Our “community” is the homeless population in Fredericksburg. We contributed by volunteering with Micah Ministries by helping out with one of their many Thanksgiving dinners at the Presbyterian Church. Micah Ministries’ vision is to end homelessness in Fredericksburg area. Multiple congregations coming together to help the homeless by providing services for those who need them. The services that are provided are hospitality, recovery/rehabilitation programs, daily meals. cold weather shelter, transportation (to meals, medical appointments, etc.), helping with transitions into housing and employment, etc. All of these services are funded by donation. These dinners usually serve about 80-100 people per dinner.
Our specific type of community engagement is related to personal power. There is a difference of social/power level between volunteers and the people who are receiving the free dinner. When we first came to the church, we all felt a little tension and awkwardness between us and the people receiving the free dinner. The homeless people felt that the volunteers had bad motives and were volunteering for the wrong reasons. This led to them not fully trusting us and barely speaking to us at all. We were constantly asked why we were really there; if we were required to volunteer there; that this volunteering opportunity was mandatory for a class. They didn’t want to feel like a charity case. Once they learned our true intentions, they opened up and became more welcoming and comfortable. So comfortable in fact that they shared their biographies and life experiences about how they became homeless. These homeless men and women let their guard down when common ground was established. For example, one man and I bonded over our different ethnicities and how we are perceived. Another man and I bonded over our different religions. I am Hindu and he is Christian. There is also an imbalance of social/power levels between the authorities and the homeless men and women. When the officers walked in the church basement, almost every one of the individuals had their head down as if trying to seem like they didn’t wanna be accused or caught for doing something illegal. The authorities have a higher social/power level compared to the homeless individuals. They feel threatened by the authorities.
The dinner is served by the volunteers to the people, rather than self-serve, to give a restful atmosphere and create community among those attending. Dinners like these provide extra food to be taken home, such as the 100 pies were donated to the church and provides food to people who can’t afford it or people who would spend the money on food for others necessities. A majority of the people we talked with weren’t homeless, but still below the poverty line, which includes 11.7% of the population in VA. 16.1% of people in the city of Fredericksburg are food insecure. The shelter didn’t have to spend money on food due to the large donation by the churches which gives more options.
The organization as a whole doesn’t trouble the waters of inequality in the community. It contributes to end homelessness locally in the Fredericksburg community as well and statewide. Since the organization is a nonprofit and they completely rely on donations, it takes the place of the government is overlooking. The homeless population in Fredericksburg is often overlooked but there are still power inequalities I didn’t engage on my own. The organization expands to multiple churches and they have multiple services that are provided to the homeless individuals to have more variety and more options for them to become stable financially, physically and mentally. Our individual work shapes the issues of inequality and power inequities by indirectly recognizing the issues of the imbalance of power relations between the authorities/volunteers and the individuals receiving the free dinner.
On most white-dominated college campuses, there is always the issue of the lack of diversity among the student body. The University of Missouri is one of them that has been in the headlines recently. The school has been put under fire after not taking any action against the extreme racial tensions that occur in everyday life between the white and black students and faculty of the university. The University of Missouri has been put under the spotlight by being used as an example on how college racism is becoming a huge issue and hasn’t changed much since the civil rights era.
In some ways, the grievances of black students mirror those of other campuses across the country. The black students almost always felt as if they were being judged by the color of their skin. One student puts it, “It can be exhausting when people are making assumptions about you based on the color of your skin. I can be exhausting to feel like you have to speak for your entire race. It’s so exhausting that on some mornings I ask myself if I want to go to class and sit with people.” These young black college students are not only dealing with the harassment on campus but also via social media such as Yik Yak. Yik Yak is a commonly used app that lets users post statuses and comments anonymously within a one mile radius of the user. At the University of Missouri, racial threats against certain students so bad that students felt unsafe to walk on campus, afraid that they will be attacked physically and/or sexually. These students feel a sense of cultural isolation and feel harshly judged 24/7. There have been racial threats made via social media against these students. The university, specifically the university president, has been criticized for being slow and ineffective in addressing these racial tensions. The university president brushed this under the rug and the students are not happy. As a result of their frustration the students formed a group called the Concerned Student 1950 and protested against the school. The group was named after the year that African-Americans were admitted to the university.
According to the article, “Both blacks and whites are clearly underrepresented at the university compared to the demographics of the entire state. Eight percent of the students are black while nearly eighty percent are white compared to about eighty-four percent of the state.” Academic outcomes have also been unequal. “83% of black freshmen return for their sophomore year, nearly 88% of whites and 94% of Asians do. And black students have the lowest graduation rate of all races, less than 55%, compared with 71% for whites”.
Soon universities and colleges across the country united with the students at the University of Missouri. We notice the injustices that are occurring to people just like us. We notice what is right and wrong. We notice the grievances that young people just like us are going through on a daily basis and how the administrative power is doing absolutely nothing about it. Instead of going the violent route to be heard, students at the university and other universities around the nation are using social media (Facebook, Twitter, Yik Yak, etc) to let their voices be heard for these injustices to come to an end once and for all.
In this day and age, it seems like there has been no change on the issue of brutality against black Americans since the Civil Rights era. With the deaths of Trayvonn Martin and Michael Brown, there has been a rise in what is now known as the “Black Lives Matter” movement. This first came about as a hashtag on social media as a way to protest the injustice of the young black men that were murdered. But it has now become a symbol of the violent injustice that black Americans face on a daily basis. According to the New York Times, the demonstrators that are protesting in the streets “…are not asserting that black lives are more precious of white lives. They are underlying the fact that the lives of black citizens in this country historically have not mattered and have been discounted and devalued”.
In April of 2015, a man by the name of Freddie Gray was arrested in Baltimore. He was perfectly healthy at the time of his arrest but sustained injuries to his neck and spine while being transported. He was left in a coma and then died a week later. Violent but organized protests broke out on the streets of Baltimore when it became publicly known the cause of Gray’s death. This created civil unrest and the riots took over the city. This is an example of breakdown theory. Useem states that breakdown theory is “the classic sociological explanation of contentious forms of collective action such as riots, rebellions and civil violence and these events occur when the mechanisms of social control lose their restraining power” (217). Simply put, breakdown theory is the breakdown of social control. It’s spurred by emotion when injustice occurs. The residents of Baltimore were thinking that “there is no legitimate way I can act and I’ve gotten to a breaking point so I get on the streets and act in emotion”.
The media and government officials portray the same violent acts among whites and blacks as exact opposites. A quote by Juan Thompson explains this well by stating that “when white people spread chaos in the streets, they are drunks that make drunken mistakes; when black people act in justifiable rage after decades of oppression, they are depicted as violent and imitating agitators”. The mayor of Baltimore, who is a black female, called the residents that were protesting in the street as “hooligans”.
The Black Lives Matter movement has become very similar to the Civil Rights movement. We still have not achieved racial equality when it comes to the black community. There has been an increasing number of police brutality against young black people. Just recently, there was a video circulating online of a police officer dragging and beating a young black girl out of her seat in a classroom and arresting her on the charge of resisting arrest. A black UVA student was recently beaten to death by police outside of a bar that was off campus. This is an epidemic that needs to stop. We almost always judge a book by its cover and we shouldn’t sterotype someone based on the color of their skin.
In the current 2016 Presidential election, Republican candidate Bobby Jindal, the current governor of Louisiana, popped on the national political radar. If elected, he would become the first Indian-American President of the United States. This made me think about the immigration of South Asians and their role, if any, in politics. The area that I immediately that came to mind was the town of Edison, New Jersey. This town has a dominant population of South Asians. Growing up as a South Asian in New Jersey, my family and I were frequent visitors to this town. I, like many, thought of this town as “Little India” due to the high increase in South Asian immigration starting from the 1980’s. For my first research paper, I have decided to focus on the South Asian immigration in the specific town of Edison, New Jersey.
South Asian Immigration in Edison, New Jersey