Art by: Elliana Esquivel
Working in the field of social justice has been an interest of mine for the last three years. My experience working with youth, immigrants in New York, women of color and in the field of education have taught me so much about community engagement. I love that I am able to understand how different social systems intersect and affect people’s behaviors. Being a social justice advocate has put me in the position to be a voice for others as well as challenge the status quo of social systems that I enter everyday. During my journey I’ve learned how to be a leader to others and project my voice; something I’d been afraid of for so long. With all of the knowledge and experience I’ve gained in the field I’ve also had to deal with being overlooked, underestimated and exploited.
Many of the challenges I faced were the same struggles that my clients were coming to me to get help for. Working with non profit organizations and federally funded government programs that didn’t pay me a living wage caused a strain on my finances and mental health. Often times I asked myself can I keep doing this work. Being a black woman in professional settings where I was sometimes the darkest person in the room, the only one still working on a college degree, and still trying to gain work experience in a helping profession killed my confidence. Many days I couldn’t articulate my thoughts and feelings because I wasn’t well versed in the work I was doing, in the beginning stages of my career I’d been new to social justice issues and it seemed as if everyone around me was an expert. I always found myself having to overcompensate to keep up with the “big dogs”. It was exhausting.
I worked full time and even when my work day was done I was full with emotion from dealing with clients who feared deportation, food insecurity, no access to health care, and lack of mental health resources. I was challenged with all this while dealing with my own health, trying to keep my creativity flowing and stay positive. I wanted to walk away from the pressure but the work I was doing was motivating youth, inspiring women and impacting families in ways that took time for me to recognize. I began co-facilitating health workshops, doing community outreach in neighborhoods that I’d never traveled to in the past and began working on more creative projects that centered black women and emphasized the need for self care. My journey was a rocky one, it was slow some days, it was a racing roller coaster on other days, but it strengthened me to continue working for myself and my community.