When I embarked on my year of service as a Jesuit Volunteer, I had no image of what my year would be. We were given four values to live by and plopped down into unknown territory -the tenets of social justice, simple living, community, and spirituality our guide. Much of my experience was learning to live in community with five people I had never met. The cultural immersion of living in Boyle Heights also brought me far from my youth growing up in suburban Las Vegas and the past four years studying at Stanford. Even though I saw my work at the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice as a next step from my work as an AmeriCorps Volunteer in the JusticeCorps program and a bridge to law school, I really had no idea what I would experience at the Center. This office, nestled in the crossroads of Downtown and East Los Angeles, became a place where I not only learned about legal practice, but about life.
My best days of work, where I left feeling full of hope, were the days I got to accompany people in some way, when I gave something of myself. Katherine*, one of my clients, made the biggest impact on me. I accompanied Katherine to court one day for her Restraining Order hearing. While I was one year her senior, she taught me a lot about the hard realities of the world. As an undocumented woman, teen mother of two, and survivor of domestic violence, Katherine had faced some of life’s hardest challenges and overcome barriers I will never encounter. I was her support person at her hearing against her children’s abusive father, who had beaten Katherine and sexually abused her. That day, however, she spoke to the judge with eloquence, had an unshakeable poise, and demonstrated a deep human strength one can only see when facing adversity. I helped her navigate the court and sat with her during the hearing, witnessing this moment of profound fortitude. Throughout the year, I was in awe as I sat across the table from someone my age who was working to overcome life’s obstacles that they had been handed, whether it was lack of documentation, the threat of homelessness, finding employment, providing for one’s family, or escaping the cycle of domestic violence. I also was broken by witnessing their struggles, struggles beyond what one non-profit could handle and struggles beyond what one person should be saddled with.
JVC helps put you in a place that will break your heart. The biggest cracks are made when we allow the lives of others to affect us, enrich us, and sadden us. A talk I attended early in the year by Jesuit John Deere took an in depth look at the Beatitudes, which, oddly enough, begin with “Blessed are those who mourn.” One beautiful aspect of JVC is it puts us in a place where we can enter into mourning. Mourning for the lives of our clients, the struggles of our non-profits, the brokenness of our world. I firmly believe that “If our hearts don’t break, there are no cracks to let the light in” and this brokenness has been a gift of my service this year.
The strength of my coworkers as they worked through the crises and obstacles of our clients was not only an image of dedication, but a beautiful tapestry of working for social justice. The social consciousness, attention to detail, and personal service that was a daily occurrence in the office inspired me. Even the small things, such as greeting a client at the door or filing a change of address form, built into these life changing court decisions that were made possible because of the hard work of LACLJ. In this space, working alongside these servants, I have begun to understand the short, long walk of change. I have found that working for social justice means finding contentment in knowing we can only appreciate the long process of change by being faithful to the short actions we take to accomplish it. Jesus once said in Luke 16:10, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.” I’ve found that’s not just a nice saying about trust, but a challenge for us to be faithful with the small things we do in our lives as much as we are faithful to the ideas and dreams we live by. The Center embodies this short, long walk as we strive for a community free of domestic violence, a people free to raise their children in safety and with confidence, and to get to this hoped for place, we show up day in and out to file paperwork, meet with clients, and go to court seeking justice for a client.
At LACLJ and through Jesuit Volunteer Corps, I have been broken and built up, come to see the beauty in the cracked sidewalks of Boyle Heights and appreciate the hard work that is working for low-income clients. One of my favorite quotes is by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, French Philosopher and Jesuit. He wrote, “The day will come when, after harnessing space, the winds, the tides, and gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, we shall have discovered fire.” In my house, in Boyle Heights, within JVC, and at LACLJ, I have been so fortunate to stand beside individuals giving their all to harness this love for the betterment of others. For now I will harness the energies of those I have walked beside as I take the next steps in my walk.
*Client name has been changed.