Social Justice Beats

by Katie Brick

“Hammer and a Nail” by the Indigo Girls came through my car radio this weekend. I was whisked back to doing community service – or thinking about doing service – in my 20s. And then I thought about theme songs from various DePaul Service Immersion Trips I’ve been on.

With new Spring Service Immersions just around the corner, and DCSA and Loop Community Service happening all the time I’d like to share my top 5 songs about service and invite YOU to add to the list via the comments!

In no particular order (and mostly stuck in a pop groove so do add hip hop, metal, show tunes, whatever):

“Hammer and Nail” by the Indigo Girls – fresh as a spring breeze while you’re painting on a service site.

 [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yTI2GGNFR_U&w=420&h=315]

“A distant nation my community
A street person my responsibility
If I have a care in the world I have a gift to bring.”

 “Blessed to Be A Witness” by Ben Harper – Introduced to this one by students on a service trip to the slums of Guayaquil, Ecuador, where we encountered families living on garbage dumps, tens of thousands of people living in shacks with no running water, and Jenny, a local activist who looked everyone in the eye and demanded, “¿Por qué estás aquí?” (Why are you here?).

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0EK10z0y_1k&w=560&h=315]

“Only by the grace of God go I.
I am blessed to be a witness.”

 “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye – I remember this from being a kid and its call to action seems just as timely now with #BlackLivesMatter, continuing war, and fears putting us at odds with compassion and solidarity. You have to have an interest in ‘What’s goin’ on’ to get involved.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H-kA3UtBj4M&w=420&h=315]

“Mother, mother
There’s too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother
There’s far too many of you dying.”

  “You Get What You Give” by the New Radicals – My older brother, whose life is incredibly difficult right now and all about service, recently put this on a mix for me. It’s catchy.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uc6jd9P1X6w&w=560&h=315]

“Wake up kids
We’ve got the dreamers disease.”

  “Hands” by Jewel. Yes, Jewel. It’s in the same genre as “Hammer and Nail,” granted – so share your own genres in the comments, and enjoy this in the meantime.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AfsS3pIDBfw&w=420&h=315]

“We are God’s eyes
God’s hands
God’s mind
We are God’s eyes
God’s hands
God’s heart”

 

Katie Brick is the Director of the Office of Religious Diversity at DePaul University.

Listening to East St. Louis

Catrien Egbert is a student at DePaul University who just returned from a December Vincentian Service Immersion Trip. We close the 2014 blog year with her reflection.

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It has been two weeks, three days, and two hours since I returned home from my week-long service immersion trip to East St. Louis, Illinois, and if I’m being honest I am no closer to being able to put my experience down into words than I was a week ago when I first opened this document and began this reflection.

How do I explain? It begins on December 2nd when I found myself – along with nine others – driving through Illinois and Missouri en route to an unknown city. We knew little about East St. Louis besides the fact that it was formerly an industrial area of middle-class wealth plagued by the loss of industry, jobs, and company investment – now with great poverty and crime.

hubbard blog pic 1

When we arrived at the Hubbard House, we were split into three groups based on daily service locations – a domestic abuse shelter, a soup kitchen/thrift store/afterschool center, and at a Catholic K-8 school (my service location).

Though we were only at our sites for a few days, the welcoming nature of the East St. Louis community and the openness of those involved in our service locations gave our group a sense of purpose and belonging almost immediately. The opportunity to form relationships – both with those we were serving, and with each other – was heightened by the immersive nature of the trip. On the first morning of the trip we were strangers but by that evening we were housemates, cooking together, working out shower schedules, sharing hopes and fears for the upcoming week, and realizing the need for solidarity.

blog pic 2 CROP

Through the week that followed, I felt like I became an honorary member of the community, set apart by privilege but working my best to understand and aid those I met in whatever way I was needed. Even little things – setting up one of the school’s bulletin boards, or grading multiplication tests – played a role in allowing me to do what must be done. Through acts small and large I learned, and every day changed my worldview a little more. Reentry into my “old life” has been a challenge, but in my reacclimation I’ve become aware of just how differently I see things.

I am aware that everything I do now has become a conscious act.

So often before, I’d gone through my life half-asleep, living but not realizing, acting but not experiencing. I noticed it the first time I put on makeup after my week of simplicity – as I combed black mascara through my eyelashes. I was aware driving on the familiar streets of my hometown. I was aware opening Christmas presents. I regard actions I do now with intention.

I saw things so narrowly before, focusing mostly on myself. Now, I feel as though my intentions are different: I’m concerned about helping others and exploring injustices. It’s impossible to change the world with every act, but it is possible to make decisions that better my life and the lives of those around me.

Something that has helped me stay present and intentional comes from an important Vincentian lesson I learned on my trip: the ability to listen.

listen

Before, I never realized how often I don’t really hear what others say. In conversations, I’d let my mind slip to what I thought, or what I was going to say next. In East St. Louis, I became aware of what it really meant to talk to someone. I regarded conversations with intention; I slowed down my thoughts and actions and worked on genuinely considering what others had to say.

In the context of my DePaul team, communal service called for nightly reflections and debriefings and gave me the benefit of perspectives not my own. When I had questions, I’d pose them to my group, and through discussion we came to conclusions by the sharing ideas. The opportunity to have 9 sounding boards made me realize how wonderful the diversity of human thought is. Being without our cell phones for the week helped us to pay attention to each other – not just in reflections, but on a regular basis. “How are you feeling, mentally and physically?” became an inside code, a spoken permission to share thoughts and dreams.

In the context of my service with people in East St. Louis, listening helped me to understand complex themes surrounding areas in need. Poverty, homelessness, abuse, race, socioeconomic class, and corruption are incredibly difficult concepts to grasp. It’s work to see them, but to seek understanding of the systems and community these issues affect is even harder, especially when understanding meant confronting my own ingrained beliefs. What made comprehension possible was listening to experiences.

For me, it involved teaching a second grader – all bright eyes and loving hugs – how to jump rope, and learning from the gym teacher afterwards that she lives with her grandma and 14 other children while her single mother is undergoing rehab. Through my service I was confronted with harsh, disparaging realities – but also pure, uplifting examples of love and family. I found it was important to hear both.

By listening, I allow myself the opportunity to step outside my worldview and consider seeing things through the eyes of someone else. I learned that there is a difference between being a helper and being a “tourist,” and if I am not allowing myself the opportunity to listen and comprehend I can’t truly take anything in. It’s hard to help if I’m seeing things the way I’m used to, by basing what should be done by what I think should be done, by judging based on what I know – which, admittedly, can be very little. As a human being, I am both burdened and blessed by the enormity of experience. Suffering, loss, joy, and triumph are not transferable: there is no way for me to understand what another is enduring. The only way to gain some sense is to listen.

The trip to East St. Louis continues to impact me. I’m constantly testing to see if I remember – what did the houses look like? How did it feel driving through the city streets? What were the names of the children in the classes I worked with? Their names have become a mantra to me, a reminder to try to always have my eyes open, to always be aware of those around me, to always act with purpose and intention, to always challenge inequality and prejudice, to always listen to the stories of others, and to always ask myself the omnipotent Vincentian question: What must be done?

 

 

First three photos courtesy of Catrien. Last photo from http://plusbits.mx/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Doctor-Who-Listen.jpg

A Parade of Casseroles

casseroleWorking at DePaul University I’ve learned a lot about St. Vincent DePaul the charity saint. While many others were doing good works during his time, Vincent was the first to organize charity in a systemic way. One of the first places he experimented with this was at a parish in Chatillon, France. He recognized that parishioners would respond when there was a neighbor in need, but that the person would be overwhelmed with too much attention all at once and so the good will was not put to good use – back then they didn’t have freezers to hold extra casseroles! So, Vincent began to organize the parishioners into small groups of people who would go out and do home visits to assess need and then decide together how to respond to it. In these visits, both the physical and spiritual needs would be attended to.

This practice continues today around the world with the St. Vincent DePaul Society and other ministries, where volunteers go into others’ homes. It is also happening right here in Chicago in my own St. John Berchmans (SJB) parish community thanks to the ministry of HOPE (Helping Other People Enthusiastically).

For the past few weeks my family has been the gracious recipient of the generosity of SJB friends who have brought us meals as we welcome home our son Theodore.

Typically I’m on the giving, not receiving end. At first my husband was hesitant to receive such generosity since “we” don’t really need it. When I asked if he was going to suddenly take up cooking as his new hobby and leave his newborn in order to go to the grocery store, he quickly changed his mind. Yes, perhaps we could use some extra help! It is a humbling time as we welcome with open arms a parade of casseroles and tasty treats to give us the endurance to push through sleepless nights.

There is something very intimate and sacred about inviting someone into your home, especially during a moment of need. People we see in the pews on Sunday entered both the joy and messiness of our life with a newborn. Some would stay and visit for a while, sharing their wisdom on parenthood. Others saw we had our hands full and just left instructions of how to heat the food.

The simple act of preparing and delivering a meal is profound way to continue to build bridges of solidarity together. We are grateful for the physical and spiritual nourishment we’ve received from the SJB community –the actual meals and the many powerful prayers that have made all the difference in our and Teddy’s life. Hopefully someday you will have the opportunity to join or receive a parade of casseroles too.

Joyana Dvorak serves as Service Immersion Coordinator with DePaul University Ministry when she’s not home on maternity leave with her son.

Photo courtesy of wikipedia.org