Mark Beier is an I Grow Chicago Associate Board member and Director of Training at Shred415. He is the lead organizer of our first annual Gather in Sweat fundraising week. Mark shares his reflections on his time with I Grow Chicago, and how he has been inspired to give back. 

I Grow Chicago has done more for me than I will ever do for it.  

This is probably unexpected because, well, I’m a white male, and as such, I benefit from certain privileges that have given me hope and access my whole life. But I didn’t know that.  And now I do.

I grew up in Ohio comfortably.  We weren’t rich but there was no one in my family on food stamps or addicted to drugs.  We all had homes and jobs. This was and always would be the case. In my mind, this is how we all grew up.   I started my life with the expectation that my life would turn out similarly. I started my life with hope. This hope coupled with early access to education would surely guarantee a better life.

Hope and Access. It’s what every human being needs in order to believe they deserve more. Hope for a better future and access to education.  Hope and access create opportunity for those who are, in every sense of the word, underprivileged. Hope and access create a way out.

The first step is knowing that there’s a better life out there. That someone’s current circumstance does not have to dictate their intended future. If someone doesn’t have hope for something better than their current situation then how can they be expected to want more than they currently have.

Access is the conduit for hope. When access to education or access to jobs is continually denied or out of reach, hope starts to fade away and with it, the potential for a whole new generation of young people to fall into the circle of poverty and violence.

In my one and a half years in working with I grow Chicago the biggest lesson that I’ve learned is that we are all very much alike. We all want better lives for ourselves and our families. We all want good friends that we can rely on in times of need. We all want to live in a community where our kids feel safe and protected. We are all willing to work hard knowing that hard work will someday pay off. We all want good jobs that we can be proud of and that can support our families. It’s not a question about motivation, discipline or work ethic. It all starts and end with hope and access.

My question is, why? Why do we continue to deny hope and access to a certain portion of our society? Are we scared? Are we afraid of what would happen if we allowed people of color to have hope and access? I don’t get it. We are missing an opportunity to have a whole generation of bright, hard working, motivated young people to help build a better society. We have an opportunity to change the scenario for a whole generation of young people. If we’re not part of the solution, we’re part of the problem.

I truly believe that we have souls and that our bodies are just the house that the soul is residing in.  Any one of us could have been born in a situation without hope and access. Children born into that situation weren’t given a choice, nor were they “less of a person” because they were born there. Can you imagine looking at a 3 year old boy or girl and telling them that they deserve less than my son or daughter because they were born a different color? It pains me to think about that, it pains to me to the point that I’m writing this today, in hopes that my actions and words can help change this scenario. I don’t want to be another white male that stands by and does nothing because by doing nothing, I continue to be part of the problem.  

By teaching me these lessons, I Grow Chicago has done more for me than I will ever do for it: it has changed my life.  It has activated my voice and it’s time I use that voice to start helping those in need receive hope and access. It’s their only way out.