Metro Doors Closing

September 2, 2013

Lauren Behgam ’15 is a Starr Fellow living in Washington D.C. this summer working on the Food Recovery Network.

The D.C. Metro was primary form of transportation this summer and I would use my time on the train to reflect and relax. I would travel between a student incubator called the Startup Shell, D.C. Central Kitchens, and the C.E.T. (Center for Employment Training) at S.O.M.E. (So Others Might Eat) in Anacostia. I also did my best to attend special events like luncheons, press conferences, and speeches in the city that related to my work with FRN.

One particular Tuesday stands out as the most memorable day of the summer. That morning, I taught two computer classes at the the C.E.T. to a group adult students in a self paced job training program. Afterwards, I rode the Metro to Dupont Circle for a roundtable luncheon with some key players in the food waste arena. While my trip between the two neighborhoods was only seven Metro stops, Anacostia and Dupont Circle represent opposite ends of the socioeconomic spectrum in our nation’s capital. Anacostia is one of the poorest neighborhoods in D.C., while Dupont Circle is one of the most affluent.

While I am aware of inequality in our country and I have experienced it in my hometown of Dallas and in Providence, I had never been a part of two different communities in such a short time span all while discussing the same issues of poverty and opportunity. In the morning, I was teaching the C.E.T. students how to research a company before applying for a job. During group discussion, some students brought up experiences in which they felt discriminated against during an interview due to race, class, or their own personal history. At the luncheon, the conversation was based on food waste, but the discussion kept returning to poverty, hunger, and how food waste can be channelled into solving those problems. The participants in the conversation were primarily older executives and the conversation felt privileged and at times belittling to “underdeveloped” countries and communities, as one participant stated.

I was upset on the Metro ride back to the Startup Shell. My day had been jarring, and it was only 2 PM. My mind was reeling over how much more productive my conversations could have been if the C.E.T. students and the luncheon executives would have been if they were in the same room rather than seven metro stops apart. Each stop, the conductor would say some version of “Step back, Metro doors closing,” and the phrase felt so symbolic of the lack of opportunity some people have due to factors out of their control.

Since that Tuesday, I’ve been challenging myself to think about how social entrepreneurs can build bridges between the two different worlds I experienced in D.C. I don’t want to over criticize these relationships to a point of personal paralysis, but I want to figure out how we can create more empathy and more sustainable solutions in which everyone is respected and heard.