I received the Franciscan Peace and Justice Award on Sunday April 21, 2013 at my University. I am so honored and humbled to be chosen by a committee of faculty to receive this. Here is my essay I submitted after my nomination for the award.
The essence of humanity resonates in the terms of peace and justice. All of my life, the belief of peace and justice has been drilled into my heart, head, attitude, and drive. I continue to search for the answers to deliver them and prove the worth of each of these values. Throughout my journey at Alvernia, especially in the name of service, I have moved forward in my understanding of these terms. They aren’t merely words to understand the meaning of and portray in certain moments. We must live, breathe, and act these terms with every person we meet, every hand we shake, and every moment we encounter. I came to Alvernia with little understanding of the mission of service and how it is more than just helping others; it’s helping you in the end.
Peace. Tranquility and serenity come to mind when this word is said. Peace and Quiet. But peace means more than just the calming presence of something. Peace is rather loud. Peace, in essence, is dignity and humility. By preserving this virtue, we are encompassing the importance of the work that is needed to be done. By serving, we are displaying efforts of peace, efforts of dignity, back into the world. The Prayer of St. Francis laid it out perfectly with what peace encompasses when we ask to be made instruments of peace. Love, pardon, faith, hope, light, and joy. By Loving, we can display dignity, which as being said will display peace. By pardon, we can live without anger and revenge; we can help others improve on their mistakes, lifting them from their knees to their feet. By faith, we can express ourselves because of being made in the image and likeness; we are examples of God’s work. God is peace, so must we be. The sense of hope in all cases preserves humility and gives us way towards peace. With light, we can vanquish the darkness in our hearts and open it to God, for there is peace in God. And joy; my eighth grade teacher taught me, “The only way to live your life in peace is to express joy horizontally, but live it vertically.” JOY
Justice. The balancing of the scales. The righting of wrongs. Justice is the reason why I continued my education, an education in Criminal Justice. This word is strong, powerful, and triumphs all. It’s supremacy over all that we live our lives in. Each one of us seeks justice for the pains of life. We seek comfort and solace as persons, but it is not equally distributed. Justice does not mean equal. In order for justice to be given, we must give up of ourselves to know and experience justice. It takes a burden to discover when justice is present. How would we know otherwise when we are served justice or have justice? Poverty, for example, is given justice when we collectively get together to work on ending the struggle for a person. That person who is on the receiving end of our works is not given equality once they have been helped. They still must move up as we move up. Some of us are ahead more in life than others in different areas: careers, homes, income, and wealth. Justice isn’t about making the playing ground even; it’s about correcting a situation with fairness. Although created equally, we live in a world where being created equally, does not mean a life of equality. Our Justice system was not created on the basis of equality, it was created on the basis of fair and swift justice. In order our justice system to function, someone must be deprived of justice in order for someone else to receive justice. By receiving justice, we must take it away from individual(s) who originally took it from their victim. My education through the Criminal Justice program allowed me to experience the need of justice in our world and my internship in Washington D.C. allowed me to use my experiences from the Criminal Justice classroom and apply it to another human being who was deprived of justice. I am now beginning to understand the kind of justice our world needs. It’s by acting that we give; it is by serving that we provide justice.
Peace and Justice flow together. When Justice is given, it can be the beginning towards Peace, the middle road to Peace, or the final step to receiving Peace. Through Peace, we can experience the Justice of our world, the turning of the gears that work in tune with our lives. In order to achieve these in their fullest, we must experience life in its turmoil, its ugly demeanor, the truth and reality of it all. That is where the comfort of service comes in.
My service through Alvernia has showed me more than I could ever imagine and more than I can express in words at times. I opened my heart, my mind, and my courage every time I went to do service and I continued to grow, learn, and understand the importance of peace and justice within service. My trips to work with rural poverty in West Virginia and Kentucky allowed me experience the rural life. Growing up a city boy, I never got to see the stars like I did in West Virginia. But I met people who were in the worst of conditions, have a smile bigger than mine, and a heart filled with more love than anyone I have ever met. These are people, created equally to me, but not give an equal life situation. I am blessed with a college education, born healthy, and live in a comfortable home. Money is tight at times, but it is still there.
Two years ago, I worked on Betty’s home in West Virginia. To get to her home you walked down a hill that was not constructed to be safely walked down and instead of a sidewalk to her home; you were led by paths of wood chips The homes were made of tin, wood, and some (and by some, I mean less than half of the house) in brick. Covered by a tin roof and un-leveling of the home that was from years of harsh conditions from the earth and gravity, this is my project. Her children lived in a home behind them that was made entire of plywood and cooked outside. Walking inside to her home, I was greeted by a woman who stood nearly 5 feet tall, curly grey hair, glasses, and a smile that cleared up my heart of anguish for her. Her tiny living room lit to life as we entered her home. Inside, hung pictures of her loved ones, a TV that was probably older than I was, and a shrine dedicated to Elvis (Records hanging on the walls and pictures of her love for Elvis). She let me take in her home, answered my questions, shared her life, and gave valuable advice: “Never let anyone tell you No. Love God as if it ever ending tomorrow and love yourself because you have Him in your eyes and heart. I can see Him.” After leaving Betty’s home that day, I was changed forever. I saw poverty on a heart crushing level, but I was provided a step closer to peace and a firmer understanding of justice (even after being electrocuted 2 times. Never hold a tin roof in the rain if you are using plugged in power tools. Another lesson learned).
Attending Kentucky mission trip with the Bernardine Franciscan Sister’s Volunteers in Mission program, I worked on the home of Hatty, a woman who was entering her mid-40s suffering with Multiple Sclerosis. When I stepped out of our van, I wasn’t greeted by a person, but by tons chickens. Chickens that roamed free of the outside of her home, they all belonged to Hatty, but none the less a startling surprise. Our task for her home was to fix the living room: replace the floor and floor insulation, replace her windows, repaint, and lay new carpet. Carpentry, a skill I never thought I would learn. But the importance of this event was how Hatty treated us. First walking into her home, Hatty greeted us with a hug. She didn’t appreciate the shaking hands; we were going to be with her for weeks so we might as well become friends. She taught me the importance of service to others and how crucial it is even in our times of pain. On the third day, we were working on finishing the floor and as we were eating out lunch, Sister Antoinette went to check on Hatty. Shortly after noticing that Sister was gone for a bit, we heard whimpering and crying down the hallway. Out of respect, we knew Sister was taking care of it and we didn’t want to invade such a personal moment for Hatty. About 5 minutes after, Hatty came out holding Sister’s arm sobbing in tears. After finding out that she was having a bad day with her MS, but she needed to come out to see us and make sure we were properly fed. To serve us even in the worst of pain, Hatty fought the illness and came to make sure we were alright and we were taken care of. She gave me so much more than I could ask for. Hatty would constantly say, “You must treat others with care and love because you want to be cared and loved as well. By giving love, we are giving each other what we deserve.” Another lesson taken to my heart, another service trip that flipped everything I knew of humanity upside down.
The other aspect of service that I performed was service in an urban setting. I was the Student Site Leader for the 2012 Alternative Trip break to Washington D.C. Growing up in Philadelphia; I learned to not notice the homeless. They were taught to me as people who can’t be trusted, drug addicts, and are out to hurt and steal. I grew a thick and callous attitude to them. My time in Washington D.C. was a time to confront this “norm” that was instilled in me and challenge my leadership capabilities.
During the time in D.C. my group worked with organizations who directly work with those who are homeless. One of the proudest moments as a leader was when I had a participant (who never had exposure to people in these conditions and was absolutely mortified during each encounter) sit with a woman who was homeless and shared in the experience. During this event, we were at a place called Thrive D.C., an organization that provides services and dinner for women and children (one of the only places in D.C. to do this for just women). Arriving at Thrive, the women weren’t too fond of the men in our group being in the room but later, after slowly working our way back (we helped serve the food), we had a chance to sit and listen to their stories. As a leader, I stepped back to watch my group interact with the women. Not only did I see them grow and understand our issue for being in D.C., but they also helped the women grow as well. The women felt a sense of comfort with the girls on my trip. I found comfort to know the girl who was having an issue with the whole trip was immersed in the stories of the women and in her element.
During my time in D.C. as a site leader, I was challenged as an individual and challenged as a leader. I provided my group with the opportunity to live on a budget that a small family would get if they were on food stamps. We eat 3 meals on this budget and it lasted all week. Some came to find the hardships and we got to see each other at our worst. It gave us a step closer into understanding our issue, our poverty of realizing what it is to really be impoverished. As a leader, I was challenged to manage a group with little support from the Faculty Site Leaders and make ground breaking decisions that shook the trip into a different spin than I had intended. As an individual, I was challenged to break the barrier that was built again those who are homeless. In the end, I achieved both and gained more than I asked for. I gave my heart and soul into our mission, and it was given back to me twofold.
My leadership in service has transpired outside of alternative breaks. I have been a leader for Martin Luther King Day of Service, Orientation Weekend Service trips, and events during my internship in where I took initiative to be a leader in my civic engagement with the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) Community and the fight for equality and protection under law. For everyone deserves to be respected and treated as equal under U.S law.
My service doesn’t end here. It is merely the beginning of my search and understanding for peace and justice. It is my beginning to impact the world and to improve the lives of the people whom I serve. Service has and will continue to inspire, transform, challenge, and teach me. Every opportunity I am granted to serve, I learn more and more. What I have been taught through my experiences will now lead me to my next calling of service. The world is in need of heroes. I continue to serve the public with the next step in my career, Human Trafficking. I want to give my life work to the prevention of Human Trafficking and give the opportunity for victims of this heinous crime a chance at a life they deserve.
Alvernia has lit the fire within my soul. The needs of humanity are endless and as citizens and stewards of the earth we are called to serve. All of my work until this point has prepared me for the next step, the next journey, the next person I interact with. The work doesn’t end until justice is served to all and peace is a lifestyle within our world, not just a moment. This is only my beginning.
The photo below is a link to an article that was written about me. Enjoy!