In 7th grade, I transferred to Roy Martin Middle School in Las Vegas, Nevada. It was a magnet school in one of the rougher, low SES neighborhoods in Vegas. Up until that point, I had gone to very privileged PWI's , I often was the only black student in my class and sometimes even my grade. Moving to Roy Martin was a culture shock to say the least and probably a story for another time. The school was mixed about 50-50 with students from the area and students who were bussed in from other parts of town. At school I quickly befriended this girl in my grade. We sat by each other in most of our classes, we laughed a lot as young girls do and we often found ourselves sitting outside after school talking for hours. One Thursday, before a 4 day weekend, I asked her if she wanted to stay after with me and she told me she would but, she had to pick something up first. I offered to come with her. We chatted and laughed all the way to cafeteria. When we got there she gave her i.d. to a lady sitting at a table, the lady in turn placed a garbage bag of food and a plastic bag with some toiletries on the table. "This should last you over break, I'm sorry we didn't get many donations this time". I was silent. I watched my friend struggle to pick up the garbage bag. I grabbed it from the bottom and offered to help her and walk her to the bus stop. As we struggled to carry the bag, I remember cracking a joke about how people would think we were carrying a body. She laughed heartedly and as we continued to stumble through the hallways, she told me more about her family circumstances. She told me about how you can't buy toiletries on food stamps and how the squirt of soap they had put in a ziplock bag had to last her 6 person family for 4 days. On my bus ride home all I could think about was how this girl, affectionally termed my "right hand", that I laughed, ate and sat with everyday had a hard home life and I had no clue.
Fast forward 5 years and here I am a senior in high school planning my community service project for my IB diploma. Everyone was planning these huge projects- one girl was raising money to send to orphans in Africa. (Side note- who are these African orphans??? Why do we as a collective accept this narrative that there are random Africans in need of our pennies? At least give me a city in Africa- the generalization is a bit tone deaf. That's like me saying we are sending water to America?? ) Anyways, in that moment, I thought of my middle school friend. I thought of the soap in a zip lock bag. At the time I was back at a PWI but, if I hadn't noticed the need in my own friend I felt maybe I had missed the need again. So, I organized a toiletry drive- #operationhookupyourhomies ! I received a lot of donations and I was able to make about 50 cute bags (no plastic!) filled with the goods. I then gave the donations to my school's administration to pass out for my classmates privacy and comfort.
Sometimes we think that people in need are in other zip codes, countries and continents- but, there is plenty of opportunity to help right next to you. Have you ever asked your friends about their personal lives? Not to be nosy but, from a place of genuine concern. I
It is easy to laugh and joke with someone but, true friendship begins were shame and embarrassment ends.