Becoming a Part of the Struggle – By Graham Murphy

Becoming a Part of the Struggle

While service may just be as simple as volunteering several hours of your time to a cause, for those who give their heart to it, it can often be life changing. Investing oneself in service is a process by which; through exposing ourselves to the ills of the world; we develop sincere care, and seek to find new ways by which we can dedicate more of ourselves to the cause. As for myself, my life outlook, goals, and passions would all be completely different had it not been for my experience with the homeless: working to serve them, getting to know them, and learning about the issues surrounding them. In my work with the homeless, I have cleaned their campsites and delivered them supplies, but I believe what I have taken out of these experiences is far greater. What I have gained, and what I believe can be gained through service by anyone who carries it out conscientiously, are three invaluable human properties: perspective, vocation, and empathy.

The first time I formally introduced myself to a homeless individual, I was in the seventh grade. Having grown up in a lower-middle class suburb in Overland Park, I never would have suspected that there was a homeless camp hidden in the overgrown lots on my very own block. I was innocently exploring the neighborhood with friends when we stumbled upon it. There, surrounded by trees and mounds of litter was a makeshift wooden shack, an array of beat-up old furniture, and other miscellaneous items stashed out of view of the average passerby. I met several individuals here who came and went, with nowhere safe they could call their own. This was my first exposure to that struggle and those who fight it, and through my teen years I heard the stories of these people and came to know a completely different world, one our parents try to shelter us from that you will not hear about in school. From this I gained an entirely new perspective of my life in relation to the world and its complex issues; humbled, I was motivated to pursue my first service initiatives, cleaning the homeless site and the surrounding lot of litter and hazardous items, such as IV needles. This I did of my own accord, in my own home neighborhood.

In my senior year of high school, I had assembled a group of like-minded students who were interested in involving themselves in the struggles of our local communities. However, after several clean-ups, and the candid interactions we had with the homeless in doing so, I began to contemplate how I could make a more lasting contribution to the issues I had come to care about so deeply. As a group, we had decided that it was not simply enough to become a part of the struggle, but also to make it known to others who might care and have the ability to help. After that, we began to more critically examine the issue of homelessness in Kansas City: how do environmental issues relate to it? What are some of the causes? Where do they congregate most, and why? We interviewed knowledgeable community leaders and the homeless themselves, in addition to deducing what we could from the environments where we would conduct our service. From the information we gathered, we wrote articles and informed others at our high school of the findings. These endeavors were fundamental in calling me to my vocation as someone who researches, in addition to serves. And had it not been for these vocational callings I would not currently be pursuing a career in journalism, and my higher education would not be an exciting journey toward my dreams, but an obligatory task to which I would not apply myself.

While perspective and vocation both are important qualities in increasing our awareness, and leading us to pursue what is the most important to us in life, the third and last is both the most difficult to understand, and the one which most radically changes you. Nobody can quite put a finger on what empathy means, but all I know is when I see the suffering, the community and humanity of those on the street, something in my heart changes. Each time I saw my friend Billy from the camp down the street, his paranoia had increased more and more until finally he could not recognize me. And then, after a couple years of not seeing him at all, I ran into him in the west bottoms, wild-eyed and shivering, rocking back and forth on an upturned plastic crate. Something in my heart broke that day.

When I am giving food out of the back of a truck in the bitter cold to people with friends, family, pets, dreams, diseases, addictions, stretching what little they have, without knowing if they will even wake up the next day, it is impossible to walk away unaffected. But despite all the pain of their existence, I have also witnessed remarkable warmth: joking around a trashcan fire on a cold night in the city, playing the blues by Indian Creek with a man who was interested in my company- not my money, and I will never forget how one man dropped what he was doing to help me and my service group in our cleanup of the camp in my own neighborhood. Experiences like this are authentic in a way that do not seem to come easily in our day to day lives and they cultivate passion for the human condition which can’t ever be taken away from you. Through service, we become more engaged in our world, and while giving ourselves in what may seem a selfless act, we ourselves are given depth of care that we may carry with us through our lives.

-Graham Murphy, Student at JCCC, Vice President of Service, Phi Theta Kappa International Honors Society

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