White Like Me

By Ciara Rowley

I’ve been thinking a lot about my white skin lately.

Not that it hasn’t been a focal point in my life before. When I lived in China, my white skin was an instant claim to fame. I made friends, got free drinks and took countless photos with strangers because of my exotic white skin. Sometimes, people assumed I couldn’t understand what they were saying (which was usually true) or that I was lost or confused (also mostly true), but most of the time my white skin gave me blatant, shameless privilege.

But here in Atlanta, and especially in my neighborhood of Peoplestown, my white skin often feels like a barrier.*

In Peoplestown’s not too distant past, our neighborhood was a multi-racial, mixed-income community, with stores, shops and a theater. However, in the 1960s, the interstate, and later the Atlanta Braves stadium, decimated the community, physically dividing the community and tearing down homes. These changes did not happen without a fight, and city planners were met with riots and protests from residents, fostering Peoplestown pride and empowerment. While the community organizing had some voice at the negotiation table, the urban renewal projects had lasting, devastating effects.

Today, Peoplestown is the home of many of same families who lived here for generations. They know firsthand the glory and the struggles of our neighborhood. Our community is largely African-American, and because of the interstate construction, cut off from downtown commerce and largely under-served.

But for many, the greatest threat to the culture and sustainability of their community is gentrification. Newcomers: middle class white people moving in and demanding this neighborhood look like the ones they came from. And demand they do. I’ve read rude, racist comments on the neighborhood Facebook page from new, white homeowners. I’ve heard my white neighbors plan to send health inspectors to shut down old, dirty corner stores, the only place residents can buy food for three miles, because they sell loose cigarettes. I’ve witnessed people with my skin disregard the experiences and opinions of older, respected African American residents at community meetings.

And I wonder, when my Black neighbors see my white skin, do they think I’m them? Am I really making myself available to be known, to be understood? Am I making an effort to know and understand my neighbors, Black and White alike? What is my role in building the Peaceable Kingdom in Peoplestown? Or does the problem come when white outsiders think they have a role in African American communities, when we assume we have “the cure”?

*This is not to say that I do not recognize my white privilege. I know that I am more likely to get hired, less likely to get pulled over and can find more role models who look like me in the mainstream media than People of Color.

To learn more about Peoplestown and the history of its residents, visit The Peoplestown Project.

God in All Things

By Quanshay Henderson

Rose Mary Doughtery put it best when she stated, "To hold onto a practice once it has outlived it's purpose it to create an idol." Since I joining the team at The Road, I have been holding on to old practices, but was I really creating an idol?

Back home, I taught the youth in Children's Church that an idol was anything that one exalted higher than God. When I honestly reflect on that definition, the piercing eyes of truth penetrate me. I had put so much emphasis on finding a church to attend here in Atlanta, I had forsaken the Living God. Rather than allowing the love of God to woo me closer and deeper into sacred unity, I looked to a building to clothe me with a false sense of relation with the Creator. Perhaps I had been doing this before I left Baltimore. What matters now though, is that I have decided to place myself in a posture of openness to the abiding presence of God in all things. My time in The Road has allowed me to reach this place of inner clarity, and for that I will be eternally grateful.

Satisfaction Guaranteed

By Priscilla Herzberg

Lately I’ve been thinking about 100% satisfaction guarantee. What institutions abide by it and what groups of people are given the pleasure to be 100% satisfied. From my experiences growing up in the poor working class there were many institutions my family and I were a part of that did not offer 100% satisfaction guarantee. In fact when my mom complained to the apartment manager in our low income complex we experienced some backlash usually in the form of maintenance complaints not being responded to. My mom grew up in the middle class and so she brought that tendency to complain, to seek 100% satisfaction, into a new class where that is not practiced as much and people are even reprimanded for it.

I think about a simple Starbucks experience. If I don’t like my drink I simply tell the barista and I get a new one and a coupon for any size free drink next visit. Certainly Starbucks serves a wide range of people but do you see the homeless getting their coffee from Starbucks. No. That is a simple example of my point that certain groups of people, typically middle class and up, benefit from their frequented institutions while others take what their given silently.

A man was at my placement site to be referred to a shelter. It was an exceptionally cold week. He came in cheerful and just wanted to explain his situation to us. He wanted to explain how the shelter’s rules penalized him for having a medical condition that was out of his control. Unfortunately we are only a referring agency for the shelter; we have no influence on the rules, we can only enforce them. He badly wanted to prove a point and have an exception added to the rule. He calmly argued to the point of being asked to leave. Then he lost the chance of getting referred into a shelter for that cold night.

Why is the culture of beneficial complaining confined to more privileged groups? Why don’t institutions primarily serving socially and economically disadvantaged groups come with 100% satisfaction? I understand this is not possible in the field of social services, to always have satisfied consumers. However, I believe marginalized groups should not be silenced by institutions. They should encourage constructive criticism. Even if the consumer cannot be compensated and fully satisfied, their voice should be heard by those that serve them. Doesn’t everyone deserve autonomy and respect? Even though our institutions may fail some, I hope that people, we, as a part of these institutions will give grace and compassion.

Welcome Them In

By Caroline Noland

You feel frustrated and want him to stop. To discontinue. To only be moderately excited. And you realize it is probably because you're a little jealous of him. You're jealous of his joy. 

Larry is a greeter at Home Depot and is in love with his job. He sits in his wheelchair for four hours at a time by the door with the cold wind blowing in. He is often ignored as he tells folks walking in, "Welcome to Home Depot!" Despite being looked over by customers, despite the blustering wind, despite the repetition, he couldn't be happier. 

His legs bounce with anticipation and he blushes with enthusiasm. He feels and knows his work is valuable and important. He feels great about himself and is overwhelmingly proud of his position. His work is like play for him. He is able to not only find, but continually find the deep joy in the things he does each day. 

Some days I want to tell him to take it more seriously. To ocus a bit more and calm down. And some days he might need to take the energy down or giggle a little less or not tell every customer just  how "cute" they are. But perhaps mostly, the joy and life in him is so rare that I 'm not sure what to do with it except be in awe.

Finding meaning in your work has very little to do with the things you produce or the meetings you hold or even your effectiveness at welcoming folks in a hurry. Finding meaning in a job is not restricted to only those jobs whose descriptions sound like heroic feats. Larry reminds me that finding meaning and subsequently discovering joy spurs from an inward knowledge of one's belovedness and the simple desire to welcome in those around us. Welcome them in. 

A World Lived in Circle

By Carmelle Nitereka

 

“The world does not need to be saved, it needs to be loved – that’s what will save it.” – unknown

 

The Restorative Justice Workshop and circle process was a beautiful experience. It started with two early mornings, but the warm tea (I had excessive amounts) and the welcome we received made it more bearable to have had rolled out of the comfort of my bed. The first day of the workshop, I felt a sense of wonder for what was to come- I felt grace in a circle of strangers. To paraphrase our insightful Restorative Justice facilitator, Jamie, whoever is in the circle is meant to be there. And I felt it, there was synchronicity within the room.   

While the concept of restorative justice was not completely new, the workshop experience was.  Unlike criminal justice, which implies that an infraction has been committed and warrants punishment, restorative justice implies that there is a hurt or brokenness and a need for healing. The process is facilitated through peacemaking circles, derived from indigenous traditions that have been adopted to offer safe healing spaces. Quanshay (a.k.a old wise soul) reminded us that the circle is a sacred place. For the duration of the training we sat in that sacredness, offering pieces of ourselves to one another.

The mindfulness of peacemaking circles is something I would like to cultivate even when I am not physically in circle. Something I appreciate about Priscilla is how she naturally exudes that mindfulness; she has a gentle way of inviting people in her circle.  Circles can draw people into a community; it unveils our unique and collective brokenness.

Jamie fervently believes that one could never be asked to leave a circle. I think thats powerful, it goes against the grain; even the most resistant spirit is fragile and it resonated with me to know that circles let people heal in their own time.

How can I invite people in circle? That’s a real question I want to keep exploring.






Righteous Rage: When the Community Speaks

By Kevin Daniels

Toward the end of 2014, a level of extreme rage escalated in reaction to a recent verdict that did not indict a white officer, Darren Wilson, for the unjust homicide of an unarmed black teenage male named Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. All around the nation, chants of protest resounding “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” and “No Justice, No Peace” became the language of the unheard. As this injustice stirred widespread frustration, many concerned Americans collaborated together to help reform and closely track the use of unnecessary police force against the citizens whom  law enforcement is bound to protect and  keep safe. 

Forums, rallies, and worship services were also arranged in order to provide opportunities of conversation in which people could strategically raise their concerns for the state of respect for Black life. On December 1st, the city of Atlanta convened inside the Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church for a community forum and worship service for people of various ethnicities, faith backgrounds and cultural paths of human civilization. The Horizon Sanctuary was packed to capacity as musical expressions of hope were rendered and words of collective exhortation were offered there.

The keynote speaker, Attorney General Eric Holder, had previously been in a private, one-on-one meeting with President Barack Obama prior to landing in Atlanta for the event. “We ignore our truths [as a country],” said Holder. He prefaced his speech by stating that the concerns for the increasing rates of police brutality are very alarming in cities across America. Holder delineated a tactical approach of the White House on part of the Obama administration that is intended to address this issue of ethics: 1) monitoring the militarization of law enforcement by distributing proper weaponry to the appropriate personnel; 2) employing the use of body cameras on police – investment of $263 million dollars in over 50,000 body cameras nationwide; 3) preventing racial profiling, unnecessarily done by officers and 4) examining the current state of policing.

Rekindling the revolutionary flame of a persistent civil and human rights struggle, Attorney Holder reminded the audience, “the most successful movements [in human history] are birthed out of non-violence”, indicating that “we must [also] elevate our conversation”. In keeping with that sentiment, the host pastor of the community forum, Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock re-iterated that the “community must create the climate of change”. The community must build a regimen of resolution in order to ensure that this climate of change is gradual and sustainable.

As an educated young African-American man, I sense that the fight for freedom has translated to the need for institutional reform. Although equal protection is naturally granted to the American constituency under law, the contemporary trend of Jim Crow-ism runs rampant in the United States of America as it pertains to criminal procedure and due process. It is more likely that a black male is incarcerated long-term for a suspected homicide awaiting a trial than for a white male to be indicted for evident manslaughter as the former is a more “profitable” situation. Therefore, the insatiable hunger for undemocratic capital and power in American leadership has attempted to mute the cries for justice, equality and freedom emanating from the downtrodden, disenfranchised and disinherited.

Living in America, I feel that my presence is only tolerated and perceived as a threat to American society. I am thoroughly convinced that the mainstream moral conscience of this country related to the value of Black lives has been exposed of its truth in the eyes of the majority population. Unequivocally speaking, I believe that all human lives matter and are sacred. Echoing the words of a fellow citizen from Ferguson who also spoke at the forum, Goldie Tayler, “the state of emergency has always been upon us.”

Ferguson is a mere representation of the much broader, broken infrastructure of American society. This miscarriage of justice is a diagnosis of a horrible sickness that has infected the ethics of the American legal system. The United States of America is suffering from a systematic illness that has gone untreated, wreaking more havoc toward its cultural and political awareness. Every 28 hours, a Black youth is killed in some part of this country. To date, 324 unarmed Black people have been killed in 2014 alone nationwide.

If America is serious about engaging this prevalent dilemma, the notions of equality and justice must first be re-evaluated. This re-evaluation entails internal evaluation of institutional frailties. In other words, Ferguson can be anywhere in America. From a personal standpoint, I assert that Ferguson is America. For example, the lack of quality education in the urban environment is reflective of the absent empathy of the government whose leaders have been elected by its stakeholding constituency, so to speak. Yet, conversation, consistency and commitment comprise the engine that drives informing one’s self and each other about the social problems that reside at the core of communities in America.

When the community speaks through its actions such as protests, the system is forced to empathize, listen and challenge its usual order of business. When an injustice arises, the community is responsible for lifting its concerns and taking its own stand. When such an injustice is the degrading dehumanization of any life, the society should desire to reform its policies and procedures even if angry protest is the caveat by which that is conveyed. However, now is the time for the United States of America to be schooled by its own academy.

Time is out for convenient and cute avoidances of real, raw issues that stunt the growth of our cultural conscience. Now is not the time to advertise or publicize one’s own racial bias. “This is a kairos moment,” stated Dr. Bernice A. King, CEO of the King Center and daughter of the slain civil rights leader, theologian and pastor, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The time to move from chaos to community is now! If we are unwilling to address the most intricate concerns of all humanity, we must re-examine what America is. Is America really for everyone? Better yet, why  does America permit history to repeat itself? It’s time to pay attention.

 

 

People I Used to Consider "Crazy"

By Maris Kramer

My day was filled with all the people I used to consider crazy*:

Young man sees me putting gas into a Catholic Charities cargo van. Yells, “I’m Catholic! I go to Holy Cross! I love the work you do!”

  • Old me: why are we talking about this

A group of people holding an anti-death penalty banner in the rain outside the Georgia State Capitol Building. Two men shout Psalm 146 into a megaphone. All change the lyrics to sing, “Lethal injection is still murder, down by the riverside.” Everyone “mmmm”s and “amen”s.

  • Old me: walk faster and don’t make eye contact

Bus-stop Pat asks me, “How was your day? Why are you hesitating?” Work was good. Andrew Brannan is being executed tonight. “Do you believe in God? Well, that’s my bus! Is it okay if I put him in prayer?”

  • Old me: ???

Unfortunately, my every day is filled with me, who’s now crazy:

  • “Thank you. It is good work!”
  • I’m holding a banner. I’m singing about lethal injection. I’m saying amen.
  • Yes. Please.

The only reasonable response to crazy—child conscription, denial of mental health services, political imprisonment, the death penalty, deportation of children—is to be crazy[1] enough to believe that awful things can change, and that human beings can change, and that human beings can change these awful things. Hopelessly tethered to the judgmental, irritable humbug I’ve been known to be, there can be an “old me.” I can be new.

                                                                                                                                                                   

*I intentionally used “crazy” in this post. I acknowledge the stigma and hope you see anything but stigmatization in my words.

Partnering with God

By Ciara Rowley

Sometimes, the most difficult part of my job is helping kids with their homework; after all, I haven’t had to do long division or give examples of homophones since I played with troll dolls (you know trolls, right? You rub their hair for good luck?). I like to think it’s a lesson in humility and patience, for me and the children. They stare at me, wide-eyed and expectant, while I try to remember how to divide fractions: do you have to have a common denominator? Why do the words “cross multiply and divide” come to mind, and what do they mean? I consult the internet and say a quick prayer to God: “Dear God, please give this child more competent teachers than tutors.”

Sometimes, the hardest part of my job is leading children liturgy. During the Spanish service, I take all the kids out of the chapel and bring them into the room to bring the Gospel to their level. But how do I bring the story of the wedding feast to a group of preschoolers? The Kingdom of Heaven is like this: a king invites everyone to a wedding, but one of the guests isn’t dressed properly, so he beats him to death. “I think God is telling us we need to wear a pretty dress to parties,” one the kids suggests. “And it’s always good to be respectful at a party, and help clean up,” another adds. The Bible: A Modern Kids’ Guide to Social Affairs. Maybe so. Your guess is as good as mine.

Sometimes, I struggle most with the behind-the-scenes elements of my job: helping the director write grants, recruit supporters, and maintain social media. I have to put on my business slacks, warm-up my professional, adult phone voice and become smarter than my laptop (no easy feat, I assure you). I have made shady deals with the complex copy machine in the office, offering my firstborn son in exchange for properly scanning, printing and copying everything I want on the proper paper, in the correct order. I built a website, edited the volunteer training manual and once (with the help of my dear friend Google Translate) summarized the life of Saint Edward in Spanish. Most of the time I’m quite certain I’m in over my head.

But God is using me anyway.

That lesson really is the most beautiful thing about my site placement, Path To Shine®. Lesley-Ann, the director, built PTS because she felt a call from God to do so. She is not an educator, has no nonprofit experience and doesn’t speak Spanish. She always says, “When you say ‘yes’ to the call, and partner with God, good things happen. All the success of this program has been the work of the Holy Spirit.” And so part of my journey this year has been learning to listen to Holy Spirit, to pay attention to my intuition and to trust in God. I’ve learned to ask for help, to try things that I could very well fail at, and to look for success in the smallest things. I’ve had to let go of some of my ego, and to my own idea of what “success” looks like, but through that process I’ve grown closer to God. And I’m excited to see where that intimacy leads me next.

Making a Meal Out of It

By Maris Kramer

Refugee resettlement office. Wednesday. 3:00 p.m. It can only mean one thing: lunch time. Oh? You eat lunch at 12:30? That’s funny.

To be fair, the previous day I ate lunch at 11:00 a.m. The day before that I did not at eat at all. There really is no lunch “time” when work is a dash between setting up two apartments for arriving families, practicing interview questions with a client, and sifting through a stack of green files that appears to have grown while you were away from your desk. The green files.

But now it is Thursday, and the Road fellows have gotten off a flight, navigated the Boston T, and found ourselves on the doorstep of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist. Fresh off noonday prayer, Brother Curtis warmly welcomes us to the refectory. Commoners may call such a place a dining room, but not in the monastery. (Wikipedia tells me, and I tell you, that the Latin origin of refectory means “a place one goes to be restored.” Ahhh, poetry.) Take my description of Wednesday’s meal, put it in a bag, shake it up, let it marinate overnight, bake it in the oven, and you’ll come close to what a monastic meal is like. Twenty contemplative faces sit in silence over a wholesome meal as one of the brothers reads from a book. About bird behavior.

It was like occupying two separate planes of existence, that Wednesday and Thursday, until I recognized the love that formed the foundation of each meal. Because what other than care for others motivates my coworkers to eat when they can, not when they want? What other than love for self/others/God allows us to give and receive the gift of listening when the opportunity to shovel food into our pie holes is in front of us, taunting?

The table is a holy space if you look hard enough at the times our parents had to work, so we ate quick meals in front of the TV. The times we sat next to someone and shared a plate of something too wonderful not to share. The times we labored over a feast for just one because we deserved more than Ramen that night. The times in a grade school cafeteria when our 300 voices silenced simultaneously to allow Mrs. Kelley to be heard. The times when a quiet meal was overtaken by moans of delight in the provisions before us.

I want more silent, smiling, book-filled meals. But I want a heart that recognizes the beauty in standing over a Tupperware full of cold rice and beans that gives you the energy for your next meeting with Jesus in the conference room.

No Cash Prize

By Ciara Rowley

All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord's Supper), and to prayer. Acts 2:42 (NLT)

Why would a group of college-educated young adults devote a year to service and discernment in the name of God? After all, Millennials have a bit of a reputation for being self-serving and lazy. For me, one of the greatest gifts I get out of my service is community.

Community- (n)

  1. a social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government, and often have a common cultural and historical heritage.
  2. a group of men or women leading a common life according to a rule.
  3. a television comedy series created by Dan Harmon

I was raised as an only child of a single mother. I spent most of my childhood playing Barbies, reading and making kind, but rather dull, imaginary friends. There are lots of great things about being an only child like Christmas morning(!) and never having to share the bathroom when I was getting ready for school. But sometimes it can be lonely, and I always longed for things like “family game night” or dinners around the table talking about our days.

The community I am a part of with The Road is what I always imagined having a big family would be like. We share meals, worship, work through problems, argue, binge on baked goods, and explore Atlanta together. Our home (even in the still, numbing snow days) is a respite where we can be ourselves and feel loved because of it. I can ask stupid questions, make ridiculous claims and make fart jokes without fear of eye rolls or judgments. I can relax and shed my layers. I know that I can let my guard down and be myself. As a Road Fellow, I gained a community where it okay to admit your flaws and show off your talents.

I learn so much from my housemates. Maris has taught me I really do like brussel sprouts. Carlton taught me how to dance. Addie has taught me Cassey Ho’s workouts are tough; I’m not just being a baby. Alex has taught me not all frat guys are shallow or stupid. Danny has taught me you can still make pretty decent bread without a recipe. And Chelsea has taught me the Midwest is full of good-looking people. Together, we have learned the value of being open, listening and finding God. I don’t feel as if I’m competing with the amazing folks in house, rather we are all growing and exploring together.

So why would someone want to spend a year with six strangers without a television camera or competition for a cash prize? Family dinners. Dance parties. Affirmations. Compline. Push-up pact. Compromise. Early morning talks. Frisbee games. Long walks. Super Bowl parties. Understanding. Burrito night. Quiet conversations. Impromptu singing. Laughter. Group workouts.  Morning prayer. Private jokes.

And Unconditional Love.

Dawn

By Addie Washington

WWNNHHNRONNG!...

WWNNHHNRONNG!...

WWNNHHNRONNG!...

And with that final blast from the train, morning has wholly arrived.   Like some industrial call to prayer, “Wake up! Wake up! Prayer is better than sleep!”—or the sounding of a boat’s horn across the ocean, “We are here! Hallo there?” the unleashed and furious sound of the oncoming train heralds the rush of the day.  My blood quickens.

Today I have arisen earlier than usual, catching the first fire-full moments of the day in pinks, oranges, and reds.  One of the tremendous gifts of this year has come in the form of these early moments.  I have found that on the heels of a night’s rest, I can wake ready to meet the day.

Here, before the day’s stride can outpace me, I am able to riffle through the collection of thoughts in my working memory: the glittering, joyful eyes of the little nugget last Monday (oh, so precious!); the dirt under the nails of the gentleman yesterday, old enough to be my grandfather; Tell me how did you feel when you come out the wilderness?... And other snatches of liturgy or fraught questions steeping in my mind.   It is something sacred and mysterious to find a place within the quiet expanse of the morning.

I hear a van ride up the driveway beside our building, and realize my coworkers will soon be entering the office downstairs. They will open the space to the flow of neighbors from near and far who will arrive with all their questions, concerns, frustrations, lessons, and laughter.

I am thinking about how in this time of morning I am like the little leaves. I must be like the little leaves, turning and opening towards the sun.  This setting of my face allows me to greet whatever the day brings from a place of deep-seated peace.   I need not only the peace, but the openness of this posture; nothing else I know makes room for our encounters and all that we bring to them.   Nuances and benefit-of-the-doubts and inculcated assumptions and insecure dispositions and holey facades—these are all a part of our everyday dance with each other, no?

So, this discipline of early rising, like a pre-workout stretch, limbers me up in body, mind, and soul.  From within I loosen and am more ready to move to the rhythms of each syncopated interaction.  Step, snap, step, STEP, snap, snap… Attuned, I’m becoming attuned to music that I’ve got to hear with more than just my ears (ears of my ears).  May my part in this song and dance be an invitation to the part Heidi or May Helen is playing, and let us all hearken for Ike’s solo and Junebug’s jangling accompaniment.  Mmmmmhmm.  It’s in these hushed moments before the birth of the day that I am learning to listen, and it that has made all the difference.

A Smile You Can See From Space

By Alex Keyes

The time is 1:00 at the Frazer Center, a place where children and adults of all levels of ability and disability gather, learn, and flourish together. Lunch has been eaten, energy has been replenished, and it is time for the last part of the day, the recreation session, to begin. For some, this means playing Wii Bowling, going to the computer lab, or dancing along to the sounds of the Supremes. However, I often find myself outside during this period, removed from the amplified songs and bright television screens.

As I lead a group out the side door of the Center, the sun is shining, and smiles begin to widen on the adults’ faces. The excitement is mounting at this point, with each person anticipating the enjoyment that lies ahead. As we proceed into the parking lot, the group begins to diverge, with half going towards the basketball hoops and the other half to the bocce court.

Those that head to the bocce area, collectively known as the Frazer Center Dream Team, are a part of the Special Olympics, which occurs twice a year in North Georgia. Some of the participants that are playing are seasoned veterans, while others are learning the game for the first time. Those who have played for a while, like Betty or Maurice, consistently toss the ball on target. And when someone doesn’t have a particularly good throw, the veterans are quick to give a tidbit of helpful advice or guidance. During play, when Maurice’s team wins a round, him and his girlfriend, Karina, will both confidently say, “Red team got it.” The rounds are all very similar, with an assortment of larger spheres being thrown at a smaller ball, but the joy derived not just from victory, but also from simply playing the game, is constant.

Just a few yards away from these athletes are the basketball players. While they don’t quite have a Special Olympics team quite yet, they are still able to demonstrate unique styles and talents. For example, Thomas will shoot from the same exact spot on the pavement every single time, like a soccer throw-in, and he will make it every single time. Toverice will take the basketball and line drive throw it as hard as he can at the backboard, getting just as excited when he misses as when it goes in. Either way, he will always award anywhere from 20 to 150 points to Moesha, of ‘90s television fame. However, the most interesting member of the basketball group hardly plays basketball at all. Leonard, who is deaf and non-verbal, can be found having a catch with one of the staff members, colloquially known as “guy Kortney.” A small yellow, rubber, spiky ball is thrown back and forth between the two of them, with Leonard never actually catching it, but instead chasing after it with a grin you could see from space and laughter you could hear from Wisconsin.

Leonard smiles quite often, but never quite as broadly as he does during this recreation period. It is a time when I see genuine happiness emanating from everyone who participates. While this seems to be the case during most of the day, it is most apparent to me when we are outside. I don’t know if it is the sun, shining brightly and with such warmth, or the games that are being played, but something about this activity session is special, and I’ve missed it during this winter season.

Be Adaptable, My Friend

By Maris Kramer

Imagine that you have scheduled a meeting with staff from an organization. You have never visited their office before, and you want to make a good impression. You dress in a suit and shake hands with your receivers, who take you through a door and lead you toward your meeting place. And as you weave through aisles stuffed to the brim with boxes, stockings, gift cards, and bicycles, you begin to realize: things work a little differently here. 

Meet Refugee Resettlement Services, a department of Catholic Charities Atlanta (CCA). Catholic Charities is one of many refugee resettlement agencies in Atlanta and cities across the country. Unabashedly committed to serving persons who have been persecuted throughout their lives, persons who have been uprooted from their home country and replanted in Northeast Atlanta, things can get a little crowded in the office. At Christmastime, CCA partners with local parishes who adopt refugee families and provide them with individualized gifts. The rest of the year, you might find yourself stepping over boxes of rice, squeezing around some kitchen chairs, and catching a lamp that you accidentally knocked over on your way out the door. Life moves pretty fast here, and sometimes the hallways have a purpose more meaningful than being a mere pedestrian thoroughfare.  

That's not to say Catholic Charities is messy or disorganized. These words are here simply to convey that CCA does not need to put up any fronts; the work says enough. Here is a brief rundown of the team's daily efforts.

CCA receives word that, for example, a Burmese family of five will arrive on a flight into Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport next month. The mobilization begins. Finding appropriate housing, scheduling health screenings, and as the day gets closer, buying groceries, a cell phone, and arranging appropriate interpretation for the 11:30 p.m. airport pick-up. Is it cold out? Make sure you have jackets for all family members! Are they Muslim? Only buy meat from that place down the road. There are numerous everyday considerations that go into making each person of any ethnicity feel as safe and welcome as possible. And then the fun begins: cultural orientations, employment orientations, travel workshops, English classes. If I had to learn as much as these folks had to learn in a ninety-day period, there would not be enough sleep in the world to make me feel rested. 

At the refugee resettlement office, I am an employment specialist. (It's okay. I laugh at the "specialist" part, too.) This means that I schedule and conduct job training sessions for our clients, search for appropriate employment and transportation options, and assist them with filling out applications. Well, that's the job description, but at CCA, everybody helps everybody. "Can you go with me to move a couch today? Do you have time to get seven pillows and four floor lamps from Walmart? Will you knock on my client's door and give him this check?—He hasn't answered my phone calls this week." Be adaptable, my friend. Be adaptable. 

Of course, I've left out some amazing programs and astounding people. The staff who teach parents about American public schools and assist them at parent-teacher conferences. The interns who help clients manage their brand-new prescriptions. The volunteers who take the time to explain how to clean a counter top and a toilet, objects foreign to a camp dwelling.  

Can you see how much life happens here? Hopefully I get to speak to you again. There's so much more to say.

Language Barrier

By Ashley Zarle

I have never had the English language fail me as much as it did while I tried to write this blog post.  When I was told we would be visiting Stewart Detention Center and getting to spend an hour one-on-one with a detainee, I expected a language gap to add some difficulty to my experience—especially considering I have zero proficiency in Spanish.  What I didn't expect was that the largest language barrier, the most difficult to overcome, would be that between my emotional experiences and verbal expression.

It was one of those weekends where everything blended together—I'm not even sure what happened on  which day or in what order.  Reflecting on it is like watching a non-linear movie play in my head, one similar to Eternal Sunshine for the Spotless Mind (if you haven't seen it, you totally should).   I was so tired and the emotions I felt were like none I had ever before experienced, I'm not sure there is a word in the English language that portrays what I felt.

As we sat in the lobby of the Stewart Detention Center,  I think I felt a combination of every emotion imaginable: compassion, confusion, despair, hopelessness, hurt, exhaustion, fear, curiosity, disgust, just to name a few.  When I went to hand in my visitation forms, the woman behind the table told me they were about to do a shift change and I had to sit down and wait.  She never smiled.  I felt belittled.  “Whatever,” I thought, “she's just tired.”  About an hour and a half into this shift change, I thought my bladder might explode.  I stood up, walked up to the lady, and asked to use the restroom.  She stood out of her chair a bit, and very aggressively told me to sit back down and wait until the shift change was over.  I sat down and fumed.  As I looked around, I saw tired children clinging to exhausted mothers after hours (for some, days) of travel.  How could someone look around this room, I wondered, and still talk to people the way this woman was speaking to me?  Did no one care about the plight of these families?  The facility certainly didn't foster any sense of comfort or peace.  And let's not even get into my experience of walking through the metal detector with an insulin pump...

I sat in that waiting room for five hours (was it five?) before I was taken back to visit with a man my own age from Rwanda (guess I didn't need to know Spanish after all—score for taking four semesters of French in college!).  When I walked back to the window that kept us divided (cue an ineffable emotional response from me), he wasn't even there.  They had forgotten to call him (insert ANOTHER emotional response here).  I had prayed and thought about what I would say when I met him—I just wanted to be whatever he needed.  But again, I found myself lacking for words.  We were both shy and, frankly, he didn't want to discuss anything “serious,” he just wanted to talk casually to someone, to anyone.  He ended up doing most of the talking and I listened.  We laughed a bit, we bonded, we experienced some awkward silences, and then it was over.

I got in the van and I think we went back to Alterna, but I know for sure that I slept for hours on the drive back to Atlanta.  When I went to work on Monday, my coworkers and supervisors asked me what we did, how my experience was.  All I could do was stare at them blankly.  How do I even begin to describe to them my exhaustion in Alterna, my amazement and disbelief of what I learned from Latin American immigrants in LaGrange, or my first ever first-hand experience with racism in Americus?  My head began to spin.  Every time I try to talk about these experiences or what I did, every time I try to think about them, piece them together, or make sense of them, my brain comes to a complete halt.  There are no words.

A Sacred Space

By Chelsea Stanton

I love fortune cookies.  Honestly, though, I could do without the cookie part: what I really want is the little slip of paper hidden inside.  They feel like tiny premonitions, surrounded by sugar (a method Mary Poppins would approve).  A few that sit taped to my alarm clock read: “You have a charming way with words and should write a book,” “You tend to have deeper thoughts than you are able to express to others,” and best of all “Others enjoy your radiance.”

I think what I really want is a little slip of paper to give me a one-sentence answer to all the difficulties in my life.  Or maybe several little slips of paper dropped down from Jaarsma’s almond cakes at just the right moments.  For some reason, I expect my deepest truths to be given me from outside. I don’t trust myself to weigh the drawings and differences I feel every day and collect them into something meaningful and accepting.  The task of discovering my life’s purpose seems too important to leave with someone clumsy and stumbling like me.

As a super introverted person, the most interesting and intense things in my life happen inside my head, where only God and I hang out.  I’m beginning to see this—my mind, my consciousness, this place between my ears?—as a sacred space.

Parker Palmer, in his book Let Your Life Speak, writes: “Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am.  I must listen for the truths and values at the heart of my own identity, not the standards by which I must live—but the standards by which I cannot help but live if I am living my own life.”

I now see that my  sacred head-space doesn’t need fortunes imposed from outside, despite the church-y and societal rules layered over who I am.  Rather, I must respect what happens on the couches in my head where God and I sit together and listen to my life.  My vocation becomes more clear, now that I’m listening.

So, my vocation thus far, according to my life: to practice reconciliation across race, class, and gender lines; to seek and serve Christ in every person; to offer presence, hospitality, and a listening ear; to cultivate what Henri Nouwen calls “free and friendly spaces” where truth and love can be shared without fear.

In short, to live in and cultivate sacred space.

Moises

By Jamie Shapiro

I did not know how to pronounce the name Moises. It has been a year and a half since I have taken a Spanish class, and longer since I’ve spoken it conversationally and at length. And here I am, walking through the metal detectors, past bullet proof class and through the room packed with mothers and small children, through the cold halls of Stewart Detention Center on a rainy Saturday afternoon, to speak to a man I have never met. All I know is that he is from El Salvador, and that his name is Moises.The guard leads us into a small room with five chairs opposite five thick panes of plastic. A black telephone hangs beside each chair. I don’t know who is Moises (the visit was set up by a non-profit, “El Refugio,” connecting an inmate who wants a visit but has no visitors, with people like us—the curious and those interested in the massive injustice that is American immigration policy.) Somehow, I walk up to the right pane of plastic, sit down, and pick up the phone. Moises is already sitting, phone in hand.He is a young man, about my age I realize with some surprise. I had imagined an older man, someone weather beaten and defeated. Moises is young, energetic, smiles easily and is anything but defeated. I tell him who I am and how I got to be there in halting Spanish. He introduces himself, tells me he left San Salvador only a month ago, and was only recently put in Stewart. He talks about how insane the prison is, how he feels like he is in a movie, how it can’t be real. He begins to cry. He asks me all about myself, and I tell him. He doesn’t understand why I would want to move to a city far away from my family, to pursue goals that are completely unclear. He marvels at my courage. I tell him my courage is nothing compared to his. He continuously thanks me for coming to see him.We talk about God, how Moises feels closer to Him then ever before. He has time, he tells me, to feel the Spirit. He would not survive, he tells me, without it. He misses his family desperately. He came to Georgia, he tells me, all the way from San Salvador, El Salvador, to meet up with his older brother who is already here working. His plan was to be with his brother and his brother’s family, work, and send money back to his parents, who live in a very difficult situation. He was picked up almost as soon as he got to Georgia, at a roadside check, and placed in Stewart. He is younger then me, only twenty two years old.I try to teach him the “Our Father” in English, and he teaches it to me in Spanish.We say it together. He blesses me. We talk some about sports, girlfriends, and what life is like in our respective home countries. After about forty-five minutes, he asks how many families are waiting to see their husbands. Wanting to give families more opportunity to speak, we decide to end our conversation. Moises is near tears again, and so am I. We hang up and raise palms to the glass, a movie cliché. But it’s real. And Moises does not know when it will end.

A City of People, a Lifetime of Lessons

By Erika Curtis

At some point in time, we’re all guilty of profiling people we’ve never met. It’s far easier to make assumptions about others based on their skin color, gender, clothing or demeanor than it is to actually speak to them and learn their stories. “Homeless people are lazy”, “Christians are naive”, “vegetarians are skinny and frail”.

When I first met Sarah, the mission year volunteer who would be spending a year with me at Georgia Justice Project, I was convinced she was going to be an aching pain in my side.  She was young – nineteen in fact – with long blonde hair and a bubbly positive energy that blinded my cynicism. She spoke of Jesus often, and seemed to be disconnected from the harsh reality we were facing. Clearly she was far too naïve to be working so closely with desperate people in such desperate situations.

I have never been more wrong in my life. Sarah answers the front door with such care and preparedness, as if she has been trained for years. She treats broken people with tenderness, the disenfranchised with respect, and oppressors with firm backlash. When she tells me she lives her life according to Christ, I believe her. I never dreamed I would learn so much from a teenager.

Sarah is an example of how individual people have taught me some of the greatest lessons of my life during these past six months. I meet new people daily who destroy the stereotypes that we have become accustomed to. The first vegetarian I met in Atlanta was Sanchez, who is far from a skinny white woman, but instead a large half-black, half hispanic man who is as likely to hug you as he is to fuss obscenities. The attorneys at GJP are far from greedy, but instead have dedicated their lives to fighting corrupt laws that keep communities destroyed. Homeless people who walk through our front doors are not lazy, or deserving of their misfortune, but instead the victims of systematic racism and poverty.

It is the people I have met on this journey who will stay with me long after the year is over. And so I write this to Sarah, for standing by me through troubled times at GJP, and to Sanchez, for teaching me large men don't always love bacon. To Atoyia, for our long talks about the men in our lives, and to Julie, for encouraging me to be bold. To the marine at Java Monkey, who shared with me the meanings of her many tattoos. To Yolanda, for not giving up after two years of unemployment. To Laura, Doug, Moriah, Ashley, Zamira, Chelsea, Jamie, Heather, Katherine, Priscyla, Julia, Jenna, Brenda, Cameisha, and so many more, you have taught me a lifetime of lessons.

Weddings, and Dancing, and Blogs—Oh My!

 By Ashley Zarle

It finally happened. Not only had TheKnot.com made it into my top 8 most visited websites, but it had even surpassed the addictive internet drug known as Pinterest. It was a humorous moment where I sort of rolled my eyes and laughed at myself, but it was also a moment of surprisingly deep self-realization. It was concrete proof of just how obsessed I am with the future. I love Phil and cannot wait to marry him, but the fact remains that I have five more months here in Atlanta while Phil continues to work in Ohio, and there is no knowing what comes next or when we will be stable enough to take care of ourselves.Thinking about “the next step” is fun, but oftentimes I find myself so caught up in the world ahead of me that I am missing where I am now. In high school I always thought about where I would go to college, in college I always thought about where I would work, now I am living in Atlanta, states away from my fiance, with no clue what happens next. I feel lost, surrounded by this sea of uncertainty, and it scares me. Without the future to look forward to, what do I have to look to? What do I think about? I'm engulfed in my desire to reach the destination, but every time I reach that place, I immediately begin looking for the next landmark and start planning my path there. It doesn't help that the most commonly asked question within this community of faith-based service corps is “so what are you going to do after this?” During this Lenten season, I have been contemplating the phrase, “it's not where you're going, it's how you get there.” I've found myself reflecting on my lack of presence on this journey I'm on. When I found myself in the middle of a flash mob in Woodruff Park, surrounded by dancing women in red t-shirts standing up for the end to violence against women, I was completely in the moment—and there are few moments when I have felt more purely alive. When I was at the gym being screamed at to jump rope, do jumping jacks, fall to the ground and do pushups, and I thought my body would give out, nothing existed but that moment. Though it was painful, I was present and fully with myself—even if I hated Erika for bringing me somewhere where I was surely going to die. Yet I loved my experience because I was alive and for once, my mind wasn't racing, trying to think of a million things in half a billion places all at once.Thinking about the future can be great, but it often distracts me from being present. As I sat on the bus heading to a doctor's appointment, I was planning my route trying to figure out where to transfer buses and where my stop actually was; at the same time, I was thinking about when Phil and I could get married because I had just found out the date we wanted wasn't available (and I was quite bitter about it). A very thin, older woman stepped on the bus and was handing coins to the bus driver when she suddenly ran out. She asked everyone on the bus for a dollar to cover her fare. A young man with ear-buds in walked up and handed her $3. Her smile stretched from ear to ear as she paid her fare, pocketed the remaining $2, sat down, and looked at the woman next to her and said, “God is good, isn't He?” Though she wasn't talking to me, I looked up, made eye contact with her and couldn't help but smile. Somehow, her comment plucked me out from my little world and placed me in the present moment. In that instant, she had everything she needed and was not only content, but happy. I was jealous of her enthusiasm for life and even inspired by it. One of the biggest blessings of this program is my experience talking to elderly homeowners through my internship at HouseProud Atlanta. I get to sit and listen to these amazing individuals tell me their life stories—where they came from, how they got there, and what they hope to accomplish. It is then my responsibility to publish their stories on the blog where a quote by Isak Dinesen atop the page reads, “To be a person is to have a story to tell.” I never fail to be completely enthralled by the individuals who share their stories. I picture their lives playing out in my head and get a feel for what's important to them. I don't want to miss out on my own story. Maybe it's okay that I don't know right now where The Road will lead me, but it's time I open my eyes and, just maybe, I will be captivated by my own story.

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By Moriah Shiddat

Sitting here with my laptop, the draft from the window hitting the back of my neck as my favorite pop-culture induced guilty pleasure “Glee” plays on the t.v. in the background, I am trying desperately hard to muster into words the many emotions that have flooded my mind in the last few weeks. I will not attempt to be overly profound nor will I pretend that I am truly comfortable with serving others heaping plate of my inner most thoughts, yet as I search for the words to express how I feel, I can only recall that in the last few weeks I have come to discover that finding the right words at times is like…its like searching for your car keys: you have a generally understanding of where they are, you’ve used them times before, but they always end up missing at the most inconvenient times.

As an introvert, I have struggled a great portion of my life not with expressing myself, but rather the internal struggle that I have with over-thinking and analyzing the right words to say at times. But I wonder why can’t contentment be found in silence?  Life does not always grant you all the answers: nor does it promise for you to understand them all, so why do we often feel that the solution to the empty space of uncertainty and expressing how we feel is to fill the gaps with words. It is something that I grapple with, and artist and filmmakers alike have toyed with the idea, that power is a device and powerful tool of expression, but in a highly extroverted society where we are constantly inundated with visual and auditory forms of communication, and where everyone or everything must have an opinion, it seems that’s there is no longer a place for a loss of words. Nevertheless, in the last few weeks, I have learned that often so many struggle with finding the right words, and in my recent encounters I have also learned that I must learn to not only tolerate this unsightly flaw in myself but also in others. Silence can be understood and be just as profound and as human as any other form of expression.