A few years ago, Adam, my husband, had won first prize in Give Back Hackathon – for social enterprises. And as a part of it, he started Wild Tiger Tees – work with youth experiencing homelessness in the art of screen printing. We were about five or so people initially, and we would have regular work sessions with the youth in a day shelter in Columbus called Starhouse. Things came to a halt with the pandemic, but now we are picking up again. Another side business we do is we also work with youth to print mugs for coffee shops.
The whole social enterprise space was an acquired taste for me. I grew up in India, where there is so much poverty and economic disparity that you learn to live with it. So, this is the first time I have been working with youth in this space. And it is scary and uncomfortable – not because of the youth. They are all human beings just like us with some more irregularities. What is scary is that it makes me think of my privilege. It makes me think of what would my life have been if I didn’t happen to be born into the family I did.
Yesterday when we showed up for a session as the transitional housing for the youth, the watchman told me that they had evictions [for the youth who did not start earning money as per the housing terms], and it was pretty emotional. And one youth stopped by to check in on what we were doing, and when we said you could make $25, he didn’t even blink.
And in my head, I think if I were in his shoes, I would jump on the opportunity – saved enough money to get out of the situation. And again and again, I have seen this in the youth who come to the work program. – Their understanding of life is so different that my motivations and thinking are nowhere close to theirs.
Managing them in the work program is like another work situation for me. Setting expectations, watching the troublemakers etc., is the easy part. The hard part is noticing the contrast between them and my life. And to think that we live in the same city! That constant reminder for three hours brings up emotions and thoughts that I would rather not think about. I want to fix the problem, shake the youth or get angry at the adults who abandoned them, but I also know it is futile—reconciling the need to fix the problem and accepting it tugs at strings in my heart.
I also notice that most youths are either of African-American origin or belong to the LGBTQ community – what does that say about our inbuilt bias in our society. These are probably the people who need our support the most. And to top it all, most of the females in the youth are pregnant – leading to generational poverty.
I keep telling myself that I am doing my bit, which is sometimes enough. And being in the present is the best – because, at that moment, everything is safe – an excellent way to practice mindfulness. When I ask Adam why he does what he does – it is his passion. He says he wants to do something for them.
How can we as a society make this whole? What are you doing to heal this gap in the human race?