Sunday, March 25, 2012

MN


It's the first day back in St. Paul and the disparities between the past week and my normal routine are already creeping up. There was something majestic about San Francisco: its constant noise, its vivacious people, and its flagrant diversity. While the Cities offer all of that, coming back to the slightly quieter Midway neighborhood has been both calming and disjointing. Even though we just returned, reflecting on the last days of the trip is already a challenge.

This blog has been a great tool for exploring our respective experiences as members of Queer in the Community; it has also served the same purpose as a diary. All of my posts, at least, are tinged with either euphoria or a form of despair, reading them over its easy to see when I was in a particular mood or mindset. I tried to avoid posting during the final portion of the trip simply because those emotions were only going to be hyperbolized-especially the final day. Returning to St. Paul I've already had to summarize a weeks worth of growth into a single sentence, or if I'm lucky, a paragraph. So, for what may be my final post, I want to attempt to do that in a forum where I feel most comfortable and collected. Singling out even one profound thought is a challenge, so bear with me.

There's so much that each of us have taken from this trip, to the extent that even attempting to provide a collective commentary would be intrusive and rude. For me this trip reaffirmed and reinvigorated a lot of my beliefs, my identity, etc.; it also completely redefined certain elements. I've never been one to talk in a conversation unless directly addressed or infuriated to the point of outburst. It's something that was noted in a lot of the affirmations I received (all of which made cry, so thanks for that) and also a little bit on the trip. I don't enjoy talking just to talk, or furthering a dialogue unless I feel like my contributions are warranted. While that won't change, this trip forced me to recognize that my silence sometimes isn't productive. It lets me be comfortable where I should be challenged.

Every speaker, site, and situation we encountered on this trip emerged from individuals voicing their opinions, often in uncomfortable or potentially controversial settings. Queer history is saturated with stories of fortitude and bravery in the face of radical oppression and discrimination; it is a compilation of individual action that motorized a community. While that has always been evident to me from an intellectual standpoint, listening to Beth, Jason, Zoey, and many others divulge their personal histories to us completely reconstructed how I understand any history. The handful of individuals we met and conversed with are activists that have devoted their lives to divulging their stories and their passions essentially to complete strangers, and my inability to even expose my thoughts to peers or friends seems completely complacent in comparison.

This has turned into a monster post mostly because I can't summarize what this trip has done with words. I feel so connected to this group: these eleven fantastic people have all molded, melded, and meshed individually and collectively in such a short period of time. I may be leaving this trip relatively the same, but my comprehension of participation has altered dramatically. My privilege makes me ignorant in many scenarios, but the solution isn't always silence and listening. Each of us has the ability to make a tremendous impact and San Francisco reaffirmed that somewhat idealistic reality.

Until next time.

-C

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Leaving

So our time is up in San Francisco. We're waiting our flight to take us back to MSP; people are reading and playing cards and eating; and I can't help but feel grateful for my experience as a leader on this trip (TWICE, incredibly).

Notably, these next few days are typically the time that melancholy sets in. We've had seven days of incredible service, learning, reflection, and honesty in this beautiful city. We've lived in the Tenderloin, visited the Mission, Castro, Noe Valley, and Fisherman's Wharf. The organizations we worked with: Project Open Hand, PAWS, GLIDE, SF Women Against Rape, San Francisco Food Bank, and the LGBT History Museum--the people we've spoken to: Jason Villalobos, Beth Pickens, Alan Gutirrez, and Tommy Dillon, have permanently changed our outlook on the queer community, on service, on each other.

There's no other way to say it. We've changed irrevocably. You've heard of the idea that you can never step in the same river twice--that's how this trip makes me feel. The feelings I had after I left last year and before I left this year were a precursor for how I feel now.

And that's recharged.

We all need to be recharged every now and then in order to keep going, especially in the nonprofit world. Burnout is such a serious issue. We say we can take on more--we can do this--a few extra hours a night won't make us any more tired. But that's a lie.

I'm grateful that this experience has been a break from life at Hamline. I know now that I can go back to my life in Minnesota with a renewed sense of purpose about the work I do--for the second time.

To San Francisco: thank you, again.
To my co-leader, Savannah: you rock.
To my group this year and last: you make me see things about myself that make me a better person.
To Hamline: keep making these trips happen--students need opportunities like this. Service is such an integral of the Piper experience, and no student should graduate without experiencing another city through the eyes of service.

Lastly, to you, the readers: keep doing, questioning, growing, reading! Please ask me more about this trip if you're interested in going one day!


In love,
Grady

Taking a Moment

Writing is pubic spaces like this isn't something I often do so I'm going to pretend that I'm writing in my journal and that people wont be reading this. (It'll give me peace of mind) :) One of the hardest parts of this trip for me was seeing the homelessness everywhere and feeling completely powerless to help any of the people we came across. In Minnesota I know that we have homeless people but I have never had direct interactions with them or been approached by them. It's very different here. There are so many different people that you see and meet on the streets. And while I know that the service that we did is helping the greater community I couldn't help but feel helpless in the sense that I couldn't help each individual person. People just walk by without even acknowledging that these people on the street exist. THEY ARE HUMAN BEINGS JUST LIKE YOU AND ME. I can't walk by as someone is taking to me and not make eye contact and give a smile and spare some change if I have it on me. I think that realizing that there is a much larger world out there than the comfort of my "small" Minnesota, has been really conflicting for me. I love that the world is so big and that I will go through countless experiences good and bad, but now that it has been screaming if my face I can't ignore that there are still a lot of things about this world that need help and involvement. This fire that I have inside for helping people has only grown stronger and I know when I get back I'll find new ways of helping, ways that I know I will be able to do some good with. I think if we all took the time to step out of our day to day lives and see how much is going on around us and how we can contribute, we would start to see some really great positive changes. :) Karissa

Mr. Buckland

On our way to the doughnut store, we met a man by the last name of Buckland. He asked for some change or a cigarette. We gave him both. He said we were the first group of people that stopped for him. He asked us where we were from and he chuckled and replied "oh Minnesoooooooota!" He told us about some of his family history from Norway and how they used to live in Minnesota. He just really seemed like he needed someone to talk to, or just listen. We said goodbye and wondered into the doughnut place just around the corner. He came in a few minutes later and attempted to purchase something but seemed to leave with nothing. The owner was rude to him. Gabby and I bought him a doughnut and brought it outside to him. He accepted it, thanked us and said he tried to buy a cup of coffee with the money we'd given him earlier but he was short 13 cents. Gabby gave him a couple more quarters to buy the coffee. We went back inside, finished our food and started to leave. As we left he went in and purchased the coffee. I left feeling great, and that every stereotype I had of a homeless person was destroyed. He didn't harass us when he asked for money, he was polite. He didn't keep begging for more, he was grateful. He didn't spend the money on drugs or alcohol, he bought coffee. He wasn't crazy, he made conversation. He wasn't rude, he thanked us multiple times. After the earlier bus incident, this was an extremely lifting experience, and one that I will not soon forget.

--Brianna

Mid-Week

Yesterday we visited Grace Cathedral; a LGBT inclusive church. We met with Tommy who is a gay priest at St. Aidan's church here in San Francisco. I was initially nervous because I haven't had the best relationship with religion in the past. For this reason I tend to shy away from religion. As a women's studies major I hear about the oppressive side of religion as an institution. I want to make the distinction between religion in itself and how people have interpreted religion and used it to oppress others hence the institution aspect. Traditionally religion as an institution has been an oppressive force in the lives of women and other marginalized groups. The church often relies heavily on traditional gender roles which limits the opportunities for many people. I have first hand seen religion at its worst which has affected how I see religion as a whole. For this reason, religion makes me nervous and uncomfortable. This is why I was apprehensive to visit a church here.

Upon arriving to the church we were invited to partake in their morning worship service. I was reluctant at first but decided to immerse myself in the experience. It was not a life changing moment for me and I was slightly relieved when it was over but appreciated it for what it was. Once again, I was unable to separate my past from the present. Talking to Tommy relieved many of these feelings. He told us a little more about the church and what it does for the community and LGBT individuals. It is a church that is very progressive and inclusive. They have a strong relationship with LGBT organizations, including but not limited to numerous drag performers. They provide meals and support for the homeless population here and provide a safe and supportive space for all individuals. I found this incredibly inspiring since so many people have seen the horrible side of the church in their treatment of LGBT individuals. It made me think that it is indeed possible to merge the two communities and form a long lasting alliance and support system. Above all I could see that Tommy really loves what he does. He comes from the South and was very traditional at the start but once he moved here he realized that things can change and that all people are worthy of love, compassion, and understanding. It was based on love for all humankind and I find that so inspiring and worthy of praise. Although I still have my bias, this experience has opened my mind to new possibilities.

--Emily

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Having an open heart

I feel like the purpose of the catalyst program is to challenge you not only physically through volunteering, but also mentally as you grow into who you are as a person and as a force of change. Throughout high school I was always actively involved in my community and school through the volunteering that I did. I was known as the girl that had done everything and was voted that I would make a impact on the world someday. I have wanted to be a force of change in the world that I live in and always will. However, I have been lost for sometime on how to get involved in the community since I went to college. I am originally from Washington state, where I knew everywhere that I could volunteer at and has numerous connections to various organizations. Moving to Minnesota changed all that and put me at a loss for what I can do. I have spent the majority of the year, not being as active as I wanted and it took this trip to make me realize that volunteering is and will always be one of my passions, and that I need to work had to make those volunteering chances available to me.
Today we worked at project open hand and honestly I have never felt so comfortable. I wanted to cry when their volunteer coordinator told me of how much love they put into their food and the service that they do. What hit home to me was that they give people birthday cakes and homemade cards to people for their birthday so that they know someone out there cares for them. Even though I was packaging various types of meat, I still had a great time. I had so much fun, and I did not even do any tourist activities. Volunteering warms your heart and fills you with so much happiness that you cannot get anywhere else. I was having an amazing day at open hand and then at the SF food bank until I had money stolen from me. It is hard to explain how this made me feel, I felt defiled and invaded. Even though all they took was material items, they still invaded my privacy and me. To not be too overcome with being mad, I focused on all the good that we did and the people that we met. Despite any challenges that I may face what is important is not the material items that you have but the relationships and the connections that you have with people. We have to be open in our lives to be able to truly experience growth.

-Kristen