By Natalie Delman, Mitzvah Corps New Orleans 2017 Participant
When I first stepped off the plane into New Orleans, I did not see much that stood out to me as unfamiliar. Besides the change in heat and the sad fact of there being no compost, the city’s rain and friendly atmosphere reminded me a lot of my home – Seattle, Washington. Seattle is a city full of hippies, coffee lovers, rain dancers, tech fanatics, and of course activists that have inspired me to take this trip across the country.
As I have begun to settle in to my new home at Tulane University with Mitzvah Corps New Orleans, I have started to take in more about the humid city around me. It doesn’t campaign its struggles and mistakes, but instead it commemorates them in beautiful statues, memorials, and museums such as Whitney Plantation, where we visited our first day.
About an hour out of New Orleans, this plantation grew and harvested sugar cane, and just as most plantations did before the Emancipation Proclamation, it did this work with the use of slaves. The first thing I noticed when we arrived was the beauty of my surroundings. It was the large green plains that stretched across the landscape, the artistically crafted master home, and the painted sky that seemed to stretch for miles with no end. I had nothing to compare it to back in Seattle and I found it to be beautiful, which was something I almost said out loud until I caught myself and remembered where I was. I was standing on a plantation, a place where people were forced to be kept as slaves with no ownership of themselves and were not even given the sense of belonging by only being allowed a first name. It is a place with memorials that holds thousands of names of the slaves killed during slavery just at this one plantation alone. There were so many plaques with so many names that I had take a second to step back and think. Could a place with such a horrific past be considered beauty? I have always called the Holocaust Memorial in Portland, Oregon beautiful, so what was stopping me now?
I was not the only one with these questions. Traveling with a group of eighteen, we were all coming up with questions, as well as ideas and answers to try and match them. It was a challenging test for a group of teens who had only met less than twenty-four hours.
I took a lot from our trip to Whitney Plantation, including many more questions. It is true that some of my questions were answered, but I have attended many religious school sessions to know that there is always more than one response to any question. It was last night that our program director Jordy, said, “Mitzvah Corps is not about answering your questions and having you leave feeling as if everything you know has been packed in a nice little box, tied with a bow. It is about having you leave with more questions.”
My list of questions is ever growing and I hope I never run out or that my box never starts to feel too neat. I want my questions to be challenging, whether they be about topics as serious as the Whitney Plantation, or just everyday life. I am positive that with the help of my new friends, program staff, and Mitzvah Corps, I never will.