Writing: ‘Will You Fast-Forward or Pause?’ by Breanna Maldonado

This piece placed first for high school writing submissions in the Ánimo Voices Writing and Art Competition, which invited students to consider a change they’d like to see in their community or the world and to convince an audience, through any genre of writing or visual medium, of the importance of this change. The competition was an opportunity to motivate, recognize, and celebrate our strong student voices through writing and art.

Will You Fast-Forward or Pause?

On my way to an internship
in downtown Los Angeles,
I see a young lady sitting on the floor with a cardboard.
“You see me, you see them, but you will continue your way.”
This struck me like a bullet.
She said exactly what I thought...
that we see them there, struggling, at the edge of existence.
But we cannot even look them in the eyes
avoiding the human-to-human connection
as if we are afraid of something.

If we stop for just a split second
and acknowledge their existence,
it can lighten their day.
I stopped and said, “Hello ma’am, hope you have a beautiful and blessed day!”
Her eyes pierced into my soul.
She stared at me with the most genuine smile
and we began talking for a time.

As I was saying my goodbye
she told me that for a while now
she had started believing she was invisible.
“Invisible?” I say.
How could someone feel that way?
She broke down in tears and thanked me.
I shed tears, too.

Her name is Lola.

When I handed out care packages
with a non-profit organization,
I came across a man
asleep in the confined space of a shopping cart.
I woke him up and handed him the bag.
He asked me, “What is this for?”
“It’s a little gift from your community.”
He immediately got up but didn’t speak.
He had no words for his gratitude.
“Thank you for taking the time to do this.”
He blessed us and asked if he could hug the crew.

His name is Erick.

Something else struck me
as I walked the streets of my city.
In the distance I saw a man sitting in silence
holding a crumpled, brown piece of paper.
“I don’t ask for money, only a conversation.”
Most people read and continue on their way.
That dull brown seems to be the way people perceive him
without knowing the rest of the chapter
without the knowledge of his book.
Although most would fast forward past him,
my friends and I started a conversation.
Only to find that he had lost everything due to his legal status.

His name is Daniel.

We are all alike,
human beings deserving of the same treatment.
Yet, when we spot someone homeless
we act as if we can’t see
and they are standing there, just like you and me.

We deny them empathy, a human condition.
We take away their dignity, the right to feel alive.
We tend to categorize and isolate
because we’ve grown accustomed to
confining them within a group.
When we address the people who are homeless,
we say that they are homeless before they are people.
When in truth, they are people before they are homeless.
Lola. Erick. Daniel.

Homelessness is an unfortunate circumstance;
it could happen to you and me.
It happens to our friends, family, and people in our community.
Even our students end up homeless.

WE CANNOT PERPETUATE THIS CYCLE.

You can change the world.
Recognize the homeless are humans.
Hit pause instead of fast-forward.
Have a conversation with them.

I hope you’re hanging on, Lola.
You got this!
Hope you’re doing well, Erick.
There is hope!
We’re rooting for you, Daniel.
Keep pushing!

Do you know a Lola, Erick, or Daniel?
I do. And they are just like you.

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