As a sixteen-year-old Haitian refugee, my birthmother climbed out of a refugee boat with her boyfriend onto the U.S. Navy base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The protective shield of the refugee camp became a tiresome burden once the young immigrant realized she was pregnant with a baby boy. After a long pregnancy, on June 4th 1995 I was born into the anxious arms of frightened teenaged parents who did not realize their new family would be soon torn apart. Three weeks later, my birthmother and I were sent to Grand Rapids, Michigan to be raised in foster care; presenting a better opportunity than being returned to Haiti. Unfortunately, my birthfather, after being considered too old, would be sent back to Haiti, disappearing for almost two decades.
As an Episcopal Urban Intern in Los Angeles, I talk often with other corps members about privilege. We actually have several times where we all meet to discuss difficult topics like race, sexual orientation, and gender, among other things. These conversations can make people uncomfortable for many reasons, but I enjoy them. I acknowledge my privilege, and also recognize how in some ways I don’t have certain privileges that others have. My privilege is most easily seen in contrast to my clients at Chrysalis, where I work as an Employment Specialist.
(Bear with me, Dear Reader. These are not my most organized thoughts.)
I asked myself this question everyday for the my first month here. I honestly didn’t want to leave. Lakeland, while admittedly not my favorite place in the world, is a good place. I love the communities I shared life with. I love the ‘feel’ of smaller towns. I love the secluded parks and outdoor spaces, the coffee shops and conversations, the music-making and artistic communities, and the academic spaces that have shaped me. I miss being close to my family. I miss running into friends everywhere. I miss Jordan and Rob. Shoot, I miss parking lots… and Wawa.
But there are conversations I couldn’t have in Lakeland; spaces I couldn’t stand in as an ally; things I couldn’t learn.
Hey readers! Month one is dead and gone and I can already tell the year is going to blow by. A whole month of waking up early, grinding out that morning commute, drinking two to four cups of coffee in the office, scrambling to find free food for lunch, eventually trudging back home, and finally, conversing with newfound family. A few weekends spent at the beach have come and gone. A few services at new churches equipped with grand webs of outstretched hands ready to support our community.
And just like that, I’m realizing all of things that I call “new” really aren’t all that new any more.
These are reflections from corps members and alumni of Jubilee's Urban Service Programs. They cover topics ranging from the sun, fun and friends in in Los Angeles to the uncensored experiences of serving vulnerable populations in our beautiful city. These are Voices of Service.