Southern Methodist University’s Engage Dallas program strives to encourage students to give back to our Dallas community by partnering with local residents, organizations, and other leaders to positively impact South and West Dallas. Students on campus were given the opportunity to make an impact on November 12, 2022 with Willie Baronet’s, the Faculty-in-Residence of Armstrong, “We Are All Homeless” walk. Willie collaborated with Armstrong’s Engage Dallas Student Director, Kelsey D’Esopo, to make the walk happen.
Willie, a Meadows School of the Arts professor, first started getting involved with the homeless community by buying signs from anyone on the street. He has “…been buying and collecting signs for twenty-nine years and this is only the fourth year that we have done a march across campus at SMU. Truthfully I never expected it to be something that we would do every year.” Willie is so happy he started buying signs, because it has become a way for him to “connect with people, and once I started, I just couldn’t stop.” Although many students on campus see Willie as a Homelessness expert, he tells people “I’m not an expert on homelessness, but I am very much becoming a student of it.”
One of Willie’s favorite questions to ask people is “what does home mean to you?” The guest speakers had many different answers, but the feeling of home seems to remain similar to everyone. For Kelsey D’Esopo, a Student Director for Engage Dallas, “Home is essentially a feeling, it could be a person, it could be a place, it could be a group of people, that you really feel safe and supported and really comfortable in who you are and expressing what you believe.” Koedi Nealy, with Graced Ministry, describes home as “…a place where I feel safe and loved and supported.” Willie Baronet, Armstrong Commons’ Faculty In Residence (FIR) and from We Are All Homeless, says “the sound of my mom’s voice will always be home.” For SMU student Shara Jeyarajah, from SMU’s Human Rights Group, home is “…being around a community of people that think like you, respect you, and challenge you to be better and be a better person everyday.” Brian Beaty, from Vogel Alcove, says his “home is heaven.” Oluwaseun Taiwo with the Period Project says “home is a place [she feels] most comfortable and accepted for who [she is] as a person.” Overall, home seems to be where people feel supported, respected, loved, and accepted.
There were a variety of students and speakers there, working to spread awareness of the large population who are homeless in the Dallas area, collect donations, and assemble bags to give away. After attending Willie’s homelessness walk, I gained valuable insight. I learned what home means to a variety of different people and how important it is to get involved within the Dallas community. Any small act, like attending a walk, can ripple through the Dallas area and create a much bigger impact. Willie Baronet and various Armstrong Engage Dallas Student Directors have worked to spread awareness of homelessness to students at Southern Methodist University. Students on campus are able to witness their impact through Willie’s art installation in Armstrong Commons and the We Are All Homeless website. There is also an opportunity to get involved with their mission by volunteering with Engage Dallas.