As the end of the legislative session nears, as well as my last semester as an undergraduate student, I have been contemplating what my role in the social justice world should be. As a little girl I was taught to treat everyone as I would like to be treated, and since then I have strived to do so. I remember the first time I saw an injustice that made me want to take action, and when I brought my concern to the attention of an adult in my life they told me it wasn’t my problem, so I should just “leave it alone”. Unfortunately that message is one I’ve heard over and over throughout my life, yet I have managed to fight against it.
I am a high school dropout turned college student. When I dropped out of high school I didn’t care too much about the world or myself. I think I got sick of not caring about anything and decided to get my GED and go to college to help people. I have always enjoyed putting a smile on people’s faces, either by joking around or lending an extra hand, and I decided that was my calling. So, five years ago I started college at MCTC, where I completed my Associate of Arts degree and a Women’s Studies Certificate with the goal of becoming a social worker. I then transferred to the University of Minnesota where I majored in Family Social Science.
I am grateful that this semester I was accepted to be a research intern for OAP. I helped put the 2013 racial justice bill watch together and did any research the organization needed done. I have also tracked the bills on the bill watch throughout this session, and with no prior experience of the legislative process, I am leaving OAP with a wealth of knowledge. This has also been a way for me to be involved in an issue, that at the beginning of the semester I didn’t think directly affected me, racial justice.
I found OAP through my internship “matchmaker” assigned to me from the educational program I am enrolled in this semester called HECUA. HECUA stands for Higher Education Consortium for Urban Affairs. There are multiple HECUA programs offered in the Twin Cities and across the globe, but the one I am in is titled Inequality in America: Policy, Community, and the Politics of Empowerment. In this program we go into great depth on issues surrounding poverty, inequality, and social change. HECUA introduces students to the amazing social change work going on in Minnesota communities, OAP being one of those organizations. We look at factors of inequality such as the economy, housing systems, education, welfare, government policies, urban sprawl, regional race and class segregation, and institutional discrimination to better understand the complexities and inequalities, not just in Minnesota, but worldwide. This experience has taught me so much, and has stirred in me a lot of questions as to where I will end up, and what I can do to best help the suffering.
Since I started college I have been challenged by numerous professors in the helping profession to deeply examine my motives as a helper. Honestly, from the beginning I just wanted to make a positive difference in the world-the thought process didn’t go much deeper. But as I have evolved in my studies I realize that when I see others suffer, I suffer. That is because I believe we are all interconnected, whether we like it or not, and I buy into the systems framework that we are only as healthy as the sum of all our parts. I don’t think we are living in a healthy society. What I have learned at OAP and HECUA this semester is that there are huge disparities, especially in communities of color and poor communities, preventing a large portion of this country from living healthy lives. With limited access to well paying jobs, affordable housing, quality education (including early childhood education), healthcare, and the growing income inequality in this country many people are suffering, and it’s time that more of us step up to do something about it.
As I come to the end of an extremely empowering journey I want to extend my thanks to the HECUA staff and instructors who have given me a clear understanding of the disparities and inequalities that exist in this country, and also to OAP for giving me an example of what action on these issues looks like. Being a helper is my calling, and I want to devote my life to being a resource to others trying to accomplish their goals of equity and justice. I leave OAP and my undergraduate experience with a quote from one of the most influential peacemakers, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others?”