Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Trade the White Sheets for a Suite

Growing up in a city where high poverty exists, I always got very frustrated – not with the rich who have everything and give nothing, but with the poor who do nothing to change their lives. There were always homeless people standing at intersections asking for money and I always thought, you could spend the time you spend standing on this intersection at a job, even McDonalds would be better than this! So, I’d drive away in my car without giving them a dime. When that didn’t work, I thought food is the nutrients of life. If you don’t have food, you can’t work. My new idea was to give to these beggars – not money, but food.
I would drive through the city to school every morning with bread in my passenger seat, and hand each homeless person enough to fill up his or her stomachs. One day, after school, I went to Fortunato’s on York Road (It’s a pizza place). This man came up to me and started babbling about how he hasn’t gotten his check in months because the governments corrupt and he was so hungry, he would starving and couldn’t go another day without having food. So, I gave him my perfectly good, just bought, untouched pizza. I figured he was at a pizza place asking for food, so he wanted pizza. Fortunato’s has an outside sitting area where we’d always eat, so I was sitting there with my friends after giving this man my food, and he walked down two or three stores and threw my pizza in the garbage…. After that, I was so disheartened. He didn’t want food, he wanted money, and what he would buy with that money would probably not be food. I couldn’t believe that someone in such a predicament would lie about needing food, when so many people in Baltimore would have done anything for that slice of pizza.
After that, my impression of homeless people changed. I thought all homeless people were drug addict lazy bums that didn’t want to work a day in their life so they’d rather stand on the corner of intersections begging for other people’s money so they could buy drugs and alcohol and whatever else assisted them to be homeless in the first place. I stopped handing out my bread and I stopped offering people food. That seemed to work for me for a while, no disappointments, no let downs, no feeling like my big heart is just too big and I’m absolutely stupid for caring about these people. I never stopped caring - I just stopped showing it.
As time went on, I began to miss feeling like I was helping. I kept telling myself I wasn’t helping and that doing nothing was the best thing for everyone, but deep down I always knew that was wrong. Just because of one man being a scumbag doesn’t mean every homeless person in this city will throw my pizza away. It's like "Shane," just because he's a cowboy doesn't mean he's a dirty killer. There's no reason to past judgement on people; cowboy or homeless man. Therefore, when I was offered an opportunity to do Care-A-Van over the summer, I knew it was a calling, telling me that I need to give back like I had before, and that there is no reason for me to do what my heart feels is right. Therefore, I signed up for Care-A-Van for this semester, and it couldn’t feel better. You learn so much about people and yourself through this experience. I have talked to people who set up their beddings right down the street from my house, who went to high school with my dad and who work at places that provide Baltimore with goods and services. These men and women work, and work hard! They are not standing at intersections begging for money, they work 12+ hours a day to make a living that not even a 19 year old college student could live off of. They’re not drug addicts or alcoholics, they are good men and women that just can’t seem to catch a break.
As you get to know people through the semester, you feel more comfortable talking to them about certain topics, which you would not really bring up to a stranger. Last time I was at Care-A-Van, we started discussing with a man an issue that I have never once felt comfortable talking about, especially with someone of a different race. A little white girl and two big African American men started talking about racism. I felt unbelievably rude, but I had a cast on so I thought they might take pity on me and not want to knock me out for being so bold and stepping out of place. The two men, both grew up down the block from my father on Dylan Street, about racism. One man graduated with my dad at Patterson, and their stories sound like they’re from two different worlds, much less high schools. My father has told me some stories about his high school, which was, of course, racially integrated at the time. His brother and sisters, who are older, went to Patterson when it was still segregated, so I knew these men wouldn’t know them from Moses. But my dad attended Patterson with both blacks and whites and didn’t really care about it. He said most black people were in different classes and they ate lunch at a different time, but there were fights every day in the hallway, but he wasn’t in them so he didn’t care.
When talking to this man on Central Ave. about his high school experience, he said he had to take a city bus to school every day and if he missed that bus or if the bus was running late, he had to walk. He said he had to walk fighting the entire way. He’d come home at nine in the morning and his mother asked why he wasn’t in school and he said, “I fought half way there and couldn’t fight anymore, so I had to turn around and walk back where no one would fight me because they already did.” This man isn’t homeless because he liked drugs and alcohol; he’s homeless because he couldn’t get a high school diploma because people didn’t like his skin color! Then, these men were asked a question that their answers astounded me by. This, by far, is the most surprising thing I have learned from my Care-A-Van experience. The men were asked, “which is worse, back then when racism was well acknowledged and you knew who was racist and who wasn’t, or now, when racism is there but not spoken about and you have no idea who hates you for your skin tone or not?” Both men, without a doubt in their mind, declared that they’d rather go back to the days of being beaten up on their way to school than have the type of racism we have today. One man said racists are now hidden behind suites and they’re the ones who rule the world and go into office and become people’s bosses and you will never know why they demoted you or fired you but you can only assume it’s because you’re dark skinned. Before, racist people could hurt you, but now they can run your life from a desk, and that’s the worst racism of all. These people will not care about your children or your wife and cut your pay rate into so many pieces you can’t even buy food for your family. It was never the answer I expected, but I completely agree and understand why they feel this way. I am not surprised at these men for feeling as if they’d rather be punched in the face than endure the racism of today – I’m more surprised at the white supremacy punks in suites that feel as if they can get away with such a thing. And the most surprising part of all is – they do.

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