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Service in the Streets by Tori Goodman

March 19, 2014

The following reflection originated as a personal Facebook post from SLAMer Tori Goodman to her friends and family. The fruits of her experience were so inspiring that we asked if she would be willing to share with our community. Thanks, Tori, for your story and service! 

Story Time! Gather ’round, children!

Tonight as I was coming back on the Green Line from a presentation/panel/discussion about Maafa in Chicago at the DuSable Museum of African Americans, I remembered that I needed to get salt and toothpaste, so I got off at Randolph and Wabash to go to the Walgreens. As I’m walking into the store, I saw a man standing on the corner with a sign in his hands asking for help. I went over to him concerned because, usually, homeless people are off the streets by six or seven. Mind you it was only 15 degrees out, not counting the wind-chill. As I got closer, I realized that it was an older man named Kevin Jackson*, whom I had met earlier this month during one of my Service in the Streets outings. I called out to him and smiled, saying “Hello, Mr. Jackson! How are you? Why are you out so late?” He answered and we started talking. After a while I asked him if he needed anything in Walgreens because I was going shopping anyways.

We went shopping together and I bought him a sandwich, peanuts, and a large hot chocolate with whipped cream on top – along with my salt and toothpaste. He was so very grateful and told me how exhausting it is being out on the street every day for the last five years. Keith has never been married or been a father, so when his apartment caught fire, he lost everything. Thankfully, his story is on a positive route, since he now is with a shelter that is taking very good care of him (something that is very surprising and a far cry from what others have told me; bedbugs, theft, and physical and verbal abuse being a few examples). He has no criminal record, so they’re figuring out how to get him a job and an affordable apartment. He’s hoping to be off the streets in a month or so.

I was getting ready to leave when he stopped me and thanked me for everything. My remembering his face, let alone his name, touched him so deeply that tears started welling in his eyes and his voice started choking up. Even if for a moment, we got to explore the different levels of a store that neither of us had been to before – we shared a common every experience of shopping and he didn’t feel lonely anymore. Not only that, but he was reminded that someone cares about him and his well-being. It was then that I not only felt the endless privileges and opportunities shaping my life, but the fact that he isn’t as privileged. I also was reminded that it’s not my feeding Kevin or giving him bus fare that was important, but my spending time with him. When I finally left, I gave him a couple of warm hugs and well wishes. It broke my heart to leave him all alone again. It always does.

I’ll be honest and say that I’ve been discouraged during the last couple of Service in the Streets. I have felt hopelessly small and insignificant. I know that what we are doing something good and important, but it sometimes it feels pointless. Does was giving out one meal and five or so minutes of conversation help to solve things? The answer is, NO. Money is just paper, and buying Kevin food or bus fare isn’t going to change his life. However, reaching out to those less fortunate, whether the person asking for help on the corner – homeless or not – is essential. By overcoming feelings of apathy or fright, we take the first step in spreading love. And sometimes, all it takes to give people a little hope or sense of self-worth is to remember their name.

THAT’s why I do Service in the Streets.

*Name has been changed to protect the privacy of Tori’s encounter.

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