“Fixing and helping create a distance between people, but we cannot serve at a distance. We can only serve that to which we are profoundly connected. Helping, fixing and serving represent three different ways of seeing life. When you help, you see life as weak. When you fix, you see life as broken. When you serve, you see life as whole. Fixing and helping may be the work of the ego, and service the work of the soul.”Rachel Naomi Remen, Helping, Fixing or Serving?
How do we even begin talking about all that we have learned during our time in Chicago? We had numerous reading and writing assignments, which were followed up with discussions that took place in our virtual classroom with Dr. Egan-Ryan; we participated in urban immersion programs led by our dedicated and insightful Darst Center facilitators; and we took ownership for our own learning by taking the initiative to explore the Bridgeport neighborhood in which we were located. With all these experiences fresh in our minds, we are leaving Chicago and heading towards Albuquerque with plenty to think about and reflect on.
Our coursework for this segment of the semester has us learning about “American Myths, Community & the Individual”. Specifically, the American Myth at the forefront of our conversation is the Myth of Meritocracy. In essence, this reflects the notion that we, as individuals operating within a society, will be rewarded in accordance with our skills and abilities- our “merit”. We can hear this being reflected in the common American idea of being able to “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps”. While this certainly can be true for some, our focus in Chicago was to explore how the existing systems and structures prevent this from being a realistic possibility for many people in our society. Additionally, in this course we are also asked to examine our individual identities within the structures of class, ethnicity, race, religion, sexuality, and gender; how do these compare to historical and current notions of an American Identity? We are asked to think critically about these relationships between individuals and their communities, and to challenge the process by which our identities are factors that can determine our in place society.
The Br. David Darst Center helped us to further explore these ideas in an experiential way. Founded in 2002, the Darst Center pulls it’s inspiration from David Darst, a Christian brother and teacher during the 1960s- a notable time in American history due to the momentous calls for civil and social change. Br. Darst’s students challenged him to recognize these tumultuous times, and he rose to the occasion by becoming a peace activist and an author on the topics of social and political justice. Then, in 1968, Br. Darst, along with eight other Catholic activists, engaged in a civil act intended to disrupt the draft process by entering the draft office in Catonsville, Maryland and demanding the draft records. In protest of the war and the resulting draft, they took to the streets and burned the draft cards using a homemade napalm-like substance; the significance of this was that napalm was the substance being used in flamethrowers by U.S. ground troops in Vietnam. The nine activists stayed at the site, knowing that the police would be coming to arrest them, and as anticipated, they were all arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to prison. However, Br. David Darst died in a car accident before he was able to serve his sentence. He was only 27. The Br. David Darst Center draws inspiration from the life of this man through his personal transformation, which was in part “to know the world through the eyes of young people”. As such, The Darst Center seeks to inspire the 1000+ youth that visit the center each year to “see more clearly the faces of those pushed to the margins of our society”, to gain a greater awareness of others, and to step up to the challenge of responding to the many needs of our world. Read more about the life of Br. David Darst and the Mission of the Darst Center at https://darstcenter.org/
The Darst Center focuses their work, and therefore their urban immersion programs, on what they refer to as “Five Burning Issues”. These issues include homelessness, food insecurity, education, immigration, and incarceration. These issues are complex and nuanced, and in no way is it possible to fully grasp the depth with which they permeate our society in merely a week and half. Thus, our time at the Darst Center and the site visits we attended to represent the five issues is not only an introduction to thinking about these issues, but it was helpful for us to put names, faces, and stories to these issues. In this way, the Darst Center encouraged us to “See It Differently” in the sense that these are not just politically polarizing issues, but that there are people living within the structural confines of these circumstances. As such, we were able to briefly connect and share moments with people who were gracious enough to welcome us Into glimpses of their lives, during which we could listen, observe, and ask questions.
Upon returning to the Darst Center after these sites visits, we would reflect on what we had just experienced. Part of the reflections would involve acknowledging that these issues can seem too big, too daunting, too overwhelming, too ingrained, and too far out of our control to even begin to think about enacting large-scale change. Drawing from their roots in the inspiration of Br. Darst’s transformation, as well as tying into a semester-long theme of ours about how our differences can make us stronger together, we discussed the various ways in which we can be involved in change. For some, civil acts of disobedience through disruption may be where they feel called. For others, it may be creating music or art to spread awareness and capture emotion; it may be addressing immediate needs in communities through food pantries or clothing drives. Wherever our individual strengths lie, we can find a way to contribute to our larger community in a way that we can be seeking the best for one another. A community that celebrates each others’ differences and strengths will be a stronger and more united community than one that sees differences as a place to implement divisions.
To tie it all together, the Darst Center’s theme for this year is “Webs We Weave”. The intention behind this theme is to demonstrate the interconnectedness of our society. How do divisive policies and beliefs contribute to the cycles of social injustices, and how could this look different if we started making small changes on an individual level, since we are all part of this web? How can we weave a web in which people feel welcome and feel like they belong, rather than a web that advantages some by disadvantaging others? These are questions that we will keeping thinking about and discussing.
We are all walking away from this experience with different stories, memories, connections, and perspectives, and we are excited to continue discussing and developing our insights into how we as individuals can participate in a larger community. To our wonderful facilitators at the Br. David Darst Center, Rachel and Sam, thank you for challenging us and inspiring us to see, learn about, and respond to the many social justice issues in our world today.
We got this, we got each other.