Thanks to a wise Brother who I am fortunate enough to call a coworker, a mentor, and a dear friend, I can officially say that I have been bitten by the ‘justice bug.’ What is the justice bug, you ask? Well the justice bug isn’t literal; it’s not an actual bug, it can’t physically bite you. It’s a state of mind. It’s a feeling that makes its way deep into the recesses of your heart and it never leaves. The justice bug finds you as soon as you experience injustice for the first time and decide to act against that injustice. It hasn’t been my experience as an LV that caused me to be ‘bitten’ but it was because I had been bitten that I was inspired to become an LV and dedicate a year of my life to fighting injustice. The Lasallian Volunteers is my outlet and has allowed me to explore the world of social justice on a whole new level. Once you’ve been bitten, it never goes away.
I currently serve at the Br. David Darst Center on the Southside of Chicago, Illinois. We serve mainly as a retreat center, welcoming high school and college students from all across the country to join us for a week or weekend to explore various issues of social justice. Some participants come to us to strengthen their faith. Some come to us because they have a strong desire to serve. Some come never having done service before. Whatever the case, they come here open to learn, and not in an academic way.
As a retreat facilitator, I have had the opportunity to witness these students become saddened; become upset; become angry because of the injustice that exists in our world today. On our retreats, they may tutor a child who has a 1 in 200 chance of graduating from high school. They may initiate a conversation with a man who got divorced, lost all his money, and ended up on the streets. They may listen to a man tell his story about how he spent 29 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, only to come back to a new, technologically advanced city where few are willing to give him a second chance because of his label. Most importantly, they witness the commonality in all of these people, and in turn witness the commonality between these people and themselves. They begin to bridge the gap between ‘us’ and ‘them’ and I get to be there when the justice bug finds its way into their hearts. As a result, I find it really hard to say that we are just a retreat center. We provide opportunities to speak to our fellow brothers and sisters, one on one, and hear stories of how someone else failed them, or how the system failed them, or in some cases, how they failed themselves. These experiences, coupled with the opportunity to reflect and discuss, provide a view of humanity that can’t be attained in the classroom.
In one of my favorite books, I learned the most important, yet simple lesson in regards to humanity that has shaped who I am today. In his book, Tattoos on the Heart, it was Father Greg Boyle who taught me that “a person becomes a person through other people.” The simplicity of this message is astounding. I am who I am because of other people in this world, but it is not just passively being with other people. It is through understanding and through listening, with a compassionate heart, to the stories of other people; the hopes, dreams, struggles of others that allows me to be the person I am today. And that is what we do at the Darst Center- allow people to become people through talking and trying to understand other people.
When our retreat participants come to us, it is not our goal for them to drop everything and go save the world. It is our goal for them to understand people for who they are, not as the label that oppresses them in our society. It is our goal for our participants to try to understand someone else from a perspective other than their own. It is our goal for them either in this retreat space, in one of our agencies, or even in their hometown when they leave our space, to feel the bite of the justice bug and act on that feeling, because once you’ve been bitten, it never goes away.
Whitney Wozniak, 12-13, Br. David Darst Center, Chicago, IL