We began our day at 8:30 when we were woken up by a knock at our door. We got ready for the great day ahead of us and went downstairs for the hotel’s breakfast. By 9:30, the bus was rolling.
Throughout the journey, we have all collected unopened toiletries from our hotel bathrooms to donate to the homeless. Today, we finally got to see the fruits of our labor when we donated them to the National Coalition for the Homeless!
At the Coalition, we met with some formerly homeless individuals. The first speaker to share his story was a man named Steve Thomas. One quote that he said which really stuck out to me was “one day I was fine, the next I was homeless… Homelessness sucks.” Steve had a very difficult childhood and upbringing. He was born to a 16-year-old mother who conceived after drinking at a party and a father who later abandoned them. His mother had severe alcohol abuse issues and as a result, she beat him often and treated him like a hindrance, not a priority. He even said to us that he “didn’t understand what love was.” He further explained that as a result he felt the need to feel the love he didn’t have at home elsewhere, so when he was offered drugs by “friends” he felt he needed to use them for their acceptance and approval. As he got older, he started doing well for himself until at one party he was given a crack pipe. From there, everything went downhill for him. He explained that we are all one bad decision away from homelessness and that for him, this was that bad decision that left him at a greyhound bus station with 2 black garbage bags containing all that he had collected in 51 years. Finally after 7 years of homelessness, he got back on his feet when a man saw him on the street and helped him get into rehab. Steve’s parting message to us was an instruction that we acknowledge all homeless people as human beings, and that while we don’t need to give them money, just nodding our heads or saying hello can make the world of difference to them.
The next speaker we met with at the Coalition was named Cynthia. She talked about the horrors of living on the street as homeless person and a woman. She told us stories about men trying to harm, rape and even kill her. What I found most impactful was the story she told us about how she almost died one night when someone set her tent on fire. She had to rip it open and run out, getting burned in the process. She still has scars today.
The last speaker we met with at the Coalition was a female veteran who was given a second chance at making it for herself by President Obama’s program for homeless veterans. She spoke to us about the opportunity she had to meet Michelle Obama this past week at a convention. She raved to us about how wonderful Michelle was and how she was such a warm person.
After meeting with the speakers, we ate lunch with them and then headed over to the National Archives to see the documents upon which this country was founded. We saw the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. It was great to see them but sad to see that they are extremely faded.
Next, we headed to the Smithsonian Museum of American History. This really brought the trip full circle, because there were exhibits on many of the topics we have discussed this summer, such as civil rights and the Kent State events.
We then headed to the White House, where we walked right into a pro-Palestine rally. This was interesting, as we have met with J-Street and will be meeting with AIPAC, both pro-Israel organizations, but no pro-Palestine organizations. Everyone on the trip is pro-Israel, but it was interesting to hear the other side. We had the opportunity to talk to some protesters who explained their opinions. They told us that their family in Palestine is being kept in walled-in cities where they can’t leave without going through a long and harrowing process at the checkpoints. They further explained that as they themselves are Americans, they feel that their tax dollars should not being going to Israel, a country that is killing their people. They believe that Israel should be one state with equal rights for people of all races and religions.
After this, we went to dinner at the George Washington University campus. From there, we went to the Reagan Center to see a hilarious political comedy show called “Capital Steps.” In the show, they made fun of everything and anything in contemporary politics. They did so by changing the lyrics of songs and performing them in short skits. I found the show incredibly funny and liked the political jokes a lot.
After this long day, we headed back to the hotel for some free time and went to bed.