The 4 Tenets: Social Justice
Volunteers have the opportunity to better understand the realities of poverty in our community and world through developing relationships with those they serve.
Through increased knowledge and understanding of systemic challenges, volunteers can be a voice for positive change in our world.
Our volunteers work with a variety of high-needs populations, such as immigrant women and children who have fled an abusive husband, adolescent boys and girls facing abandonment from their family, young adults trying to make it out of homelessness, and even communities abroad who participate in a fair trade program for economic empowerment. The relationships volunteers develop with people they serve acts as a real-life lesson in social justice.
As is often stated in the Good Shepherd mission:
“One person is of more value than the world.”
The Sisters of the Good Shepherd are on the cutting edge of social justice issues such as human trafficking, fair trade, women’s and children’s rights, and economic development. They advocate and lobby for social changes on a national and international level.
Reflection on Social Justice
by Kristen O’Donnell, GSV New York City ’06-07
Kristen (right) and her community members Jessica and Chloe
One of the tenets of GSV is social justice, which is something we commit to and focus our time and energy on throughout the year. I’ve learned that social justice is not charity; it’s much more than that. We don’t want to just give, we want to change and transform the world and the situations that others live in. We want to alter and improve any structure that does not allow everyone the chance to live out the dreams (s)he has. From the macro to the micro; from global systems that bolster “first world” nations at the expense of “third world” nations, to systems within the U.S. that affect each individual in a personal way, social justice seeks to amend any harm done and get us, as a society, on a more dignified track.
Anybody who really knows me knows about my passion for racial reconciliation, and although it’s not in my job description at Euphrasian Residence, a diagnostic residential center for adolescent girls aged 12-17, I have found it’s a large part of what I focus on. For the most part, the girls I work with have never had a white person in their lives who cares about them. Most of their experience with white people has been through the media… media which depict an inaccurate picture of what life is like for white people, and black people…and most people for that matter. It’s interesting to see my girls’ thought processes and how much their lack of exposure to other cultures has influenced their beliefs. Since they have had nothing to counter-act the impact of the media, I find myself doing the best I can to break down the overwhelming stereotypes. “Kristen, are you rich?” “Do you live in a cottage in Yonkers?” “White people always eat healthy.” “How do you know rap? Don’t you listen to rock n’ roll?” Questions like these are common in their exploration of trying to understand me and why I’d “hangout with black people.”
Because of my skin color I’ve noticed it takes a lot of the residents longer to warm up to me. In the beginning they’ll often seem a bit more hesitant with me than with the other staff…being cautious. It makes sense because I am the unknown, the one not to be trusted, all because the girls have been let down too many times in their young lives and thus have trouble trusting others. On a few occasions I have gone up to introduce myself to a new resident and the response I get is, “I don’t like white people.”
One of my girls, Shannon, has never hidden from me how much she “hates” white people. She hasn’t been outright hateful to me, but she’s dismissed most of what I’ve said, blown me off, or straight out ignored me. Shannon kept her distance from me while she poked around and had fun with the other staff. But what I noticed after a couple of months was Shannon slowly coming around. Slowly things evolved, from her sitting at my table at lunch to asking me little questions. “Would you take me on a walk?” or “Why do you want to work here?” And before I knew it, Shannon was clinging onto me and screaming in excitement my nickname she gave me, “Hazel,” every time I’d walk into work. Since then we have had some great conversations, ranging from her internal issues with her family to the reasons why she doesn’t like white people. She still would say that she doesn’t like white people, yet she likes me. And actually the pinnacle of this story, this relationship, is that one day Shannon told me she loved me.
Out of the blue she looked at me and said, “Hazel, I love you.”
And that’s why I am invested in this work. That is what makes the days I want to pull out all my hair worth it. This often-challenging year is not an act of charity, of just giving. It’s a planned action of being involved in the suffering my girls go through. It’s trying to make a positive impact in their lives and encourage them toward a future that society wouldn’t envision for an inner-city child. And it’s seeing that one person can make a difference in another person’s life, that I can be a tool of change and healing. Whether that be helping a kid work through her physical abuse, or helping her to trust again, or breaking a preconceived notion of people that are different than her; this, for me, is social justice.