Conspire alum Lauren Johnson continues her series about incarceration, social justice and the world in general.
Last week, I found myself entrenched in a marathon of Primetime on OWN. I couldn’t look away, couldn’t change the channel, couldn’t stop crying, and couldn’t stop thinking of all the ways that this world needs help. There are so many worthwhile causes out there. So many needs. Trying to pinpoint one to devote some time, money or energy to is an overwhelming thought. It’s easier to look away and be oblivious to the need rather than doing something about it.
As I watched the stories unfold about the lives of inner city, impoverished children – some with drug and alcohol addicted families and most with hardships at every turn – they immediately impacted me. The area they focused the stories on is a place called Camden. This is a place where the majority of people are living below the national poverty level and where seeing and hearing people get killed in the streets is a daily occurrence. This is not a war zone in another country, this is right here in America, just miles away from a place that was once considered the best place to live in America.
Primetime chronicled the stories over periods of years and went back to revisit these “characters” and I sobbed as I watched little children filled with hope for the future and determination to overcome their circumstances turn into hardened, defeated victims of those circumstances. It is heartbreaking to watch, even more so to think that this happens every single day all over the world. Yes, we all have choices, and it is easy to shake our head and point our finger at an adult who made the wrong ones. As I watched, I imagined what the future would hold for these children. We do all have choices, but not everyone has opportunities.
My children entered the room as I was watching. They saw the tears in my eyes. They had questions.
Thankfully, they haven’t experienced the types of hardships that were happening on our television set so it is hard for them to grasp that this could be a reality for anyone. I had them sit down with me to watch some of this show as I explained to them how blessed they are to have food to eat and clothes to wear, and how everything past that is a huge luxury. A few days after watching the show, I was taking my 7 year old to football practice. I had stopped at the convenience store and got a couple of packages of candy as a treat for the both of us. We shared the first one, and then came to a stop light where someone held a sign asking for help. My son read the sign and asked if we could give the gentleman the other package of candy. It wasn’t much, but it was something at least, so we did.
As a mother I want my children to have the things that I did not have growing up; that’s a normal desire for a parent. However, more than that I want them to value what they do have. I think in order for that to happen, it is necessary for them to do without. What can I do? Where do we begin to tackle all of the never ending problems that plague our nation?
I have started in my home, and am branching out from there. I may not have a lot of money, or even at this point in my life a lot of time to devote to fixing the world. I know that by starting with me I can make some ripples that will have an impact later on down the line . This works both ways though. Funny, I recently read an article of a man ranting about cause and effect. Speaking about a misplaced compassion for people in jail when that compassion would be better spent on the victims. It is my personal belief that compassion is never misplaced.
Even though I have been to jail and prison, and it was not fun or something I would want anyone to have to endure, I do think that sometimes it is necessary. Forgiveness and love are important but they do not mean that there are no consequences for what we do. But how much more could we accomplish if instead of locking someone away and taking time out of their lives, if we made it count for something, if we filled that time in their lives teaching them and reaching them?
To get back to my original question – what can we do? – I think that we can start small and go from there. Staying aware and keeping our eyes open for even little ways that we can help others in our daily lives. Maybe the smile or kind word that you give someone today can make a difference. If we keep our eyes open for the opportunities that present themselves then we start seeing them in front of us all the time. If we can take a moment to step outside of ourselves to be thankful for the littlest things that we take for granted in our everyday life then that is just one more thing that will help us to see areas that we can help. I try to take a moment to be thankful that I have healthy children, that I can breathe and see and walk, that I am able to go to the grocery store and buy the butter I need at the last minute to make dinner, that I am able to do something small every day that is making the ripple in the pond. By having that attitude of gratitude and looking for the opportunities to be a positive force in the world, we can change it, a little at a time!