Working as a Choice tutor gives me the opportunity to meet all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds. This past week I had the opportunity to tutor a young man who is from Maryland and has lived here all his life. He comes from a single parent home and has never met his father. He was primarily raised by his mother and aunt who lives in the same housing development. He is in the eighth grade and is starting classes at his third school in four years. He still has trouble with his times tables and struggles to get the words out when asked to real aloud. His oldest brother was killed by a mugger who stabbed him six times and took his wallet so that he was unidentifiable and reported missing for quiet some time. He is sixteen years old.
Meeting people like this often causes you to take pity on a youth like this. And it is true that this was my initial reaction. In later reflection, however, I began to ask my self “how”? How is it that in a country as affluent and fair as ours as that there still youths like this that must endure these hardships. In Tony Hoagland’s poem “America,” these issues are addressed but never resolved. Isn’t that just the way the world works? We recognize that these problems occur everyday, yet, we are unable to offer a valid solution to the problems of poverty that face America.
That is not to say that situations like this happen unnoticed. Hundreds of faith based communities around the country work to help educate and relieve some of the problems of poverty and violence that millions endure. Groups like the Choice Program hope to treat the symptoms but do not offer a cure.
Jesuits believe that service without reflection is only half the job. That means that after each Choice session we fill out an evaluation of how the day went and offer suggestions for future sessions. This is important, but what is most important is seeing the bigger picture. We must not ask “how can this happen” we must ask “why does this happen.” I think that a change in the Baltimore’s poverty rate is possible and I believe that members of service programs in college will be the catalyst of change in the future.
That is why I believe that Jesuit education is so important. It is impossible to close you eyes and live in the “Loyola bubble” from the moment you do service with or in the Baltimore City area. Even a service project that lasts only a few hours, will stay with you for years to come. You can’t help but ask the hard hitting questions of how and why our society, and specifically Baltimore City, is the way it is. And having the images and more importantly the questions that service provides stuck in your mind will help when this school graduates a new generation of doctors, lawyers, politicians, writers, and even scholars. In any of these professions you can make a change with your words and actions.
This is a common Jesuit belief that I firmly believe in. Once you have done service and have a firm grasp on who and what you are, no matter where you go, you will be able to continue to serve your community and ask others and yourself how can I help those around me. You learn to serve others through your position and vocation, not despite it. And this is the most valuable lesson I think Loyola has taught me.