"I balance between two worlds. In one, I live in poverty: a financial emergency away from calling my car a home again. In the other, I socially perform to look like I am not in poverty in an attempt to escape its grasp on my entire being. I have experienced being both revered as an accomplished academic and reviled as a drug using street punk. Living in both worlds is confusing and overwhelming, tantamount to social whiplash.
It is a privilege that I lived in low income housing in an affluent California suburb. Public schools are funded by the state and local districts, which allowed me to attend the same schools as my upper middle class peers. School lunch programs kept me fed when we lacked food at home, and subsidized after school programs kept me safe and my mind occupied. These early education opportunities allowed me to dip my toes into the second world, one where success and solvency are purported as possible if I worked hard enough. So, I worked hard. I earned two University degrees, both tuitions fully funded. I applied for and received scholarships for living expenses while I worked near full time serving and bartending at night.
I had truly believed that following social rules was my ticket out of poverty. What I didn’t expect was the system I was told would take care of me, fail me. I had played the game, followed all the rules, and I still lost. While I had earned academic and professional success, I did not have access to generational wealth. Working hard was not enough to get out of poverty. This was devastating, and sent me tumbling down a long dark tunnel of isolation and destruction.
Community gave me strength to pull myself back into balance. Communities that succeed because of mutual aid, kindness and compassion. Grassroots organizations, frontline workers, and forward-thinking voluntary sector actors are why I am here today, and why I am eager to give my all to support underinvested communities. Together, we can be vibrant."