Name: Dana Brown
Host Site: Roger Williams University Community Partnerships Center
Where did you go to school? The Community College of Rhode Island and Rhode Island College
What are your personal and professional interests? I’m a reader and a writer, so I do research and synthesize what I find, when I’m not wrapped up in a novel or composing a poem. Every morning, I wake up around dawn to run with my dog Ollie.
If you could have any super power, what would it be? I wouldn’t mind being generally magical, like the characters of Harry Potter.
Story of Service
Everyday, as a youth, I would walk home from Samuel Slater Jr. High School, through one of the industrial valleys of Pawtucket. The tired streets were littered, lined with metal fencing, factories and spotted with bars and liquor stores. People walked with cold, stoic faces of menace and fear. I was happy to transfer to a technical high school that would take me by bus to the next town over. By the time I was figuring my life out four years later, guidance councilors were telling me that I would work at McDonalds my whole life if I didn’t take a factory job, assuming I would be a failure at college.
There’s a lot that can get in one’s way—a lot of people leading in wrong directions. The factory life wasn’t for me. I ended up working at a café in downtown Providence, paying my way through CCRI and RIC as I went along— totally illiterate to financing a college education. I worked alongside people who were struggling to raise families with a minimum wage job as their only source of income. They were making due with what they had and hoped for something better, but didn’t know how to make this happen.
Working on issues of poverty in Bristol didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me at first, but I’m starting to understand why I’m here. I grew up around poverty, even though I never recognized it that way. It was just life to me. My mother would yard sale and consignment shop, but there was always food on the table. For some I’ve known, they weren’t so lucky. This position has pulled me out of the immediate situational circumstances and has allowed me to view things from an abstracted perspective.
I’ve thought of poverty as a frame of mind in which there are no options and no way out. One is simply stuck, and one accepts that. This is how things are, and they won’t change. Very narrow and not creative, not flourishing with the opportunities we, as Americans, are promised everyday. This VISTA position has liberated me, personally, from that environment where that frame of mind takes grip. I come to the office and carry out the tasks I’m asked to. However abstract they may seem, however distant I feel from the people I have known my whole life, I feel like I am improving things, rather than being caught in them.