Sunday, September 20, 2009

I see it in the city when two worlds collide.

Perhaps its been the increased discussion of racism in recent weeks [see: this, or this, or that], or perhaps it's the fact that in any given 24 hour period I find myself in environments comparable to night and day, and I can't help but feel burdened by this collision as of late.

Let's take Friday for instance. After a day of work, surrounded by children of color, energy, struggle, hunger, curiosity and dreams of achieving the impossible, my co-worker Laura and I made the walk through downtown Minneapolis on our way to a Lucinda Williams concert. We squirmed, uncomfortable in the homogeneous atmosphere; here we were, surrounded by middle-aged, white, highly educated, affluent, men and women ready to live in our privilege "to rock!" Perhaps our discomfort was increased after happening upon a couple high anxiety moments before our arrival at First Avenue.

In the short walk from LaSalle and 15th to 1st Ave N and 7th we witnessed two separate incidents of human nature at its worst. The first, at the corner SuperAmerica, consisted of two men apparently arguing over one's ownership of a specific gas pump. Shouts of verbal insults in unrepeatable nature abounded, with "Racist!" being used at the beginning of each exchange. The streets filled with people, eyes glued and jaws dropped at this sad display. We quickly changed course as the argument became more severe when a passenger threw something at the window of the other's car.

Not two minutes later we happen upon a physical fight of kicks and punches between two grown men; one black, one white. Unable to know exactly what pushed the men to these extremes, we couldn't help but feel as though everyone on the crowded Nicollet Mall simply "knew" what this argument was about. It was almost as if the theoretical discomfort of race moved into a literal exchange, and we were equally as hesitant to do anything about it. We haven't reconciled these racial tensions within our own hearts and minds, so when it plays out with such intensity and physicality we are paralyzed within our deeply rooted racial complexes.

As an idealist I want to believe that the root of this issue is that we simply haven't learned to appropriately love one another. Racism is the Berlin Wall, still standing, in America. Instead of celebrating with one another the moments that a brick is shattered, we argue over who's responsible to clean it up. Just as we are to praise the successes of child, compliment their character and repeat to them that "it's possible", perhaps we need to do that for each citizen of our adolescent country. This is everyones responsibility.

I was reminded of the story of the blind man, Bartimaeus today in church. "What do you want me to do for you?" Where does it hurt? What pains you? Jesus asks. Bartimaeus says, "Rabbi, I want to see." God has granted us sight. We get to see the sunrise, the changing of the seasons, the faces of newborns, but we also must see the wages of war, the sadness of an orphaned child, the discomfort of oppression. Do we close our eyes? Do we turn our face?

I see it in the city when two worlds collide. I don't like it. It pains me. But I cannot turn my eyes because beyond this concrete and barbed wire there is the beauty of united spirits.....isn't there?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Flapping and Fluttering

I could go on and on with a specific introduction to what exactly I'm doing here in St. Paul. I could explain that I've gone from seeing the US Capitol each day by metro to seeing the Minnesota Capitol each day by car in a mere four months; I could tell you about how wonderful the AmeriCorps program is for all of us who have graduated from college in a year where headlines each day scream No Jobs for Grads; I could tell you what my new apartment and office look like (thanks to Ikea) and what it's like to be applying for food stamps, but I think I'll begin with a short story and leave the rest up to your imagination (or well, my future posts).

For the past four days we have been canvassing the neighborhoods our after school program, Youth Connections, will be hosted at to chat with kids and their parents, let them know when we'll be starting, what we're doing, when the Pizza Party is, you know, recruiting and the like. It's not easy navigating the public housing developments, full of construction and hills and homes that all look the same, but there is certainly more good than bad that comes from it. We finally get a glimpse into the lives of the children we'll be working with each day.

St. Paul has the largest group of Hmong people outside of Laos which means this Asian culture will be one I learn the most about in the coming months. Knocking door to door we admired the bright gold and red decorations hanging above the peepholes, the huge baskets of onions fresh from the garden and the peppers neatly laying out to dry on the sidewalk. The smells of spices and cooking seeped from every home, and I began to fall in love with the Hmong culture.

We were rapidly making our rounds at one of the sites when it happened. This house, this door, seemed typical, normal, nothing out of the ordinary. I knocked. We waited. There was a chair next to the door with a plastic bag holding something black hanging from its side. Thought nothing of it. As we opened the screen door my body shifted into the chair, I lost my balance and tipped right onto the plastic bag. Almost immediately there was a fierce and severe flapping and fluttering. I sprinted to an open patch of grass and tried pathetically to gain my composure. For someone who is seriously afraid of birds, stepping on a chicken in a plastic bag could not have been more terrifying. Seriously, terrifying.

I think the chicken survived ... at least until supper I suppose.