Two observations made while serving in a national program of service to reduce poverty. I am currently still within service.
Two thoughts keep popping up in my head throughout my time of service. Poverty is so encompassing to those of us within it that focusing on education, workforce, or college access can feel trivial at times. But any social condition of oppression is so massive of a problem mending it requires the daily grind of those who serve. It can be so challenging to hold on to that broader mission within some of the mundane, small impacts we have in our daily work. It can be easy to fall into old troupes of self-doubting your work on one hand or even wearing the social-justice warrior cape a bit too tight on the other. We have to keep at the daily grind and not doubt or over-estimate ourselves because the forces that put us in poverty will never cease. If it’s a constant drip of bad, I’ll try to be a steady stream of good. Grappling and accepting the daily grind has helped me hold onto the mission at hand while serving.
The other thought is we code urban and rural terms in many different ways, and we’re often made to question the other. However, poverty isolates individuals both urban and country. It’s almost like both areas tunnel to poverty from opposite ends yet still meet at the same point of isolation. In the country there is so little resources it’s a game of connection. With so little ‘noise’ and so much space, something has to be loud enough to hear. In the city there are usually so many resources it’s a game of connection, too. With so much ‘noise’ we might not be able to hear those who need us the most. One has to build up those connections loudly, the other has to break down silos quietly, but both are building relationships. Understanding those similarities between urban and rural and all the coded meanings within the two will continue to help me serve the people of Michigan.
The people we serve often live a life of one step forward and two steps back. To me, that is a daily grind like no other and one I have experienced. I realize more and more throughout service that I must help that one step be on the best possible foot. But I also have to hope that even if I can’t see the other foot, I’m helping it too. My daily grind means I’m there, I’m consistent, I don’t selfishly seek the big wins, and I always care. My daily grind also means to understand when I have to be loud, or when I need to hear the faintest of whispers. Poverty creates isolation in any community, and that feels like it’s always cloudy, but remember some of the most beautiful flowers grow in the shade.