Before we get into our weekly recap, we wanted to share some very exciting news! Tonight, our teens will be delivering the d’var torah at Congregation Gates of Prayer in Metairie, LA, and we just found out that the service will be live-streamed. You can watch, live, as our teens represent our program and discuss the incredible experiences they’ve had so far, by visiting www.gatesofprayer.org and selecting Live Streaming Video on the middle right hand side of the page. If you miss it, not to worry. We will be posting the text of their d’var torah on our blog tomorrow, and the video will be archived and available to watch in the future. We will provide you with that information as we get it. Shabbat Shalom!
Who can invoke change in their community and world? During this past week, we have worked to answer this question through visits to well-known Civil Rights sites, our volunteer work in New Orleans, and the time we have spent within the community we have created here during the past two weeks.
The time we spent in Alabama was unforgettable for participants and staff alike. While everyone’s prior knowledge of the Civil Rights Movement varied, it was inspiring to visit the exact sites of so many historic events that changed the course of history and helped to mold the world we know today. During our time at the National Voting Rights Museum and the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, the Rosa Parks Museum and the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, and the Civil Rights Institute and Kelly Ingram Park in Birmingham, we learned firsthand about the lengths citizens went through to help guarantee equality, regardless of a person’s race. After our long weekend of learning, we were welcomed into the 16th Street Baptist Church community for services on Sunday morning. Being part of this community, set in such an important space to the Civil Rights Movement, we were reminded yet again of the power of individual people working together.
It was incredible to reflect on the passion and commitment of so many individuals, oftentimes in the exact places where they spoke out against the injustice that was around them. We talked about how these stories from the past cannot be solely that – they must be pieces of history that inspire us now. In the wake of last week’s incredibly important Supreme Court decisions, our time in Alabama provided a natural backdrop for us to discuss our role in writing these stories of history for future generations. At the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Civil Rights Memorial, we learned about how much injustice still exists in our country today, and we were able to sign the Wall of Tolerance, a pledge against hate, injustice, and intolerance, and a promise to work towards equality and justice for all on a day-to-day basis. After returning to New Orleans on Sunday, the teens shared ways they could take a stand against the injustice they see and uphold the pledge in their lives back home.
Upon returning to New Orleans, we volunteered with two final organizations –St. Bernard Project and NOLA Green Roots. At SBP, we learned about two families’ struggles to overcome the hardships in their lives after Hurricane Katrina. Nearly eight years later, these two families are still waiting to return to homes that are safe enough to live in, and we have been fortunate enough to be part of this rebuilding process. The other organization, NOLA Green Roots, helps create and maintain community gardens in neighborhoods throughout New Orleans. These partnerships with the community help grant easier and cheaper access to health food and fresh produce to people who might not be able to access it otherwise. While their missions and work are very different, the work of both of these organizations seek to provide better lives for its beneficiaries, truly striving to continue the fights of the 1960s.
While this week was filled with lots of hard work, we were also able to make time for fun too! In Alabama, we enjoyed a night of mini-golf, laser tag, and go-karting. Back in New Orleans, we spent time in the French Quarter, learned about Mardi Gras during our visit to Mardi Gras World, and enjoyed a Zephyrs’ baseball game, complete with Fourth of July fireworks!
As we prepare to say goodbye to one another and return to our worlds back home, it is our hope that each member of our MCS community will hold with them the knowledge that by working together, we can accomplish great things. This week, we read and discussed a quote by author Jodi Picoult: “Heroes don’t leap tall buildings or stop bullets with an outstretched hand; they don’t wear boots and capes. They bleed, and they bruise, and their superpowers are as simple as listening, or loving. Heroes are ordinary people who know that even if their own lives are impossibly knotted, they can untangle someone else’s. And maybe that one act can lead someone to rescue you right back.” While it’s easy to forget it now, those who wrote the history of the Civil Rights Movement weren’t any different than us. They were individuals who stood up for what they believed in and fought for those beliefs. These two weeks have energized us to carry all we have learned here in the South back to our communities, where we will strive to follow in the footsteps of those who set ripples of change into effect.
It’s hard to believe it was only two weeks ago that we were planning for this group of amazing 24 teens to join us down here in New Orleans. Everything they have accomplished – both in the community and within themselves – has been incredible to watch and while I will be sad to send them back to you on Sunday, I am eager to share the magic with you, to have you see and hear firsthand about the work they have done and the friendships they have made.
Wishing you a restful and peaceful Shabbat,
Darian, Emily, Elliot, Jonah, and Alexa
Mitzvah Corps New Orleans & North American Staff