Cherish charity and justice

Emily Taylor

During my first two years here at Davidson, I volunteered weekly at a local therapeutic riding center that provided services to those suffering from traumatic brain injuries (TBI’s).   I loved working with the horses and giving back to my new community.  By the end of my sophomore year, however, I stopped going, feeling that my time wasn’t well spent.  While those suffering from TBI’s undoubtedly need the therapeutic services, I saw a healthcare system that doesn’t adequately address the needs of the disabled.
This experience has led me to reflect on the fundamental difference between charity and justice.  At its best, charity is an expression of generosity, love, and mercy, although it can also be motivated by a sense of pity; it typically addresses the effects of injustice in our society.  On the other hand, justice arises from the conviction that we all deserve the same basic rights, and that leads to a determination to change a system that does not guarantee these rights to all citizens. Charity provides services that address needs that stem from societal injustice.  Justice, in its many forms, restores dignity, while also building a community will no longer need charity.
This is essential to understanding the ways in which we treat those in our society who are marginalized or underserved.  While the services provided by many nonprofits are vital to underserved populations, they only address immediate needs, such as food from a soup kitchen or housing from a homeless shelter.  This model treats the problem as if it were temporary one that, once addressed, will be solved forever.  While this is true in some cases, many times it addresses a permanent problem that can only be solved by bringing justice to a community.
This year, I have gotten involved with Divest Davidson, the campus organization that advocates selling the fossil fuel stocks that are part of the College’s investment portfolio.  This divestment campaign is a part of the larger climate justice movement, which recognizes that climate change disproportionately affects the poor, not only of our country but also of the world.  Divest Davidson works to change policy that will address the root issue of climate change, which is the pollution emitted into our environment by the burning of fossil fuels.  In this way, Divest Davidson works to bring justice, although charity will be needed to provide relief for those that are impacted by the natural disasters that will occur as an effect of the changes that have already taken place in our climate.
Involvement in charity within our global community is needed, but providing charity without justice guarantees that charity will always be necessary.  So, I challenge you: when you’re looking for your next volunteer opportunity, instead of asking what you can do for your country, ask what you can do to bring justice for all.


Emily Taylor `16 is a History major from Greenville, SC. Contact her at

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