Serve Well Blog


From ugly place to paradise: a new lens

The Krista Foundation | Krista Foundation Press


Jeremiah Sataraka '10

Understanding the "lens" we bring to service is significant.

When Jeremiah Sataraka '10 first began serving with the Northwest Leadership Foundation's Act Six program, he realized he was one of many people who regarded cities as "ugly places...where people ‘do service', somewhere I'd go to for work, and not a place to seek, create and sustain community." His service year launched his commitment to opening doors to first-generation college students. As a Resident Director at alma mater Whitworth University, Dorm Counselor for University of Hawaii Maui College Upward Bound program, and Program Coordinator for Chicago's Posse Foundation, he has sought to nurture and equip students to be agents of change on campus. Now in the Cultural Studies and Social Thought in Education PhD program at Washington State University, he is articulating a Pasifika or Oceania Critical Race Theory, especially as it pertains to the field of education, in order to reinforce Pasifika/Oceanic indigenous knowledge in the dominant culture.

At the 2011 Krista Foundation Breakfast, Jeremiah shared the story of his changed lens on the city, beginning with a poem by Denise Levertov.

City Psalm-Denise Levertov

The killings continue, each second
pain and misfortune extend themselves
in the genetic chain, injustice is done knowingly, and the air
bears the dust of decayed hopes,
yet breathing those fumes,
walking the thronged
pavements among crippled lives, jackhammers
raging, a parking lot painfully agleam
in the May sun, I have seen
not behind but within, within the
dull grief, blown grit, hideous
concrete facades, another grief, a gleam
as of dew, an abode of mercy,
have heard not behind but within noise a humming that drifted into a quiet smile.
Nothing was changed, all was revealed otherwise;
not that horror was not, not that the killings did
not continue, not that I thought there was to be no more despair,
but that as if transparent all disclosed
an otherness that was blessed, that was bliss.
I saw Paradise in the dust of the street.

If there's one lesson that I've learned since becoming a part of the Krista Foundation family, it's this:

The way we see our cities needs to change. My definition of "seeing" includes more than just what our eyes can see, but involves a fundamental shift in the way we think about urban communities.

For too long, many people have defined success in terms of "getting the heck out of here!" Tim Herron, director and founder of Act Six once told a story of how he ran into a kid in his Tacoma neighborhood and while talking about school, he realized that this kid's idea of success was defined by how soon he could leave his community, something shared by many others in communities across our nation. As a 2 year AmeriCorps volunteer who returned to Tacoma to work with Act Six, I knew this wasn't a healthy view of our urban communities.

I've come to recognize that many people define and see cities as frankly, ugly places. When I was younger, even I bought into the idea that urban communities were only places where people "do service," somewhere I'd go to for work, and not a place to seek, create and sustain community. But I began to recognize that the way I viewed the city impacted the way I engaged with it, it was as though I'd become involved in an abusive relationship; taking advantage of the benefits of being in the city, getting out of it only what was needed, but not caring enough to see it as beautiful and worthy of my attention, my affection. Today may have been the first time you've heard the adjective PARADISE to describe an urban reality, but I hope it won't be the last.

As Krista colleagues, we were awarded leadership grants that were to be spent on meaningful leadership development experiences. For my Krista grant, I spent a week in Washington DC at the National Coalition on Asian Pacific Islander American Community Development convention, a non-profit that exists to strengthen the capacity of community-based organizations to create neighborhoods of hope and opportunity. At this convention, I engaged with dynamic leaders from across the states who worked in urban neighborhoods and valued these communities. National CAPACD recognized that our cities are places of great need but also places full of treasures, a sentiment also shared by Act Six and the Krista Foundation. In all of these examples, success wasn't defined by "getting the heck out of the city," but the definition of success included embracing the city, flaws and all. I walked away from that experience energized and ready to continue working on behalf of not only the API community, but also our urban communities. A few months later, it was time to put the experiences from the convention to use as I helped organize an Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Day event in Olympia where thousands of people from across Washington gathered to make our voices heard on the verge of the Governor's proposed state budget cuts that would have disproportionately affected the API community. I stood in amazement as the day's events unfolded and our state leaders listened earnestly to our concerns.

It's been through the support of the Krista Foundation, my AmeriCorps experiences and many others who are seated here today, that I've forged a heart of service. Ever since I can remember, I've wanted to serve, to volunteer and get involved with things that challenge my mind and spirit. The past couple of years have served as a launch pad to the work I'm doing in Chicago and my hope of coming back to Washington and serving in government to make lasting change for the sake of all our communities.

Forging a heart of service - it's essential to the health of our nation, to our world and to future generations of leaders. Today I challenge you to see paradise in the dust of the streets. Thank you.