Kleshas and Tanhas

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Posts Tagged ‘college

Too Cool For Whites

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“Hey mister,” a young squeaky voice cried out from behind me and to the right. I spun around, not sure that the words had been meant for me-after all, I hardly thought of myself as a mister, being only seventeen-and saw a black kid, perhaps ten, hopping off his bike and coming towards me. “Yea,” I replied. “What’s up?” “I betcha’ dollar I can tell you where you got ‘dem shoes,” the child answered. “I’ll take that bet,” I replied, confident that there was no way this child in front of me could really know where I had purchased my footwear…“You got your shoes on your feet, you got your feet on the street, on Bourbon Street, now give me a dollar.” Tim Wise, White Like Me pages 93-94

One of the subtlest of encounters occurred at Mercy Neighborhood Ministries when I least expected it. During the ins and outs of service, I infrequently come across the other half of the facility’s outreach: the students. MNM offers before and after school programs for a variety of age groups. Kids are the driving factor for me to commit myself to community service on a long term scale. As the initial factor that led me to get involved after my freshman year, Camp Holiday Trails, a summer camp for kids with chronic illnesses, had me hooked on the first day. Even before that instance, volunteer work at the Special Olympics throughout middle school instilled this pull to the youth. There’s considerably more energy in kids in a camp or athletic setting. So if it wasn’t known before, there was a heartbreak when I recognized that that energy would not exist on the other side of Mercy Neighborhood Ministries.

Every time the preschool-aged students trickle by our doors, I wave fervently for no reason other than hoping to receive a reciprocated, equally energetic wave back. Just a quick glimpse of that long lost energy is enough for me. Never have I been disappointed; the over-exaggerated wave has always been answered. Until there was this incident…

It was like any other day at MNM; the sun was either shining through the skylight windows or it was pitch black from the clouds. I could be wrong in claiming normalcy for that day, though, since I distinctly recall that on this day, the clients were dipping pretzel sticks into melted chocolate. I designated myself as the transporter of dipped sticks from the dipping station to the freezer to remove myself from the clients’ prodding to partake in the ecstasy. This could’ve easily been the first time I almost struggled to keep up with the pace of the older clients! Vivacity.

In these trips, from dipping station to freezer, I had about a forty-five second travel time through the hall, into the kitchen, and back. It must’ve been on the second or third trip that I came across one of the preschoolers, alone. I’m not sure how he got free from the bunch, (nor am I sure if I should be portraying MNM as incapable of keeping track of their students) but there he was in the hall.

Maybe it was the excitement over melted chocolate and the rarely high energy level with the older clients that caused me to wave to him in an uncool manner. Nevertheless, all I got in return was a nod as he swagged on by, evidently on a mission of sorts. I didn’t really digest the rejection of a wave until my next trip to the freezer: “He just nodded me off!” With my slow processing of all the racial lingo and themes that we’re discussing in Race and Racism -which I would have to add, has kept me from producing a reflection worth reading- the word “hegemony” slowly crept into my mind. Something going along with Frederick Douglas’s double consciousness and the veil has formulated in retrospect. The little boy, to my surprise, reacted as a result of some shade of racism.

Let me first explain what the nod signified in my book. A nod typically ranks low on the list of acknowledgements and greetings human beings bestow on one another. Above it comes a smile, maybe then a hello, next a handshake, finally a hug (or kiss.) A nod has no transmission of emotion. It very easily can become a means to look someone off or even denote them as not worthy of a higher greeting. I am making the claim that this young boy was at fault of this as absurd as it might seem. But hear me out!

In staking another claim that hegemony, in other words, the boy’s relationship to me was somehow marred by my race (or more simply, my age,) I am trying to draw out my surprise at how young this black student was. Specifically, someone so young was already viewing the world through Douglas’s veil; this came to me as a shock. This kid was no more than three feet tall, wearing Timberland boots, and had his hair in cornrows.

A third -maybe the most absurd- claim was that this individual’s double consciousness clearly established him as black, me white. He knew he had some sort of power over me in a similar manner that Tim Wise’s encounter with the Tulane native in the passage above. This power, if not apparent in my story, is the same that leads many whites to feel uncomfortable when blacks, and even more so, whites use racial slurs. In reading the word “nigger,” one would think, “You, the white writer, shouldn’t be using that word.” The answer to the question why is the uncomfortable power that blacks possess. Why else is there such a word as “wigger?” There’s some sort of (unattainable) power blacks hold that pop culture easily interchanges with cool, or maybe a more timely word: swag.

So maybe I am reading too much into this two second encounter with a five year old like Tim Wise throughout his narrative. But maybe, just maybe, this is an example of how early hegemony formulates in a young black’s mind. Me on the other hand; I must’ve not come into contact with a black individual who I interacted with frequently enough to deem friend until I was in middle school. So if my three claims are preposterous, at least I can vouch for my own belated awakening to my white ignorance…

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Written by Jack Viere

March 14, 2012 at 9:30 pm

A PTSD from Community Service

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Second semester has its unique challenges, none of which a college freshman would anticipate. After a stressful first semester of social, academic, and mental hills that had to be overcome, one would think that second semester would be a breeze. Once adjusted to a new living style, workload, and diet, the second semester was supposed to be just like the first except for new classes. However, the anxiety that I knew would develop at one point or another crept up in an unexpected manner. I think it has something to do with the spring semester’s mindset; there’s no rush to teach students how to become a college student anymore. That being said, the delayed assignments never seemed to be assigned. Without a familiarly dense course load, I grow anxious.

In a similar fashion, service at Mercy Neighborhood Ministries began to take its toll. The routine never changed. A few newcomers have joined the wolf pack that we met with every Tuesday, but I can’t blame any one individual for such a dramatic change in pace. On reentering the tunnel that we call a daily routine, you become familiar with your surroundings. The newness of space and time restraints fades as the tunnel becomes grayer and goes by unchecked as ordinary.

It’s not all that dreary, though. Familiarity allows for my service partners and me to develop deeper relationships with the clients at MNM. This opportunity is great when thinking of service in terms of being “for and with others.” Nevertheless, on the way back from service, my service partner and I simultaneously experienced a jolt of anguish. Oddly enough, she verbalized our shared feeling right after I thought, “This area is like a war zone. These people are fighting the odds here; it’s an uphill battle for them.” I couldn’t help but think of those melodramatic scenes in war films where the company is returning from the front. The troops are battered from what they’ve seen.

Yet, what I’ve seen is not just the neighborhoods in this part of Philadelphia. I am not belittling these people by depicting their environment from my perspective. That’d be cynical. This PTSD, if I may, seems to have been slowly developing like my anxiety for the workload of this second semester. The breaking point, this past Tuesday, came when my service partner and I both realized that at some point on our return trip, our relationships no longer exist with the clients at MNM. We don’t have the luxury to Facebook ‘em or shoot them an email. But we are somehow still expected to develop a relationship, which is becoming increasingly difficult during the time we spend away from them.

Within the restraints of being volunteers, we obviously don’t have access to clients’ personal or medical information. I’m not saying we should either, but it would be nice to know where Mr. Paul has gone. He was something to write about…How are we supposed to ask about him? If they wanted us to know, they would have shared. If we had access to some basic information, we wouldn’t have to ask. The last thing we heard was that he was in the hospital. And not to call out the blatantly obvious, but working with individuals of a certain age inevitably leads one to disregard a certain thought and place in the back of his or her mind.

Still, all the while, we go to service just the same. Our service is about relationships, no doubt, because we aren’t cleaning, cooking, preparing –or any type of physical labor. We found that out last semester. We don’t need to be constructing some physical memorabilia to point at after we have finished it, kicking back to relax saying, “Ah. We’ve done something good today. Check that off the list. Better yet, let’s take a photo.” What my service partners and I are left with, then, is spending time with the individual. On learning that clients at MNM, like Ms. Gladys, spend time all alone until they return to Mercy the next day, we experienced the significance of our time spent with the clients.

But where has Ms. Gladys gone off to? My service partner discovered by indirectly asking around that she hasn’t been able to attend MNM for various reasons. The fluidity of not only the comings and goings of the clients, but our coming and going causes a lot of disruption in developing relationships. I’m not sure what really can be done other than talking about it. The system won’t change for deeper relationships; I think that ranks pretty low, ironically, on the priority list for a company that has to be systematically run. I mean to say that, while idealistically, stronger relationships would be great, the structure of not only service learning would have to change, but MNM would have to somehow give some basic information on the whereabouts of the clients that we year-round volunteers have befriended. I know that may be crossing the line for the volunteer-administration relationship, which is business like, yet, how are we to just cross our fingers and hope that the same individuals will be there next week? We are prohibited from progressing in our relationships. And in that fifteen minute car ride back home, we just sit and hope that the person we just shared a joke with will be there next week.

Written by Jack Viere

February 5, 2012 at 9:30 am

When the Cloud Bursts

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I realized there’s no reason for me to live on the East Coast after my Winter Break. If my interests alone could determine where I’d reside, I would be somewhere along the Pacific Ocean. Yet, as I drank in the 70 degree weather on New Year’s Day, I felt a pull back home. Home exists somewhere between Virginia and Pennsylvania. If our personal entities could be categorized into body, heart, soul, and mind, college has easily captured my mind and body. Heart seems like it will always reside with my family. And soul; I could not figure out where my soul was when I looked out over the ocean as the sun set.

I had an unexpected encounter in the West with something I have placed into my mind and heart; the homeless. It’s quite a luxury when you can devote certain energies to different activities in your life. I hadn’t realized that I assumed my vacation would lead me away from any scenarios that seemed to exist in my college life. My college life, as I said, consists of my mind and body. Through community service, heart finds its way into my personhood. Apparently heart has also found a way out of it as well. Via selfishness.

The several-hour plane ride to vacation-land is boring. Why? Well, our minds are not entertained as thoroughly as we please. And in this momentary lapse of our mind’s functioning, we lose any responsibilities we had hoped to rid as we embarked on our self-indulgent vacation. The jetlag -an indicator of how far you’re willing to escape your duties- dulls us to the point where on entering the new airport, we encounter a sense of adventure. Even among all the pavement, architecture, and pre-existing community, we prepare ourselves to conquer our novel surroundings.

 

Immediately after exam week, I found myself in San Diego as if my work had earned me the right to kick back and relax. And kick back and relax I did; even to the point where I found other people making decisions for me –an oddity for the college student!

 

The sun sets on the West Coast with the same color I witness on the East.

As if I knew something about the homeless, I noticed that San Diego’s distinguishing characteristic was that its homeless were pushed to the water. My dream home would exist on the beach, so why not California? And as I jocularly thought where I’d place my million dollar home, I stumbled upon the homeless. I hate to admit it, but my first (internal) reaction was, “What? I thought I left this back home!”

 

Maybe Philadelphia does a better job of keeping its scenic sights (limited in comparison to San Diego’s –the Pacific is a winner take all!) free from the reach of the homeless. But as soon as I saw rag-tagged camouflage and trash bags, my vacation-illusion snapped. As I handed loose change from my pocket to distanced eyes, Philadelphia flooded my soul.

 

Mercy Neighborhood Ministries

To and from Mercy Neighborhood Ministries I encounter some display of economic evolution. Where do the employees of $7.25 and welfare checks live? When I saw an individual pushing a shopping cart, my soul took me back to the West; my mind painted a beautiful image of the beach; my heart felt the familiarity of my family; my body warmed by the omnipresent, perfect sun.

 

When I recognized the familiar faces as I walked through MNM’s doors, I experienced the same inner tumult from having my vacation-cloud burst. No one here had a vacation. The employees of MNM sure as hell worked hard for a well-deserved vacation. Where did they take it? What kept me from falling into a state of complete guilt were the new faces. That’s where my soul is. The potential. The growth. New faces meant new relationships, new stories. I found myself playing the same Rummy card game from San Diego with Mr. Lee. I still lose, whether I am playing on the East or West Coast.

Written by Jack Viere

January 29, 2012 at 2:45 pm

There is something ethically vitalizing while riding trains

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You can’t help but see the underbelly of society; the infrastructure that one can sense, but no one wants to admit exists. Riding the SEPTA in Philadelphia over the Schuylkill River displays you the declining socio-economic classes that are compiled into what is called a city. Starting with middle class homes and their neighboring duplexes, the train passed more barbed wire fences and broken concrete as you enter Center City Philadelphia. Wrecked buildings are still inhabited since the city’s orange conviction notices did not label any doors. Garbage is that factor to gauge the destitution that communities face. You realize that garbage is an expense; you pay for garbage pickups and disposals-something that a college student wouldn’t realize offhand. While people cannot afford a new window to replace shattered glass or fix their deteriorating homes, how will they be able to properly dispose of their trash?

And then suddenly, as if the poverty witnessed was all a dream, the train magically arrives at a transportation hub. Filled with prominent business people that sit across from the untouchables, you begin to smell the pretzel shop at 30th Street Station. The sky is grey, allowing no sunshine to breach the windows as you walk widely around those that invade your path. Your smartphone of choice is your compass that your nose is pressed to in the hope that you don’t trip, fall, and land face first into the lap of one of the beggars.

God forbid you spill that Starbucks you sip as you walk down to the platform. Waiting impatiently, you pull your collar up closer while experiencing the smallest of glimpses of what the homeless must feel. You’re still inside; you’re only catching a slight breeze from the opening on the other side of the platform. And so you continue to sip that coffee as if it’s some barrier keeping you from being no different than the beggar that you avoided up stairs; he’s now sitting directly above you, still looking on with his bleak eyes. Your smartphone happens to be out again, acting as your status shield. It says, “Don’t worry everyone; I am financially sound and stable! I can’t afford to be here now though, I have to check Facebook statuses from the past and Like events in the future.” Is the present too expensive for the well-off? The poor man upstairs was rich enough…“But more importantly, I have that piece of plastic to suggest otherwise, don’t I?”

As you become situated in your own row that is designed for two but Mr. Suitcase fills that extra seat, you look up from your phone. Staring after college girl and her body before she turns; you think no one sees you as you try to mask your act as some sort of thinking posture; “Did I crunch those numbers correctly?”

Your dream turns into a nightmare as your Amtrak starts pulling out of the station. You leave the city’s prominent skyline-buildings and stumble into a rapid decline into the impoverished areas again. This time it’s worse. You see the outskirts of another city: Baltimore. Where did those hours go; the time in between Philly to here? It couldn’t have been the suckers only free Wi-Fi, could it?

 

The portion of Baltimore’s underbelly you’re witnessing is worse than Philadelphia’s. This time, you see white conviction notices that bar individuals from inhabiting eroding structures that you dare to call a home. More grey. More trash. Less people. As you’re about to look back down to some distraction in your lap, a magazine or a laptop-“What’s the difference these days when you can get your news online?”-something catches your eye. The train is slowing for the next station; why is there such an obnoxiously colored turf in one of the traffic medians? Its highlighter quality is in glaring contrast to its surrounding counterparts; broken benches, broken homes, a broken community.

That baby won’t stop crying any time soon will it? Luckily, I have those Bose headphones. One of the best purchases of my life! Or was it a gift from Tina? It doesn’t matter, I’m almost home. I can just see myself waking up from this mess.

Written by Jack Viere

December 16, 2011 at 6:46 pm

College: The Not Winner-Take-All Means of Life’s Happiness

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It would be to state the obvious if I was to say that there were other means of education. Individuals that don’t have the financial means, the time, or the commitment for a traditional college education somehow make it in the world without a degree. Maybe the times are a-changing. Maybe the workforce is demanding a “well-rounded” college graduate. But when I look around at the members of Mercy Neighborhood, I see individuals on the other side. The other side of what…I would say, they have made it to other side of life’s biggest time commitment (and challenge as of late.) They have led lives pursuing careers, occupations, marital and familial roles-all of which have equal worth.

I get the sense that not every single individual at Mercy was a traditional, four-year university graduate. The language, diction, and topics of choice have formulated my assumptions (as unfair and maybe even degrading as that might seem-even though that is clearly not my intention) on who has passed a college English 101 course on proper grammar. I mention this because I myself receive a little bit of judgment for the usage of y’all and it really happens to be an interesting topic within itself; linguistics, accents, and vocabulary. And I would argue from my personal experience that these three qualities cannot be the only means to qualify someone as educated.

But I digress; I could be completely wrong with my ill-based assumptions. Yet, getting back to my point, the members at MNM all share a proud sentiment of accomplishment, if not victory. While some may very well be college graduates, retired doctors or lawyers, or the cliché war veteran we too often overlook, I find that certain persons were mothers or fathers, householders, and mentors. No positions that require a degree. But my point happens to focus around the fact that all these older members at MNM are on the “other side.” They worked, they loved, they lived. And in my opinion, when certain peoples are retired, on the other side, or great-grandparents, their education doesn’t seem to rank so high in their accomplishments.

Maybe that’s due to their focus on family, the greater joy in life. I’ve had the honor to hear stories of children and their children’s children (making the speaker a great-grandparent!) and there is a tangible pride that comes with that feat. And by that I mean the pictures, birth stories, and further accomplishments of their offspring all branching from that one individual that sits across from me. I presume that it’s my own, newly found fascination for the elderly. But when you read of kings and queens of old, their family crests bore great significance when their family expanded across the world’s map. While I may only be sitting in a cafeteria before we go off to work on puzzles or bingo, I believe that the value placed on family still remains to this day. I sit amongst the kings and queens of old from several generations past.

Written by Jack Viere

November 5, 2011 at 6:26 pm