LIFT DC | Elizabeth DeFreest

In Eve Bratman’s course, Third World Cities, we have so far touched upon topics relating to urban poverty, inequality, gentrification, race, segregation, violence, gender, mobility, urban restructuring and development. Many of the course discussions and readings focus on a diverse range of cities across the world. In addition to incorporating a global perspective, topics stem back to American University’s very own city, Washington DC. Course assignments have presented students with an opportunity to view the city we live in though a different lens by leaving our comfort zones and engaging with the realities around us.

While interoperating the concept of “uneven development,” students compiled a sample of images to represent our perceptions. I explored the many ways in which gentrification has and continues to affect our nation’s capital. Another assignment encouraged us to step into a different set of shoes while taking a homeless individual to lunch and reflect upon the experience. Finally, students interpreted the city through their own eyes and experiences while drawing a DC concept map. Each of these assignments have broadened my understanding of Washington, DC, a city I have now lived in for four years.

At LIFT DC, I have been able to continue this process of expanding my insight and understanding of the situations individuals face around me. The poverty alleviation and empowerment organization offers consulting services to local community members facing difficult challenges. Through one on one meetings, LIFT DC members are able to identify their specific needs and overall goals they hope to accomplish. While working with Advocates, actions steps are taken to meet member personalized goals regarding employment, education, housing, health or public benefits.

Course topics of inequality, segregation, race, violence, opportunity and obstacles we discuss in class have come to life through my interactions and experiences with members. I have come to cherish the relationships and trust developed between these individuals and myself. Regarding housing, I am learning about the challenges members face regarding voucher wait lists and shelter capacity. The frustration individuals encounter while applying to endless jobs hoping to make ends meet has been equally frustrating to watch. One member in particular is extremely personable, determined, outgoing and kind. Any agency specializing in customer service would be lucky to have her.

On an assessment survey LIFT completes to understand the members’ needs more accurately, the last question asks individuals to explain their strengths and aspirations. While working with members who struggle to maintain consistent employment, stable housing, health needs or public benefits, hearing their aspirations and self identified strengths has been inspiring. After working with a member on credit score updates and debt analysis, he explained his passion for writing, film and his dream of returning to school to study psychology.

Working with LIFT has helped me personally connect to the, at times, relatable topics covered in class. I have been able to connect with community members I may not have had the opportunity to before. The implications of larger policy initiatives and city structures covered in class I am able to accurately see through the situations of members directly affected. Overall, I am starting to gain a broader depth of consciousness regarding the city around me and situations my fellow community members face.

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