Let Us Be Broken Together
We are all mutually broken and we must work alongside one another in order to become truly whole. This concept is one that our class has been exploring throughout the first week of the study away program, J-Term on the Tacoma Hilltop. This course is a social work focused class that is composed of hands-on experience and lecture learning of what it means to truly serve a community in a nonprofit setting. Not only do we learn about how to best serve a community, but also how to identify social justice issues within communities and figure out ways we can help mend those wounds. In this classroom setting we were able to dig deep into ourselves and figure out how we identify ourselves within a community in the first two days of class. We also spend time learning about the Tacoma Hilltop community, where we will be serving in different nonprofits as volunteers for the next three weeks. The Hilltop is a very diverse neighborhood that has to face many social justice challenges due to the amount of marginalized community members. This has created a need within the community for support and understanding. As a part of this course we will be going into this community without preconceived notions about the people apart of this community. Instead we will go in with open minds, ready to hear the community members’ stories, not the one story given to us by outsiders. After we understood better what social justice is and how it plays a role in service within the Hilltop, we went into the actual community ourselves and toured the different nonprofit organizations that work inside its lines. This gave us insight on what the community is really like, a diverse community that is constantly being misunderstood. It is not a “bad” place many people say it is, in fact the community members have treated us kindly and been open about sharing their lives with us. Hilltop is a diverse, beautiful, and community focused place. It may have its issues, but they seem to come from the public system not responding to its needs the way it should. This entire week has opened my eyes to see what the true Hilltop community is like, and to what true service should look like.
This course has changed the way in which I look at service work for the better. It has put the idea that we are mutually broken and must serve together in order to create change into my mind. So, what does being mutually broken really mean? And what does it have to do with service work? These two questions were answered in the first few days of our course in the classroom, and then expanded upon in the real life setting of the Hilltop Community in Tacoma WA.
Being mutually broken is recognizing and embracing the fact that while you are volunteering to help people who have something broken in their life, you are also broken. This entails looking deep into your soul and realizing that you are no better than the people you are serving. It means that not only are you trying to help heal someone else, you need to acknowledge that they can help heal you as well. Service is about walking alongside others, not just doing things for them. A huge part of this type of service is being vulnerable with other people in your brokenness. You need to expose your true self to others in order to be authentic. Being authentic is important because that is how you will best connect with other human beings. This connection will allow you to work with others who are just as broken as you are to mend a social injustice. It means that one party is no more important, intelligent, or powerful than the other, and that only together can make a community whole. This concept is one that our class discussed as part of the classroom training portion of the week, and then it was put into context during our excursions into Tacoma.
An article we read as a class, Helping, Fixing or Serving?, by Rachel Naomi Remen stated that “When you serve, you see life as whole. Fixing and helping may be the work of the ego, and service the work of the soul.” This quote resonates deeply in my heart and mind. It is not a volunteer’s job to only help a person who is struggling, there is so much more to the relationship. While that is honorable, it is also their job to learn from that person. They do this by creating a connection with them. It is a relationship that goes both ways and feeds the soul by working to mend the broken parts of both parties. I find that this is extremely important when it comes to working with people who are marginalized. They are already being oppressed and put down by multiple systems. It is our obligation as human beings to come in and give them a voice and support, but not treat them like they are lesser than us. Through this we will be working together to mend the brokenness we both have, while simultaneously working together to create the change the Hilltop community wants to see. This means that we must be mutually broken together in order to create the most change. This is especially true when looking at the homeless population that resides in Hilltop.
The public system is not providing the resources the homeless need, and in some cases is taking away what little they do have. It is the amazing nonprofit organizations that we learned about this past week that are supporting this marginalized population in Tacoma. Not only are these organizations doing this, but they are also having to fight the many injustices that the public system is placing on this group. An example of this is when our class was on a city tour, we stopped at a place called 13th and Tacoma Ave. Boulders. This used to be the centrally located, hangout spot for the homeless community to gather together and to have a place to sleep. It was a very special space that the city destroyed by placing large boulders on this grassy area, making it unusable. The fact that the city did this to human beings is very hard to deal with. We should all be coming together to serve one another, not trying to destroy community bonds. This is an injustice created by a system that we as a community, together need to change. It was probably one of the harsher reality checks that we received this week. While this was hard to witness, it was also very important as it has shown us just one of the issues that the Hilltop community members face on a daily basis. Because injustices are prevalent in this area, it is our job as volunteers to serve social justice causes like at Trinity Church, where I will be serving a local middle school after school program, and the other three sites my classmates will be serving. In these places, we will learn more about the Hilltop, and what it further means to serve others.
After reading about what true service is, learning about being mutually broken together from my instructors, witnessing the oppression of certain people in the diverse Hilltop community, and drawing on my past experiences, I am now better able to understand my role during this course. It is not my job to go into a group of students and “fix” them. It is my job to serve them, humbly and with the knowledge that I am broken. While I have been serving for most of my life in other places, this course so far has given me a new insight on how to look at serving. In the past I looked at it as walking along side others, giving people opportunities to flourish, and accepting them for who they are, but now I know that it is also about realizing that both sides are broken and we need to stay vulnerable in that brokenness, using it to propel us forward to make us whole. This is a monumental concept that has had a huge impact on my way of serving a community.
And to think that this is only week one. Imagine all of the new, impactful concepts that I will learn during the rest of my study away experience!
Mural in the Hilltop Business District that represents the diversity within the Hilltop community
For further reading on social justice issues world wide, click on the link below. It is a link to social justice article about the influence girl’s education could have world wide if more were able to go to school: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/megan-foo/why-should-we-invest-in-g_b_5668753.html