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Do you believe in fate? Are you superstitious? What if the progress of your life hung in the balance at the mercy of universe? I find it hard to believe in fate or destiny. I think that goals are met when people work towards them, but I also find that sometimes, we just get lucky. That ‘A’ on a test that you didn’t really study for or the extended deadline for the paper you hadn’t started yet are luck. These little favors from the universe—or God, as I believe—put us in favorable positions to succeed.

But what about the other side? What about the death in your family right before your big final or spilling your coffee all over your freshly printed paper? Those strokes of bad luck that take a hit on your motivation and progress. These strokes of luck and mini blessings are what separate me, in my place of privilege, from the clients around me at Larkin Street.

In the college readiness class called Bridge, I’ve spent a lot of time listening to the stories of the six clients that participate. I’ve learned about their families, their schools, and their journeys to the places that they’re in now. And what I’ve found so captivating is that most parts of their lives aren’t too different from mine.

The Comparison Game

In our weekly meeting, our supervisor asked us to think about some of the similarities we’ve found between ourselves and the clients that allow us to relate to them. This topic was something I had given a lot of thought to when listening to the clients share their stories. There were similarities so simple like playing the same sport as kids or being the same race to more complex ones like being a first generation college student or living in a single parent home.

And at first, it seems beneficial to find levels of similarities to the people I interact with on a daily basis, but in reflection, the similarities filled me with guilt. My response to these similarities in any other context would be to develop bonds on the basis of shared experiences and be an encouragement to overcoming any future obstacles that might arise. However, in the context of Larkin Street, my response was silence.

How would I, from a position of privilege, explain that I come from similar roots? What benefits would there be from me basically explaining that somehow life worked out in my favor and not theirs? I attend an elite university. I have a home to go to every night. I have a family that loves, supports, and accepts me. My mother moved our family up in income brackets year after year. Yes, I had real struggles and pain in my life experiences, but some stroke of luck led my life in a direction that benefited me in the long run.

And of course, I could give the Horatio Alger speech to the clients and explain that it took a lot of hard work to put myself in the positions I’m in right now, but, again, from my position of privilege it’s easy to give that perspective. In reality, however, I was just lucky.

Who decides that I come out of a single-parent, non-bachelor degree, lower middle class home and end up in an elite university while these clients ended up homeless? My schools weren’t better than theirs. My family wasn’t more functional. I wasn’t a better, more optimistic person. The guilt of being fortunate is a heavy weight to carry. It’s even heavier when someone with the same circumstances wasn’t as fortunate.

But I’ve found that the guilt doesn’t have to consume me. In being more open with my story, the clients have found inspiration to alter their futures. I understand that there is no shame in success if what you do with your success honors your roots and experiences. So, instead of being embarrassed by my privilege, I find it more important to use my privilege for the benefit of those who aren’t in the same positions. In that way, I’m grateful to encounter and provide for those who didn’t have the same stroke of luck that I did.

So who gets to decide if these clients get lucky or not? We do. This city, this community, this country all get to decide that they’ll provide that one stroke of luck to boost this population of homeless youth into a positive direction.