Character, personality, and career are conglomerates of experience and the people we meet.
So thanks to the people whom I’ve encountered in my 20 years of living; my family, friends, mentors, teachers, and strangers, plus a great deal of luck, I have ended up with a powerful and humbling internship. Powerful because I get to complete work that directly impacts how someone lives, and by extension, fights the larger societal structures that continue to pulse through our country. Humbling because I, an Ivy-league student, a white person, a member of the upper middle class who has basically been handed everything in her life, has just been thrown into the world of government subsidies, state and city level politics, and an office who has dedicated their careers to an advocacy organization.
So how can I possibly relate and find motivation? I don’t understand the struggle of having to trust a sketchy, out of home day care center with my child. I don’t understand the anxiety of having to rely on our tumultuous government to create a means for my family’s upward mobility. I don’t understand the frustration of a 14,000 long waiting list for a quality public pre-k education.
Yet, why did I feel the pull to work here? Why did I feel so moved when a mother called our office the other day, asking for subsidy money when we are merely an advocacy organization?
I believe my motivations may come from simply being human. To the cynics who have been battered down by focusing on the troubling aspects of their lives and have allowed themselves to succumb to all of the hardship highlighted by the media, have at it. Don’t believe that people do things for each other simply because they are both human-beings and please, chose to believe that people are solely motivated by their own extrinsic gains. This is your life, and it’s your choice to view humanity through that type of lens. And I’m not just saying that this isn’t just my liberally college educated mind talking, I’m saying I think it is valid. Because despite all of the differences between myself and these people, I feel a human motivation and I think everyone else who works for a non-profit feels it too.
It isn’t just the startling numbers that make my heart beat faster and my mind swirl in bewilderment. Like how 125,807 children in Philadelphia were living in poverty, plus another 60,686 living in deep poverty in 2014 and how those numbers have only gone up. How the cost of childcare is now greater than an in state college tuition, and how we pay the people who pick up our garbage more than we pay the people we entrust our children with for 180 days a year.
It’s hearing the voice of a mother over the phone, just trying to get her 7 year old disabled daughter into a summer day care, so that she can go to work to provide for her. Frustration’s purest manifestation was in the sound of that voice. Its seeing the smiling faces of children who are now going down the right path because they were able to enroll in a high quality pre-k program. Its flipping through stacks and stacks of signed cards from people all over the state, pledging their support for universal pre-k.
It is these purely human experiences; frustration, happiness, and unity, that I feel the most motivated. These experiences tug at my capacity and will power, and plead me to exert every ounce of myself. It is the undeniable sense of shared basic human experiences that are the most compelling, and I think will continue to motivate my work and activism throughout the summer.