By Lucas De Oliveira
I’ve always cared about helping others in need. I’m no Mother Theresa, but I was that little kid who cried when he saw homeless people on the street as his mom dragged to the store. I have also on occasion donated a couple dollars to the guy with a jar sitting on the street or to the lady who sits at the Mass Pike exit towards Cambridge holding a cardboard sign. In high school, helping others meant going to the local soup kitchen, which is a transformative experience. Admittedly, I haven’t done nearly as much I have wanted to help others, but several months ago, I had an experience that reaffirmed in me a strong devotion to helping others and helped me see how I can bring that to the advertising industry.
I arrived at the Boston Public Library on a Monday afternoon and sat down at a study table ready to review for a midterm. Across from me sat a man who looked to be about 28. When I arrived he was reading a newspaper and had several others spread out across from him. To me he looked like a student. He wore black jeans, a black jacket, and sported a myriad of edgy tattoos up and down his forearms. I remember admiring his style and wondering where he got his jeans. I quickly learned that where he gets his jeans is probably the least of his worries. Several minutes after I sat down, this edgy and cool young man began to look increasingly uncomfortable. I noticed him fidgeting, shaking, and having an inability to steady his hands. He stood up, left the room, and came back several times within the next 20 to 30 minutes. During one of the times he left, I leaned over to see what was on his seat. When I leaned over I saw that the only thing he had with him was a plastic bag with basic food supplies and what I recognized as a diabetic’s needle, burned in my head from years of watching my father take his injections. It was when the man returned and after seeing the bag that I began to notice the dark circles under his eyes. Not too long after he returned, the man’s shaking and fidgeting became worse. I and the 5 other students at the table sat quietly while we watched him knot his hair, fail to keep himself awake, and wince with pain.
Now, I want to make it clear that I make no assumptions about the state of this man’s life. I had no conversation with him. I do not know what caused his symptoms, nor whether he was homeless. What I do know is that this young man with a long life ahead of him was sitting in a library trying to make a dinner out of cornmeal while the 6 other people sitting at the table were studying for midterms presumably for Boston colleges and universities that cost thousands of dollars and where we have more than our fair share of food. What I do know is that this human being was noticeably in pain and the 6 other people at his table including myself said nothing about it.
As I walked home that day, the tears welling up in my eyes reaffirmed in me a deep empathy for the man. And the next day, in my Introduction to Advertising class, I told myself something I believe I had probably always known: that I was going to help others through my work. We had learned about non-profit and PSA advertising in the class before, but it wasn’t until that day that I realized how truly important that sort of humanitarian work truly is. In a world where media is being thrown at us 24/7 and where our thoughts and ideas are sculpted by commercials, movies, and music, it becomes our responsibility as creators of that media to frame people’s thinking in a noble and selfless way. What I want to shape is the thinking we have towards people with all sorts of disabilities, diseases, situational disabilities, and the like. If I can change the way we stigmatize poverty, drug addiction, homelessness, etc. and help just one person, that, to me, would mean absolutely everything.