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Homeless survivors teach ELA students

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Volunteers from Urban Possibilities and Emerson Los Angeles participate in an ice-breaking exercise during a story exchange workshop at ELA on November 2. (Photo by Daryl Paranada)

Emerson College Los Angeles students who participated in a workshop exchanging stories with people who survived homelessness, abuse, and addiction discovered just how much they shared in common.

“Beyond the differences, there are so many things that make us equal,” said Taylor Gilroy ’15.

The nonprofit organization Urban Possibilities, which works with homeless people in the Los Angeles area to help them reach artistic and working potential, brought several clients to Emerson Los Angeles’ Assembly Room on November 2 to participate in the story exchange workshop, which paired together one Emerson student with one Urban Possibilities participant. Over the course of an hour, ELA students and Urban Possibilities clients interviewed each other to find commonalities.

“Urban Possibilities students have come from different places, backgrounds, and have found themselves in the toughest of circumstances—and overcome them,” said Eyvette Jones, founder and CEO of Urban Possibilities.

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Taylor Gilroy '15 and Zoey Stranger '15 listen to Eyvette Jones, CEO and founder of Urban Possibilities. (Photo by Daryl Paranada)

The story exchange began with creative exercises intended to break the ice. Shared characteristics and hobbies—a love of music, fondness for comedies, creative writing—bonded the students.

“It’s fascinating how people of different cultures and circumstances can find things we all share in common,” said Esther Alejandro, age 67. “I think that’s precious.”

During the exchange, Alejandro shared stories of how she grew up in New York and Puerto Rico studying music, overcame Strabismus as a young girl, graduated with a master’s degree from California State Los Angeles, and lived on the streets when she could not find work.

“Music has been a great comfort to me,” said Alejandro, who hopes to pursue a PhD one day. “It’s helped me to overcome life’s tragedies.”

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Laurence Vasquez of Urban Possibilities with Esther Alejandro during a workshop at Emerson Los Angeles on November 2. (Photo by Daryl Paranada)

At the end of the day, students connected over their creative passions and formed connections with people they probably would have never encountered otherwise.

“I didn’t know what the day was going to be like,” said Gilroy. “I’m really glad I did this.”

Jones said she hoped that as ELA students go on to tell their stories, they would remember the connections they made at the story exchange and look past common stereotypes.

“It’s a great agent of change when you can put yourself in someone else’s shoes,” said Jones. “When you can relate as people, you find that we are more alike than different.”

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