By Aly Greengrass and Emily Fishman, Mitzvah Corps New Orleans 2016 Participants
While there are many amazing things I will remember about my time spent volunteering at the Wise Words Garden, the most prominent memory will be of the man in charge: Brock. He was personable, welcoming, funny, and was always ready to work, no matter how bad the weather or how difficult the task.
We were all taking a water break when one participant asked him why the Wise Words Garden was closing. He looked down at his feet before responding that there was not enough funding. When another participant asked about how the neighborhood was reacting to this, Brock told us that they were very upset. He seemed ashamed that he could not keep the garden open. I couldn’t help but wonder if he blamed himself. Even after one conversation with him, anyone could tell that his community in New Orleans is one of most important things to him, and he has dedicated his life to helping it thrive.
He explained to us how in meetings regarding how to proceed with the urban garden, he felt like his opinion was unheard. He said, “I’m in a room sitting with people who just don’t hear me.” For just a moment, the man who was never anything less than optimistic and confident, seemed hopeless and lost. This made me realize how important grassroots movements are to rebuilding a sustainable city. Outsiders like the other people at Brock’s meeting, or volunteers such as ourselves, cannot just walk in and expect to solve a problem. We need to communicate with locals, find out what they need, and help them make progress towards the change they seek. A sustainable solution depends on long-lasting institutions and ideas, but these are not possible unless people like Brock are respected and listened to.
This idea of grassroots, sustainable solutions has been a common theme throughout my Mitzvah Corps New Orleans experience, and my eyes have been opened to the complexities of disaster relief. I will never forget Brock, or any of the other life-changing people and places I have encountered this summer. – Aly Greengrass
“Always leave something behind; don’t just leave a red flag.”
These were the words of Brock from NOLA Green Roots. Hanging on each of his deep, but soft-spoken words, was me, sitting on a bench in front of him. Brock is the most humble, passionate, and confident person I have met in a long time. Working alongside him, I felt a sense of comfort knowing how much the community cared about and depended on the garden we worked in to get their fresh produce weekly. Being on a fast-paced trip like Mitzvah Corps, it is possible to get caught up in the little things; however, Brock instilled in me the values I try to remind myself of everyday, but in a new way. He kept pushing the fact that each of us have to leave a mark wherever we go. Whether it’s physically or mentally done, we have to instill into those around us that we are something special and have a new and different quality to offer. He stressed that it doesn’t matter whether they are family or complete strangers; we must be memorable and leave something behind.
The images that popped into my head as he was talking took me on a whole new journey, or a “plane ride” as he described. This journey that I went on while he was talking was a deeply humbling one. I personally strive each and every day to be myself and by doing this, I hope to give off a positive vibe to those around me. Brock talked about just that idea, but he really instilled in me how important leaving our personal mark is. Our purpose is to add our own flare by simply being ourselves; that’s why no two people on this earth are the same. We need to capitalize on how special that is.
Brock himself definitely left a huge mark on me, and I can only hope that I am able to leave a mark on others around me in the same way. – Emily Fishman