I just returned from fifteen days in New Orleans with a great group of people that became like a family. This was by far the best trip I’ve ever been on. I grew up. I learned a lot about myself, life, the system, and others. I’d say I’m a better person for going on this trip.
We took a class all semester on class, race, and social justice issues and then we put them into practice for the last two weeks. We replaced old lightbulbs in people’s houses with an energy efficient option for a lower electricity bill and reduced carbon footprint. We handed out flyers to neighborhoods with community resources and advocated for a school to be reopened in the lower ninth ward. We also cleaned up a garden and did some rain barrel installations in a community training garden. We also explored New Orleans a bit so I saw a good portion of the city, experienced the wet-sock-on-your-face humidity and swarming termites, touristy things like swamp, ghost, plantation, and prison tours as well as listened to jazz, met some cool people named Fred and Marcie, and hung out with my good friends MNM and Luke.
There were several conversations about race and social justice issues in our lives, New Orleans, and the U.S. I thoroughly enjoy conversations like this. It was sometimes difficult to put words to what we were feeling and question ourselves about our own issues with racism, but it was healthy for us to think about and have that conversation with each other. Growing up in a predominantly white community, we don’t think about race all that much, but as we get older and potentially leave our comfortable, rural Iowa setting, it’s important to find where you fit in the world and race is a big part of that.
The Louisiana State Penetentiary tour caused me to think about life, its value, grace, and how one decision can do so much. It taught me a greater sense of empathy, moved me with compassion, and encouraged me to see the value in people…all people. It made me think about the criminal justice system and how flawed it is. How one decision can change your life and there’s not much of a chance for you to better your circumstances.
The people, though. Coming into the semester, I knew Kristina…a little bit but for the most part, the class was made up of strangers from the criminal justice world. And then sitting through a semester of class, I gained a bit more of their personalities, but still wasn’t sure how I felt about spending two weeks with them…and then Friday morning at 6am happened and things got better. We were locked in a moving vehicle for hours on end together and we started to mesh.
Dylan is hilarious and a dancing fool, Luke has a huge heart and he’s going to make a great dad someday. Kayleigh hates the sun and human contact, but I’m so glad she came on this trip. Molly is enthusiastic and ready for an adventure at any moment. Kristina was my seat mate, bunk mate and roommate for the two weeks and is great at late night life chats and livening things up. Veronica is an aggressive driver, but has an enormous passion for history and heart for people. Carlee is short but she’s smart, encouraging, and passionate about doing the right thing. The good doctor is a southern gentleman and romantic and as much as the warden tried to hide her laughter and maintain her schedule, we all know she loved the goodnight ritual, jokes, and antics of her favorite BVfam.
Like I said before, this was a great trip and I would recommend it to anyone. I’m still processing everything and trying to wrap my mind around all the feelings and experiences of the last two weeks. Though it complicated my life a bit by giving me so much to think on, I think it was the perfect way to end my undergrad years. It created this nice transition to grown up life because it’s helping me process my faith, friendships, life goals, politics, and the systems of the grown up world. It’s a bit overwhelming, but that’s okay. I’ll get through it and be better because of it.