Bri Little is ending her internship as Real Change’s organizing and advocacy associate. Tiffani McCoy, lead organizer at Real Change, talked with her about being a part of the Justice Leadership Program (a year-long program where participants serve at a Seattle-area non-profit), living in Seattle and her most cherished moment at Real Change.
How did you end up in Seattle, working at Real Change as the Justice Leadership Program intern?
So, I was very uninspired by my job search when I was about to graduate from college. I wanted to leave the East Coast, ‘cause I grew up in D.C. and I went to school in Virginia and just wanted to do something completely different. I actually heard about the Justice Leadership Program through my college friend E, who is also in my program now, and I learned that Real Change was one of the host organizations, and I looked at the mission and the values and the structure of the paper and I really thought that this organization does something that’s incredible and so I applied, and was accepted, and here I am.
You have now lived in one of the most “progressive” cities in the nation; let’s break down what that actually looks like to you.
I think Seattle is full of people who believe that they are good. And, I mean, it depends on what you mean by that, and I mean most of them in the very typical sense are good, quote/unquote, and probably slightly left-of-center, and a little more accepting of certain things socially, but people are still very much the same in terms of the way that they think about poor people and race, and still in a lot of ways [about] gender. It’s very frustrating because when you try to have these conversations with people they like to emphasize that Seattle is a super progressive city; like it’s almost by virtue of the fact that they live here that they are the most progressive. The point of being progressive is to actually want progress, and a lot of progress. Especially in solving the problem of homelessness, it has been very status quo solutions. Meaning don’t shake the table, don’t upset the people who have the most money, the people who are the quote/unquote job creators. It’s very much still like the city panders to the rich and it’s disappointing, and it’s really frustrating… specifically in reference to the head tax being snatched away, because a rich person just didn’t want to give away what is proportionally probably less than a penny in terms of what his actual worth is. And it doesn’t feel like a victory, you know, to have such a progressive tax solution get so far and then just be completely, like, burned. Like as far as I’m concerned, it’s been like set on fire and crumpled away. Like it never existed.
What was one of the hardest moments of your time here?
One of the first vendors who I met at Real Change, who I wrote a vendor profile on soon after I came here, he talked to me a lot about struggling with his mental health, and so I knew that he had periods where he was unstable mentally, but I’d never witnessed it. Recently, I witnessed him in a period of mental instability and chaos. And thankfully he was indoors at that point so he had somewhere to go to every night where he could feel safe… I interacted with him when he was having delusions and he just had no idea who I was, and so he thought I was a threat to him and I really — I didn’t know what to do. And it was really upsetting for me, cause this person who I’ve basically known from nearly day one seemed like he had never met me, and worse, he thought that I would hurt him. So in that situation I had to sort of step out of how I felt and do what I felt was safest for him, which was for me to get out of that situation.
So really seeing first-hand what some of our vendors are struggling with on top of housing instability, or living out on the street is really ... it’s very discouraging and it’s upsetting because there are people who demonize homeless people for a number of reasons, but if they knew this vendor like I knew him, all you would want is for them to have a safe place to go and to have the treatment that they need. As much as that was one of my worst experiences here, that’s really something that I wish everyone could have — an interaction like that where that could just completely change their view of what homelessness looks like and why it needs to be eradicated.
What is one of your most cherished moments here?
I had a great time at our vendor holiday party. I really enjoyed seeing the vendors just let loose and mingle with each other and talk with volunteers and board members. At one point, two of our vendors were dancing with each other to an old school R&B song and they were really just having the best time. That was a few months in and just seeing that among all the intensity that we have to work with every day, those moments are so precious to me.
What have you learned about homelessness?
I’ve learned how to do the very simple act of humanizing homeless people and formerly homeless people. We all feel that discomfort when we walk past someone on the street who is asking for money, and we really should be uncomfortable and we should be ashamed that there are so many people anywhere in this country who just don’t have anywhere to go. So instead of externalizing that shame and refusing to look people in the eye, we should look at them. You can greet them, if you don’t have any money, you know, you say that. And just doing that is part of changing the narrative. It’s part of decriminalizing homelessness.
View more Rampant Radicals profiles. Check out the full July 25 - July 31 issue.
Real Change is a non-profit organization advocating for economic, social and racial justice. Since 1994 our award-winning weekly newspaper has provided an immediate employment opportunity for people who are homeless and low income. Learn more about Real Change.