Alice is doing a summer internship at the YW because she wanted to experience what it’s like to work in a feminist organization. We asked her to reflect on her first few weeks:
I’d like to make a case about people and their lives. Eleanor Roosevelt is hailed as one of our nation’s greatest female leaders—not only was she First Lady during a time of great social and economic strife, but she advocated civil rights and was perhaps a leader in mid-twentieth century feminism. While these points of excellency cannot be disputed, I disagree with her on a specific point.
“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” –Eleanor Roosevelt
I’ve likely seen this quote fifteen times on various internet sites and social media junkets; my own grandmother just shared it on Facebook a few days ago. Each time I read these words, I can’t help but have an immediate feeling of disagreement. Ideas are important, I always reason, but people are just as significant. There’s an air of intellectual elitism in that statement, as though a truly “great” person would constantly analyze the writings of famed philosophers, and someone with a lower IQ might bumble around talking about his parents or next-door neighbor.
I can see Eleanor’s point. There’s only so much that can be said about events—they are finite–, but I don’t believe the same of people. Without people, there wouldn’t be any ideas. Ideas, intellectualism, and critical thought are all human inventions. I can’t help but think that people are the origin of the abstraction and that without studying people, ideas lose their meaning. Ideas can never be fully explored or understood; the same is true of people.
In my four weeks at the YWCA, I’ve seen people from all ends of my community. I’m not isolated, but as an adolescent, my worldly sphere is limited. Here, I’ve met individuals whose lives and stories are rather different from my own, but in my mind, that makes them all the more valuable. Yesterday, I worked in Your Sister’s Closet for the first time. I met two women who were in different places in their lives, but both needed clothes for job interviews. As I looked for blouses, skirts, and shoes to fit their specific needs, I thought about the significance of what we do here. Not only do we give women the tools and materials they need to achieve their goals, but we give them something we all need desperately: we give them faith in themselves.
As I watched Flo, another volunteer, find camisoles and cosmetics during an appointment, I saw the difference in the client’s face. She had a voucher for a haircut, five professional outfits that she loved and that looked GREAT on her, and she had a new handbag that she told me she could use for books or work. After we handed her a gold scarf pin shaped like a maple leaf, our client and Flo sparred about how great she would look. “Don’t you turn ME down for a job offer,” the woman exclaimed, and then I couldn’t keep the smile off my face either.
The YWCA’s motto is “eliminating racism; empowering women.” It’s displayed in bold bronze letters in the lobby, right above the clothesline where we post coupons and info for local services. We give everyone a chance at the YWCA. Giving no heed to their experiences in the past, we focus on their futures. To me, that’s true empowerment, and when I saw my client leave with two heavy bags full of her future, I saw the empowerment in her walk and the hug she gave Flo. The YWCA knows what it is to care about people. Discussing people doesn’t mean you have a small mind. It means you have a big heart. – Alice