“The curse of poverty has no justification in our age. It is socially as cruel and blind as the practice of cannibalism at the dawn of civilization, when men ate each other because they had not yet learned to take food from the soil or to consume the abundant animal life around them. The time has come for us to civilize ourselves by the total, direct and immediate abolition of poverty.-Martin Luther King
Yesterday, Mitzvah Corps DC participants had the chance to get their hands dirty and spend the morning helping to prepare lunches for the needy at DC Central Kitchen. Participants chopped, cooked, and got a first-hand look at the larger issue of food insecurity that is present in every city across the United States. The MCDC experience tries to not only deeply educate our participants, but to give them a deeper look into these challenging issues. After working in the kitchen, participants heard two speakers share their experience of homelessness, followed by giving out help packets to homeless DC residents in local parks. We then spent time learning about the history of mass incarnation that is part of the fabric of the American justice system. We learned how much more likely it is for persons of color to be convicted of crimes opposed to individuals who are white; charged with the same crime, persons of color receive longer prison sentences. While sobering for some of us to hear the facts, it provided us with the more complex and real picture of the challenges in our country today.
One of the key ideas we are discussing together this week is that none of these social problems occur in isolation. Often problems with poverty are linked to race and lack of education and are compounded by a host of other factors. Standing next to the Martin Luther King monument, participants spoke about how different identities can oftentimes either provide privilege or disadvantages. Acknowledging these realities and intersections allow us to look at issues in a more complex and nuanced way.
The issues that have been discussed and experienced so far by the MCDC group are vast and complex, but it is not upon us as Jews to give into despair. Rather it is each our responsibility to help move the arc of history slowly towards justice.
Mimi, Yair, and Madeline
Mitzvah Corps DC 2016 Program Staff