by Lauren Kim
photo taken by Kia Harlan
I have always hated wearing eyeglasses. I grew to despise wearing glasses because of how dorky I would look in pictures or because I could not drink hot beverages without my glasses fogging up. Eventually, it took me three pairs of eyeglasses and finally contact lenses to accept the fact that I have poor eyesight and that I will always see things fuzzy.
My vision of society has been equally blurry. Seeing how disinterested my neighbors are with town elections and how unaware my classmates are with current events, I realize that society tends to turn a blind eye towards issues that are uncomfortable to address. For the majority, it seems easier to shield our hearts than acknowledge the existence of social injustice and people in desperate need.
While the raw material for community-enrichment is the capacity of its individual members, some communities, such as mine, have failed to understand this. So, rather than feeling impotent, I wanted to believe that I had the power, knowledge, and skill to influence issues like poverty and injustice.
I enrolled in the Civic Leadership Institute (CLI) at UC Berkeley, where I became engaged in service, leadership and community transformation during the summer. I learned about topics of social justice with more depth and clarity while exploring the urban poverty in the San Francisco Bay Area. My class and I explored different neighborhoods, such as Tenderloin, which is notorious for its homeless demographic. During our outdoor activities, I saw several people struggling with homelessness, those who were once workers contributing to our society but are now experiencing the effects of our society that favors the privileged.
In one of my service works at CLI, my class and I visited Hospitality House, a center that serves the homeless and poor in Tenderloin. In Hospitality House, I was prescribed “metaphorical glasses,” given by David, the center’s director. Being overwhelmed with such an intense topic of poverty and homelessness, I was fortunate, though, to have David as a guide to challenge my class and I to view homelessness in a new perspective–apart from all the stereotypes that have already been ingrained in my mind. Rather than neglecting the circumstances some people suffer from and immediately labeling them as “bad” and “lazy”people, I learned to understand the root causes of poverty and homelessness. By looking at the origin of homelessness through my “metaphorical glasses,” I was able to recognize how society’s perceptions are formed.
With this new insight, I grew compassion and empathy for humanity. Remembering David’s lecture, I carry on the motivation to use meaningful service to bring an asset-based development in my community and in Covenant House—an organization that shelters homeless youth—in which I volunteer. Confronting my own ignorance about homelessness, I became inspired to act. I want to strengthen the community in Covenant House by advocating for policies—such as affordable feminine products—and rendering services which foster both self-sufficiency and cultural enrichment.
What I perceive with my new, highly valued “metaphorical glasses” is that society needs to contribute to its community by viewing each individual as equals. It only encourages self-reflection and mutual respect.