Gromek on Over-the-Rhine
Below is an essay written by 2006 graduate John Gromek in his application for an internship with the non-profit groups Sojourners. To read more about his service experience, see the feature "Turning Points."
Not too long ago, on a chilly Saturday morning in November, I found myself in the streets of Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine, helping to rehab apartments and houses through a local community housing network. My group trekked through the neighborhood alleys and streets, creating quite a scene as a troupe of white college students pushed rickety wheeled mop buckets and other cleaning supplies to an apartment building a few blocks from the organization’s warehouse. As we walked, a local resident observed our group armed with hope and energy that was helping, at least in a small way, to make the neighborhood a little better place. The older woman had most likely seen many such groups pass through, but with no real change in her neighborhood that was still plagued with poverty, violence and the destructive effects of shaky race relations.
“It’s going to take a lot more than brooms and mops to fix and clean up this neighborhood!”she yelled, almost hopeless, to us across the street as we found the building we were to enter. The woman, in her infinite wisdom, was right. Nothing we were to do that morning would have any drastic effect on the betterment of Over-the-Rhine. In fact, I am confident that even if hundreds of people swept down upon the developing community to rehab all the housing to make it available for all those who needed it, things would still stay the same. The problems facing this particular neighborhood and so many places in our country and in this world go so much deeper. And yet, I am sure that like many others who were there with me that morning, we chose to get up at the ungodly hour of 7:00 a.m. on a Saturday because there was something larger than all of us pulling us there, and the realization that the direct experiences of our service would lead us to realize that if we truly want to seek change and bring justice, we must go deeper to find the reasons for the injustices in addition to directly serving the marginalized.
For me, that larger something that brought me to Over-the-Rhine was my faith in God and Christ and the obligation of my faith to bring about peace and justice through radical and true human love. For me, faith does more than influence my values and choices in life—it defines them. My faith provides me with a solid foundation in scripture, tradition and the common, but diverse, experience of church. For me, my faith is inherently intertwined with working for social justice. I find God in the volunteer and advocacy work I do. Service and working for a universal justice of all people gives me faith and hope; it is where I can feel God’s love most powerfully, and it gives me a profound experience of solidarity with other concerned people. What draws me most to this internship is the prospect of combining two of my passions, faith and social action, into an actual job. Here I could work to effect change and live out the calling of my faith. As Christians, we are obligated to live the Gospel and work to end injustices such as poverty. Our faith is always personal, but never private, therefore a vibrant and living faith is one that works for dignity and justice.
I hope, through my year at Sojourners, to gain a greater understanding of my role in God’s kingdom and strengthen my faith through my work and what I learn. I feel this internship would be a great synthesis of social justice in action and education and, in turn, would allow my understanding and connection between my faith and social action to be even stronger.