TEDxMileHigh – Libby Birky – Dignity, Community and a Side of Veggies

Translator: Helena Bowen
Reviewer: Denise RQ Hi everybody. I want to tell you a little bit
about growing up in my house. My dad used to take us out
to dinner when we were little – on the rare occasion
that we got to go out to dinner – he’d play this joke on us, at dinner. At the end of the meal,
he’d act like he forgot his wallet, and he would tell us we had to go back
in the kitchen and do the dishes, and I think this is
what laid the path for my life. (Laughter) This is Marlene. Over the past couple of years,
Marlene has learned that life isn’t fair. Marlene is an educated woman. She his three credits away
from a Master’s degree, and she’s had to sleep in her car
from time to time. Marlene has so much to give to people, and yet what she struggles with
is that people make assumptions about her. She never thought she’d struggle
to find a safe place to eat, or a safe space to sleep,
or what she was going to eat. She never thought she’d worry about what to do with a squash
that she got at a food bank, and she’d cook it in her stove
at home, if her stove worked. She lives in an efficiency apartment and hasn’t been able to pay rent
for the last three months, so she can’t really complain
about the stove not working. Marlene is an interesting woman,
who is trying to get her life together. She has struggled from time to time, but what Marlene thinks is
the most frustrating about her situation is that people make
so many assumptions about her. They assume she’s lazy, uneducated,
or an addict of some sort or another. What Marlene really needs is dignity. This is Aaron. Aaron eats at SAME Café almost every day. He comes in full of life,
sober, most days. Some days he’s drunk as a skunk
or high as a kite, depending on his drug of choice
for the day. Aaron is homeless. He sleeps in an abandoned home
on the West side of town, or in the park. He’d keep a job if he wasn’t
so addicted to alcohol and drugs. To be honest, if I had to sleep
in a park, I might drink too. What’s so interesting about Aaron is that he’s one of the most intelligent
people I’ve ever met. Name a book, he’s read it. Aaron says the most frustrating thing
about his situation is he’s invisible. Most of us walk by him and avert our eyes
or ignore him and act like he’s not there, or lie to him when he asks
for spare change. Aaron needs community. Taryn remembers dinner
in her house growing up as a symphony of sound and activity,
a festival of joy, memories, and laughter. Taryn gets really sad when she encounters someone
who is hungry. She thinks not everybody
has had the opportunity to have the memories around
the dinner table that she has. Taryn believes that those with less are angels cast to earth
to test the more fortunate. Taryn strives to give
to the less fortunate with dignity. For Taryn, it’s all about the food. About 10 years ago, my husband and I
started talking about this idea. What if people really could work
for their food instead of paying for it? And so we started talking to people
at shelters that we were volunteering at, and we found out
that they weren’t eating there. They were choosing convenience foods,
fast food, because it was cheap and quick, and sometimes tastier
than what they were getting at shelters. But what we found was
they really desired something more. So we thought about opening a place where they could access
healthy food cheaply and quickly, so we came up with the idea of SAME Café. We invested $30,000 of our own money
from our savings accounts and our IRAs, and we thought, you know what? People experiencing poverty
don’t have access to healthy food. We have to change it. So there’s one menu
where everyone orders from. There’s one dining room
where everyone sits together. There’s one donation box where everyone leaves a donation
that they feel is fair. Those who can’t leave a donation are encouraged to work
in exchange for their food. What I’ve learned so much
about being at SAME Café is that people are people
no matter their struggles in life. Serving folks like Marlene,
Aaron, and Taryn has really taught me
to see people eye-to-eye, meet them face-to-face and really listen. I’ve learned that’s how
you build community. Before volunteering at SAME Café, Jane was a “write a check
to your favorite cause” kind of person. She saw injustice
and fought with her check book. Then she read an article about SAME Café
and decided to come check it out. Jane, Susan, and Norma
have have been volunteering at SAME Café for three and a half years. Jane says the most fascinating part
about being at SAME Café is being in on the ground floor
and working to see change happen. Jane still writes a check
to her favorite causes, but she knows
that through her own experience, it takes people working together
to build community. I’ve even changed the way
I think about the term “giving back.” Participating at SAME Café
has done that for me. People asked,
“Why did you start SAME Café?” and I would say, “Well, I wanted
to give something back to my community.” But what I didn’t realize was that saying
“giving back to my community” implied that I was separate from it. I was not a part of it,
it wasn’t an organic “we”, a lifting, supportive, encouraging,
doing it together kind of environment. The term “giving back”
meant that I could be separated from it. On the other hand, building community
was all about being a part of something, getting in on the ground floor
and working to see something succeed. Community problems don’t go away
simply because someone writes a check. Someone has to be on the ground floor,
working to make things happen. They have to be in the midst of it all,
doing the hard work day in and day out. That’s what it takes to build community. So I encourage you today
to look people in the eye. There’s a saying: “Beware the everyday brutality
of the averted gaze.” When you look someone in the eye, you validate them
as a human being, an equal. Averting your eyes does just the opposite. And give with dignity,
give from your heart. Imagine when you give that gift
that you’re on the receiving end of it and how you feel. Lastly, get involved. Find out what you’re passionate about. Maybe it’s healthcare, housing, children. Whatever it is, make that your focus. Build community, get involved. Change begins with us. Thank you. (Applause)

  1. A beautiful presentation Libby. I agree with what you said. The problem with people as you said is they assume and make judgement which is completely wrong. Everyone has a story to tell and judgement them by the look is absolutely ridiculous. Obura Tongoi on his presentation on TEDx actually has said it so well. Great job Libby. All the best

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *