During my spring break, I had the opportunity to go on an immersion trip to Chicago. I would like to start off by saying that this was definitely one of the best experiences I have had in my life so far. The trip was centered around different social justice issues, and it specifically revolved around issues pertaining to life in the south side of Chicago. I did everything, from visiting a women’s shelter to volunteering at a food pantry. I even got a tour of an environmentally sustainable farm, and I also got to work with students at a middle school.
I spent the week at The Darst Center, which is located in the Bridgeport neighborhood of the south side of Chicago. My group and I had two leaders, Greg and Emily, who were in charge of taking us to all the different sites, and they would also lead our daily reflections each night. What I experienced last week has broadened both my knowledge of certain issues as well as my perspective of the south side of Chicago.
Going in, I was a little nervous due to the preconceived notions I had about the negativity surrounding the south side of Chicago. However, I learned that every community, no matter where they were located, was very welcoming to my group and they embraced having all of us with them. I learned a lot from the people I met on this trip; most importantly, I learned to not minimize the work I was doing. We were only in Chicago for a week, and we weren’t at one site for the whole week. We were visiting a couple sites a day, so in the moment it seemed as though we weren’t able to make a big difference. However, at the food pantry we visited, one woman named Kathy told us not to minimize our work. She made me realize that even the smallest of changes can make a big impact, and she explained that what we were experiencing that week would continue even after we left Chicago.
My favorite site that we visited was called Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation in the Back of the Yards neighborhood. We didn’t do any physical labor here, but we listened and learned so much from the people running the site. Basically, PBMR reaches out to different communities that are affected by violence and they work towards healing and reconciliation. In this case, Back of the Yards was the community being reached out to. More specifically, PBMR focuses on the young men of the neighborhood, and they help their mothers who were directly affected by the outcome of gang related violence. A lot of these young men served jail time, and they would go to PBMR after as a way to heal and work towards a new set of goals in their life. The mother’s group was all about providing support for mothers who had sons that were affected by violence in their neighborhood. This site made the biggest impact on me. I felt helpless as we got a tour of PBMR, but I also felt as though I wanted to do something. No one should have to experience the loss of a child or the loss of a friend in their neighborhood. I could feel the tension in the room stiffen as we heard more and more stories about how awful the gang violence was.
Every sight made me feel a little helpless and sad. Yet, I left feeling enlightened, educated, and ready to spread the knowledge that I had learned. I realized that I often get a little too comfortable in my own personal bubble, and sometimes that bubble needs to be popped. I am now motivated to go out, spread the word about what I learned, and start making a change. After experiencing some of the worst sites of Chicago, I feel as though I can’t just sit back and wait for something to change. I challenge you to step outside your comfort zone, get uncomfortable, and put yourself in somebody else’s shoes. I challenge you to immerse yourself in your own neighborhood, figure out what may be wrong or unjust, and try to spark some change.