Working in Chicago, it is super easy to realize how passionate you are about multiple issues. In the birth city of community organizing, there is always a protest or rally to attend. With all the issues converging, and with the increased awareness of intersectionality (the place where issues overlap, or intersect), it is just as easy to get bogged down in a sense of hopelessness because there are SO many social injustices that need to be addressed.
On retreats at the Darst Center, we talk about Circles of Influence. We use this tool to really address how to not feel SO overwhelmed when looking at all the social justice issues there are in our nation and everything that needs to be done, but also understanding that we as individuals only have a certain amount of time and energy to expel on social justice issues. For example: if I cared super deeply and passionately, and acted upon those passions for all the issues then I’d easily get burnt out, as well as be fairly ineffective. Circles of Influence help to decipher what issues pull at your heart strings, the issues that set a fire in your gut.
Something that I love about ChiYAV is that we all work on different things. There is a mix of direct service and education. No two people in my community are doing the same type of work. For me, that’s really liberating; my work experience is vastly different than the work experience of Emily or Kyle, and so we can discuss the highs and lows of our day without comparison because our work situations are so different there IS no comparison. While I haven’t actually done Circles of Influence with my community members, I feel confident that the issues that fire me up don’t fire up some of my other housemates the same way. There is an understanding that all of them are important, and it’s okay that we are all working on different things. It’s how the Circles of Influence work.
As one person, I may not be able accomplish as much as I’d like to, but with my community (and my community members’ communities) the impact increases. And while I am just one person, I’m not alone in this overwhelming world of social injustices.
Shots fired. Tires squealing. Sirens blaring. I grabbed my pack and I went. While running to the scene, I saw 1-2 patrol vehicles on sight, but no one was with the victim. The rest is a blur of tunnel vision and adrenaline. Trying to stop the bleeding on this 22 year old’s leg, keeping him calm and conscious and ward off the symptoms of shock until the EMTs arrived on scene.
This isn’t the first time YAV Chicago has experienced violence in close proximity to our house. Almost 2 months ago there was a fatal shooting behind our house at the opening of an alley. Between Thanksgiving and mid-January, there were a string of shootings in our vicinity. When you write it out like this…it sounds like we are living in this war torn area, similar to what the national media would have you believe. But I want it to be very clear: THIS IS NOT THE WHOLE STORY. I have firsthand experience that this shit is scary. I am scared, but not in a “let’s hide under the covers” scared or even a “get me the fuck out of here” scared. The best way I can explain it, after the adrenaline dump, is that I am scared for people. I know I will be okay. Heaven forbid anything happen to me, I have a support system and a wealth safety net, that I will be okay. However, in my processing of this event, I know that the 22 year old victim more than likely does not have those same luxuries.
While I have all of these anxieties, and I will probably be in various stages of processing this experience for a long time, I also think that it is important to look at the systems which have pushed out thousands of men of color, and why there seems to be this perpetual cycle. Food insecurity, housing discrimination, the “War on Drugs,” access to healthcare, and many other social justice issues intersect and create this environment of unrest in communities that are disproportionately affected.
There are three events in my life that I have had to use my American Red Cross training in non-work environments. The first: my senior year of college, a man experiencing homelessness dropped and had a seizure right in front of me. At the end of this interaction, I learned that the local paramedics were familiar with this gentleman, meaning he had seizures regularly and couldn’t afford the necessary medication. The second: the experience I describe in an early post about my time in Chicago “20 minutes” and the third being yesterday May 07, 2017. I guess I should do a big shout out to my instructors, because in each of those scenarios, I didn’t hesitate. My flight or fight instinct kicked in and I went running straight into a scenario where shit had hit the fan. I’m not sure why that is my instinct, except for all I know is that is how I’m wired. While there are always inherent risks in responding to a scenario as a private citizen, and while there are inherent risks in responding to a scenario in the middle of a neighborhood that is going through some serious shifts in regards to the gang activity. But none of that mattered in the moment. All that matters is that a person needed help, and I had some training to help.
And I would do it again.