Post 3: Social Justice and Starfish

This summer I learned that doing social justice/ public interest work is NOT going home at the end of the day with the work being done and the injustices being solved. Rather, it’s going home every night knowing that these same injustices will still be a problem when you wake up in the morning, but still waking up and going to work each day in order to make some sort of a difference. Thinking of social justice work and my work at Legal Aid this summer reminded me of a story called “The Starfish Thrower,”originally written by Loren Eiseley, which has gone through many adaptations. The story goes like this:

An old man was walking along a beach the day after a storm. Along the shoreline, thousands of starfish had washed up on shore and were now baking in the hot sun. The old man began walking down the beach looking at the starfish when he soon came across a young girl. The girl was picking up the starfish and throwing them back into the sea. The old man stopped the young girl and asked “Young Lady, what are you doing? There are thousands of starfish along this beach. You can’t possibly make a difference and save all of them.” The young girl paused. She then bent down and picked up another starfish and threw it into the ocean. She then said, “Well, it made a difference to that one.”

This story above is what choosing to do social justice work is like. This summer at Legal Aid, I got to see this first hand. My previous internships were computer science-based and had definite end goals like publish this program, write this piece of code, build this webpage, etc. At the conclusion of the internship, my work would be done, and whatever problem or task I was given at the beginning of the internship would be solved. At Legal Aid, that’s not the case. The Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia aims to “Make Justice Real” for those living in poverty in DC. This has also been one of my goals all summer. However, with a goal like that, there is no definite end. Social justice work like this has no definite ending or even an accurate measure of progress.

As my internship comes to a close in the next two weeks, I can’t say that I’ve made a significant difference in the larger problem of injustices facing those in DC, but I can say I have made all of the difference to at least some people facing them. My work at Legal Aid this summer has allowed me to assist individuals in being able to stay in their family homes, retain their home-health aide hours after they had been reduced, gain custody of their children, and so much more.

At Legal Aid this summer I have not only been able to do social justice work, but to do it in a city that is close to my heart. This summer, I feel like I’ve had a unique impact on my organization by being a native Washingtonian. The city I grew up in is very important to me and I like showing my unique perspective to others who might only see DC in one way. So much so that in my last two weeks I’m even leading a tour of one of the areas of DC that my middle school was located in, and I’m super excited to share my knowledge with everyone.

Here’s to a sweet last two weeks of my internship.

-Rolonda Donelson

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