by Eileen Borczon
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he St. Mary’s Center (SMC) community in Oakland recently observed the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. Upon first hearing of this day designated by the United Nations, I found myself wondering why exactly we needed a day to raise awareness about the glaring need to address the epidemic of poverty in our neighborhood, our city, our nation, and our world.
Why do we need to raise our voices to tell people that each person matters, no matter their age, gender, ethnicity, race, background, diagnosis, or disposition? Why do we need to continue to advocate for basic human rights like food, housing, and safety? Why do we need to demonstrate the value of people living in poverty and plead that we leave no one behind?
Almost as if on cue, the event’s guest speaker, Reverend Sandhya Jai, Director of Inter-Faith Programs at East Bay Housing Organization (EBHO), reminded me that among the general population, there is a problem that can be called “empathy deficit” among people not living in poverty. Lawmakers, politicians, millionaires, billionaires, regular hardworking people, and many more have forgotten that so many people live a paycheck away from the streets.
No one dreams as a child that they might become homeless, addicted, mentally ill, physically disabled, or jobless. It is critical that we change the way that we value people who may have less money and physical possessions by looking past those worldly materials and looking at the talents, strengths, and gifts that each soul has to bring to our world.
The observance of this year’s International Day for the Eradication of Poverty was really a celebration of the gifts of people. I say simply “people” because no one’s ability to contribute to the day was based on their income level or housing status. Whether poetry, dance, artwork, music, or sharing a human story, people gave the best of themselves to spread awareness and promote action on issues of basic human welfare.
The program included presentation and stories shared by St. Mary’s Center community members including the Council of Elders (Diana Davis, Keith Arivnwine, Leticia Evangelista, Ortencia Hoopii, Guitar Whitfield, and Claudis Williams), Valeda Odon, Sister Mary Nolan, Jameisha Hood, guest speaker Reverend Sandhya Jai, event oganizer Janny Castillo, and SMC Executive Director Carol Johnson. Other SMC community members shared various forms of artistic talents, including Rodney Bell, Mary Johnson, Charlene Davis, Huey Tang, Sharon Snell, and the Veteran’s Senior Center Filipino folk dancers.
This year’s event was dedicated to spreading awareness of California’s Mental Health Movement called, “Each Mind Matters.” At the beginning of the celebration, Sr. Mary Nolan led the attendees in blessing small green ribbons to promote this campaign that is working to reduce the stigma of mental illness, an issue that touches the lives of many people, particularly those in poverty.
Green, a color of growth and rebirth, was a visual reminder that mental illness, like poverty, can be managed and a new life of health, security, and peace established in its place. At the end of the ceremony, attendees donned their vibrant green ribbons, turned to their neighbors, and affirmed their worth by saying, “I need you to survive.”
Truly, as an interconnected world family, we need each other to grow and achieve a better, poverty-free life for all.
Eileen Borczon is a Jesuit Volunteer working at St. Mary’s Center in Oakland.