This picture was taken during my study abroad trip to Brazil. This picture was taken along an alley in the city of Rio de Janeiro, in May 2011. Since my return, I think of Brazil often. And I continue to try to determine what it was exactly, about Brazil that impressed me so. It was not any one thing; there was much and thus not enough time to write about it here. But I would like to share a few epiphanies that I had in the moment that I took this picture.
The first epiphany was that this man was homeless and sleeping in an alley – adjacent to an edifice, the Federal University of Rio. The wall you see to the right of the sleeping man is the wall of the university. And about one block away was the public library. Within the walls of these buildings were housed thousands upon thousands of books which therein contained all sorts of recorded knowledge, social, economic, political, religious, spiritual – the world, the universe – of himself! But here he lay – homeless, in an alley adjacent to a hall of wisdom? I was immediately overwhelmed with feelings of sadness, guilt and gratitude and not necessarily in that order.
My second epiphany was that this man, a black man, lies here; fast asleep, in an alley in one of the largest cities heavily populated by blacks. Yet he lay here – homeless? I just had another epiphany as I wrote the last line, and that is “could this homeless man’s slumber be illustrative of the massive numbers of blacks in Brazil who are “sleep” to their power – in light of their sheer numbers? If so, they are a sleeping giant.
As I walked away with my classmates and colleagues towards the public library, my third and final epiphany came in the form of the following dialogue within myself. It went, “what if this homeless man ‘chose’ to live on the street? What if he doesn’t consider himself homeless at all? That would mean I supposed him to be homeless and therefore erred in ‘labelling’ him as such. If to live on the street was his ‘choice’, then who am I to label him as homeless?
As a current and future public administrator, I was numbed with the lessons of that moment. I became “awakened”. It is my sincere hope that this experience would be a shared one for us all – black, white, rich, poor, gay, straight, teacher, student – in that we would have a greater expansion of our individual potentialities and our collective potentialities as a society. I other words and/or to that end, there’s so much work to do. We need to continue to get up, stand up, face up, fess up – “Wake-up!” – Period, Case-Closed.