That time Ashlee was mind blown
Being the naïve, yet overly enthusiastic 13-year-old, I somehow got the chance to volunteer at the Downtown East side along with my classmates. Our main role was to give out food and clothing to the homeless; the fact that I could devote my time in serving the community drove me. The bus ride there was already impactful itself; you could see the tall buildings and high-end stores of downtown, all the expensive cars to five-star restaurants… and tick. As if someone turned the switch, it drastically changed to homeless people roaming the streets. I could probably even draw a line to classify where the poverty started, it definitely wasn’t gradual. It was unbelievable how quick the atmosphere changed, and being the young kid I was, I classified myself differently from them. My default mode was to pity them, and to generalize them with the stereotype I formed.
Handing out the food and clothes to the numerous homeless people, I took the initiative to start conversations with them. The conversations I had, I still remember to this day; a huge slap across the face that crossed out all previous stereotypes I ever had. Some of them were vegan, some had a distinct taste in fashion (when choosing clothing to take), some had preferences over the type of bread, and the diversity within them was endless.
My mindset as a 13-year old may sound blatantly ignorant, and it is. Volunteering that day made me realise that they’re no different from anyone else that I would classify as “normal”. I used to categorise them differently from where I stood, and had a default mindset of placing myself higher than them (to which I never admitted, nor wanted to). It even bothers me as I’m writing this, that I have to refer to them as “them” or “homeless people”. I hated myself for generalizing, to think that they’d accept whatever was given to them. I was so blind to see only what was on the outer layer; I didn’t even bother to understand. I didn’t seek to find out their stories, I only assumed.
I felt a rush of indignity and disgust at myself on my way back home, even though I wanted to focus on the reminiscent insights I had; it was difficult to wash off the guilt. Not only did my life-long stereotypes was shattered (thankfully!), but I just proved myself to be the person I never wanted to be.
This story would be tragic if I ended it here, but luckily there’s more to it (hooray!). I mean, who wants to read a story about a girl who victimized herself and lived sadly ever after?
Ever since, I decided to redeem my once-oblivious-mindset by continuing to add on to what I’ve learned, and by giving back to the community. I devoted myself to help those who really needed it; although the more vital part is that my mindset while doing so was what has changed.
Now, everyone starts with a clean zero, until I get to know them myself, I don’t let anything factor into what makes them who they are. It doesn’t matter where in society they are placed, or what they are labelled as, but what I remember them by is what makes them unique. Because that’s how I want others to perceive me, that’s how I will perceive others. Everyone has a story worth being listened to. We never know how people got to where they are currently without seeking to comprehend. I still think about my experience that day, and share it with others; hoping to make the impact that I’ve cherished to this day.