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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“Yes, I speak Spanish.”


 

This was my first week at my summer internship at Alternatives for Girls (AFG) in Detroit. AFG “helps homeless and high-risk girls and young women avoid violence, teen pregnancy and exploitation, and helps them to explore and access the support, resources and opportunities necessary to be safe, to grow strong and to make positive choices in their lives.” I am interning with the Prevention program at the organization, which serves girls ages 4-18 who are at risk of pregnancy, gang involvement, abusing drugs or alcohol and school truancy. We engage them through after-school programs, a teen leadership program, and a summer camp. In addition, I was lucky enough to receive a Internship Funding Grant from the Community Action and Social Change department in our School of Social Work for this experience. As a part of receiving this grant, I will be blogging about my experience weekly through the end of July.

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My first week has been a whirlwind of a lot of names, activities, learning and smiles. I have worked with the elementary school girls and the middle school girls in the after school programming. My first day coming in, I was obviously very nervous in a room with a ton of people (and kids) I didn’t know. I wasn’t really sure what to do or how to get started. One little girl, Maria* showed up with her mom and started crying, not wanting to stay while her mom left. One volunteer was already trying to get her to come play with the other girls, but when I heard her mother speaking Spanish to her (the majority of the girls live in “Mexicantown” in Detroit and speak Spanish with their families at home and most speak Spanish in their classes at school), I decided to intervene and see if I could help. “Hola, chica. Me llamo Sydney. ¿Cómo te llamas?” Maria’s ears perked up at the sound of something she understood. “Estoy nerviosa también. Este es mi primer dia aquí. ¿Quieres colorear conmigo?” She nodded and I brought her over to the table with some crayons and printed coloring sheets and we chatted about her school day while we colored together. Using my skills to make valuable connections has been such a great part of this experience so far.

Most of my time was spent helping with multiplication homework and herding little kids into rooms for arts and crafts and stories. We learned about animals this week – tigers, bunnies and butterflies. We had a few meltdowns over lost tiger tails and broken bunny ears, but all in all, we did pretty well with the elementary programming and I had a lot of fun.

There was a moment during craft time that I will really never forget. One girl, Olivia*, sitting next to me was talking to me about her week at school while we worked on our butterflies. After a few minutes, she told me that when she got home today she was going to see her dad. “He’s getting out of jail today!” she told me. “Well I’m very happy that you will get to be with your dad.” “He’s been in jail for six years and I missed him a lot every day.” – Now after jump starting my passion for social work in the justice system, working with juveniles, this conversation really hit home. An hour later, I got to watch eight-year-old Olivia run outside and hug her dad for the first time in six years. It was a really great feeling to experience that, and knowing that she trusted me enough (after meeting me less than an hour before) to share her feelings with me was really comforting.

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Working with the middle schoolers was a little more in depth than the elementary school girls. My first day, we taught a sex ed lesson – talking about puberty (Oy vey!). I was so impressed with how mature the girls were and the really great questions that they asked. The next day, they were practicing their Mexican indigenous dance for their end of the year performance at the end of the month. They were really interested in learning, and that was really cool to see. Being the older sister of a middle schooler, I know that many kids that age wouldn’t think that was cool. These girls are already teaching me a lot about the culture of this city and just how to show compassion and I’ve only known them for three days.

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*Names have been changed for confidentiality purposes.

On Incarceration and its Issues


This semester, I am in a class under the Department of Psychology called Project Outreach. This class is a service-learning class where each student in the class is a given a placement where they will participate in community service projects outside of the class each week. My section of this course is called Juvenile and Criminal Justice. Each week this course consists of our 1-2 hours of placement work and 1-2 hours of lecture/discussion on topics of Juvenile and Criminal Justice.

I was placed in a group called the Youth Arts Alliance through a program called the Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP). I will be working with juveniles in a youth center in a nearby county –facilitating sessions focused on using your pain, passions and happiness to create. I am beyond excited to begin working with these young adults, and I am so hopeful in how much they will impact the way I see myself and the world.

Each week in our lecture portion of class, we have an outside guest speaker come into class and share their work and experiences in the Criminal Justice system. This past week, a man by the name of Ronald Simpson-Bey (Program Associate of AFSC – Michigan Criminal Justice Program) spoke to our class. Bey began his presentation by sharing about his organization and his past. He was incarcerated for 20+ years for an unjust sentence. His time in prison taught him a lot about the sort of man he wanted to be when he returned home. He learned a lot about the way the incarcerated were viewed by society and how they were treated on the inside. Upon being released, he began working with the American Friends Service Committee in order to better the lives of the incarcerated, those with a criminal record, and their families.

On our first day of class, our Student Instructor shared this video with us from the Last Week Tonight Show with John Oliver. This clip discusses only a small amount of the infinite issues with the prisons and the criminal justice system in the United States.

When Bey spoke with us, he shared some pretty shocking statistics about the prison system. There are over 2.4 million people currently incarcerated in the United States. Our country only makes up 5% of the total world population, but we incarcerate almost 25% of the worldwide prisoners. In the state of Michigan, the budget for prisons is over $2 billion a year – this is higher than the budget for education in our state.

There is an endless laundry list of issues facing incarcerated Americans – including the over classified security levels, grievance processes, food served to prisoners, overcrowded facilities, and the difficult process of getting money or medications on the inside. These are only a few of the issues facing prisoners in the United States. 

I was captivated by Bey’s passion to make a change for those on the inside, but the part of his presentation that I will never forget was one particular story he shared from his time in prison. He told a story of one day that he was expecting a visit from his four children, but after several hours of waiting and waiting, he thought something might have happened that had prevented them from coming to visiting hours. He used some of the precious money in his phone account to call home to check in on his kids. When he reached one of his family members, he learned that his oldest son (21 at the time) was shot and killed by a juvenile.

Since his sentence was not yet up, he worked furiously from the inside of the prison in order to ensure that this juvenile was not charged as an adult in court. This man did not want his son’s murderer to be charged with a life sentence as an adult. He said that if this kid were to be charged as anything but a minor, “It wouldn’t bring back my son. It would just destroy two families.” The entire room was struck into complete silence by this man’s words. 

As someone who was on the inside for so many years, this man knew that no matter what this kid did to his family, he didn’t deserve the way prisoners are treated. I don’t know how to even begin to explain how much I feel for Bey, his family, and all others who are affected by the United States prison systems, but I can say that I know that nothing will change if we continue to turn our head the other way and ignore it. 

In his video on prisons in the US, John Oliver says, “At least Sesame Street is talking about prison. The rest of us are much happier completely ignoring it. Perhaps because it is so easy not to care about prisoners at all.”

We live in a country that is addicted to incarceration as a tool for social control. As it stands now justice systems are extremely expensive, do not rehabilitate but in fact make the people that experience them worse and have no evidence based correlatives to reducing crime. Yet with that track record they continue to thrive, prosper and are seen as an appropriate response to children in trouble with the law. Only an addict would see that as an okay result.

– James Bell, Do One Thing