Feeding Our Souls
The community room at 1515 Fairmount was packed. A remarkably diverse group – residents, staff, alumni, old friends, trustees, donors, volunteers – filled the room. We played music and shared readings. Emotions ran high, tears flowed – and so did stories.
We had gathered to remember Hyacinth King, a long-time resident and leader in the Project HOME community. We have memorialized many members of our community over the years, but this loss hit hard.
A product of a good family and good schools (including Temple University), Hyacinth had persevered through many years on the streets with mental illness and addiction. Once stable in permanent housing, she became a strong leader at Project HOME, serving in countless roles such as advocate, outreach worker, and trustee. She shared her story and her passion for justice with thousands of people – from students to elected officials.
At the service, people also shared of her quiet kindness, her humor, and her endless willingness to help others in whatever ways she could. Many residents spoke of how Hyacinth was an invaluable guide, support, and encouragement for them when they first came in off the streets. A local ESL teacher, who frequently invited Hyacinth to share her story with international students, spoke of how her impact literally crossed the globe.
As these testimonies filled the room, it became clear that the quote from the Prophet Muhammad which we had selected to use for the service was beautifully fitting: “If I had but two loaves of bread, I would sell one and buy hyacinths, for they would feed my soul.” Hyacinth had fed many souls.
It is amazing to consider that this woman, who might have continued to languish anonymously on the streets in the clutches of untreated mental illness and addiction, could instead have such a powerful and transformative impact on so many people. She was embraced by a community that created space where her gifts could be unleashed. And she in turn became an invaluable member of that same community, embracing others and accompanying them on the way home. The miracle that was happening in that room, with all the pain and loss, was itself the fruit of an unyielding vision of human dignity. It could only happen after years of advocating for and developing the critical supports – housing, health care, employment, education – that we all need.
Even now, there are other Hyacinths out there, homeless on the streets or in other situations of extreme deprivation, their untapped gifts buried beneath extreme poverty, illness and social stigma. We must ask: Will there be persons to show them basic kindness and affirm their dignity? Will there be a community that embraces them and believes in them? Will the services and social supports be there so they can get back to a place of stability – so that their gifts will flourish and they can offer those gifts to our world?
We are the answer to those questions. And if we can provide a positive answer, we will all be better for it – as Hyacinth and so many like her continue to show us.