During Friday’s orientation for our trip, we heard two sharply contrasting descriptions of a New York City men’s shelter. William, Darren and Rogers, three members of Picture the Homeless, described their life in the shelter – the rules, the regimentation, the foul smell, the chain link fence, the ubiquitous police, the strict regimentation, and the difficulty of getting to the shelter that requires a $4.00 bus ride, round trip. We were later given a guided tour of the same shelter by a gracious employee who showed us the facilities and described the caring work of the case workers, the recreation and art programs, the good food, the effort to find permanent housing and so forth.
Each of these people was speaking the truth and describing what they have experienced. So who shall we believe, since both sides have their truth? Presumably what we see in Appalachia will depend upon our experience and our expectations. We may be expecting to find the poverty by which Appalachia is known, but is this the poverty defined by the text books or by the people who live it; and what does poverty mean to them? Will we have the sensitivity to understand the situation through the eyes of those who live in Appalachia – who love the land, the music, the support of family and community and religion? Will we hear of their aspirations for better health care and education and infrastructure on their terms without imposing our own solutions?
The Nikki Giovanni poem that we read together, “Nikki-Rosa,” likewise recognizes that ones’ situation influences:
I really hope no white person ever has cause to write about me
because they never understand that love is Black wealth and
talk about my hard childhood and never understand that
all the while I was quite happy.”
Is not the goal of this trip is to enable us to see from the perspective of those who are marginalized, those that the world sees last and counts least?