My yearlong internship, which I began yesterday, is with Urban Justice Center. I am working as the Research and Policy Assistant for the Community Development Project. The best way to get an overview of what I’ll be doing is to go the CDP’s new website: http://cdp-ny.org. Go to the tab in the toolbar entitled “Our Work” and from their click on “Participatory Action Research and Policy” and that’s me. (If you want to find out more about Urban Justice Center as a whole, go to urbanjustice.org).
At the moment I am reviewing and recording surveys from two different projects. One is a project with a partner organization called FIERCE to help launch a 24-hour center for LGBTQ youth. It was heartbreaking to read many of the surveys because these teenagers are dealing with homelessness, police brutality, lack of resources, and lack of safety at home and school largely due to their sexual identity and orientation. It was as if many of them were sending a cry for help between the lines of the paper.
The second project is one that CDP is doing with NICE, an immigrant activist group. This project investigates Immigration Services and Immigrant Employment Agencies to uncover fraudulent and abusive business practices. Undocumented immigrants are the population most susceptible to this type of fraud, especially because they can be threatened with deportations if they do not comply with the terms of service. This project is especially dear to my heart after spending time both at Sojourners and in Arizona working with undocumented immigrants.
On a lighter note, one of the most fascinating parts of my day was discovering that the Urban Justice Center has an all-gender bathroom. The concept is new to me but makes a whole lot of sense. The sign on the door (in both English and Spanish) reads: “Why do we have all-gender bathrooms? Transgender people and other people who don’t fit gender stereotypes are often targets of harassment and violence in “women’s” and “men’s” bathrooms. Lots of people don’t fit neatly into our culture’s rigid two-gender system, and bathrooms become a location of enforcement of that system. We hope that more and more organizations and institutions will de-gender their bathrooms to ensure everyone’s right to use these facilitites comfortably and safely. We hope that visitors feel comfortable and supported expressing their gender however they see fit.” I think it’s an interesting concept to introduce to you all. (If you are wondering about specifics, there are no urinals and all the stalls have very high walls so no one can see in).
I want to leave you with a verse that keeps appearing in my life. I suppose it is my motto for this year (or one of them at least): “Seek the peace of the city where I have sent you.” I was reminded again of this verse on the subway today. I was holding the pole to keep my balance and it came to me that this pole is a peace pole of sorts, a great equalizer. There were five of us, from different backgrounds, ethnicities, races, religions, genders, economic levels, holding the same pole for stability and strength. One pole, holding all of us up. In essence we were holding up one another. What a beautiful illustration of seeking the peace: holding up our fellow human beings, providing one another with the stability and strength to press on. Just a thought, or perhaps I had too much time to think on my way to work. Either way, continue to hold up one another this week and seek the peace wherever you go!