On April the 23rd of this year, several students including I went to volunteer at the Community Kitchen of West Harlem. At this community kitchen, the students gave people food in certain amounts based on how much they were alloted, which was determined by the size of their family. My favorite part of this experience was the small conversations I made with the other volunteers at the location as well as all the people I was helping. It really felt like there was a connection, which made the service experience all the more special!
On April 30th at 7am, a group of 30 students from Friends Seminary as well as members from the Kalief Browder Foundation drove up to Albany to lobby for the H.A.L.T Solitary Confinement Act to be pushed onto the floor immediately. After we arrived, we were divided up into groups of 3 and given schedules/room numbers of different senators and representatives that we were booked to have a 5-10 minute meeting with. Meeting with politicians one on one, not just watching a video through a screen or reading some quotes, was an immensely valuable experience. I was able to see how easy it was to get wrapped up in the eloquence of one’s words and realize 10 minutes later at the end of the meeting that they had not managed to even broach the one question we had asked. It was frustrating but a kind of frustration that pushed to only be more direct, emphatic, knowledgable of the facts and ensure that we got the answer that we wanted next: for these senators and represtatnive to vote YES when H.A.L.T. was placed on the floor. The other memorable part of our trip was the replica of a solitary cell. Once inside, the room seems to drop 10 degrees. The greys on the wall became unsettling, the soundtrack of crying, insufferable mumbling, and an unbreakably loud silence is overwhelming. Once the door closes and you are left alone, arguments of money, budgeting, and priorities are drowned out by the immediate sense of despair and isolation that covers every inch of the room. The Albany Lobbying trip is an experience that taught me more than any political class could ever as well as instilled in me an understanding about the utmost necessity of fighting for those who do not have a voice in a world that works to only silence them further.
Throughout my time working with The Dream.Us I have become more aware of how lucky I am to have a great education. It is a privilege not everyone has access to and is especially hard for undocumented immigrants to get. I am determined to keep working with my program and others like it to help everyone have access to education.
The most challenging part of this project was being able to connect with the audience in such a way where they were able to understand how important the Dream.Us is. However, the most rewarding part of this project was the comments my peers gave me afterward telling me that I did, evidently, interest them enough where they are willing to help immigrants get an education.
On April 29th we went to Washington DC to march on the white house. The plan was to completely surround the white house to raise awareness for global warming. The march itself was really hard. It was over 90 degrees and the streets were completely filled with people. Even though standing out in the sun all day took a lot out of me, I felt good to have helped raise awareness. It was a satisfying experience that I would like to do again in the future.
“Testimony” is a peculiar word to use about my experience at the Women’s March. The word derives from the ancient Roman tradition of men ceremonially grabbing each other’s testicles when taking an oath. One would think that, in 2017, the grabbing of genitals would be over, yet long before President Trump told the world the pleasure he took in sexually assaulting women, I knew that going to college would likely result in someone assaulting me. I knew that one in four college girls are sexually assaulted. I knew that native women had a 50% chance of being sexually assaulted. I knew that more than two thirds of hate crime homicide victims are transgender women, especially black transgender women, and that they are 1.8% more likely to suffer sexual abuse. I knew that to the white man’s dollar, Asian women make 85 cents, white women make 77 cents, black women make 63 cents, and Latina women make 54 cents. Black men make less than the white woman, and hispanic men make the same as black women. Conversion camps take LGBTQ+ youth and destroy them to their very core until they are so traumatized, they have no choice but to say they are straight. Muslims are feared just for wearing cloth on their heads or praying on a rug instead of in a pew. Hard working people are kept out of this country every day because they are seen as terrorists or rapists or drug dealers. Toxic masculinity and dehumanized femininity plagues our society with gender roles.
President Trump and Vice President Pence did not create these problems. They did not cause people to become racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, or to have any other kind of prejudice. Those prejudices were already there. They elected our current president. Even if those who voted for him would actively say they did not hold these prejudices, President Trump’s hate for the aforementioned minorities was not a deal breaker for his voters. I didn’t see the Women’s March as something that came about because of the events of 2016 and early 2017, but as the breaking point of endless suffering.
Prejudice has always been a part of society, in one form or another. I am often asked, “How can an individual change things?” My answer is that I don’t think an individual can change things alone. I think the Women’s March is an example of the route to effecting change—not alone, but together, with our experiences, oppression, and privileges unifying us into a group stronger than those in power. “United we are strong” is the truest mantra. It is hierarchy within classes, races, genders, and other identities that allow those who are power to be in power. Those hierarchies are there to divide us. By uniting in our differences we can change things. That unity is what the Women’s March means to me.
My group decided to work on a health issue in Brooklyn. We researched what issues were prevalent in the population and found that diabetes was an issue in Bed Stuy and Coney Island. After comparing the statistics between the two neighborhoods, we saw that Bed Stuy population had more diabetics. Thus, we decided to work within Bed Stuy to build a clinic that would test and treat the community.
We tried to keep in mind that the income level of the neighborhood is low and that we would have to keep prices down so that people would be able to afford our help. As the budget coordinator, this task was very difficult. The base cost for the medical help we required was already over the what we had expected. Upon consulting with the site coordinator, it was obvious that the price of any real estate or rental was also going to be very expensive. Tacking on additional costs were also major minor things that piled up into high annual costs, but it was easier to find lower prices on medical websites.
During my research, I came across another diabetes clinic in Bed Stuy… The problem being that it had ridiculously low reviews and the quality of service was horrible, as said by the clients. I hope that one day we would not only be able to provide the services that would benefit the community, but build a warm clinic where our patients feel cared for. I believe that people should be taken care of and treated well, as opposed to walking dollar bills for doctors to collect.
This summer, I was part of the Boys Varsity Soccer Team’s trip to Tobago. The trip was a bonding experience at heart, doing so while traveling the island, playing local soccer teams, and engaging in meaningful service. The service we did on the trip was through Kleats for Kids, an organization that I lead. My organization delivers soccer equipment, primarily cleats, to underprivileged children across the world. For this trip, I helped facilitate the gathering of over 100 pairs of cleats, which we carried with us to Tobago. Once there, we led a few clinics for local children, one for kids from the former high school of our coaches and the other for kids from their former soccer academy. After each clinic, we distributed the cleats, along with other gear like jerseys, shinguards, and goalie gloves. Seeing the joy and appreciation on the faces of the young kids was highly fulfilling. Overall, the trip was an incredible experience, made much more special by this great service that we partook in.
This year, I aided Kristin Marchilena with a some of her Lower School music classes. I had hoped to gain experience with both children and music, and I was delighted by the both the creativity and merriness of the class. The children, despite being very rowdy very often, were respective of their teacher and myself. If they broke a rule, they were quick to rectify the problem when commented on. Often though, I felt as though I wasn’t too sure how I was helping. I felt as though I was simply playing and singing with them and not doing any work. Kristin explained to me that without me around, the classes were usually much crazier. She told me that the kids respected me and enjoyed playing with me; this realisation made me extremely happy and helped me realise that service doesn’t have to feel like work. Overall, I truly enjoyed working with Kristen and the kids. I hope to continue working with children in the future.
For my community service, I gave a tour of Union Square during alumni day. Everyday, when I walk to school, I pass through the Union Square train station. Before my tour, I never really took time to learn the history of the square. I wanted to educate the alumni. Me and three other peers worked to create an interesting and detailed tour of the historical site. The tour itself was one hour long, with multiple stops at a few of the many historical sites of Union Square. This community service made me realize how much history there is around us and that most people don’t take the time to really learn about their surroundings.
The trip to South Africa was not a vacation. It was not voluntourism. It was journey and experience in which we listened and observed. We helped local charity projects, but we did not run them, we did not do anything out of our skill, like building a house. The most involved missions were deliving food, which was actually done by the church group, and we simply listened in on their home sermon, and helping at a Chinsta soup kitchen, in which we played with children and cut vegetables. We visited Calabash tours, our tour groups, work in the local school, and the private institution of Ubuntu, an impressive and sexy building, filled with skills classes, clinics, and dance groups. Sounds like we did not do much, huh? This trip was not about how many children we could feed, how many groceries we could deliver, or how many schools we could visit. This trip was not a pat on the back for good work to help those little poor brown children in Africa. This trip was a learning opportunity to hear the stories of those in South Africa affected by the Apartheid, affected by poverty in their townships, and those who wanted to see change in their own communities. We learned about how these people were helping their own communities, and how from what they are doing, we could learn how to serve and help our communities. Their actives would have continued on whether or not we had chopped those vegetables or delivered that rice, they would have been feeding those people, giving their own communities support if we had come or not, and so we were honored to have been able to see these people fight for each other first hand. It was an honor to hear the tragic and painful stories of those young and old in a country struggling to patch up intense racial tension and segregation, just like our own country. It was an honor to see history that happened as recently as 20 years ago, and only as long ago at 100. It is an honor to bring these teaching back to our community here.