Reflections on Service in New Orleans 3
The Right to Joy – to Combat Injustice
The following is the first of five reflections on a service trip that members of the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara YRUU group made to New Orleans, LA. The group spent three days in New Orleans and six on the north shore of Lake Ponchartrain, working with local organizations through the Center for Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal. The youth group's work focused on the issues of racism and privilege with an eye toward taking what they learned to foment positive change in their home community. This trip was made possible by the industrious fundraising of the youth group (who we are told sold lots and lots of quiche), YRUU families, and the Unitarian Universalist Association Katie Tyson Fund for Youth and Young Adult Ministries. - ed.by Daryanna Lancet
I come away from the NOLA trip with an idea that has been repeated a lot around me lately (coincidentally also the topic of this last week's service): this idea that we all have a right to joy. That phrasing may seem a little off, as saying we have a “right” to joy puts joy up there with noble ideals such as freedom and equality. It feels strange and almost disrespectful to give it such weight.
On the NOLA trip, we did a lot of transitioning. We would have an in-depth discussion about race and privilege, and then go on a haunted tour of New Orleans. We attended a vigil for the shooting in Orlando on Wednesday night, and I know, for me at least, the transition from that to getting beignets in the morning felt awkward and almost out of place. I had to leave New Orleans early, and I felt really weird about it. I felt a bit cut off, like I didn’t have much closure, and also I felt guilty, like I was running away. While everyone else was going to the Whitney Plantation for one of the “most intense experiences of the trip” and continuing to talk about racism and prejudice and privilege, while they were continuing to face these things that I now know I didn’t really face enough, I was going to my dance recital. In my mind, one activity clearly seemed more like the “right thing to do,” and I wasn't doing it.
However, as time passed, the feeling of guilt slowly began to recede. When people asked me how my trip was, I began to say it was really good. Because it was really good. I feel like I got a lot closer with everyone on the trip, and I loved talking and singing with everyone. I loved beignets and setting up Hogwarts¹ and I liked the Women's Center a lot, especially the unexpected Nia class to which we were treated. I feel like the Women's Center has it right about healing and restoration; I think with its midnight drum circles, watercolor and Nia classes, the Women's Center is saying that being happy and having joy in your life is a right. Joy is just as important as fighting against discrimination and oppression. In fact, I think joy is extremely important in combating crushing entities such as discrimination and oppression. Beignets are important.
As a result of this trip, I think I return to Santa Barbara a much more confident contributor to discussions about race, racism, privilege, etc. Before the trip I often didn’t feel comfortable participating in these discussions, largely due to a feeling that I didn't know enough about what we were discussing. I think I have become better at talking about racism, prejudice, and my own privilege simply because we literally defined it in one of our discussions. However, before the NOLA trip, the hardest part for me about these discussions were the aftermaths, when I had to go back home to my “everyday activities.” I didn’t feel like it was okay to be happy after having serious discussions, but now I get it. It’s better if you don’t let things consume you because you can grapple with and understand things better when you’re not caught up in guilt.
Here in Santa Barbara, I want us to keep having discussions about these things, maybe contact the Women’s Center here (at UCSB) and offer our services. I’d like to keep having the discussions like we had in New Orleans, maybe with other teens in the community, with a similar structure to the AHA!² meetings that we had earlier in the year. In New Orleans, I got the sense that these issues weren’t talked about a lot with local youth in schools or churches. I think Santa Barbara has plenty of work to do on that front as well, in terms of confronting and discussing our own racism, prejudice and privilege; maybe having these talks with youth could help with that.
Looking back on the trip, I no longer feel guilty about leaving early, but feel blessed knowing that my awareness and involvement with the world around me has been spurred, and hopefully will continue stronger because of this trip. I am so glad I was able to go and interact with such amazing people.