Why I Kneel


I spent yesterday kneeling outside in the 90-degree heat with over 100 other students in solidarity with the black community at Michigan and a specific Masters of Public Health student, Dana Greene Jr, who decided to kneel outside, facing the flag, until there was real promise for change.

Dana went outside to the middle of the Diag at 6am this morning with the intention of kneeling for as long as he could possibly stand to. He said in his letter to the President of our University, Mark Schlissel, “I will kneel in the Diag facing the flag in silent protest until there is nothing left in me.” This letter details the reasons he kneels and his feelings on the discrimination and marginalization that black people feel in our country. He says it better than I ever could:

“I am kneeling because we should be better than this. I am kneeling because I am tired of doing nothing. I am kneeling because I want this campus and this country to acknowledge a fact that I know to be true. We are not and have never lived by the idea of our founding that ALL men are created equal. I am kneeling because we our better than this.”

Today I knelt alongside him. I was out there for a mere 5 hours of the 16+ hours (he is still out there as I type this 16.5 hours after he started) he was standing up for the right for equality. I was blown away by several of the things I experienced today.

I went outside around 2:30/3pm. It was hot and the sun was beating down on everyone. Within about 5 minutes of kneeling, I was dripping in sweat. I was in a group of 20-30 members of my cohort from the School of Social Work. Almost instantly, organizers were around me passing out water, snacks, & cold paper towels. A few hours later, there were several rounds of pizza brought for the protestors. (By rounds I mean at least 8 boxes from 3 different pizza places!) People going in between classes were bringing packs of water bottles and bags of ice to hand out. The outpouring of support and love for Dana and the rest of us was so inspiring.

My evening class was moved outside. As students studying social work, in a class that is focused on diversity and social justice, none of felt it was right to sit in the classroom when we should be standing up for our field’s values just outside.

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Another moment came for me when around 7:30/8:00, the sun was setting and the Muslim students protesting with us gathered in a group for prayer. The entire Diag – normally a place of laughter, conversation and noise – fell completely silent for the next 15 minutes while they prayed. Tears were in my eyes, completely moved by the solidarity I felt in that moment among my fellow students.

IMG_3520I finally packed up my things and left around 9:30pm. Dana and more than 200 Michigan students, faculty and Ann Arbor community members were still out there kneeling, strong as ever. I left that Diag swelling with pride for the community that I am apart of here. I am proud of the amazing School of Social Work that I attend where my professors allow us to exercise our voices and use what we learn in the classroom in our community.

To Dana and the organizers, thank you for your bravery, your strength and your perseverance. Thank you for those who donated resources for all those kneeling. Thank you for those who were willing to have honest dialogue with us instead of yelling your disapproval and insults at us. Thank you to every student who was out there today. A lot of you were out there longer than me, and I admire you so, so much. We will continue fighting. We will stand up for what is right and what is deserved.

 

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5 signs you’re at the right school


Choosing a college was stressful, challenging, and one of the biggest decisions I have ever made. As a 17-year-old, there weren’t many things that I decided for myself. This was that first chance at independence, at freedom, at living your own life. I am obsessed with the school I chose (The University of Michigan), and I’m going to share with you, as a graduating senior, 5 signs you know you’re at the right school.

  1. When you walk through campus and smile at how beautiful it is

lawI fell in love with Ann Arbor – with the way the Diag opens up to every building on campus, and how the snow looked in the Law Quad. I fell in love with how happy people looked relaxing in the Arb, and how the city is a sea of maize and blue on game days. Over the years, little bits and pieces of Ann Arbor became home to me. When I am walking to class on the first warm day of Spring, I can’t help but smile because I believe that I live on the most beautiful college campus.

  1. 2. When you find a group of people who make you feel at home

When I think of my college experience, I define it by an organization called Camp Kesem. group.jpg This is a nonprofit run by students at chapters across the country that offers a free week-long summer camp for kids affected by a parent’s cancer. This org has not only shaped my career path, but it has given me the community that I have called my family the past four years. Having a community of peers who understand and care is the greatest gift I have received from my time as a Wolverine. I could not begin to fathom my college career without Kesem.

  1. When you think of what your life would be like if you went to a different college, and literally cannot imagine what type of person you would be
    photo by jeremymitnick.com

stadium.jpgI am from Louisiana, and pretty much every student from my small Catholic high school went to one of two colleges in the state. I was one of very few (like literally 6, I think) students who went to a college out-of-state. This was a huge deal for me. I’d never lived away from my parents or my friends, and I knew practically nothing about Ann Arbor. Now, as a senior, I cannot imagine what my life would be like if I had gone to college in Louisiana. I would not be the person I am today, nor would my career path look the same.

  1. 4. When you go home for breaks and miss your friends and being at school

My parents live in North Carolina, so going home for breaks is far, and they last too long. I love spending time with my family, but usuallytour.jpg after a few days at home, I cannot wait to get back. I text my roommates and friends constantly, making plans for what we will do when we’re back. This is the most obvious way that I knew I was going to the right school.

  1. When you’re about to graduate, and you can’t imagine your life anywhere besides here

Graduation is creeping up on me, and my emotions are all over. I cannot imagine living anywhere else, because Ann Arbor has become my home the last four years. grad.jpgChoosing to go to UofM was an incredibly hard decision, but it is by far the best decision I have ever made. I’m so grateful for the friends I’ve made and the memories I’ve had here. I love it so much, I decided to stick around a little longer to receive my Master’s of Social Work. A2 can’t get rid of me quite yet.

 

photo by jeremymitnick.com

This article was written for ScholarshipPoints Campus Life. You can see my article and contributor page here.

How Camp Kesem Gave Me a Purpose


Recently, I had what I am calling a “future revelation.” We’ve all had versions of these. The ones where we finally realize which college we want to go to, what major we want, what internship we would like, etc. I’ve had various ‘revelations’ over the years, and I decided a career in social work was what I wanted, but never really knew what I wanted to do in the field. Well, now I do. It took me four years of college, over 40 classes in different subjects, 4 internships, and countless breakdowns to realize that my answer was sitting in front of me since the very beginning of my freshman year.

In September of my first year at the University of Michigan, I joined an organization called Camp Kesem. This is a nonprofit that offers a week of summer camp for kids affected by a parent’s cancer. Each chapter at the 80+ universities across the country runs one or two weeks of camp for this underserved population every summer, planned and led entirely by college students. I joined this organization my freshman year at Michigan, and I immediately fell in love. I was personally affected by this issue, with my mother going through chemotherapy and radiation treatments for Breast Cancer when I joined. My passion for this population and Camp Kesem’s mission only grew over the years. I served two years as a Development Coordinator, helping to raise a combined $240,000+ for our chapter. My senior year, I am honored to serve as one of the co-directors for the chapter, and my love for our families, campers and mission has continued to grow. I have had the amazing opportunity to grow so close to many of our campers and their families over the years.

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I had four internships, probably seven different part-time jobs, three other student orgs, classes that I loved, and all the while, something just kept pulling me back to Kesem. No matter what was going on, this was what made me happy. Meetings with my fellow Coordinators and counselors inspired me. Speaking with the parents of my campers about how much they were going through reminded me that what we were doing was real and valuable and life-changing.

Last Friday, I was at an all-day training on Grief and Loss (sounds fun, yeah?). Eight hours in one single room with 50 people listening to one person talk about terminal illness, end of life care, and death. Despite the less-than-cheery topic, I think I am going to remember this day for the rest of my life. Throughout the day, I was thinking about Camp Kesem a lot – the woman training us was an oncology social worker at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center. On our lunch break, I went up to her and started talking to her about Kesem, knowing that we are a well-known name around the Cancer Center. We chatted about camp for a few minutes, and I was in bliss (as I always am when talking about CK) and then it happened. I had an “A ha! Moment,” if you will. This is it. This is my future.

That afternoon I called cancer centers around the area asking about oncology social work. I called one of my best friends to run this new revelation by her. “Syd, this is perfect. I literally cannot see you doing anything else.” Because of Camp Kesem, working directly with the cancer patients and survivors, as well as their spouses, children, and loved ones, has made me sure that this population is one I hope to work with for the rest of my life. Through my involvement with Camp Kesem, my passion for working in the cancer community has grown more every day. After receiving my Masters of Social Work, I hope to obtain my Oncology Social Work certificate and continue to work with the cancer community in my future, being the voice of patients and families who often go unheard. I hope to work in the health field as an oncology social worker, specifically to work with the patients and their families through the tough journey that is a cancer diagnosis.

One day, I hope to not have this job. By that I mean that I hope there won’t be a need for this job. I hope that oncology will only mean being cured of a disease that we used to fear the name of, that we once referred to as “the C-word.” I hope that this is the change that I see in my lifetime. But until then, until there is a cure, there’s a better c-word – camp. And I could not be more thankful that that c-word is in my life.

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If you would like to help me send kids affected by a parent’s cancer to camp this summer, please consider donating here. 80% of our fundraising goes directly to programming, and this summer we are hoping to send over 250 kids to camp! https://donate.kesem.org/fundraise?fcid=788552 

A Farewell to 2016


It has become a sort of tradition for me to write an end-of-the-year blog post. All in all, 2016 sucked. You know it. I know it. We all know it. It was a year of heartbreak and terrorism and protest and disappointment and drastic changes. It was a tough year with a lot of negativity. But I don’t want to dwell on that. That’s not what the holiday time is about. So, I am going to focus on the positive – the positive both in my life and the world around me.

Me: Starting off, I rang in the New Year of 2016 in Toronto with some of my best friends. We achieved our dream of going to The Lockhart – a Harry Potter themed bar in Toronto, sang Hail to the Victors at midnight, and argued over anything and everything like we always do. Ah, so much hope at the beginning of the year. I had never been to Canada, so this was a check off the ol’ bucket list for me.

World: In January, this year took a huge plummet downwards with the loss of stars David Bowie and Alan Rickman. As a life-long Harry Potter fan, Rickman’s death really struck a chord in my heart, and I was deeply saddened. But, in the light of these tragedies, my social media was filled with hope and love – outpouring love, and I was reminded how strong the Potter community is. I hadn’t felt that love in a long time, and it was refreshing and heartwarming.

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Me: For Spring Break this year, my best friend and I took a 6-day road trip to Louisiana together. Being able to show her around my hometown, my school, my favorite restaurants, etc. was so exciting and I absolutely loved having her meet all my friends from high school. It was such a cool way for me to show her the other side of me she never gets to see in Michigan. Not to mention, we got to eat and drink and be merry in New Orleans. We even stayed in a really cool mansion hotel while we were there.

World: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened in Hollywood in April. That’s pretty sweet. (Do all of my happy moments of this year revolve around Harry Potter? Quite possibly) —- Okay, fine. Also in April, California signed a bill to raise their minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2022. Positive change!!!!

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Me: The spring time was craziness for me – experiencing loss and struggle with school, losing my pet dog of 11+ years and hard times in the lives of some of my closest friends. Despite all of this, I was able to visit my best friend at Purdue and attend the Holi fest there. It was a great vacation away from the madness. I also was chosen to be one of the co-directors for Camp Kesem at the University of Michigan for the 2016-17 year.

World: Cleveland won the NBA title in June. That was awesome for Cleveland, I guess. We also had a huge win for the fight for net neutrality in June!

Me:  I had a really awesome internship in Detroit this summer at an organization called Alternatives for Girls. I was able to experience a side of Social Work that I had never experienced before, and I learned so much. My eyes were opened to so many new things from the girls I worked with, and I truly enjoyed every day I was able to work there. I was also able to have a lot of cool experiences with friends, and I traveled to DC for a weekend to see some friends who had moved away!

World: A new Harry Potter book came out!!!!! (Sorry, I didn’t want to disappoint on the Potter trend) Other than that, the summer kind of sucked – with Brexit, the Orlando Pulse club massacre, police violence, the GOP convention, etc. — BUT Michelle Obama summed it up nicely when she said at the DNC, “When they go low, we go high.” (defining a lot of the rest of the election season). Michael Phelps also became the “most decorated Olympian in history”

Me: Becca and I rang in the beginning of our year as co-directors of Camp Kesem with another incredible year of camp. Despite the madness of camp (especially being on the admin side of things), it was honestly the best year yet. There were so many memories made that I will cherish forever. I also got to achieve a life-long dream of seeing Coldplay in concert!!

World: Everything started going more downhill as the election time picked up…but Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize. That was cool.

Me: I turned 21 in Lafayette with some of my best friends and watched my best friend get married. Can’t get much better than that. I cried a lot. There are probably a lot of professional photographs of me crying to come.

World: Sorry – I don’t think I can be very positive about the world during these months. Brangelina got divorced. Trump won the presidency. I just don’t know. There were a lot of tears (not about Brangelina). What I can say – we have our first Indian American senator and the Cubs won the World series.

OH WAIT – A NEW HARRY POTTER MOVIE CAME OUT! DID I MENTION THAT?

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Me: And in the close of this year – I finished up the year attending my favorite weekend, the Camp Kesem National Summit, at our camp in Fenton, Michigan. My chapter raised over $26,000 for our kids in one day on Giving Tuesday. I finished my hardest semester of all time of 18 credit hours. I watched my last Michigan football home game as a student. I toured the Big House with my friends and reminisced on my four years here – oh wait…I WAS ACCEPTED TO THE #1 SOCIAL WORK SCHOOL IN THE COUNTRY! Possible 2 more years in the best city to come 😉

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World: This last month sucked. A lot of celebrity deaths. The bombings in Syria have only gotten worse – more gruesome and fatal. Despite this, there were some wins. Fidel Castro died, marking the end to a symbol of abused power. The war on marijuana is ending – with more than half of states making the substance legal. Overall, despite the hatred and disappointment of the events of 2016, there was a lot of love, a lot of hope, a lot of positive change. There is hope for the future of our world, and I believe in this hope.

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Love & Happiness


What does love mean?

A question I’ve asked myself for years

And one I can start to develop an answer to

It’s the trees with their leaves of gold and maroon.

And being attacked in hugs

After being away from people for too long.

It’s the little gifts of smiles

And laughter when you most need it.

It’s knowing that you would drop everything

For that one person

And knowing they would do the same for you.

It’s waking up in the morning

And not dreading a single thing

That you are going to do that day.

Or is that just happiness?

Is there a difference?

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Rolling Hills


Colorful fire crackling

On dry Michigan wood

Campfire smell filling my nose

Arms wrap around me

Holding me tight

I hear little voices

Singing songs of rolling hills

And the taps on shoulders

Signify love and community

Our arms linked in a circle

Around the burning fears

Of our past

Forever we remember

That this is where we are

Completely

And utterly

ourselves

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Donate here: https://donate.kesem.org/fundraise?fcid=788552 

love trumps hate


It took me 24 hours to sit here and actually start typing something. I have felt so many things in the last 24 hours that I have become numb. I felt a lot of hope going into this. Living in a town like Ann Arbor and going to a school like the University of Michigan can give you a lot of confidence in the way our society is making progress. I am a double major in Psychology and Spanish – learning a lot about the world around me, through people and culture. I have a minor in the School of Social Work and am planning to go to Social Work school after graduation, learning about progression (and standstills) in society and how this affects every single person – how society takes someone’s rights and their dignity from them based on their race, gender, class, sexuality, etc.

Last night as there were 15 people in my living room following the live coverage of the election results – switching networks and comparing fact sites – there was a moment at around 1 am when the electoral college numbers were getting close enough to call it for red that I will never forget. Van Jones was speaking on how he was not sure how to explain this to children – to families of marginalized populations. In this moment, you could have heard a pin drop in the room. 15 people were stunned into silence, nothing but tears rolling down many of our faces. That is when I began to mourn. Yes, mourn.

I mourn for the LGBTQ friends and peers that I am so honored to know and love. For their fear of never being able to marry the one they love. Fear of being forced into conversion therapy to try to change the way they were born.

I mourn for my Muslim American friends being called terrorists on their walk to class. For those women and girls afraid to wear their scarves outside out of fear of hate crimes.

I mourn for the Mexican American girls I worked with this summer who told me that they were terrified that if this man won, their parents would be deported.

I mourn for those struggling with disabilities of any kind – mental or physical. Because this man believes that these individuals (myself included as one that suffers from mental illness) do not deserve affordable access to the care we need. This man also mocks those with disabilities in order to spark more hate.tumblr_m0r6v1kGTm1rrr4b5o1_500.jpg

I mourn because I am dedicating my life to social work – to serving the disadvantaged, marginalized and ignored – and that this is the reality I face going into this field. I dedicate my life to being the change. I dedicate my endurance and my passion to making the world a better place for every one.

I mourn for the 9-year-old who told me today that she would rather die than have this man as president, because he hates her family. For the 6-year-old who told me she was sad, because she doesn’t believe she could ever be president now.  For you both, even though you will never read this, I want you to know that we are all here for you to support you and lift you up.

So here I am as an American citizen, sad that this is what the outcome of this election is, but proud of the steps the Clinton campaign took to making this world a little closer to equal, because we are the next generation. I have done my mourning. The weapon that we have – the dreaded millennials – is love, and with that weapon, I am ready to fight.

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