Wednesday, March 31, 2010

March 31st Aubrey and Nancy

Today we started off the day serving in D.C. Central Kitchen. DCCK is a really cool organization that has job training in the culinary arts for formerly homeless people. it has an outreach program that helps people join the job program to get off the street, off drugs, or into a career. DCCK also has food that goes out into the community and feeds into 100 other organizations. Ms. Dot was in charge of the Salad station which as a vegetarian I got to be a part of. She was a character who liked things to be right. for example: we shouldn't take off our gloves until specifically told and the cucumbers are only meant to be shaved in three places. After that we got to eat food that was prepared in DCCK. It was really good and had representation of all of the food groups.

Between lunch and visiting the Capitol, we were able to lounge on the Capitol mall. A few of us found a fountain and laid down on the edge. A while later, a patrol officer came and told us that we were not allowed to lay down. One of the first thoughts I had was that the folks at the Capitol are very concerned with aesthetics: if they were so concerned with tourists lounging, how would they feel about the homeless wandering around and even settling down?

In the afternoon we started off lobbying MN representatives: Walz and Paulsen. We specifically asked about putting homelessnness in the front of the eyes of the gov't. Walz's aide was very helpful in telling us that most of the homelessness funds are allocated by state governments.

Right now we are preparing for the Homeless challenge. We will be out on the street from 2pm til 2pm. We are preparing the stories that will be our background as to why we are homeless. All of us will be recently homeless in our story. We have also been discussing our fears and worries. what will we say if someone does ask us our story? What are we going to do with nothing to do??? Will we be bored? Where will we go to the bathroom? How will others look at us? Will we get kicked out of restaurants or museums?

None of us have showered or shaved for the past two days. Our feet have been sort of worked in by all of the walking we've done but that also will factor into how tired we are while walking. I personally am going to wear pants I haven't washed for a month and the shirt I've worn for the past two days.
We will be traveling in two's and will meet up with the group for the night.There will be one cell phone among the pairs for safety and absolute emergency only.
By doing this challenge we hope to gain a partial understanding of the difficulties that go along with being homeless.
I really hope to push myself both physically and mentally and to really grow from this experience.

Chicago Day 5: Jazmin

Today was hard. It was our last day at Little Black Pearl, which I have absolutely fallen in love with (slash hope to find a way to work with this summer?). I think all of us were just starting to make some great connections with the students, and for us to have to leave now, without getting to see the final culmination of all the hard work is heartbreaking (and I hope you'll understand how sincerely I mean that without me having to tell you that I actually shed a few tears on the matter). I just hope beyond hope that we were able to accurately convey to the students how much we really did want to be there for them on the last day.

We've been having great discussions each night and it's exciting to get to hear Katie, Kate, Amelia, Simone, Clara, Lewis, Bre'Elle, and Megan share more of themselves each night. Hearing where others come from and how they're interpreting this experience, as well as being able to share myself, is quite a learning experience. I've been hugely inspired by my fellow group members' inspiration, and definitely gained some new insight, WHICH, excitingly, was one of my goals for this trip. So I'll pat myself on the back and check off that box.

So, in sum, although I'm slightly hoping that by some twist of fate we'll be able to attend the final day of the Little black Pearl program (even if only for a few more hugs), I'm highly enjoying my time and looking forward to what else this trip will bring.

What's your story?

Southern hospitality isn't just a cliche, but a way of life.

We have discovered this day after day in New Orleans, and it doesn't matter what socioeconomic status the person is in; they open their homes and lives. In multiple instances we can simply start conversations with a simple "what's your story?" Everyone has one, but here they are all defined by "before the storm" and "after the storm".

We are halfway finished with our trip, and it has quickly become a blur.

New Orleans is the case study for economic disparities. On the first night we drove through wealthy neighborhoods which were largely unaffected by "the storm", but today we visited the lower 9th ward. The stark contrast between the wealthy and the poor neighborhoods was overwhelming. But, even when we were in the 9th ward witnessing the devastation, it was easier to focus on the brand new houses which Brangelina are building through their "Make it Right" campaign than it was to wander the ruins of what was once a home. The greatest tragedy of the situation is that those most affected by Katrina were those least capable to deal with it. That's how it seems to always go, but it seems so unfair for the French Quarter (our backyard) to be so minimally affected and for others to lose everything. Finding an old digital camera in a pile of five-year-old rubble made it so real to me; both Mac and I would have given anything to see the photos that were on them, photos that proved that someone had really been in that room (which is now faint lines on concrete proving the existence of kitchen tiles).

We meet people wherever we go, and are happy to do such although we have been warned not to talk to strangers. Personal connections have been unequivocally the most important aspect of this trip, and most people we speak to ask us to carry their stories with us and share them with others.

I fully believe that were it not for the hospitality people have shown us, the trip would mean significantly less.That being said,
if anyone needs their house sanded, mudded (does that word exist outside of the construction world?) or their walls textured, let us know. We have swiftly become professionals.


Reflection: Chicago, Day 4.

What do we do with our dreams?

This has been the theme today in Chicago. What do we do with our dreams? What are our dreams? How far are we willing to go to pursue what we believe in; what we dream of?

Monica Haslip, founder and executive director of Little Black Pearl, one of the organizations with whom we're volunteering throughout the week, seems to keep dreams in her pocket, next to the lint. She's had thousands, it seems, and somedays she's clearly had so many that a few of them had to survive the spin cycle and land back where they'd started: with her.

We were lucky enough to have lunch with Monica today, and to be able to receive her stories. From working comfortably at BET to literally running out of money in the planning and processing stages of the Little Black Pearl Workshop, she's seen it all, and she's never taken any of it lightly. When she was twenty-eight, she got the idea to buy a building and turn it into a youth art space -- so she did it. When she decided to expand and build a brand new facility, she did it. When the contractor turned around and sued her for $2 million and she knew she could fight the suit, she did that, too. She's built some of Little Black Pearl with her own hands. She's demanded that the Chicago Transit Authority donate a bus on which the kids could paint -- "I called somebody at CTA," Monica told us, "who said that the CTA never had, didn't want to, and absolutely wouldn't donate a bus to us, and then I got them to donate a bus to us."

That is to say, when she wanted public transportation to be her students' canvas, she did that, too.

She won't lie to you. She says the most important part of a dream is that when you have it, it's already real. But from there, it's all on you and how much you're willing to put into it. Somedays when it got really rough, Monica said, it was all she could do to just accomplish what she could in a given day -- and so she accomplished it.

We talked about our dreams tonight during our reflection. Not the weird dreams where Bugs Bunny is a gangster and there's a contract out on your grandmother's life -- which was a very real dream from my childhood and no, I don't want to get into it -- but the real dreams that we want to pursue. Some of us want to be actors. Some of us want to work with children. Some publish; some be the President of the United States.

My dream is to be a performance poet. As much as I'm willing to admit that these days -- and that is a fairly recent confession -- I'm afraid of it. Terrified. As Gregory Pickett put it, "Ain't Nobody Hirin' Poets."

Wait; what's that? You don't know Gregory Pickett?


But we all have dreams. That's what today was about. Whether it was my conversation with a boy who told me that painting keeps him out of trouble and that maybe he'd like to keep doing it, or my own staring at the carpet and trying to put myself in the mindset of a twenty-eight year old purchasing a building on a hunch and a passion, tonight I know that dreams are about commitment.

Dreams don't fall into your lap -- that's why they're called dreams. When we dream at night, we burrow deep into our subconscious and decide what really matters without letting ourselves and our days and our woes get in the way. When we dream during the day, we drift away from the world for a moment and take a breath to think about what we really want to think about. In either case, the ideas we grant ourselves are fantastic and whimsical, and it's no coincidence that we can only hear them once we get rid of the static.

It is late. Soon, I will dream. Soon, I imagine, we will all dream.

It's a start.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Third Day in DC-Muna

As soon as we got off the plane and made our way to our hostel, we immediately noticed why Washington DC was the site for our trip on homelessness. I am beginning to learn so much about my group, both the differences and similarities I hold with them. One thing we all shared in common, was that we didn't have a real experience with the issue of homelessness, and we also never met anyone who was dealing with it. DC definitely gives us all that experience. Everywhere you go, no matter the time, you are bound to see someone digging through the trash, or trying to catch up on some sleep in a dark alley. As students, we aren't sure how to approach homeless individuals, and whether or not those individuals are even willing to let us approach them.
During dinner, we have group reflections. these reflections serve as an 'aha' moment for some, and debate for others, It doesn't take us long to discover that the issue of homelessness encompasses other concerns and issues that we each approach differently, and feel differently about. For example, some of us feel that giving panhandlers money isn't a good idea, and instead we should be donating to charities that use those funds for individuals responsibly. Some of us also feel that we should give individuals money directly, since it maintains the interaction between the giver and the receiver. I stand on the latter side of the debate. For me, it's all about preserving and maintaining personal connections with individuals who live on the streets. But, as I mentioned earlier, it is not easy for most of us, especially myself, to break down my barrier and push myself to interact with homeless people more. I guess I looked at people who are living on the streets with an "us/they" mentality. While on my trip, I'm beginning to challenge that notion, and myself to really understand the issue at hand.
Today was a great day for me. We started the day volunteering with a group that provides services for senior citizens on the brink of homelessness. We helped a wonderful, sweet lady named Ellen. As soon as we got there, Ellen had a lot to tell us. We cleaned her entire home, and by the end, Ellen was crying. Ellen touches a lot of us, and our hard work inside her house made it all worth it for each one of us. For me,that experience was the best volunteer activity we did.On the way back to our hostel, I noticed an old, homeless man sitting on a bench. He didn't look like in the mood to talk. I decided to say hello, and I was surprised with the warm reception he gave me.
Right now, my group members and I are mentally preparing ourselves for the Homeless Challenge. Everyone has been doing a very good job in getting themselves in that mood. Overall, I think in these three days in DC, everyone of us have grown, and become a lot more conscientious students.

Day One Volunteering

Today in our group had a very full day. In the morning we went to Little Black Pearl, to work with high school students. In the evening we went to the Veteran Arts Project. We worked with both young and old, and both experiences were enlightening to all of us.

Little Black Pearl is an organization in Chicago which provides arts opportunities to area youth. This week, while schools are on Spring break, they are having a program for high school students to create art about violence. We watched a video there, which told us that this year around 30 students in Chicago have been killed from gun violence, many as innocent bystanders. We will be going back to LBP tomorrow and Wednesday, but today we were just getting orientated to the program and meeting the students. We did an ice breaker in which students would step into the middle of the circle if a statement applied to them. For example, we might say "step forward if you have an older sibling". What was surprising for most of us, was when we asked students to step forward if they knew anyone who was in a gang. The kids almost laughed that we even had to ask, and every student stepped into the circle. Later we reflected on that, and how their experiences are similar and different to our own high schools.

In the evening, our discussion with the veterans became another time for us to reflect on our own experiences. Each person at the event had 25 minutes to make a collage about how war affected us. The stories the veterans told us were moving, and enlightening. Each person who shared their collage had a different story or point of view to share, and it was fascinating to hear the stories. We were hoping to have more time to talk to the veterans; it seemed like the time went by so fast. What we learned, though, were ways to open up conversations with veterans, and the rules for how to receive those stories. This will enable us to create better communication with people in the future.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Yassin Omar | First Post

Well well well...Washington DC, great experience so far with my fabulous group of Hamlineites. The trip has been both a learning experience and a time to think and reflect upon the things we primarily ignore (hence homelessness) We arrived at DC Saturday night and pretty much unpacked and went to bed. Sunday was also kind of a non productive day, with the exception of just touring parts of the city. My group ( Anna, Muna, and Anna-Maria) had great time enjoying the Capitol, Washington Monument, and Lincoln Memorial. Walking through these symbolic national scenes had left me with what I often wouldn't have thought about had it not been for the challenge. Had I come to D.C without the group, I would have used these national scenes as a way to expand my tourism resume, however as I walked with the group and looked at these places I came to realize a different meaning. A meaning from the lenses of both the homeless and the many things wrong with our society. I thought about what it meant for a homeless person to see these buildings. What did they see? a nation that is working hard to give it's citizens an extra push? A nation staring, like the case with average pedestrians? I was almost in a state of awe, as I reflect back. I came to the conclusion of realizing a country that has come so far to expand and give a cain of support to all kinds of issues, nevertheless not perfect. Call it a more perfect union ( or are we?) Apart from the tour, we also had an orientation with Sarah, who told us about our space and what we can do and what not earlier that day.

Monday( Today )started off with a great experience and ended with a not so good moment. We kicked the morning off with a much needed exercise, walk, to Martha's table. A site that helps and prepares food for many different kinds of groups. There, we cleaned, organized and packed food for the many causes. Aubrey, Trey ( a local 7th grader who also volunteers), and I packed forty seven bags for newly housed families. Trey from the beginning, I thought was there to sit and watch his parents work. However, he was there part of the D.C requirement for kids to put in at least 10 hours, monthly in addition to the credits required to graduate high school. We bonded very well, because we had many things in common; dedicated to upper education, helping our respective communities and also making a difference in this not so perfect world. He was laughing, sharing and expanding on his life, as I did and we came to realize that no matter where we come from, we have the potential as people of the world that change occurs in small steps. It starts in the most unusual places...local libraries, local garages, and local shelter places. We couldn't bond any closer. I left Martha's place realizing a hopeful world. Next came, discussing these problems and changes that need to be implemented with our politicians. Although I do have my own view when it comes to progressive issues, I was hopeful on at least coming to a broad agreement with all of our Minnesota representatives. We met John Klein's chief of staff who from the beginning already turned me off with many non welcoming gestures and words of choice. She continued to say the obvious and agree to homelessness being a problem, nevertheless failed to realize the socio-economic aspects of the problem. She said that Mr.Klein wouldn't support any legislature to assist undocumented persons. This struck me as very close minded view. Although he doesn't represent me nor my district it was very troubling to see our politicians very focused on only their few thousands constituents. This was because before we departed Minnesota we visited Simpson's shelter in Minneapolis, where we met Amanda, a worker there. She mentioned many immigrants who were homeless who couldn't be assisted in any way due to the current laws which prohibit such assistance. Farther more, Mr.Klein's chief staff was very vague and unclear about any direction of assisting the homelessness issue. I even asked her " does Mr.Klein have any action of plan to end homelessness long term" and responded with a very objective answer " Mr.Klein sits in the ____ and ____ committees" In conclusion, the day ended with a very disappointing day and made me ticked off about the lack of care and narrow-mindedness that existed with some of our representatives. Nevertheless, a great trip so far with the group and can't wait to blog again!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

New Perspectives

Today was our first full day in Chicago. We were all pretty excited to get out there and explore.

We started the day off with some grocery shopping, then we had a very delicious lunch and we set off for our first destination: Chicago's Cultural Center.

The Cultural Center was a very interesting and beautiful place. There was soft music playing as we arrived, and we all dispersed and took a look at many of the exhibits.

There was a wide array of exhibits - some painting, some architecture, and some sculpture. There was a particular exhibit that featured photographs of furniture in various places. It was a strange exhibit but it was also emotional for me. Some of the pictures made me feel happy, and some gave me a sense of uneasiness or foreboding. It was strange to me that these pictures of inanimate objects could create feeling. Some of the pictures were taken with Catholic religious statues, and I wondered why this was. Some of the pictures also took place in a columbarium,where ashes are kept. I still wonder about the reason this is, but it created certain feelings when looking at the photographs.

After we spent some time at the Cultural Center, we headed over to the Museum of Contemporary Art to see a play entitled Shipment. It was a very very thought provoking play. It centered around race and was presented in such a way that really left you thinking. The play was funny at parts, but it created a sense of discomfort. Everytime I laughed I thought, Should I really have laughed at that? The show played up on the stereotypes concerning white and black, and the show centered around white/black. After the show when we were discussing, we wondered why this was. We think that keeping it strictly white/black created another message - that a lot of us are so centered on white/black, when really there are many many many other cultures out there. The show made all of us really aware of our thinking, and how none of us a perfect in terms of thinking about race. The show brought up issues about white privilege and was varied in terms of performance. There was dancing, singing, acting and a section where the actors stared out at the audience, not saying a word, for a good few minutes. I have never seen a play like this before, and it made me think and really challenge my perceptions and question how I really perceive. It was a great show and a very eye-opening experience.

Now we settle down for the night, excited for all the promise that tomorrow will bring. We learned a lot today and have a lot to think about. Tomorrow, we start volunteering!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Welcome Old & New: Catalyst--Be The Change

Only another week and a half until we kick off the spring break trips! I hope everyone is getting excited! We'll be getting our Catalyst tee shirts this week and I know that the Chicago team as well as other teams will be doing some last minute outings and meetings with their members to get all things in order.

I can't wait to read the blog entries from the D.C., White Earth and both New Orleans trips while in Chicago doing communitie arts work.

I'm sure this will be another life changing experience for me as well as previous participants in these trips. And to those newcommers, you're in for a treat.

Simone Jacobs-Dwyer