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Archive for : Volunteers

A Perspective on Social Justice Changed through Service

The following is a reflection written by Jack, a Repair the World New York Teen Service Corps Member.

What is social justice? On paper, it means to enact justice in terms of the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society. In reality, social justice is significantly more complex than that.

The growing popularity of social media has affected our lives drastically, but in my opinion, it has affected our perception of social justice the most. Due to social media, the term “social justice” has been politicized, and the true message behind social justice: to serve one’s community, has been clouded. Before my involvement with Repair the World, my perception of social justice and how it relates to service was not the most positive, since 99% of my knowledge came from social media. 

Over the last few months as a Teen Service Corps Member in New York, my views have significantly changed. Participating in activities like volunteering at Bushwick City Farm and phone banking with Hunger Free America, I have realized that service requires personal sacrifice. Clicking a few buttons on my phone to post an infographic was certainly not as fulfilling as turning compost for two hours by myself at the farm, knowing I was helping others in my community. For one of the first times in my life I felt that I was truly helping others by doing service.

A phrase I’m sure many people here are familiar with is: “It is not your responsibility to finish the work [of perfecting the world], but you are not free to desist from it either.”

Finishing the work requires direct action, volunteering, together as a community. That is the lesson I’ve learned from my time with Repair the World. 

 

I am Great Because I Serve – Remembering Martin Luther King Jr. Day

This post originally appeared in Venture Traveller on January 18th, 2021.

Being that we are still in a pandemic, I was not sure where to serve so I called a friend who is socially active. She led me to a website, werepair.com, an organization that mobilizes Jews and their communities to service.  Repair the World Communities, engages young adults in social change around education and food justice in neighborhoods in Atlanta, Baltimore, Brooklyn, Chicago, Detroit, Harlem, Miami, and Pittsburgh. In most communities, a City Director supports a cohort of fellows (ages 21-26) who make a year-long service commitment to Repair the World.

This year, I volunteered for two service projects with Repair the World – one in Brownsville, Brooklyn and the other in Harlem. The Brownsville Community Justice Center’s mission is to reduce crime and incarceration by investing in local youth and improving the physical landscape of the neighborhood. BCJC’s work is vital to change the following statistics listed on their website: In New York State there are 85 juvenile facilities holding 1,182 people, and 65 of them are private. In New York City, 34% of those currently held in jail pre-trail on violent felony charges are youth between the ages of 16 and 24. And black people make up about 40% of the incarcerated population and about 13% of the general population.

Being that we are still living in a pandemic, I signed up for an outdoor project, ‘To paint a wall and beautify a corner.’ So, with purple paint in hand we walked over to a vacant lot and painted its graffiti stained wall. At the end of my shift, that corner of Brooklyn did look much brighter and hopefully the lot will at some point will be cleared of its garbage and become a space where youth can gather safely.

My Harlem service project was to benefit Harlem Grown, an organization that works to educate students on urban farming, sustainability and nutrition. The non-profit works to renovate abandoned lots in Harlem, transform them into thriving urban farms, and educates the community about the benefits of eating local and healthy food. Central Harlem is a food desert where there is one supermarket for every 11 bodegas and the website claims that 30% of Central Harlem residents live more than a 10-minute walk from fresh fruits and vegetables. As volunteers we gathered at an urban farm on 134 St., that grows vegetables and houses chickens that produce eggs. But our job was not gardening but cleaning the neighborhood. Equipped with squeeze handle grabbers and garbage bags, we walked over to 131st St., and picked up all the trash on the street. At the end of my shift, I had filled two large blue garbage bags with street trash and felt good about beautifying one street in Harlem.

Ramaa Reddy is a writer, photographer, food and travel specialist, and all round travel enthusiast. She is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism. Her multimedia and print pieces have appeared in Huffington Post, NPR, WHYY, PRI’ The World, BBC, Women’s eNews and Lena Dunham’s Podcast.