The Unlikely Story of How Justin Keller Inspired Positive Outcomes

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I wanted to share next on Medium. I knew I should just get something out but I had waited long enough to lose momentum on blogging and got stuck in the planning/thinking phase. But then Justin Keller’s Open Letter to the Mayor and Chief of Police of San Francisco happened. Heads up: This isn’t an open letter response to Justin Keller. Instead, I wanted to talk about the conversations I had with friends and family about it, how I saw others responding to it, and how that inspired a series of positive outcomes. (One of those outcomes was that I felt motivated to start writing and sharing again!)

Like many others who wrote letters back to Justin Keller, I was angry when I read his letter. I had a lot of hullabaloo to say about it, but when I was talking with my dear friend Jessica about it, she wasn’t looking to just talk trash about this stranger, she channeled her emotions into something productive: she was researching different homelessness organizations to get involved with to try and improve the situation for the homeless. Jessica, with her amazing reaction to this negative letter, inspired me to dust off my to-do list from several months ago and finally sign up for my first volunteer shift with Lava Mae. Good outcome count: 1.

After that I had another conversation with my brother, Hung, about this letter. I was saying things like “Who is he to think 3 years means he is more deserving of this city?” “Why doesn’t he educate himself a little about homelessness and do something about it rather than complaining?” And Hung said, “Well this is him doing something about it — he is writing to the mayor.” And while I don’t think it was the most productive form “doing something”, Hung was right. This is Justin Keller acting with the (very little) knowledge that he had at the time. At least he put himself out there and sparked a ton of conversations between people. Justin could have done with a bit more research and a lot less arrogance his letter but at least he wasn’t sitting around thinking about doing something vs just doing it. He wasn’t too timid to put himself out there and get feedback. I had re-learned a lesson from his letter. Definitely not planning to put out a letter like his, but I plan to be less timid about writing and sharing. I need to stop waiting for the perfect topic that’s extremely carefully thought out and be okay with being vulnerable to the comments of readers! Any feedback is good feedback and a way to learn and grow. Good outcome count: 2

And speaking of getting feedback… There have been some really good pieces written as a response to Justin Keller’s letter. (This one in particular stood out to me. So hilarious and well-written. Well done, Jim Gavin a.k.a jimatdeltaco) But another letter that I appreciated a lot, was written by another Justin Keller. (To avoid confusion, I’ll refer to him as Good Guy Justin and the original author of the Open Letter will be referred to as Tech Bro Justin.) Good Guy Justin is also from San Francisco and has actually unfortunately, been the target of many angry people who were sending nasty messages to Tech Bro Justin. Good Guy Justin, aptly nicknamed, was not complaining about being wrongfully hated or how terribly insensitive Tech Bro Justin was in his letter — he instead responded with class and kindness. Not only does Good Guy Justin provide background on homelessness in San Francisco and educate Tech Bro Justin about the existing organizations focused on helping, he invites Tech Bro Justin to connect with him and take action together. What an excellent example of how to approach the world with compassion and love— something we can all learn and re-learn everyday. Great outcome count: ∞

View of the great city of San Francisco from Billy Goat Hill (Cary Luu)