A City of People, a Lifetime of Lessons

By Erika Curtis

At some point in time, we’re all guilty of profiling people we’ve never met. It’s far easier to make assumptions about others based on their skin color, gender, clothing or demeanor than it is to actually speak to them and learn their stories. “Homeless people are lazy”, “Christians are naive”, “vegetarians are skinny and frail”.

When I first met Sarah, the mission year volunteer who would be spending a year with me at Georgia Justice Project, I was convinced she was going to be an aching pain in my side.  She was young – nineteen in fact – with long blonde hair and a bubbly positive energy that blinded my cynicism. She spoke of Jesus often, and seemed to be disconnected from the harsh reality we were facing. Clearly she was far too naïve to be working so closely with desperate people in such desperate situations.

I have never been more wrong in my life. Sarah answers the front door with such care and preparedness, as if she has been trained for years. She treats broken people with tenderness, the disenfranchised with respect, and oppressors with firm backlash. When she tells me she lives her life according to Christ, I believe her. I never dreamed I would learn so much from a teenager.

Sarah is an example of how individual people have taught me some of the greatest lessons of my life during these past six months. I meet new people daily who destroy the stereotypes that we have become accustomed to. The first vegetarian I met in Atlanta was Sanchez, who is far from a skinny white woman, but instead a large half-black, half hispanic man who is as likely to hug you as he is to fuss obscenities. The attorneys at GJP are far from greedy, but instead have dedicated their lives to fighting corrupt laws that keep communities destroyed. Homeless people who walk through our front doors are not lazy, or deserving of their misfortune, but instead the victims of systematic racism and poverty.

It is the people I have met on this journey who will stay with me long after the year is over. And so I write this to Sarah, for standing by me through troubled times at GJP, and to Sanchez, for teaching me large men don't always love bacon. To Atoyia, for our long talks about the men in our lives, and to Julie, for encouraging me to be bold. To the marine at Java Monkey, who shared with me the meanings of her many tattoos. To Yolanda, for not giving up after two years of unemployment. To Laura, Doug, Moriah, Ashley, Zamira, Chelsea, Jamie, Heather, Katherine, Priscyla, Julia, Jenna, Brenda, Cameisha, and so many more, you have taught me a lifetime of lessons.