those less well-off than they are, or how you convince the wealthiest to use their wealth for the betterment of others. I don’t know how you get people to acknowledge racism and racial disparities. I don’t have any answers, but, hopefully caring is a good place to start.