New sight

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.

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