Working Radically – It’s More Feasible Than You Think!

Every year, Grounded has the honor of hosting a graduate student from the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work in the Community, Organization, and Social Action Specialization. While this year has looked much different than in previous years, we have had the pleasure of adding Philip Lawson to our team. Check out his reflection from his first semester at Grounded! Thank you, Philip, for the love, care, and attention that you bring to our work!

Philip and Grandma Bev clear an overgrown vacant lot near Westinghouse Academy. Photo by Steve Mellon, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Reflection On My First Semester at Grounded

While I still have a lot to learn about the world around me and the profession that I am soon to enter, I do not believe that I am naïve or misguided for saying that the word “radical” or the term “living radically” is currently met with a negative connotation. Maybe that’s for good reason. Radical misinformation and radical hatred have brought our nation to a tipping point. And the figureheads that benefit from systems that oppress, neglect, and abuse insist that folks challenging the status quo by means of protesting, demanding accountability, and calling for policy change are “radicals,” themselves. But I’m here to say that the term “radical,” and the act of living radically needs to be harnessed and reclaimed as a tool for healing, compassion, and ultimately, change.

This semester, I’ve studied as a vacant land stewardship intern in the Homewood-Brushton neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. And with the help of Grounded Strategies, I have been afforded agency to work…radically. I’ve coordinated volunteer workdays with CommunityCare stewards, I’ve broken bread and painted “kindness rocks,” and I’ve cleared countless litter and debris. With every callous, a reminder that this “radical” way of living only helps ease the frustration of a community that’s been historically disenfranchised and disinvested from. With every drop of a shovel or stroke of a paintbrush, I’ve seen unimaginable beauty and joy in folks knowing how they’d like to repurpose vacant spaces in their community – and then doing it. For the sake of their holistic wellbeing, for the sake of their art, for their ability to network, and for the sake of their education and storytelling. If folks finding a way the sustain processes such as these in a world gone mad is not a miracle – then I don’t know what is.

Philip works alongside a volunteer to spruce up a green space in Wilkinsburg.

This year we’ve lost the luxury of traveling freely, and we’ve lost the ability to engage naturally in our communities. We’ve lost jobs and we’ve lost friends and family members. It feels as though tension, anxiety and despair have seeped into the air we breathe just like the elements needed to survive as earthly beings. It’s for this reason that I say — for the remainder of 2020 and beyond, why not work radically so that marginalized communities can experience life equitably? Why not love without hesitation, compromise, or bias? Why not listen to understand and not to respond? Why not make daily investments in your own life for a future without intergenerational poverty, hunger, and barriers to healthcare and education? It’s more feasible than you’d think.

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