Signs passed by as we continued to drive on the bumpy road. It was a dreary, dark, foggy day. The weather seemed to relate to the type of day we were soon going to have. The lightly tinted windows were open, and I could feel the spring breeze. Cars honked, and lights changed. The silence on our bus stopped, as we went around talking over each other.
My minimester group for We Are Family (a small organization that helps senior citizens in D.C.) had been working for a couple days. I had chosen this minimester because it seemed like it would be a fun experience to talk and interact with people in our community. However today we were going to be doing tough physical work: delivering boxes of food to a seniors’ apartment complex. We began transporting boxes and boxes. There were some kids outside retrieving the boxes, and others moving the boxes into the building. We were like a machine unable to stop, and we wondered what was next. After finishing with all the boxes, we headed to another next apartment complex down the street that also worked with We Are Family.
“Everyone, we are going to split into groups,” our teacher Mr. Merlin says.
We quickly split up and begin our visits with the seniors. We go to the first room, knock on the door, and wait. A minute later we knock again. Soon after we hear a creak in the door, and a very skinny man appears.
“Hello,” he says very softly.
“Hi, I’m Mr. Merlin, and these are my students. We’re here to talk with you about We Are Family and how it has impacted your life.”
“Oh yes, yes, come in, come in,” the man says a little louder than before but still raspy.
Our group walks in and sits down. We offer the man help with anything before he sits down too.
“No, I’m fine. Thank you though,” he responds.
He starts to talk about his backstory. He went to Hampton College. He met his wife a little while later. He seems to not want to talk about her much so he quickly moves to a different subject. He talks about how We Are Family has helped him ever since he was diagnosed with cancer. I start to wonder if that is why this man is so skinny. I knew before that chemo can make you very sick and make it hard to digest food. With all his costs for treatment and housing, We Are Family helps him have a place to live and by providing a certain amount of food each month. He tells us about how We Are Family is the reason he is healthy and sheltered. He speaks softly so we are all silent. Then he asks if we have any questions. He answers them one by one.
This man put so much love, passion, and heart into everything he said to us that day, mostly because this was such an important issue to him. Listening to him made me realize this was an important issue not just to him but to me as well. I discovered a side of me I wouldn’t have found without this incredible experience. At this point I realized that it’s up to my generation to fix this issue. I’ve always hated going through the streets and seeing the saddened eyes of people. It’s so hard for me. I have two sides. On one side I don’t want to help because I’m scared of something different sitting there. On another side it’s too much to watch people suffer right around me in my own community.
Later that week, as I passed by people on the street, I felt more self-aware. I remember trying to look at people in the eye and say hello. I had done this before, but this time I said it with heart and compassion because that’s all someone needs. Before my minimester experience I always acted like people on the streets were invisible. But I know if I was in a position like that, I would want to be acknowledged by the people around me. This is how community is formed: helping people in need. In the end we are all humans and deserve respect from one another, no matter what religion, race, identity, or creed. I’ve learned that these are the people who are part of my community, and it’s my and future generation’s jobs to help these community members in need.