“It’s all right to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.”
― Martin Luther King Jr.
Throughout my time in Miami I have been reflecting on the concept of “savior mentality.” This phrase, from my understanding, can be loosely defined as the notion that the privileged will rescue those who aren’t. This term has often been thrown around in our group discussions, and the consensus has been that savior mentality is bad. It manifests itself in people from the global north traveling to volunteer in the global south. Maybe they hand out water, take a few photos, and leave without creating any long-lasting impact.
This term led me to believe that my own privilege made me an imposter to the work that I have been doing here in Miami. I don’t come from the communities that Legal Services serves, and I don’t have similar struggles. I have never been evicted from my home nor have I ever lived in a mobile home park. The work that I do, like drafting answers and status update letters, won’t fix the housing crisis in Miami. So, is this summer just my practice of my savior mentality?
I began to look at this concept a little differently after attending a lunch discussion at the Community Justice Project. An intern mentioned to me his view that law school was just a tool for him to help people. In his case it was helping community groups advance their causes by providing them with legal representation. He acknowledged the fact that not everyone has the privilege of attending law school to become an attorney. He also acknowledged that groups know what they want to accomplish and maybe even how to accomplish it. What they may lack is a certain tool, like access to legal processes, that he can provide them with. His humility made me recognize that one person shouldn’t expect to make some radical and sustainable change in a community.
Building a machine requires a lot of tools. (Truthfully, I’ve never built any kind of machine, but I imagine you’d need quite a few different tools) My privileges can be one tool that can be combined with the other tools that people may have. You might not have any concrete and sustainable solutions, but you might have extra boots. These extra boots may be time, education, money, or access. Giving them to someone may allow them to pull themselves up, developing their own meaningful ways to make sustainable progress.