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The Unexamined Life is Not Worth Living

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” This is my reflection of this summer, but as I “reflect” I want to be aware and show my appreciation for the ability and privilege to “reflect.”  When Socrates made that statement I don’t believe he took into account what must take place for one to be able to constantly reflect on their life. Many people do not have the luxury to reflect on summers that were learning experiences. It is hard to examine your life when your dodging bullets or trying to make sure you have food to put on the dinner table. There are so many processes (like having the comfort and the security to just sit, think, examine, learn, and eventually grow) that are overlooked and seen as simple and healthy proxies. I never want to take these practices for granted, and want to always show homage to those that came before me and made it possible for me to be where I am today. These things would include my parents, my community, my grandmother, and my mentors, without these things I don’t know where I would be.

The unexamined life is not worth living. These are the words of Socrates at his trial for heresy, and after one of the most interactive summers I have ever experienced, I now want to take a moment to both reflect, but also interrogate the concept of privileged reflection.

A student came into the Mikva Challenge office this summer, (a non-profit organization that gets youth involved in politics) and my name was mentioned. He stated how “Jonathan is just so positive” and how much of an impact my positivity had on his summer. This was a student from Fenger High School, the same high school that made CNN News because a student (Derrion Albert) was beat to death with a wooden plank last school year. This one simple comment by one student that I worked with in Mikva Challenge forced me to ponder the negativity that infiltrates these young peoples lives every day. From some parents, to some teachers, to the newspapers, to news stations, to neighborhoods, to police officers (and the list goes on) young people are bombarded with negative viewpoints and ideologies. All these negative influences become forced upon these students. This motivated me to keep (at the very least) trying to be the positive experience that these students would encounter consistently. It is interesting to see how the simple things you do, (a smile or an honest compliment) can have such an impact on how people feel. I have become comfortable working with youth, but every different group I join offers some type of new exploration, a new journey to make lives of the students around me better, all the while giving me the opportunity to better myself. This is the one situation where I saw some tangible impact on one of the students, but as I am reflecting I can also think of many students who I had little to no impact at all. Overall my experience at Mikva Challenge this summer was a full one, time well spent.

Each week this summer there were different training sessions that I attended. Three events had the most impact on my life. The first being a woman named Brenda, as she represented the theme of overcoming the obstacles of personal challenges in her life. The second was seeing murals in Pilsen and talking with residents about their artwork around the city. This to me represented the theme of individuals taking ownership over their city and turning negative vibes (walls with gang signs) into canvases of power, appreciation, and beauty. The third and final most impressionable training session this summer, was the training on Chicago politics, giving me context and insight into the interlocking systems of the Chicago machine and the effect that it has on under-resourced neighborhoods, inner city public schools, and the many citizens in the city that seem to be left behind.

These are my reflections as I transition into my 3rd year of college, a year that will show no boundaries among my intellectual growth and international understanding. I look forward to this year, and after a great summer I am more prepared for the future that I am excited for.