I’ve been watching The Wire, a popular fictional HBO show from the mid 2000’s that depicts the struggles of inner-city Baltimore. One of my favorite story lines is that of Roland Pryzbylewski, a former cop who becomes an 8th grade math teacher at an inner-city middle school. His students all black, come from very rough living conditions. Some are involved in the drug trade as corner boys, some are in foster care, almost all come from extreme poverty. Mr. Pryzbylewski struggles at first to even keep control over the classroom, the students are walking all over him, fighting and cutting up preventing any learning from occurring. Math is not the most fun subject for most people to learn, and it becomes even less interesting when your life dictates that you have absolutely no use for it. Mr. Pryzbylewski, seeing that his students have little interest in learning the standard way adapts the curriculum to what the students know. While studying probabilities he has the students roll dice and take note of the outcomes. This change shifts the mood of his students in class and towards learning and helps build the teacher/student relationship.
Now, you are probably sitting here reading this saying “that’s cool, but I don’t teach 8th grade math, so what do I do with this?” Well, I am glad you asked! How often when we are trying to help someone or do some sort of outreach is it on our terms and the person receiving the aid must conform to how we want to serve them? What if we rethought the way that we do service and outreach? A neighborhood clean up is great, but what if the kids need jackets for the winter. We need to get to know the community that we are going to be serving and hear from them what is needed. True service comes from a place of love. When we have love for the community we are serving, we are able to grow side by side rather than handing out band aids for deeper issues. Service is not always about giving the biggest donation, it is more than the quarterly campaign. Service is an ongoing journey. Service is helping a neighbor in need, it is tutoring students, it is the small everyday actions. I am not saying that gifts and donations are not helpful and welcome, but they can’t be the only thing we do. Service is about meeting someone where they are at with the goal that we will no longer be necessary in their life one day.
So, like Mr. Pryzbylewski, we must adapt how we serve our community to meet their needs, not our own agenda. It will take time and sacrifice, but the impact will be that much greater. If you are interested in joining our journey of service at Neighborhood Hope we’d love to have you!