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Student Reflection

A Student Reflection on JVC: Jesuit Volunteer, Harlem, NY 2013-14: by Teresa Carino



Often times, it’s frustrating and disheartening to work in organizing because we walk such a fine line with politicians and politics. So often it seems like I’m hitting a brick wall over and over again with no hope of any change. The trick that the landlords (and any oppressor) use is to make you feel small and afraid. They flaunt their massive amounts of money and political power, which does have more clout than tenants.

 Today was different. Today, the tenants, while they don’t have much money, they showed that they do have power and they have allied politicians. Today was a reminder of how democracy and government actually should work: a government for the people, by the people, and to serve the people. Today marked a shift in momentum for our coalition and serves as a great launching pad for the next step in our fight.

 It is hearing the chants of the tenants. It is seeing them stand tall and proud. It is hearing the tenants speak with such love and pride for their homes. It is seeing tenants from all boroughs come together. All of that (even if just for one hour) is the fruit all the long nights, frustrating phone calls, slammed doors, freezing cold, threats of arrest (that are totally not valid), and piles of paper work.

 So often, I have asked the question of worth. Is this worth it? Is all this work worth it? Is she/he/they/it/my community/my tenants worth it? Am I worth it? At some point in my JV year, I internally shifted these questions to ask myself: Do I want to base my life on the worth of something or someone?

 In re-reading East of Eden by John Steinbeck, I came across my answer. Steinbeck writes,

“Sometimes a kind of glory lights up the mind of a man. It happens to nearly everyone. You can feel it growing or preparing like a fuse burning toward dynamite. It is a feeling in the stomach, a delight of the nerves, of the forearms. The skin tastes the air, and every deep-drawn breath is sweet. Its beginning has the pleasure of a great stretching yawn; it flashes in the brain and the whole world glows outside your eyes. A man may have lived all of his life in the gray, and the land and trees of him dark and somber. The events, even the important ones, may have trooped by faceless and pale. And then -the glory- so that a cricket song sweetens his ears, the smell of the earth rises chanting to his nose, and dappling light under a tree blesses his eyes. Then a man pours outward, a torrent of him, and yet he is not diminished. And I guess a man's importance in the world can be measured by the quality and number of his glories. It is a lonely thing but it relates us to the world. It is the mother of all creativeness, and it sets each man separate from all other men.” 

I want to measure my life by the qualities and number of my glories and the quality and number of glories of those that I come across. At that rally, a glory was alight minds of those tenants and I could feel it growing and burning.