By Roger Leu
My family still calls me by my Chinese-given name, roughly translated to “little winter melon.” Though partially attributed to my gratuitous baby fat, the nickname also aptly describes my still and observant nature. I have always found people, culture, and human behavior fascinating. Why do people do the things they do? Why did Tom Cruise jump uncontrollably on The Oprah Show some years ago? Why do people find Keeping up with the Kardashians so compelling? These are the questions that keep me up at night.
I grew up in Berkeley, California, a relatively small town in the San Francisco Bay Area known for tie-dyed shirts, colorful protests, and subversive thinking. My parents are first generation immigrants who emigrated to the United States from Taiwan in search of a better future. My dad first worked as a dishwasher and a gas attendant to pay the bills. My mom briefly worked on a fiber optics assembly line. They are quintessential pragmatists that would rather have me put on five layers of clothing than turn on the heater, unplug the idle power strip rather than pay for electricity, and shop at swap meets instead of department stores.
The look on their faces when I told them I wanted to pursue a career in social work was one of sheer confusion and terror (think Edvard Munch’s The Scream). “Is that like depression?” they asked in an English-Chinese improvisation. I simply responded, “It’s like having a big heart and helping people for a living.”
Social workers are so often misrepresented in pop culture as villains that invade your home and steal your children on behalf of the government. This is a terrific example to not believe everything you see on television! A social worker is the shoulder you lean on when you have a bad day. We are the extra ear that listens when you need to vent. We fight for the most vulnerable individuals in our communities. We are your advocates, your confidants, your strongest supporters, your champions of social justice.
The #cut50, #YesWeCode, and Green For All initiatives here at The Dream Corps are united under the umbrella of social justice. We continue the fight for a brighter future that includes all communities regardless of race, gender, color, or creed. We are agents of change that support closing prison doors and opening the doors of opportunity.
The #cut50 team has been advocating tirelessly for 2.2 million people remaining behind prison doors. As a social worker and a member of the #cut50 team, I am proud to work toward intelligently reducing the prison population in 10 years, and to engage in a bipartisan effort that rises above politics. Individuals in prison are often suffering from mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder; we must remember to arm ourselves with kindness, compassion, and empathy to combat arguably one of the biggest moral crises in our time.
As I look at the road ahead, I cannot help but think of what the great Dr. Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. once wrote: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” These words are as true today as the day they were written. Indeed, there is still injustice in the world, and we must continue to fight for equality, justice, and the inherent worth of all beings.
I am inspired by the small acts of kindness I see every day. When I leave the BART station and see a passing stranger hand a homeless man a dollar, I am inspired. When I see a group of friends organizing their waste into trash, recycle, and compost bins, I am hopeful. When I see Buzzfeed articles that combat the stigma of mental illness, I am filled with confidence about the future of humanity.