I'm in Tampa for a student affairs assessment conference.
I came to Tampa from Chicago, where I spent four days with an amazing group of students and professionals at BE THE PERSON | 2012. Throughout this experience, I witnessed the best of humanity. My fellow participants engaged in true acts of selflessness and generosity, from simple things like brightening someone's day to spending time listening to the stories of homeless people over a hot meal.
I go out for dinner and drinks with a couple of colleagues tonight. We go to a great local Greek restaurant. The atmosphere is lively. The food is good. The service is amazing. I spend a lot of money on dinner and drinks. A lot. But, we have a great time.
We're walking back to our hotel, and pass a homeless man on the way. I want to stop and offer help, but I don't. I keep walking. We get to the hotel, exchange goodnights, and I go to my room. I start thinking about my experience at BE THE PERSON. I begin to feel guilty.
I decide, at the very least, I should get this man some food. I'm certain the CVS near the hotel will be open, so I put my shoes back on, head downstairs, and depart the hotel. On the way to CVS, I pass another homeless man asleep on a bench. I feel sick to my stomach. I just spent all this money on a night of pure fun and pleasure — completely unnecessary — while these two men are spending the night outside in the rain. Something is wrong with this picture. I can pretend that I've earned my place in life, but I know that's not true. I was born into privilege. I am ashamed.
I get to the CVS, and it is closed. I am frustrated, but remember that a Publix is about five blocks away. I keep going. I arrive at Publix, and it is closed as well. Now I'm really frustrated, but even more committed to finding some food for these men. I head back toward my hotel.
I stop at a bar along the way to find out where the nearest gas station is located. It's not within walking distance. I'm losing hope. The bar is still serving food, so I decide that's my best option at this point. I get four orders of chicken tenders to go.
I walk back toward my hotel. I deliver two orders to the first homeless man. I try to engage in a conversation with him, but he doesn't want to talk. That's okay. I keep walking. I head past the hotel to the second man. He's asleep. I wake him up to tell him I have some food for him. He's grateful, but clearly tired. I tell him I'm leaving the food under the bench he's sleeping on. He thanks me and I leave.
I am sickened. I am sad. There are a million thoughts running through my head right now. One is that I'm so freaking privileged and I take it for granted every day. I whine and complain about the dumbest s**t while people live in the streets.
Another is that I work in higher education, a field with great power and resources. We talk a lot about social justice and social change, but in reality, we do very little about it. We pay a lot of lip service. I own this for myself and for my profession. We like to talk, but only occasionally walk.
We have a problem. A systemic problem. This is not news to me, nor likely is it news to you. But because of my experiences over the past several days, I have a hightened awareness of it. I feel slighlty better about giving these men some food, but only slightly. It's a band-aid where surgery is needed. I am still upset.
There are members of my own family who I hope do not read this, because their reaction to my reaction toward this great inequality would probably upset me more. But I must react. To not do so is inhumane.
This is a real-time, stream-of-consciousness post, so I have no solutions. I have no answers. All I know at this point is that I have received a wake-up call. I intend to answer it.
Let me know if you want to answer it with me.
This is a re-post of Jason's original post on his personal blog. Jason had big breakthroughs for his life and his cause at BE THE PERSON — we invite you to follow his journey. Jason is also one of the facilitators for the PersonalPower interactive workshop — a program of the RESPONSE ABILITY Project.