The Honeymoon is Over

Layers of Baltimore 2

As quickly as it started the honeymoon ended just as suddenly. I was ready for the moment, but I was not prepared for the impact. I started an anti-racism course for People of Color at the Baltimore Racial Justice Action (BRJA) after work on Wednesdays. Though I have taken anti-racism training before, I thought it important to take this course to help me understand Baltimore better. From the news and being an outsider I heard that the racial tensions in Baltimore were prevalent. The first 29 days did not reveal such understandings as depicted by news media, but on the eve of the 30th day that layer was revealed.

I was returning home from class and as I stated in my early post the neighborhood where Liv and I stay in is gentrifying. After about 5 pm parking is a complete nightmare. So, after circling the blocks (literally multiple blocks were driven) I came back to the block just above the house to find an empty space. Praise the Lord!!! There was a man on a bike looking at his cell phone so I figured he moved to the side to be safe in the darkness. I pulled up preparing to master a smooth parallel park, rolled down the window and asked if he would kindly move. Now, my Chicago living taught me that people put random objects to save parking spaces during the winter so I am used to the behavior. Be mindful that it was closer to mid-July than the depths of winter in Baltimore, so I was not in the mindset to hear this man inform me that he was not being safe on his bike and just randomly on the phone, but saving the spot for his wife who is coming up the block. I uttered my thoughts of unfairness to him and sat there in my car to see how long it would take his wife to arrive. She arrived a few minutes later, but my disbelief and frustration at possibly taking a few more turns around the block had me stuck. I sat there until she parked. I sat there until they walked together across the street into their house. I sat for a few more seconds until I realized that I still needed to find a spot and get home. As I sat, there were emotions building up inside that I had not felt in a while. I felt alone. I felt extreme sadness and hurt. I felt lost and I started to feel angry. I moved up the street slowly and sure enough I found a potential spot at the other end of the same block. I looked around for the signs to tell me if it was legal or not. I backed in as far as possible to ensure that I wasn’t crossing too far over the line into the walkway. As I parked I prayed that this spot was safe. I sat as a few cars came to the intersection and turned. I moved the car a few more times to ensure I was close to the sidewalk and out of the way from the corner. Then I sat there for a while longer. I wanted to cry. I wanted to go back to Georgia. I wanted to walk into my parent’s house knowing my car was safe in the driveway. I wanted this feeling of being defeated and helpless to go away. I got out the car still looking for signs to ensure that I would not wake up to a ticket or a towed car.

So where was the tension? It was internal. The incident itself had nothing to do with race, but I realized that the feelings I had was my awareness of blackness that I had not had to face in this way in a long time. When I was just starting the workforce I had an older white man tell a client that I had no international experience (though I had traveled several times outside the continental states at that time). He deflated who I was based on assumptions rooted in racism. In this moment those feelings returned.  Feelings that there was no way for me to defend myself or insist that the man saving the parking spot was truly unfair. There was no way for me to be assertive and confident that if anything escalated between me and ‘my neighbor’ that I would be treated equally. I realized that I was a Black woman in Baltimore, where tensions between Police and Black citizens is not on the best terms. That evening my mind began to understand what my body and soul already knew. I was not some new resident from Georgia, to my neighbor and to those who I encounter I am a Black woman from Baltimore. My race and my gender precede any other information or knowledge one might gather in our interactions. I uncovered another layer of Baltimore--internalized oppression covered in white privilege.

Update: I had another almost similar incident that ended up in a $50 parking ticket because the spot was not legal. With only 15 days to pay before penalty I understand the reason many get jammed up with parking fines. I am fortunate to have a few surplus dollars to handle surprise expenses, but for many this is another layer in the battle.

-Melva, Hands and Feet Fellow

What Am I Doing Here?

Second only to “Now, if you’re from Baton Rouge, where is your Southern accent?” the question I’ve been faced with most since moving to Baltimore has been the plain-spoken, “Why are you here in Baltimore doing community organizing?” 

 Mel and Liv at the October community organizing training in Baltimore, sponsored by Johnson C. Smith Seminary, Metro IAF, and NEXT Church.

Mel and Liv at the October community organizing training in Baltimore, sponsored by Johnson C. Smith Seminary, Metro IAF, and NEXT Church.

I think my answer to this--why, Liv, are you called to community organizing?--is largely dependent upon who asks the question and what is presently aflame in the world. I’ve wondered a while whether there’s something disingenuous about maintaining a sugary-cereal-aisle volume of responses that I can pluck from and tailor dependent upon the identity of the person asking, the most recent failing of the government, or the latest affront to justice of which I’ve recently become aware. I’ve decided, for now, that having different responses for different days and different people is alright as long as each response is as true as the next. As long as I can position each “why community organizing” response in relationship to the others, trying always to keep track of the largest narrative, this cereal aisle can be as big as it needs. In no way is one response that I cite, one reason for acting publically to transform the world, entirely unique, each bears a plane that somehow connects it to the others. From what I can tell, there seem to be three threads that connect all of my reasons for seeking to organize to one another. So, I’ll tell you three of them. One about public crying, one about a cafeteria epiphany, and something about God and organizing. 

First, I am here because I’m a pretty big purveyor of public tears. I’m telling you... music, beautiful or difficult pieces of artwork, word of injustice here or there, a good story, a sappy segment on the news, films-- you can bet I’ll weep! A homegoods store, a church service, while exercising, walking from point A to point B, I’ll cry right then and there! Now, for a while my tears were something I was embarrassed about. I had practiced all sorts of ways to suppress the tears, to coax them back up my cheeks and back into my eyes. I didn’t want people to know that I was such a softie, crying about something they didn’t seem so moved by. I’ve come to appreciate my tears as external indicators that I’m listening and that I’m called to feel and to find means to metabolize that feeling into productive action and productive lament. I’m here because I’ve found myself with plenty to cry about lately and I’ve got to let these tears be seen and put these tears to work. 

Second, I’m here because I think of myself as the most privileged lady there ever was. For whatever reason, this realization came to me as I hurriedly ran across campus one day a couple of years ago on my way to grab some astoundingly subpar food form my school’s cafeteria. I had been thinking about how hard it felt to talk to some people in my life about Trump’s election. Why couldn’t they see everything I saw? How this news would affect minorities, how the wealth gap would likely increase, how this couldn’t be good news for our environment. I then wondered why I could see and feel all of the looming doom and why, of all times, I was most troubled by it during the middle of my time at a very cushy and elite college. Making my way toward an unsatisfying meal, it hit me that the very reason I felt a strange sort of ease and clarity in understanding what Trump’s election meant for the marginalized was the exact same reason other’s saw their way of life under fire and felt no problem with the election of an explicitly bigoted individual. Because I’ve practiced seeing things from the margins, I’ve been primed to see structures of power a certain way given my identity and the circumstances surrounding my upbringing. I know and feel and, to a certain degree, understand the mechanics of oppression because, as a queer lady, I’ve sometimes felt small and forgotten and like the mechanisms of society weren’t built with me in mind. I have been permitted behind the curtain to know and feel othering in my body. Yet, this experience in itself made a privilege because the other pieces of my identity-- my whiteness, my able-bodiedness, my education-- prevent the totality of my experience from being one in which I am rendered entirely immobile by the manifestations of said marginalization. I am here because I have felt some of the ways in which exploitation and discrimination hurt but have privilege yet to make use of. 

Third, while I’m a ways away from piecing together anything resembling a complete statement of faith, I am here because I know at least one thing to be true: the work of the church and the work of the community organizer are one and the same. The just world that God calls me to believe and act toward, rooted in the hopeful ethic of Christianity, is brought into being with the skillset of the community organizer. It is my belief in the efficacy of community organizing that bolsters my hope in what the church and what Christianity can be. And, it is my faith in God and the ever-courageous presence of the Holy Spirit that tells me that there remains a more just world that is worth organizing toward. 

-Liv Thomas, Hands and Feet Fellow

A Precious Garden

We have had two weekend mission visits for the fall so far. These weekends are the first time I got to experience the full programming and schedule set up by The Center.

The excitement and nervousness of Friday night moved into the sheer excitement of getting to spend time with Precious, the patient advocate coordinator at The Glenwood Life Center in Woodbourne-McCabe. Olivia (Liv) and I got to meet Precious during our orientation. Once you meet Precious you will never forget her or lose her in a crowd. Whatever anxiety I might have been feeling about my new role, I knew once I got a hug from Precious and began listening to her stories, whatever I was feeling would fade.

The group arrived on site and after filling some space with devotion, instructions, and some background information on the work of the Glenwood Life Center as a Methadone Clinic, Precious arrived. The Glenwood Life Center is a community. It helps those who have become addicted to opioids. There are resources, counselors, art projects, and group meetings to help patients work their way out of addiction and off methadone treatment. Precious is not just the patient advocate, but a patient herself. She is very open and forthcoming about her story and the process she has gone through to get to where she is today. Plus, Precious always comes with smiles and hugs.

To work inside this garden is very special. Precious began the garden in 2013 when she started volunteering as the patient advocate coordinator. Across from the clinic is an open space where they built a small playground for the neighborhood. Initially a small plot of the land was used to build a garden to promote healing for the patients, a backdrop to the playground, and give healthy food options to the kids and their families who live in the neighborhood. The garden has since turned into much much more. When you enter the garden you feel as though you are in a completely different setting. The chill in the air and the mist of light rain does not matter as you begin to dig, pull, turn over soil within the garden beds. The plants are her babies. Each one a sign of hope and optimism. Marigolds were the first plant she planted in the garden that has recently helped feed 1,374 people with produce donated to the local farmer’s market and food pantry. To watch Precious and volunteers work in the garden is experience a small taste of the impact the garden holds for this community. Though it is hard to get patients from the Glenwood Life Center to assist in the garden, for fear of sweating out their medication, it does not deter Precious who is now a master gardener, from working and planning another expansion project.

A part of my task as a Fellow is to work alongside her and I am excited to see her visions come to light. For the past two weekends we have cleaned and prepped the beds for winter growing. Precious has a special touch and way with planting seeds that produce in the unlikeliest of conditions. This is literal and figurative. Precious has already planted a seed within me about understanding the difference between the addiction and the treatment of opioid abuse. She has become a friend and protective older sister, making me pinky promise that I would call her if I ever needed assistance getting around the city. She makes it comfortable to enter and interact with the staff and patients within the Glenwood community. I never would have thought that I would say that working at an addiction treatment clinic would be a highlight of my work experience, but everyone I have met there is friendly, open-minded, and knows who Precious is! She is very much a celebrity figure, but honest in the way that she cares. I have lost track of her because she stops and gives 100% of her attention to someone who needs to talk to her. The garden and Precious are reminders to slow down and let the unexpected happen. You’d be surprised about what grows when you do.  

-Melva

Trying to Make Sense of Last Week

This year, as part of the Hands and Feet Initiative, The Center is hosting two fellows. Stay tuned here as Melva and Liv share their experiences.

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Today marks my first month as a Baltimorean, the first of many more to come! Stay tuned, I’m working on finding means to shift the ‘baltimorean’ moniker to ‘baltimorer,’ leaving long-time locals the opportunity to claim the ‘baltimorest’ identity. Feedback welcome.

These first four weeks have brought parking tickets (starting a gofundme), sleep schedule adjustment and readjustment, shear bewilderment at the depth of potholes here, and some heavy Google Maps dependence. The learning curve associated with a new city, a new job, a non-college schedule, and finding new community has felt a great deal like trying to drink from a firehose. Amidst all of this, I’ve found comfort in my co-workers, in nearby family members, and in some lovely new friends. These past two weeks I’ve found myself in need of every bit of their presence, insight, bravery, and wisdom.

I, like much of the country, have been gripped by the recent Brett Kavanaugh hearings and Dr. Christine Ford’s associated testimony. I couldn’t look away. I found myself spending more time on CNN and CSPAN and Facebook over the course of the past two weeks than I regularly might over the course of several months combined. I have been even more aware of my identity as a woman. To watch a woman my mom’s age, who grew up not far from where my mom did, recount an experience all too similar to ones my friends have endured felt deeply personal and I’d imagine that the judiciary committee proceedings likely felt personal for many women and men. As the Senate vote approached and it became clear that Kavanaugh would be confirmed, I felt my tense anxiety surrounding the hearings morph into disillusionment and a heavy heavy sadness.

Given the timing, the Senate hearing came down amidst all of my newness that I mentioned before and just as one of our first groups of the fall was getting into town and settling in for a weekend with us. I’ve so been looking forward to getting into the swing of hosting groups at The Center, learning our curriculum, spending time with groups and our partners, and experiencing the work of the Holy Spirit in all of it and I wondered how I’d do so with such a weight in my stomach. I wanted desperately to be fully present but I’m really no good at compartmentalizing.  

How does one remain authentic and engaged in justice-seeking work among youth and their leaders on one scale and dimension when that same justice and will to transform our world and our treatment of one another is so blatantly dismissed on a different scale and in a not-so-far-away dimension?

This weekend, with the events in DC in mind, experiencing youth participant’s honesty and curiosity and courage as they worked in gardens among new friends and caterpillars and mums and morning glory flowers felt a bit like I was in a utopia that was aware of its ephemerality. Such a strange and disparate dual experience might be compared to:

A single floating honey nut cheerio in a bowl of sour milk.

A massage chair in the middle of a mall on Black Friday.

A shiny red and white life preserver amidst hurricane seas.

A warm melting pad of butter on a very cold and very whole wheat pancake.

A mindfulness meditation circle in the middle of a heavy metal mosh pit.

If I’m being honest, I don’t yet have my head wrapped around everything that took place this past week and weekend-- both good and bad. And, truth be told, I have no profound wisdom regarding how to forge ahead when the weight of our nation’s political unrest becomes especially heavy upon our shoulders. What this weekend and my experience with our first full weekend group did remind me is that justice and injustice don’t stand in line and take turns directing. The good and the bad and the wrong and right and fair and unfair all happen all at once and perhaps the best we can do is keep our eyes wide enough to see both. For me there was no putting my sadness for Dr. Ford and our country away as I worked with our group this weekend. But, there was a way to feel that sadness and despair and ask God to permit my sensitivity to also be hyper-aware of the light peeking in through caterpillars and laughter.

-Liv Thomas, Hands and Feet Fellow

“The Layers of Baltimore” (Innocence)

This year, as part of the Hands and Feet Initiative, The Center is hosting two fellows. Stay tuned here as Melva and Liv share their experiences.

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If I could sketch

I would rough out a picture

that lingers with me.  

The sketch would depict two small black boys ---- walking

across the street

thru an open area

between two-story housing buildings.

A second sketch

would depict a quick embrace

of the older boy to the younger.

It would depict a conversation

that includes smiles and laughter.

Just like a rough sketch cannot tell the full story, there is no real way to tell in words without adding layers. Layers that are prescribed by living as a minority in America. Layers prescribed by watching the news and being observant as you enter and exit different spaces. These layers take away the innocence in the image I witnessed as a passenger heading home after another day in Baltimore. The image gave my roommate, partner in the Hands and Feet Initiative, and I a deep sense of joy and light-heartedness that we discussed briefly in the moment and days later.  It is an image that truly impacted us.

Olivia Thomas and I had about a week of living together and orientation into our work at The Center when we witnessed the above story. We were returning home to our neighborhood in its own process of gentrification. We were about three blocks below our residence. I believe we had started a tour that day to find special locations around the city. However, this small and very brief moment we shared watching the interactions of these young boys left a deeper impression. This moment has come define what I call “the layers” of Baltimore. As we enter a month of living, working, and moving about Baltimore I can sense that there are many many layers to this city and people. There are layers that have been added by the rich history. I have walked our neighborhood and have found old historical homes once belonging to free blacks who worked the docks in the 1700s. I have walked down cobble streets passed old warehouses and family bakeries. At times it feels like any new urban setting city. But, there are layers added by injustice and segregation. There is a northern feel, but people still speak when they pass reminding you that you are still part of the southern etiquette. This layer covers what I have seen portrayed on the news. It covers up some of the tension you see when you drive from East Baltimore to West Baltimore. When you drive through the neighborhoods that gentrification has yet to touch. It covers up the layers of violence, poverty, and disparities you hear when in conversation with a local partner or watching groups sit on stoops and stand on corners. The innocence of two small black boys happy to be with each other walking is where I want the layer and story to stop. As we started driving home again, I tried my hardest to not add anymore layers to their story. My mind began to add layers of who they are based on appearance. Layers that with some visible evidence might prove to be factual, but places them within the statistic that will have one of them dead in 10-15 years or part of a gang. A layer that has them witnessing struggle, violence, hunger, rage, and despair. What Olivia and I witnessed that day was just one of many layers. My prayer for them as they walked on oblivious of our gazing, was for God to protect them and keep them from the many layers of harm and injustice this world has set up and is ready to place on them. I prayed for their safety that night and for their success in life. I prayed for the work I was entering into and the many people I will meet along the way. That moment lasted only a few seconds, but it is the image that is branded into my mind as the backstory of life in Baltimore. Even in hearing the stories, we have witnessed the layer of innocence. We have been met with welcome, curiosity, and open-mindedness. We understand that this is but one layer and have begun finding different ways to immerse ourselves within various communities and settings throughout the city. My mind has stopped trying to add its prescribed social layers onto my memory of two little black boys, crossing the street walking through the two-story housing buildings with smiles on their faces.

-Melva Lowry, Hands and Feet Fellow

Centern Stories: Week 8 with Laura

“All Good Things Must Come to an End” -Geoffrey Chaucer 

Last summer, I visited The Center with my youth group from Burke Presbyterian Church as one of the adult leaders. We worked with Dickey Memorial Presbyterian Church on the second week of their Golden Eagles camp. Our group got to be mentors to the kids at camp that week. As our week there progressed, I slowly started forming a relationship with my mentee. By the end of the week, she gave me a small heart with her name on it and told me she loved me. This small moment was a big reason why I wanted to an intern this summer. Within a week, I had built a meaningful and genuine relationship with this girl. This had been a mission trip unlike any other that I have had ever experienced. We had all left that week with new friends and tons of memories.

Fast forward to week 8, our last week of the summer. There were a few reasons why I was excited for this week. The most important reasons were that I got to work with Dickey Memorial, and my church was coming for a second year. I had been waiting for this week for the majority of the summer. I was having incredible experiences throughout the summer and I couldn’t wait to share that with my church.

On Monday, I was eager to see all the kids from last year again. However, I was a little worried that they would not remember me. As kids started to arrive, I was able to recall their names and say good morning to them. The mentee that I had last year arrived and I got a huge smile and a hug from her. This made my heart so happy and I knew that our bond that we made last year was still there. Some of the youth were a little sad that some of the kids didn’t remember them right away. I had to remind them that just like these kids have grown up, they have also grown up and changed. As camp started, the kids and the youth quickly bonded and picked up their relationships from last year. It was amazing to see how despite being apart for a year, the relationships they made were still there. As the week continued, these relationships continued to grow. I was able to build my relationship with my mentee from last year, as well as build relationships with two new mentees. We had fun building relationships, water sliding, screen painting and hanging out at the beach. As this week finished, I was both sad and excited. Sad because I was leaving this church and this internship, but excited to see what my future after this job holds.

Just like the quote above says, “All good things must come to an end.” This internship has been so much more than I expected it to be. I met some really great people and made so many new friendships. I pushed myself and got outside of comfort zone by teaching curriculum and leading devotions, and by not being afraid to make changes and accommodations to it depending on the group. Being in Baltimore and this internship have shown me how I am being called to do mission back in my own community and church in Burke, Virginia.

As a teacher, this curriculum has taught me how I want to bring the practice of "crossing boundaries" to be in relationship into my classroom. I always want my classroom to be a safe and trusting space for my students. When people cross boundaries, relationships are built and you are able to understand each other on a deeper and more personal level. Having a classroom like this gives students a space where they don’t feel judged and can truly be themselves.

My big project for the upcoming school year is to bring the crossing boundaries curriculum to the rest of my youth group. Since a small group of middle schoolers has come to The Center for the past 2 years, I figure that expanding this curriculum to my whole youth group would be easy and effective. We are also always looking for new mission experiences to be apart of. A big thing that is part of my youth group and The Center curriculum is one-on-one meetings. As per the homework assignment we give groups, they have to complete one-on-one meetings in their congregation. My plan is to use this assignment as a starting point for mission this year as a youth group. I want to find out where my youth feel called in their community and our church. There are many boundaries, as identified by my church during our Thursday night program, in Burke that can be crossed. The hard part is figuring out how to cross those boundaries in a respectful way that can build trusting relationships. However, that is also the fun and interesting part. I am looking forward to working with my youth group and figuring this out together. I am thankful for The Center and this experience for providing me the tools that I need to make a difference and a change back home in my community and church.

Stay tuned for an update on this journey of crossing boundaries.

-Laura

Centern Stories: Week 5 with Shelby

This past week the Centerns got a break from the hustle and bustle of Baltimore to stay in a quaint Annapolis beach bunkhouse (thanks to the awesome hospitality of some church friends). Our week in Annapolis was spent with our partners at First Presbyterian Church of Annapolis and STAIR (Start the Adventure in Reading) and our group from Mt. Vernon Presbyterian Church in Alexandria, Virginia. FPC Annapolis was kind enough to provide lodging for our group from Alexandria during their stay. We spent our mornings volunteering at the STAIR Summer Reader’s Theater camp at the Robinwood Community Center, one of ten of STAIR’s locations during the school year. The week was full of enthusiastic kids, all kinds of books, and plays about bugs, mummies, not-so-traditional fairytales, and very needy mice.

The week started with some reluctance from the campers and some awkward introductions. It is always interesting to go to a new place on day one and spend all day with people you’ve never met. However our group from Alexandria embraced the kids with open minds, ready smiles, and plenty of encouragement. By day two, they were old pros. It was such a gift to see the ways the kids opened their hearts to new volunteers while also meeting the more familiar volunteers with hugs and laughter. The Annapolis Police Department has volunteered with the STAIR summer camp for two years now and they know a lot of the kids from activities and mentoring throughout the year with various community programs.

Another consistent presence with the kids is Linda Barbour, who has been the Executive Director of the STAIR program in Annapolis for a few years now. She works year round to help kids across the city know that they are cared for and that reading can be FUN! Her passion for children and for theater makes for a great combination each summer during the Reader’s Theater camp. Linda (along with a team of great volunteers) turns books into plays for the kids to read, sets up tables of craft materials for the kids to get creative with props and costumes, and applauds the kids as they transform from nervous readers to budding actors in just one week. It was such an honor to get to join in such amazing work.

The youth and adults from Mount Vernon Presbyterian certainly thought so as well. Throughout the week they built relationships with kids - from the quiet ones to the rabble-rousers. These relationships were formative for both the youth and the children. The campers had consistent encouragement to help them improve their literacy and their confidence and the youth had the benefit of learning about kids from different backgrounds and perspectives than their own. The camp overall was a huge success, culminating in a performance for family and friends on Friday. Each of the actors and actresses beamed with pride as they read their lines and received their applause from the audience. The week went by quickly in flashes of smiles, laughter, singing, dancing, crafting, and reading. STAIR does some really good work in Annapolis and participating alongside the group from Mt. Vernon reminded me that what we teach at The Center is true: God really is at work in communities and neighborhoods. What a gift it is to be invited to take part.

-Shelby

Centern Stories: Week 4 with Natalie

Last week, I worked with middle school youth from Eastside Baptist Church (Marietta, GA) at week three of five of the Rosemont Community Interfaith Coalition’s summer camp. Each day, we heard a different parable of Jesus, sang songs, learned math, read stories, played field games, and did arts and crafts together.

“I’m not a bad kid. I’m a good kid. They’re calling me a ‘bad kid,’” is what a third grader said to me after he was sent away for almost getting into a fight with an older camper. I hadn’t called him a “bad kid,” I’d only asked why his day wasn’t going well as this was the second time I had to pull him out of our group that day. I assured him that I knew he wasn’t a bad kid and that God loves him no matter what.

This made me think of other labels we give humans and spaces in the world. “Bad neighborhood,” “rough city,” and “dangerous people” are all labels I’ve heard people use to describe Baltimore. These voices haven’t gotten to know Baltimore the way its citizens know Baltimore. Most of these voices haven’t even set foot in Baltimore.

At camp, we got to work alongside leaders in the Rosemont neighborhood who recognize the good people, good resources, and good potential that already exist. Furthermore, these leaders represent faith communities that likely would have never organically worked together if it were not for the coalition they have formed. Regardless of theological differences and preferred praise styles, these leaders and the groups which they represent love this city and love their neighborhood.

One of the many things I have learned while working at The Center is that when we use words like “violent” or “scary” to describe people and places, we put them in a box and the box becomes a system that takes away their potential. This boxing in functions the same way as referring to the third grader as a “bad kid.” Giving him that identity teaches him that all he can amount to is misbehaving and making poor choices. When we take a step back to determine why we perceive a neighborhood as “rough,” we are able to see the pile of factors that contribute to that viewpoint.

-Natalie

Centern Stories: Week 4 with Laura

Last week, we had a group from Eastside Baptist Church in Marietta, Georgia. There were about 30 people that stayed at The Center. Since this was such a large group, we spilt them 3 different worksites. The sites for the week were Babcock Presbyterian Church, Rosemont Community Interfaith Coalition and Knox Presbyterian Church. I had the pleasure of working with a group of 7 youth and 2 adults at Knox Presbyterian Church. My group also worked at Amazing Grace Lutheran Church. The week was filled with mural painting and relationship building.

On Monday and Tuesday mornings, we went to Amazing Grace Lutheran Church to help with restoring a mural with their summer camp and doing some gardening. Amazing Grace has had a mural on the ground that need some fresh paint to restore its beauty. We had the opportunity to work with the campers in their summer camp to start this process. The Eastside Baptist group and I got to hang out with the campers while painting and eat lunch with them.

Our Monday through Friday evenings were filled with going to Knox Presbyterian Church and helping out at their Vacation Bible School (VBS). Their theme was God’s Water Heroes so we learned all about saving water and being nice to our environment (ie. not littering and recycling). We also had the opportunity of helping them paint a new mural that is on the side of their church. Both of these worksites lead to lots of new relationships between the youth and the campers. This was the first time we had a group working with Knox Presbyterian Church. After service on Sunday, we had the opportunity of eating lunch with the members of the church. We all instantly felt at home and I knew that this was going to be a great partnership. All the adult volunteers were friendly and so open to us being there! Through the week, we all built relationships and went out of our comfort zones to have a great week of VBS. By the end of the week, you could tell that some true friendships were made with the campers and the Eastside Baptist youth. One evening, one of the campers came up to me and gave me a big hug and told me that she would miss me. This instantly melted my heart. It is always crazy to me when I realize what a big impact by just being present with kids can be for them and you.

As I have said, last week led to a lot of new relationships and really showed how mission is relational. Thursday morning, we started the day with a devotion on The Road to Emmaus and I asked the group to think about where they see Jesus along their day. After, the group and I went on a scripture scavenger hunt. We were given 10 different scriptures and we had to find something that represented the scripture. As we were completing the hunt, we walked into a park and I decided to say hello to a man who was sitting on a bench. He said hello and asked what we were doing. I told him and instantly thought that this conversation would abruptly end and we would continue on. However, I was wrong. We ended up having about a 30 minute conversation with him and learned that his name was Dwight. Dwight was very excited about our scripture scavenger hunt. We learned that Dwight went to seminary and was also in the military. Somewhere a long his life journey, he became homeless. Yet, he did not let that keep him down and derail him from his faith. For 30 minutes, we shared our scriptures with Dwight and he shared his interpretation with us. This moment was exactly what mission was about. It is about meeting people, who may be different from you, and being able to talk with them and get to know them despite those differences. As the was conversation happening, it was heartwarming to see how engaged the youth were when talking to Dwight. I also couldn’t believe that we talked about The Road to Emmaus that morning and were blessed with meeting Dwight. Each one of us were crossing a boundary we don’t normally cross and doing it respectfully and gracefully. This conversation was definitely a highlight for not just me but for Eastside Baptist. We talked about it all during our debrief that day. The youth talked about how it was uncomfortable and awkward at first but they were glad to have met Dwight and hear what he had to say.

This was another amazing week where what we teach during program about mission being relational was able to be shown to the group in such incredible ways. 

-Laura

Centern Stories: Week One with Laura

Last week, I got to work with a group from Des Moines, Iowa at the Soaring Eagles Learning Camp which is supported by Brown Memorial Park Ave Presbyterian Church. This is a four day camp at a neighborhood school called Eutaw-Marshburn Elementary School. It is a program for Eutaw-Marshburn students to help connect the summer vacation academically. The Soaring Eagles Learning Camp or SELC started in the summer of 2012. Through the years, the volunteer staff for SELC has stayed consistent and people come back year after year, from both near and far.

As I started the week with the group, it was made known, during opening worship, that there were a lot of anxious feelings from the group about being able to relate to the campers. I kept this in mind as we started our first day. As soon as the campers started to arrive, the youth instantly started to engage and get to know the campers. At the end of the first day, I knew it was going to be a good week at this camp. As the week continued on, I could see the relationships build between the campers and the Iowa group.

One of my favorite moments from the week happened on Wednesday. The camp went to Woodberry Crossing which is an outdoor educational facility. For the bus ride, we all had assigned seats. When one of the girls in my group found out she would be sitting with me, she said “I get to sit by you?” with a huge smile on her face. I told her yes and she gave me a huge hug. This made me feel so good to know that I had built a genuine relationship with her. By the end of Wednesday, I could see that every single one of them had embraced each of those campers and casted no judgement on them. I knew that Thursday would include some hard goodbyes from both the youth and the campers.

Thursday was a fun filled day with parents and family members but it was also filled with some sadness since it was the last day of camp. It was so beautiful see the family members interacting with their campers and talking with all the counselors. I could really feel the sense of community and relationships that this camp has built. As Thursday wrapped up, we were lead in a closing debrief/evaluation. We stood in a circle and each person shared something special from the week. It was such an impactful and joyful moment to hear what everyone had to say about the relationships that were made with the campers and each other.

This was a very meaningful and emotional week for me. As someone who is a teacher and loves being around children, there were so many moments that made my heart happy. I got to see the relationships that were built with the Iowa group and the campers. The relationships that were made impacted both the campers but also the Iowa group. They crossed boundaries and made those meaningful relationships we hope that every group can make. For me, seeing that be accomplished was beautiful. Thursday led to a lot of goodbyes that I wasn’t ready for. I said goodbye to some great campers who I grew to love. I also said goodbye to a group that I was really able to bond with and who I believe took a lot away from their experience here. However, I knew that this week made for a lot of heartwarming experiences and relationships. This week is what The Center is all about: crossing boundaries and making mission relational!

-Laura

Centern Stories: Week One with Natalie

“What Do You Think Is Important?” by Fred Rogers

What what what do you think?
What do you think is important really?
What what what do you think?
What do you think really counts?
What do you think about other people?
What do you think about new ideas?
What what what do you think?
What do you think is important?

Some people think that houses and cars and lots of fancy toys
Are the things that are most important for grown-up girls and boys
Of course houses are nice if there's love inside
And cars are too if they run well
It's the things that we do with the toys that we have
That help us to feel that we've done well

What what what do you think?
What do you think is important really?
What what what do you think?
What do you think is the best?
What kind of world would you like to live in?
What kind of love would you like to give?
What is essential for you and your neighbor?
What what what do you think?
What do you think is important?

This week, the other interns and I went out for crepes and a showing of “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?,” the new documentary about Mister Fred Rogers. It’s a beautiful film about Rogers’ personal call to spread kindness to all. In the emergence of television, Mister Rogers was somehow able to form relational bonds with viewers across the nation. The Center focuses on creating and nurturing relationships that can better a neighborhood.

Many of the groups that visit The Center are groups of high schoolers who were essentially born into a congregation together. The youth know each other’s families and they have been friends since their first day of Sunday School. I had the pleasure of working alongside a group from First Presbyterian Church (Ann Arbor, MI) for Week One. In a beautiful way, this group did not fit the mold of the ‘typical’ group I have described. Before departing on a nine-hour road trip together, much of the group met each other for the first time that very morning. Sure, spending that number of hours in a van will force any group to get to know each other, but I believe it was the conversations during evening programming, the laughter while playing in the park, and the Peruvian chicken that truly brought this group together. They arrived as a group of people who were neighbors in a literal sense, but not necessarily in a relational sense. After a week of being thrown into life at The Center, they left with a clear, supportive connection. 

During our week together, we partnered with Gallery Church in Patterson Park (a bilingual congregation) and Comunidad Presbiteriana La Trinidad (a 1001 New Worshipping Community made up of recent immigrants from Central America). With Gallery Church, we brought games and Bible stories to a large neighborhood park to play and learn with the church members as well as any families nearby who wanted to join us. With Comunidad Presbiteriana La Trinidad, we worked alongside some of the church members on the church’s farm. We witnessed the power of these two congregations intentionally engaging with their neighbors through the power of laughter, bubbles, and fresh produce. By the end of the week, we saw Pastor Bill and Aida of Gallery forming connections with neighbors who they likely would not have met inside of their church walls. We saw the Ann Arbor youth forming close friendships with the youth of Gallery. We saw the leadership of Comunidad Presbiteriana La Trinidad seeking out the best ways to minister to their congregants as national and local news surrounding immigrants elevated. 

On Friday, our planned morning at Comunidad Presbiteriana La Trinidad was rained out and our plan B was to reflect on The Good Samaritan and the treatment of our neighbors who are crossing the border. The Center’s missional theology typically leads us to focus on times when we are the one who needs help rather than the one who is helping. Generally, we would read the story of the Good Samaritan through the lens of being the person who is in a ditch instead of automatically placing ourselves in the shoes of the helper – the good Samaritan. We spent the morning recognizing that the role of being a good neighbor can and should be a reciprocal experience. Just as we know times in our lives when we have needed a neighbor to pull us out of the ditch, we are also called by Jesus to advocate for our neighbors. Called to love our neighbors, we wrote to our congresspersons telling stories of our week with new immigrant friends and demanding better treatment of families at the border.

One of my main takeaways from last week was the gift children and youth have of embracing the neighbor around them. When it comes to crossing social boundaries that limit us as a neighborhood, there tends to be less hesitation and fear for younger people. God has placed people around us who are already living out God’s call to love their neighbor regardless of circumstances. May we all “make the most of this beautiful day”[1] by going and doing likewise.  

-Natalie

[1]  “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” Fred Rogers, 1967.

Centern Stories: Week Zero with Laura

Last week, the interns and I worked with FPC Raleigh at Amazing Grace Lutheran Church and Rockrose City Farm to do some gardening. (see previous post to see interviews with the youth about their week here). Going into that week, I was definitely excited about the work we were going to do and the relationships we were going to build. Despite this week not lending to a lot of interaction with community members, the youth were able to have a wonderful opportunity on Tuesday. They were able to sit down and have lunch with people from the community that came in for a meal. Given that we had just talked about crossing boundaries the night before, this was their chance to cross the boundaries that were presented to them. When it was time to eat, there was a moment of hesitation from the group. They seemed unsure what to do at first. After some direction from one of their group leaders, the youth finally were seated and people from the community joined them for a meal.

Looking around the room, it was incredible to see the interactions the youth and adults were having. They were all crossing boundaries and navigating how to do it respectfully. That day and the rest of the week, the youth constantly brought up conversations that they had with community members. Knowing the youth all step outside their safe boundaries and purposefully got to know someone that is different from them meant that they were getting what we were teaching. As someone that has been a participant at The Center, I know that the relationships made and the boundaries that were crossed is something that can really make a difference.

This was one of the reasons why I wanted to become a Center Intern (Centern). I wanted to build more relationships with people and cross boundaries, but also see other groups do the same. Last week was just the beginning to what is going to be a great and boundary breaking summer. Stay tuned for more adventures!

-Laura

Week Zero! FPC Raleigh @ Amazing Grace Lutheran

 

We hadn't planned on having a group this early in the summer. Schools in Baltimore aren't even out until next week! But God had other plans, and when First Presbyterian Church of Raleigh called in December asking if we had room, we said "Yes!" and asked our church partners if they would take on a Week Zero with us. Amazing Grace Lutheran Church and Rockrose City Farm both said "Yes!" and the rest is history.

Centern (Center Intern) Shelby Andrews interviewed youth participants on site this week so you could hear about what God is doing in Baltimore. 

Come back next week for our first week of doubles - two groups at once, serving in two neighborhoods, and two cities in our presbytery!

-The Center Staff

What boundaries did you notice today? How did it feel to cross them? Or not cross them?

What boundaries did you notice today? How did it feel to cross them? Or not cross them?

Written by Bryson and Garrett, a rising 7th grader and rising 9th grader, respectively, Burke Presbyterian Church in Burke, VA.

Garett: “I noticed the physical boundaries between neighborhoods you can see. They look different and have a different feel. Some of the houses are nicer in some places, and not as well kept in others. Same with the streets: some are covered in trash while others are fairly clean.”

Bryson: “I noticed the houses and neighborhoods, too. In some neighborhoods, the houses were boarded up.”

Garrett: “I didn’t always notice when we were crossing boundaries. But when we walked from the really nice neighborhood- it was quiet, it smelled nicer. But when we walked past the wall [from the nice neighborhood to the more distressed neighborhood] it was really noticeable. I felt like I had to be more alert outside of the nice neighborhood on the street.

At camp I interacted with more mentees today, because of what we talked about last night, and how we can cross the boundaries, especially racially. Even if just playing, and being on the same “team” when playing soccer.

I didn’t personally cross this boundary, but seeing the kids trusting the police [who came and spoke to the kids], and there’s lots of stuff with the the police officers in their neighborhoods. I thought they answered the kids questions to get the kids to trust the cops and feel safe.”

Bryson: “I didn’t always notice the boundaries when we were driving because I don’t live in neighborhoods like those.

At camp I noticed the kids really wanted to play hide and seek, but they had to do their work first. And I wanted them to do their work so they could learn to be leaders, but we had to help them focus.”