Thursday, March 20, 2014

Day 4: Firsts

For me, today was a day of firsts. While I have always cared for others and the issues of unfairness that was relevant to them, I never held a deep emotional feeling for the issues. I logically walked through the reasons that certain realities were unfair, but I successfully avoided an emotional entanglement.
Today was different. We began the day with an activity called “star power.” In this activity, we stepped through several rounds of bartering for chips. The result was communicated to us as the top three scoring individuals receiving prizes. Each round had rules. For the beginning two of three rounds, our facilitator provided the rules. After the first round, we sat with groups depending upon how many points we had. For the last round, the group with the highest overall scores was given the power to create their own rules for the bartering.
I was already beginning to feel frustrated shortly after the activity began. I worried, since I was receiving a low amount of points, that I was going to be in the least privileged group once again (see my previous blog entry). Ultimately, I did end up being in the lowest scoring group, referred to as the “triangles.” I was frustrated with the other players, who had sometimes lied to get more points, and the facilitator, merely because they were seemingly controlling the environment.
After a second round, I performed better, but I did not improve greatly. I remained in a frustrated place in my mind. I noticed that my team was becoming rowdy, joking about voting members (including myself) out of the team and wondering how we could “get back” at the other teams. I was frustrated with the team I belonged to, I was frustrated with the other groups performing better than us and lying to me, and I was frustrated with the facilitator who was making this all happen.
Then, the last round came. In this round, the group with consistently higher scores had the opportunity to create new “rules.” This group, known as the “squares,” communicated that the rules changed to only two, in which more freedom was allowed. In addition, we began with a switching activity including a mandatory trade of two chips.  We completed the round and circled up as a large group to process. During this time, we learnedthat the squares had radically shifted the values of the chips such that the chips previously worth the most were worth the least and vice versa. It is in this moment I felt anger.
You are probably wondering where the title, “firsts,” comes into play in this entry. Here it is. I have participated in many activities and simulations before, but I practically never become emotionally involved. In this moment, after the third round, I felt an anger in my stomach. It wasn’t necessarily directed at any specific persons or group, but I was angry because I felt cheated and lied to. Honesty is my top value, and any form of deceit is dishonesty. By not communicating the change in values, the entire group was put at a disadvantage of knowledge. As the activity came to a close and my trip group was needed to make lunch, I continued to sit in a place of anger. I wondered how it must be for a group to realize the imbalance of power and knowledge they face, not be able to compete against it, and then try to live a normal life, such as by making lunch.
There is another “first” for today. After lunch, we went on a historical tour of Memphis with a tour guide. During this tour, we traveled to the home of a man who helped slaves travel to freedom in the northern area. Listening to stories of the slaves, how they came to be enslaved, then how slave owners broke their spirits, I entered a place of shame and upset. These are emotions I typically reserve for other moments, and I rarely experience them regardless.  It was a first for me to become so incredibly emotionally attached to these issues. Of course, they have always been important, but I never connected so deeply.
In this day of firsts, I reflect on my previous blog entry. What is an experience? Do we need to experience similar realities to advocate? If we do, how do we do it? I felt I became closer to an answer today as I had a much stronger reaction to simulations and a tour than I ever had in the past. I find myself leaning towards a conclusion that connection to the people in completeness is impossible, but attempts to immerse yourself in the emotions can increase personal drive to find a solution to others’ problems.
This trip has challenged me to go beyond my emotional comfort zone, becoming angry and shameful for the actions of myself and others for the first time in these contexts. I still leave myself (and you) with a few questions, however. Is an emotional connect enough? How does one sustain a certain emotional connection to an issue so that disconnection becomes more difficult?
I look forward to further exploration on our final trip days and to reading your comments….

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Day 2: What does it mean to experience?

For this blog entry, I wanted to write about yesterday, Tuesday. I started the entry last night, but the need for sleep won me over in the end. I will share a little information about the activities we participated in and the impact I felt from them. Before I begin, I want to preface that I use the term “black” as a blanket term for some of the individuals involved in the experiences. I used this term merely for ease of reading, and I happily recognize the diversity within that identification.

Yesterday, we began our day with completing the “identitree” with the ways we identify in certain categories (and we could create our own categories). For example, one category was race/ethnicity, and I identified myself as white/Caucasian. Following this, we visited the Stax Museum which was a celebration of the company that publicized the music of Elvis Presley and many black musicians. Next, our group visited the Refugee Empowerment Program whose work involves an afterschool program, including tutoring, for children of families that are refugees from other countries. We rounded the day off with a “hunger banquet.” During this banquet, we were unknowingly separated into three groups which experienced dinner in a different way. One group was given fish, chicken, and potatoes and were delivered their food in their seats. A second group received fish and potatoes but needed to seat themselves. The last group, of which I was part, received only potatoes and sat to eat in an area with no table. It was a long day, and I want to highlight some experiences I had connecting the visit to the Stax Museum and the hunger banquet.

In the Stax Museum, blues music was presented to our group as a highly communal aspect of the black culture during the mid-1900s. I found it fascinating to read in the museum that part of the motivation for the music style was to form a bond for those not leaving to the north for better treatment and opportunities. In this way, many of the involved black musicians poured their emotions into the lyrics they chose. I hypothesized that because music is such a powerfully emotional tool, perhaps the music of blues provides a lens through which to experience a piece of the emotional reality of that time during hardship. However, later in the day, during the hunger banquet, I wondered if that activity afforded a way for us to truly speak to how the inequality in access to food was perpetuated in our real world. Is it our place to say we have an understanding of these issues simply by listening to the music or participating in a 30-minute simulation?

Yesterday’s events, as I reflect on them, make me ponder on the question of how we can advocate for a subset of the population that is oppressed without being able to experience their hardships. We can listen to their emotional products, such as music, and participate in simulation experiences, such as the hunger banquet, but that does not afford us a full understanding of the day-to-day oppression the real world groups face. I cannot say that I have an answer, but I do feel confident that part of the solution is trying as hard as we reasonably can to grasp for an understanding. We do not need to connect fully to advocate for an oppressed group, but becoming immersed in a hardship does make advocacy simpler to feel comfortable actively participating within that realm of oppression.

If a reader of this blog has a better idea as to how experience of a hardship influences one’s ability to advocate or speak to a group’s oppression, let me know. I am only now beginning to ask myself how simulations and windows into emotions impact my ability to advocate. Where do you feel is the balance?

Day 3

Today was another great learning experience where we were able to learn more about Martin Luther King Jr. and his legacy. We visited The Civil Rights Musuem and the Freedom's Sisters exhibit. In the Freedom's Sisters exhibit. they had a replica of the bus in which Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat. We were able to learn about the women. who made a difference and how they contributed to a movement that inspired others. During the time I was ther the following quote really caught my attention :

"The greatest evil in our country today is not racism, but ignorance....We need to be taught to study rather believe..." -Septima Poinsette Clark 1898-1987

Septima was an educator that taught African Americans how to reach empowerment politically and personally. I realized that even though Septma experienced a difference lifestyle and endure unimaginable obstacles the quote implies to many issues relevant today. We are a culture that is quick at judging and passing judgement instead of educating ourselves regarding the topic.

I really enjoyed getting to know everyone and seeing what they thought and it is always refreshing to see a new perspective.

I am excited for the days to come when we go to Beal Street and go Downtown. amd get a feel of Memphis. :)

Monday, March 17, 2014

Day 1.

Today has been filled with events.  Waking up, frantically packing, rushing to campus, riding the charter bus, great lunch discussions, arriving in Memphis, touring Rhodes campus, eating Memphis BBQ, meeting a Memphis native and hearing him speak about the history of Memphis and finishing up the day with a light discussion about the social change model.  My body is tired but my mind is racing a million miles a minute.  It's strange because for me I came to this trip with a certain amount of understanding of how I wanted it to play out.  However, immediately I found myself being shifted from how I was going to impact others and help others view social justice to how I was going to learn more about myself and this impossible to fully grasp and put into words thing called "privilege."  I am familiar with the term and have gone as far to attend an event with Tim Wise speaking about just that, privilege. However, acknowledging your privilege comes at you in small doses, at least for me it has.  I know that I'm white and I have accepted several of the privileges that have came to me because of it.  I currently find myself longing for more than just the superficial meaning of the word.  I want to know how my privileges impact my life day to day, moment to moment from decision to decision.  I am beginning to understand that even the choices I have made and continue to make are developed through my privilege.  Someone or some people rather had to devote the time to teach how and what decisions to make and when to make them.  Other people haven't been granted that same opportunity.  I hope to gain further clarity of the magnitude of impact privilege has in my life.   I also want to ensure that I don't begin view my privilege as a negative but more so as a way to humble myself.  I am lucky to be granted these opportunities and so with that this cheesy but relevant quote, "with great power [opportunity] comes great responsibility."  Above all, I would like to learn how to best utilize my opportunities to serve others that were not granted the same privileges.  Excited doesn't come close to explaining my feelings about this trip.  Bring on day 2!

Day 1

We have arrived in Memphis! Today has been a long day on the road but the group was all smiles and laughs the whole way down here (except for me I slept most of the way). I am really excited about this week and am looking forward to spending time with some awesome students. We have been together for less than 24 hours and already the conversations have been deep and engaging. Looking forward to the rest of the week, until next time...