Different Neighborhood, Same City

By Jack Delisio

I was born and raised in Cincinnati and even went to college in my hometown as well. I decided to stay in Cincinnati for VVC mainly because I have an incredible family and community of support here already and I felt I was not ready to leave that behind for a different city. That being said, once I decided to do VVC, I was nervous about not having much left to learn about my hometown and the issues that people face here every day while experiencing poverty and other forms of oppression. I had even participated in an immersion retreat during college in Cincinnati focused on urban education, gentrification, and the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. “What more could I possibly have to learn?” I thought. I feared that VVC would be a repeat of my previous experiences, presenting new material to those not from here but the same old stuff to me.

However, that has definitely not been the case. I have already learned so much and I expect to learn more and more as my year with VVC continues.

This year is unique to the previous parts of my life in Cincinnati, and gives me a new perspective from which to see my hometown and its people, because I am now an adult, out of school, and living intentionally in the West End community. I grew up in Westwood and lived in Norwood/Evanston while a student at Xavier University. These neighborhoods are both fairly ethnically and economically diverse, but my experiences there differ from this year. Now that I am an adult and out of school, my parents are no longer there to avert my eyes from suffering, my classroom walls are no longer there to “protect” and isolate me from my surrounding community, and the multitude of distractions available on a college campus are no longer at my fingertips.

This year, my neighborhood is my classroom and my neighbors my professors. For this whole year, I get the opportunity to be a student of the West End, learning from real people about their real lives and real stories. VVC offers me the chance to have a much more intimate, personal, and real-life encounter with my neighbors here in the West End and build relationships with these people, the vast majority of whom experience poverty and other forms of oppression. Walking around the neighborhood and to and from work every day, I cannot ignore or escape seeing the realities of people suffering in poverty and discrimination. And when I get home, I am not isolated and distant from my neighbors but I remain connected to them, because I have chosen to live counter-culturally and live in solidarity with my neighbors. I have chosen this year to live not just according to what I want and what makes me comfortable, but to live intentionally more in accordance with what my neighbors and I both need.

And there is SO MUCH to learn from the West End community. There is a great deal of important history and social justice issues to learn about just as they affect this small neighborhood. And there is even more to learn from becoming an intentional and active part of the West End, which VVC has given me the opportunity to do. By going to the same gym, attending the same community events, and walking the same streets as my neighbors, I receive a more in-depth, complex, and intimate relationship with my fellow West End residents. I can more clearly and personally see the dignity, potential, and gifts of my neighbors and the ability of communities to heal themselves. I can also see more clearly how big picture changes to the neighborhood, funding allocations, and city plans affect my neighbors, because they affect me, too. Through these experiences, I learn more and more every day that, regardless of whether or not someone is experiencing poverty or another form of oppression, I am completely and utterly equal to my neighbor. We do not always have the same life experiences, but we are surely equal in our value and dignity, because we live next door to one another.

These are choices that I have never made before. I am living a lifestyle I have never lived before. I am living in a neighborhood where I have never lived before. And because of all of that, I have a new perspective that I have never had before and I am constantly learning.

 

About the Author:

Jack Delisio is a Cincinnati native who loves Skyline Chili, the Reds, and goetta. Jack thrives on making connections with people, using weird voices, and learning from different people and cultures. On a given day, you can find Jack educating retreatants on issues of social justice as the Ozanam Center Coordinator, making curry, journaling, or going on adventures in the West End.

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A Day in the life of the Social Service Client Advocate

Ana with 'Client'

I was discerning a Vincentian year of service for a while but I just didn’t know where. I honestly don’t know how this program ended up being the one I applied to, but I just couldn’t shake away the idea of it. I was so comfortable with my lifestyle that I knew I needed a change of perspective and this program seemed to fit perfectly with that desire. Although I felt called to serve in Cincinnati, I was still terrified- but as my twin sister always reminds me, God doesn’t call the prepared, He prepares the called and well, here I am!

Currently, I am working as a Client Advocate in the social services department of St. Vincent de Paul. Like all the departments at St. Vincent de Paul, the social services department wears many hats. Some of the services we offer include immediate assistance, such as writing vouchers for state I.D’s, birth certificates, and clothing and household items. Other times we serve our neighbors by assisting them with their monthly rent or utility bill. Apart from those services, we mainly serve as a friend; an ear to someone going through a tough time.

Here, a lot of our families are struggling with relationships and finances. My most important job is to be someone to listen to their story and then to offer to pray with/for them. It constantly amazes me how faithful my neighbors here are. One of St. Vincent de Paul’s main values is to see the face of Christ in all those we meet and my neighbors make that opportunity easy. They are often so joyful and uplifting and just FULL of Christ!

Throughout this position, I have had the opportunity to grow spiritually and professionally in ways that I didn’t know were possible. Spiritually, I have fallen more in love with God because of my neighbors. Their presence fills my cup daily. Sometimes I just smile when I am walking home from work because of how grateful I am for them. I honestly don’t know what else to say besides “thank you” to God for this program.

Professionally, I have also grown immensely. When I first found out what my job position was, I was terrified; I didn’t feel qualified or ready to experience any of it. However, through the support of my coworkers, community, and neighbors I can honestly say that for the first time ever I actually feel qualified! I feel as if I am taken seriously here and a part of a team full of caring individuals. I feel confident in my ministry and like a true professional and young-adult; it is refreshing.

Although I feel myself growing spiritually and professionally, I have definitely struggled in many ways. My favorite aspect of this year is the solidarity piece but, it is also where I have the hardest time. Solidarity is wonderful because it provides a perspective and feeling of unity and togetherness, but it is also temporary for me. I only have to experience this for a year, and while it is uncomfortable at times, I know it is going to end. I struggle with the idea that my neighbors don’t know when the tough times will be over and that there is a possibility that they will never get out of this cycle. All of these apprehensions propose the question of what do I do to remain intentional and in solidarity after this year? Well, I wish I had an answer right now but, I am still trying to figure that out.

The popular hymn “Here I am, Lord” always grounds me in times of anxiety, uneasiness, joy, and thankfulness through my ministry.  It also seems to guide me through all other aspects of my life this year. I especially love to reflect and pray the chorus, “Here I am Lord, Is it I Lord? I have heard You calling in the night. I will go, Lord, if You lead me. I will hold Your people in my heart.”

 

About  the Author

Ana Davila is a Niagara University graduate with a degree in developmental disabilities and a minor in religious studies.  In her spare time she loves to hike, camp, journal, and play with her dog. Ana is also a former Vincentian Lay Missionary where she spent a month in Kenya working alongside the Daughters of Charity.

 

The M.L.K Radicalism Our Society Needs (MLK Day Reflection)

Equality

Let us be dissatisfied until the tragic walls that separate the outer city of wealth and comfort from the inner city of poverty and despair, shall be crushed by the battering rams of the fires of justice.  Let us be dissatisfied until they – who live on the outskirts of hope – are brought into the metropolis of daily security. Let us be dissatisfied until slums are cast into the junk heap of history and every family will live in a decent, sanitary home…Let us be dissatisfied until integration is not seen as a problem but as an opportunity to participate in the beauty of diversity.  Let us be dissatisfied until men and women, however black they may be, will be judged on the basis of the content of their character, not on the basis of the color of their skin.  Let us be dissatisfied.”[1]

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote and delivered this excerpt as part of his Where Do We Go from Here? speech in 1967.  Today, over 50 years later, there is still a lot to be dissatisfied with.  In this current age of mass incarceration, gentrification, and deportation, persons of color are still being targeted, exploited, and mistreated by our government – despite the official and legal end of segregated schools in 1954, there are still racial inequities within our educational system; despite the fact that blacks and whites use drugs at roughly equal rates, black people are incarcerated at the rate of more than five times to whites; and despite having similar qualifications (and often even higher qualifications) when compared to their white counterparts, black men and women are compensated significantly less for their work.

Today we are celebrating and honoring the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., who was born on this day 89 years ago.  King is the only non-president with a national holiday, and many people recognize and admire him for his nonviolent and overall peaceful approach to combating racial injustice.  After all, the Civil Rights leader was arrested and jailed 29 times on trumped-up charges, stabbed and nearly killed years prior to his assassination, sent countless death threats, and terrorized with his family at their home – still, he persisted without inciting the use of violence as retaliation.  However, the King that is often illustrated today is no more than a fantasy created by the white imagination.  What we often forgot, but is incredibly important to recognize, is that there were two very different versions of Dr. King that existed – a peaceful King and a much more subversive King.

Today’s media and educational settings have heavily diluted the image of Dr. King, in order to make people feel comfortable with celebrating his legacy.  Many of us in the public only focus on the early work of Dr. King – the King who preached nonviolence, and the act of loving your enemies despite their hatred towards you.  But people often tend to negate Dr. King’s radicalness.  After 1963, his message changed drastically, and towards the end of his life, King expressed increasing frustration with the very slow rate of progress that was occurring in America.  This is the same King who said that the greatest purveyor of violence in the world was his own government; the same King who even warned America that it may go to Hell for all of its wrongdoings.

If all Dr. King is to be remembered for was his optimistic I Have a Dream speech, why did so many people oppose him at the time?  Why was the F.B.I monitoring and tracking his every move?  Why, then, did the government in 1963 consider King to be “the most dangerous Negro of the future in this nation”?[2]  The radicalness of Dr. King has simply vanished from today’s King narrative, but it is this more revolutionary King that is the most relevant to our modern society.  As I reflect on this day and on the selfless actions of Dr. King, I too strive to cultivate a “kind of dangerous unselfishness” that Dr. King once spoke of.  The most effective way of honoring Dr. King is by channeling his radicalism, to not only challenge but adamantly oppose the racist and sexist ideas that are so deeply ingrained in our society.  In this way, we can at least begin to move towards that dream society that is characterized by radical equality and equity.

 

[1] King, Martin Luther, and Coretta Scott King. Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? Beacon Press, 2010.

[2] https://www.npr.org/assets/news/2013/mlk-fbi-memo.pdf

About the author

Preeya Preeya  Waite is a passionate social justice advocate. She claims both Cincinnati and Philadelphia as home and loves to read, write and play basketball at her leisure.