Throughout this trip…

Throughout this trip I’ve learned more than I’ve ever learned in school.

I knew some things about my culture, but the people we’ve come in contact with opened my eyes to so much that I should have already known about. I came into OU not knowing anything about the Jewish culture, but I had nothing to worry about.  All the Jewish kids answered every question that I asked. I even enjoyed every Shabbat services.  I danced, prayed, and even attempted to learn Hebrew…it was so much fun. Despite the differences I really enjoyed everything, I feel like we are a family now. We check on one another to make sure everything is okay, tried new things, and really came out of our comfort zones.  So as I conclude I know for a fact that this is not the end, its actually a new beginning to our journey called life.

Kirstin Kearns, Strawberry Mansion High School, OU 2010

Throughout this trip I’ve learned more than I’ve ever learned in school. I knew somethings about my culture, but the people we’ve came in contact with open my eyes to so much that I should have already known about. I came into OU not knowing anything about the Jewish culture, but I had nothing to worry about. All the Jewish kids answered every question that I asked. I even enjoyed every shabbat service, I danced, prayed, an even attempted to learn Hebrew…it was so fun. Despite the differences I really enjoyed the everything, I feel like we are a family now. We check on one another to make sure everythings okay, tried new things, an really came out of our comfort zone. So as I conclude I know for a fact that this is not the end, its actually a new begining to our journey called life.



The Slavery Museum in Selma

The slavery museum in Selma, Alabama stuck with me like nothing else in my life. When we first arrived at the museum we were immediately forced off of the bus and separated into groups based on our sex. Our next direction was to put our hands on the wall and keep our heads down. We weren’t allowed to establish eye contact whatsoever.  I was told to frisk the other males to check them for “contraband”. Once I had to do that we were corralled into a small room males on one side and females on another.  Again we were inspected and after this thorough inspection by the leader we were then moved into an even smaller room with no light. From there we could hear screaming and yelling as though there were people being raped, murdered or otherwise. After a brief explanation of what would be happening to the slaves at that point were we once again moved into an even darker room where there was the illusion of being in a boat. We had to sit down in a small narrow boat area with our heads down and without moving for close to 15 mins just to simulate to us just an once of what the slaves would experience during the middle passage portion of the slave trade.

After being subjected to that sort of treatment we were lead into a long dark hallway with a single red line down the middle which we were told to stand on and look down without making any movements. The “slave trader” went down the rows picking out what she referred to as the “good lil niggers”. As she went down the rows picking us out I accidentally looked into her eyes when I put my head up. Never in my life have I ever been as scared as I was in that moment, she gave me the coldest meanest look I’ve ever seen, she literally instilled so much fear in my I personally feared for my life. I was picked to my of my surprise and dismay because we were told that we had to pick another person that we perceived as slow or weak and push them to the other side of the line from us. At that moment I felt safe and special until we were told that there is no such thing as a “good nigger”. We were then told that we had to be punished because if we’d turn on our own that fast how long would it be before we turned on our masters and were sent to be punished. When we left the room the lady told us that we now had to act like we were getting whipped and brutalized and make sounds accordingly. Again we were lead into a dark room, the darkest one of them all and we were told to hang our hands as if we were being bound and hung by our wrists. When I started making noises and the group of slaves that were left on the line came into the room where I was I immediately broke into tears. Then the lady went into an act as if a slave master was raping her and/or her children were being taken from her. I then broke into uncontrollable almost hysterical sobbing. At that moment I felt lonely abandoned and like nothing else I’ve ever felt before after a while I was so hurt that I couldn’t even cry anymore because tears couldn’t even express how I was feeling at that moment. The lady then told us about what our ancestors went through and how we had to honor them and live our lives to the fullest and use ALL of our potential and “break free of the personal shackles we have on ourselves”.  At that moment I believe I really truly had an epiphany! We then got to leave, compose ourselves and have a debriefing meeting, which I can’t remember because my mind was still racing from what happened to me. I will never forget that day, the day in Selma, Alabama where I truly believe I changed my life.

Charles P. Hayden, Academy @ Palumbo, OU 2010

The ugly yet beautiful truths

From the Afro-centric people of the Gullah Geechee nation to the soulful streets of New Orleans, Louisiana, streams of the ugly but yet beautiful truths of our nation’s history embodied minds and triggered curiosity. Personally, I feel that my insatiable hunger for an understanding of the history that inhabits MY veins has finally been satisfied. Finally, I am no longer deprived of the beautiful brown fruits whose story is told through my own blood line. You see, I go to a school in which the magnitude of my culture is barely recognized, let alone celebrated. As I gazed upon the mangled face of Emmett Till, or embodied the blood,sweat, and tears of an African slave, I knew that my transformation into a “black woman” had begun. A sense of humility and love overwhelmed me as I witnessed the gratitude of a family of hurricane Katrina survivors who was having their home rebuilt free of cost. I spoke to the mother, immediately I looked past her eyes straight into her soul, I felt her pain. My feet were swollen, back in pain, and in respiratory distress due to the relentless heat, but yet I felt like the lucky one. The consistent smiles this displaced family wore made me wonder how we think we have the luxury to complain about anything what so ever. My mission as not only a student of OU, but an advocate for change is to educate myself and others so that the generations to come have a fair shot at success and develop the urge to engage in unconventional thinking. Dr. King didn’t “have” a dream, he “has ” a dream, and I intend to live it out as long as my skin is glazed with brown.

Desiree Booker, Hallahan Catholic Girls High School, OU 2010

Thinking about ‘culture’

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about culture in general. My experiences thus far in New Orleans have reiterated just how powerful culture can truly be. The House of Dance and Feathers Museum, which we visited yesterday, displayed the richness of NOLA’s past. The elaborate costumes used in the weekly parades (which we watched a clip of) varied in color and style, but each one told an interesting story, a small snippet of life here. What really struck me, however, was when Ronald Lewis, the director of the museum, answered his own question of “why should people return to New Orleans if another disaster will inevitably strike.” I agreed, because scientifically it makes little sense to continually try to urbanize such a vulnerable region. Well, Ronald then explained that even though hurricane Katrina destroyed houses and uprooted families, it never touched the spirit of New Orleans. After walking through the French Quarter, sampling the local cuisine, and hearing live music, I have experienced firsthand the spirit and continued vitality of this city. This revelation motivated me earlier today, when I worked with the St. Bernard’s Project and AmeriCorps to help rebuild the Burrell family’s home. Ibrahim and I turned square holes in the walls into functional doorways. Others painted and installed baseboard. The work was especially rewarding considering my newfound knowledge of what I was helping to do: not only bring a family back to its house, but also back to its history and culture.

This reminds me why I’m here, both in New Orleans and in OU. I believe that culture inspires a sense of community, acting as a uniting force that can overcome devastation. It has brought thousands of people back to a place that could have become Atlantis. I’m sure it can also work cross-culturally, connecting diverse groups into one stronger, greater, and interlocked society.

Dan Schuman, William Penn Charter School, OU 2010

The Lower 9th Ward

As we travelled to the 9th Ward (the region of NO most affected by Katrina), I was suddenly stricken with a sense of helplessness and remorse. Even after five years a huge percentage of the homes still remained abandoned in wait for revival. With the help of organizations such as the Saint Bernard Project (the organization we worked with), the people in need are able to get their homes rebuilt, their schools re-opened, and their lives back on track. As we helped to rebuild the home of the MacLucky family in the lower 9th Ward I could sense the groups’ strong sympathy and deep emotion for all of the families that were affected by the hurricane. The best way to truly understand and embrace the situation of different cultures is by physically acting and working hands-on. Although we will never fully understand what these enduring families went through during the hurricane, we do know what they are going through now, and that is extremely devastating. While we did not help all of the families in need, it only takes one to make a difference and the fact that all of the OU members were ready, willing, and able to help in good spirit and high hopes, brought much joy to my heart.

Malcolm Carayol, Episcopal Academy, OU 2010

Joanne Bland, witness

OU Parents and Friends- (july 13th, tuesday)

Yesterday was one of the most moving days I have experienced here on this OU trip. We all met a woman named Joanne Bland. A woman of her conviction, stunned me. I cannot say that I did not respect her, however her feelings of the Civil Rights Movement were shocking. She was not afraid to look each caucasian in the face and say, “The white man will forever be superior.” This statement took me by throat, and made me speechless. Who was she to tell me this? Yes, she had walked in marches and marches for the Civil Rights Movement and yes she had gone to jail for her acts but I felt her hatred beaming down on me. On the contrary, who am I to say anything when she was there?  This woman was there for everything from MLK to the march across the Edmund Pettus bridge.

I asked one of my fellow OU students, Desiree Booker what she thought as an African American and she said that with research from W.E.B. Dubois, “the ABC of Color” said that there will always be a veil of color in every situation that you will always be able to see through it however it will never go away completely. This struck me because it made so much sense. I cannot take the blame for what my ancestors may have done but I can understand her feelings. This is exactly what I came out here to do, to understand. My understanding is in operation.

Beth Lussenhop, Central High School, OU 2010

Heading South

As our trip has begun to head more and more south I have felt increasingly out of my element. Although this feeling has evoked fear in me, it has also been extremely powerful. My fear of the unknown was pushed to the limit as we traveled through Alabama a few days ago, Alabama is much different than Philadelphia to say the least. The homey feel of the north was entirely absent in my mind as our bus plundered through the vacant streets of Selma Alabama. The bus stopped suddenly at a small average looking building, all of a sudden an African American women climbed on our bus and yelled at the men to get off immediately and face the wall. As the women on the trip stood on the bus apprehensively I began to feel that something was not right. A moment later the same women climbed back on and ordered all the females to face the wall. As I stood next the other members of my group facing an unfamiliar wall I realized that I, and the rest of my companions had just become slaves. The women stood behind us and screamed to us to turn around as she inspected our mouths and sent us into the building. We were told not to make eye contact with her and to face the wall. Before I knew it I was trapped in a dark room and the usually familiar faces of my group members became unknown. I began to cry. There were screams all around me and the woman who dragged us off the bus was saying the N word, a word I have never said, a word that has evoked fear in me since I was a child. We moved from room to room and faced various trails that slaves would have encountered. Every test was just as impossible to pass. I thought I was going to pass out I could feel the pain of an entire people in my heart, I could hear the pain, and I was seeing it right before my eyes. All of a sudden the woman lead us into a room that was light, a familiar looking room. She told us to sit down and that we could not heal until we knew the truth about what happened. I could not stop crying, even though the journey was over, even though I was not truly a slave, I was all of a sudden a witness. And as we sat in that circle and discussed ways to heal all I could think was: what have we done to humanity, what have we done to so many innocent people? And by the end of this healing circle I had an epiphany: at the end of the day it does not matter your race, religion, or social- economic background, every person has prejudice and every person has pain, but everybody has the power to change the world. I have the power to change the world.

Liz Fletman, Central High School, OU 2010

Seeing More

“Seeing More”

Jews and Blacks,
Not exactly.
Color, jewelry
Senior year,
These are some
of the similarities we share.
Do Jews only think Jew?
Do blacks only think black?
Who is to say that we are
Jew or black?
We are people!
We are teens.
Not Jew teen
or black teen
Just teen
We are more than what
Meets the eye.
Jews & Blacks
Not exactly.
We are the future.

Anthony Workman, Motivation High School, OU ’10

The Gullah Geechee Nation

Yesterday, we went to the Gullah/Geechee Nation and met with their queen, Queen Quet. Most people haven’t heard of Gullah, but I remember the TV show Gullah Gullah Island from when I was little, so I knew a little bit about their culture and whereabouts. When she got on our bus, she was wearing clothes from the 19th century and started speaking Gullah. We were all so confused and tried to just pay attention anyway. All of a sudden, she starting speaking English without an accent, and everyone was like “WOAH! What?” I personally was surprised how well-spoken she was. She took us on a tour on the bus, and we got to see places like a typical praise house, a senior citizen center, and the Chapel of Ease, which was built using tabby, shells, and bricks. Everyone asked really great questions and we learned so much from Queen Quet. For instance, the Gulllah/Geechee Nation was established July 2, 2000 to help preserve their unique culture and land.

In addition, it’s rare for families to have one child and sometimes they have as many as 20 kids! The tour was just so awesome and I loved learning about the Gullah culture. After the tour, we went to lunch at Gullah Grub Restaurant, where we had a seafood lunch filled with shrimp and shark.  It was an experience. Also, Queen Quet shed her old school clothes and wore a beautiful African-inspired dress with a hair style fit for a queen, decked out with a cowry shell headpiece that simply resembled a tiara.

After lunch, we had a workshop with Queen Quet and learned about how Africans in times of slavery used drums and other forms of music to communicate with each other.  It was such an awesome workshop, and we had interesting conversations/discussions afterwards. Queen Quet was amazing.  She even has a Facebook page and Twitter! It definitely taught me (or re-taught me) not to judge a book by its cover.

Alex Wiggins, JR Masterman High School, OU ‘10

Visiting the VA Holocaust Museum

Today we went to the Holocaust Museum in Virginia. I knew that even before we entered the building that I was going to cry.

Our tour guide Ben was amazing. He knew so much and was able to tell us so many new things. He took us from room to room explaining to us everything that went on with his family during that time. When we reached the children’s room, I just felt the tears coming down. It hurt me to see the actual pictures and names of those children who died.
The gas chamber room and the room with the ovens, I just broke down. I felt so bad for the Jewish people but I was also reminded of my family back home in Darfur.

Today overall was such an emotional day. It was nice to see everybody comfort each other. We really showed how much of a family we have become.

Sahar Dinar, Central High School, OU ‘10