Walking through any major urban community in the world—even in those environments that we might call “home”—one common thing can be noted. There are people who call this home, yet, they seem out of place.
Walking through any major urban community in the world—even in those environments that we might call “home”—one common thing can be noted. There are people who call this home, yet, they seem out of place. Whether they are homeless, down on their luck, or seem to be walking through life without the rush, focus or energy that others may have, they look at us, yet, they avoid visible eye contact. As I reflect on these people, a simple question enters my mind—does anyone see their shadow?
In our rush to get to our next “thing,” we avoid these persons as if they are toxic. Some of us choose to live in gated communities to “keep them out” and to give us a sense of security. Periodically, we become engaged in service programs to “help the needy.”
But who benefits from this service? For a brief moment, our gifts to them may bring relief, happiness, and gratitude. But, is this enough? Do we really create community or give them a voice when we spend but a brief moment with them?
Through my applied policy research, I try to bring social awareness to the plight of marginalized youth in society. The effort to give them a voice is intended to create opportunities to uncover the lived realities of these individuals. The Kellogg Fellows Leadership Alliance Forum in Tulum, for example, used Foto Voz, a project that employed photography and words to allow us to see and hear the soul and dreams of people that many of us were unaware of. When we take these opportunities to engage marginalized people in authentic ways, the divide between us/them lessens, creating a temporary shared experience.
Gaining such insight is what has motivated me to do what I do—to learn and to help give voice to those that we often forget exist as our neighbors.