Reflections on Service in New Orleans 4
Learning How to do Anti-Racism Work at Home
The following is the first of five reflections on a service trip that members of the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara YRUU group made to New Orleans, LA. The group spent three days in New Orleans and six on the north shore of Lake Ponchartrain, working with local organizations through the Center for Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal. The youth group’s work focused on the issues of racism and privilege with an eye toward taking what they learned to foment positive change in their home community. This trip was made possible by the industrious fundraising of the youth group (who we are told sold lots and lots of quiche), YRUU families, and the Unitarian Universalist Association Katie Tyson Fund for Youth and Young Adult Ministries. – ed.
by Max Pagano
This past June, I went on a service trip to New Orleans with the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara. Our trip was different from many service trips, because not only did we focus on volunteering while we were there, but we also spent a lot of our time learning. Specifically, we were learning about how to start doing anti-racism work in our hometown.
On the same night we arrived safe and sound in New Orleans, 49 people in the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida lost their lives in a horrific hate crime. It was the first thing I heard about when I woke up the next morning. I couldn’t believe it. Forty-nine lives were snuffed out because of the acts of one hateful man. The news was too much for me to handle. I didn’t have time to mourn or grieve, which made my grief even stronger. I was constantly remembering all at once the tragedy, and thinking to myself, “No, no, we can’t do this right now.” To my knowledge, I was the only queer youth on the service trip, so I felt really alone. It was hard for me to be away from my friends back in Santa Barbara for the whole week.
One of the reasons that I was still able to have a fun and productive trip is because I let myself ask for help and take care of myself. During our first big group discussion, we talked about how it feels to ask for help versus how it feels to give help. A lot of the words we came up with for the first prompt were very negative: burden, annoying, weak.
But weakness isn’t a bad thing, and no one who really cares about me will think I’m annoying or a burden. By allowing myself to ask for help when I needed it, for example by asking to sit out and call a friend while the rest of the group was in a museum, I started applying things we were learning on the trip before we even left. I had to know my limits and give myself time to process things, and that’s a skill too valuable to describe.
When we talked about how it feels to give help, our answers were things like feeling wanted, needed, and just plain good. I think that when you help yourself, it feels like this too, maybe just not right away.
Even though it’s very important and worthy to help others, helping ourselves and taking care of ourselves is perhaps more important. If we don’t help ourselves and ask for help from others when we need it, how will we be able to help others in need?