I love passionate people. Fewer men have a deeper heart than Tyler Gray. Fueled by a deep desire to give voice to the mute, Tyler strives to make visible those who would often be ignored. Responsible for Communications, Advocacy, and Projects at Carmichael Outreach a poverty advocacy organization in Regina, SK. Mr. Gray has made personal sacrifices to work daily with people the general community would prefer to ignore. I asked Tyler what is it that drives him, here is what he had to say:
Awareness is a phenomenon unlike any other; it’s one minute that changes everything you thought you knew. What once caused fear becomes familiar, what was once normal becomes abnormal, and what was formerly unknown demands action. Awareness is a moment of crystallization, like seeing a sunrise arc across the sky, breaking darkness and ending what once was.
I remember trekking in Nepal, and as I stood at the top of Poon Hill, I watched a sunrise break over the top of the Annapurna Range. It was the first time I had ever seen sunlight appear as actual arcs, breaking the blindness of night in my surroundings. We stood and drank tea for one glorious hour, but I often find myself returning to the photos aware of how that experience changed my perception of the sunrise.
Some call these moments an awakening, and similar to awakening, awareness happens in stages. As I reflect on my photos from Nepal, I find new elements that further inform my experience, and I have seen this principle many times in my work of ending homelessness.
First, the haunting.
For me, the first stage of awareness is often haunting. In 2008, I found myself in Kolkata, India staring into the eyes of a starving family with one child no older than 18 months laying face down and naked in the dust. The distant look of desperation and hopelessness shattered what I thought I knew about the world. I knew nothing would be the same, and for months when I arrived back in Canada, I would close my eyes and see this image. I still can, and I’m haunted by what I perceived as my inability to change anything for this family, and the accompanying guilt at my privilege to observe, but not experience these conditions.
The look of desperation is one that I’ve seen many times since on the faces of my friends sitting in the entrance of a mall, or a bus shelter, trying not to freeze to death. It’s in the face of my friend’s who face the choice of a sleeping bag in -35, or committing a crime that provides shelter for 6 months, but the most recent memory that haunts me was the death of my friend Rodney at Carmichael. Like many of the people I know experiencing homelessness, Rodney’s death speaks to the violent experiences people face when homeless or in extreme poverty. What haunts me is how easy it is for me to view his experiences and circumstances as normal, and in turn miss my last opportunity to show him how much he meant to me.
One of the warmest men I have ever met, my relationship with Rodney mattered. He was a family man who loved his daughter, could make anyone he was speaking with feel like they were only person in the room, and I miss him dearly. His death was simultaneously unexpected and unsurprising, and while I do not hold myself accountable for his death, I am accountable for the opportunities I had to share love and value with I man I respected tremendously.
Then, the beauty
I recognize my privilege on many levels, including my ability to reflect on his passing while he no longer lives. However, on its most important level, my privilege is found in each moment I shared with Rodney and my many other friends experiencing homelessness. It is my absolute privilege to know people, and their stories. The amount of strength and resiliency exhibited by people surviving homelessness each day is humbling and inspiring.
My awareness of the people in my own community is far different now than it was in 2008. It’s nothing special that I’ve done, it’s the beauty of experiencing people’s dreams and heartaches, accompanied by the limited understanding I can have of their day-to-day experiences and hardships. I cannot begin to understand many of these experiences, but I have become aware of the legacy of their effects.
Awareness produces many responses – the haunting of death, the shock of suffering and oppression, the fury at injustice, or the beautiful experience of knowing someone and further knowing, with absolute conviction, who and what truly matters. It’s not programs, services, funds, or donations that matter, these are merely the vehicles that deliver our awareness or ignorance. Instead, awareness is the vehicle of information that we need to truly end homelessness and poverty in our communities.
Misinformation and ideologism (right or left) consistently leverage themselves against the lives of the most vulnerable members of our community. The result is ineffective programming and services that cost far too much money and perpetuate destructive cycles of exploitation and suffering. It is our responsibility and privilege to establish communities enshrined on the values of caring, respect, dignity, and relationship, and we must use that privilege to expand the scope of empowerment for my friends who, for far too long, have faced barrier upon barrier rooted in ignorance and arrogance.
We have the answers we need; it is now a matter of application. Ending homelessness is possible, and I will not rest until we become aware of that new reality. What once haunted me has become beautiful, and what once drove me to despair now fuels my passion.
So good! I'm all to familiar with the "haunting", but am absolutely blessed to know the beauty. Thanks so much Tyler! If you've read this far there is likely something stirring inside you. You now have a choice to make, ignore it or embrace it. I beg you, don't ignore it let it move you, the beauty that awaits impacting life beyond yourself is a reward you will never regret.
Finally, Carmichael Outreach is a not for profit organization in Regina, SK if you would like to show support for the awesome work they do in their community you can do so here