Living in Arizona, it is easy to get discouraged about the state of social justice. With a massive deficit and significant cutbacks to social programs, stories of struggle are not uncommon and are often overwhelming.
As a global studies student at Arizona State University and a member of the Wesley Club at Tempe First United Methodist Church, human rights and social justice were high on my list of priorities. I struggled to find a way to make a tangible difference in my community. I was fortunate enough to learn about the Open Table project through our Wesley campus minister, the Rev. Rob Rynders. Through this project, I put what I had been learning into action.
One of the major aspects of the Open Table is its focus on helping individuals, in our Table’s case, Casey. Casey has dealt with major setbacks in her young life, but she is a vivacious person, well worth getting to know. As a Table, we worked to address several issues Casey was dealing with, each member contributing something from their own experience. And here is the crux of the Open Table method. No one has to know the answer to everything, but each person on the Table has something to offer.
Little by little, we overcame many of the obstacles blocking Casey’s path with advice from personal experience, and we celebrated each victory. Perhaps the most touching moment for me in this experience was in marking Casey’s triumph over insomnia.
I had decorated a poker chip with sleep symbols to celebrate and I remember not only my excitement to give this little token to her, but the incredible sweetness and joy she thanked me with when I did. In that moment, I had done something (something very small) to make someone happy, and it is that feeling that propels the whole Open Table concept.
We did not end homelessness or poverty in Arizona, but through a series of small actions (some more impressive than others), we made a difference not only in Casey’s life, but also in our own lives. The problems of the world are so vast, but a focus on helping even one person is a step in combating broader issues.
To us, Casey is not just a number, she has a face and a name and a rich personal history. But by working one-on-one with her, we made a positive dint in the statistics that can be beyond overwhelming.
Indra Ekmani graduated from Arizona State University with a degree in global studies and a minor in German. She is in graduate school at the University of Washington in Seattle. Her focus is on Latvia and the Baltic states.