A Lesson Learned
Nhakia Outland is a graduate student in social work at Temple University. She is interning with Project HOME’s Education and Advocacy Department. She was one of the main organizers of the 2011 Homeless Memorial Day service.
On December 21, 2011, I took part in Homeless Memorial Day with my oldest son Nhaki. He is a 7th grader at Grover Washington, Jr. Middle School in Philadelphia. When I first approached my son about accompanying me to Homeless Memorial Day, he said without hesitation, “What do homeless people have to do with me?”
I set out just to educate him about these issues, but so much more came from this experience. It opened up an opportunity to have a conversation about homelessness and how it impacts everyone.I was so in shock that this had come from my son’s mouth that I had to take immediate action. As a parent and social worker, I have always tried to incorporate my children into my passion for advocacy and instill in them the importance of diversity and community. So when Nhaki said this, I immediately knew I had to bring him to Homeless Memorial Day to enhance his awareness and education about what homelessness looks like.
At the event, which was held outside Broad Street Ministry on a rainy Tuesday afternoon, my son took the occasion to talk to many homeless and formerly homeless people. He went around introducing himself and asked questions about how they become homeless. Like many young people, Nhaki had believed that “the homeless” are the stereotypical image of the individual on the sidewalk with filthy clothes. He soon learned that many homeless people are just like us. I explained to my son that we are fortunate. When I lost my job three years ago, I did not know what would happen to our lives. I explained to him that we could have slipped into homelessness, if it were not for economic resources and good support systems.
Out of this experience my son learned to have a greater concern for others. He also capitalized on this experience and went back to school and spoke to his English class about his experience at Homeless Memorial Day. He explained to his class that he learned so much from meeting former and current homeless people. He now wants to engage in more activities such as Homeless Memorial Day. He is already thinking of ideas for his 8th grade service learning project next year.
As a mother, I am extremely proud of my son. But more importantly, as a social worker, educating the future generation about societal problems is very important. He learned a valuable life lesson, that one can only learn from being exposed to differences. Homeless Memorial Day was a day that allowed us to meet on common ground. It was good to have that mother-son bond that is slowly slipping away due to the dreaded teenage years.
I also learned something myself that night. I learned that as a parent it is our duty to make sure that our children understand that they are fortunate to have basic needs that they sometimes take for granted. I also learned that just because I have always worked in the social service field and have incorporated my children when I can, I cannot assume that my children are always aware or care about issues that are of importance in the world, especially when it does not directly affect their everyday lives.
This opportunity made me aware of the fact that today’s children need to be educated about issues such as homelessness and actually see the effects of homelessness firsthand. Maybe this will stop some of the senseless hate crime beatings directed towards homeless individuals or the criminalization and feminization of poverty and homelessness.