Bankole: How three suburban youth redefine privilege
I live in privilege. I interact with a lot of people who live in privilege. But the problem with our society is not so much about the existence of people with privilege. The problem is having a large number of people who lack the basic necessities of life and are denied the opportunity to get out of such situations.
The challenge therefore is to lift up the underprivileged class, which is why we have to be unrelenting and uncompromising on the question of addressing economic inequality, a defining feature for many in Detroit.
That is why it was refreshing last week to hear the story of Jenna Jaafar, Cate Lindstrom and Isabella Kakish, all three 11th grade students from Northville High School, who view their privilege status as a responsibility and a challenge to help those who are underprivileged in Detroit.
All three best friends decided two and a half years ago to establish a student-led organization, Kids with Compassion, at their school to help marginalized groups in Detroit. They have been raising money to provide hygiene kits and restaurant-prepared meals to homeless women and children who live in shelters in the city like the Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries. They are now working to adopt rooms in DRMM shelters. They’ve also worked with Vista Maria in Dearborn Heights, to help young women who are abused and seeking recovery.
“You can either sit back or take action. Taking action is huge. People who are faced with poverty, there is nothing bad about them. We have to recognize this difference and know that this is the world that we live in,” said Lindstrom, 17.
“We have to be compassionate,” Lindstrom said. “I feel guilty sometimes that I am so privileged because I think there are so many people who don’t have the luxury I have. I drive to school every day in my car but then I realize that there are some families who don’t even have the resources to buy a car.”
Jaafar, 17, who touts her Lebanese heritage as the granddaughter of immigrants, said part of the inspiration for setting up Kids with Compassion, is the struggles her grandfather went through as a young immigrant working at Ford Motor Co. and could barely speak English.
“My parents passed this need to help those who are disadvantaged down to me, and that is also the reason we set up this organization to get out of the bubble. I feel like we live in a bubble and we need to get out and use our privilege to help other people. That is why we want to bring our friends to Detroit and places like Dearborn to see what is happening and how they can help.”
She added, “We have to work together to help fight poverty. It is very heartwarming and eye opening to go into the shelters helping women.”
For Kakish, 16, she could not have had it any other way.
“How can we not do something to help when we are faced with so many privileges? I know people who don’t do anything else with their time but spend money on themselves,” Kakish said. “I am very much privilege but am grateful for what my parents have done and what I’m doing to give back. What we are doing is little in the big scheme of things but every little thing means something.”
The three girls impress me as challenging the conventional thoughts surrounding suburban kids as self-centered, fun-seeking and insouciant to the larger issues in society. These girls don’t just care from a distance. They’ve immersed themselves in the creative process of providing solutions. What they have done is reveal the other side of suburban living that most people do not know. That in the ranks of these students are bowels of empathy and compassion.
For instance, when they visit shelters, they don’t just drop food and hygiene kits and leave. They stay there and talk to the women.
Most kids growing up in Detroit have a different existence than those raised in Northville. A lot of Detroit children are living in lack, insecurity and fear. They are not living in a bubble. But the rich kids in Northville and the poor in Detroit are all bound by a common humanity. And that is what Lindstrom, Jaafar and Kakish are demonstrating.
Catch “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” which is broadcast at noon weekdays on Superstation 910AM.