On Friday, June 19th, I began my journey to Ferguson, Missouri, for a week at the Alternative Break Citizenship Schools (ABCs) hosted by Break Away. I was tired, anxious, excited, and somewhat nervous for the events that would take place in the upcoming week. After a very long day of travel (including two delayed flights and one missed flight!) I was incredibly thankful to finally be on the ground in Ferguson.
The focus of my ABCs in Ferguson was “Changing the Narrative: Community Building as Power”. I learned to challenge the dominant narrative. Dominant narratives are the stories told by the dominant, mainstream culture. When the dominant culture is oppressive, so are the dominant narratives. The main goal for the ABCs that I attended is to challenge the dominant narrative, specifically the narrative surrounding Ferguson.
I had incredibly high expectations for the week, and I can sincerely say that those expectations were met. I was part of an incredible group of brilliant, passionate, and supportive Site Leaders that helped me through the week. I was also incredibly blessed to work with a team of amazing individuals from colleges and universities all across the country (shout out to my Green Turtles!).
The structure of the ABCs is different than a typical conference. At the ABCs, half of each day is spent in workshops learning about ideas to bring back to our respective Alternative Break Programs, and the other half is spent serving within the community. While the discussion and information shared during the workshops is crucial to improve the TRIPS Program, the service is what will truly stick with me for the rest of my life.
While in Ferguson, I worked with an outstanding grassroots organization called Operation Help or Hush. In its most basic sense, a grassroots organization works from the local community for the local community. Operation Help or Hush (OHoH) was co-founded by Charles Wade and Tasha Burton in the midst of the events occurring in Ferguson, MO following the death of Mike Brown. I was fortunate to serve alongside Charles, Tasha, and Isaiah Qualls, an OHoH program assistant, all week.
“You may shoot me with your words, you may cut me
with your eyes, you may kill me with your hatefulness.
But still, like air, I’ll rise.”
One of the most important lessons that I learned all week came from a conversation with Charles Wade. When discussing the different service we would be doing all week, Charles stressed that the most crucial part of OHoH is listening to the needs directly expressed by the Ferguson community members. OHoH does not simply look at the community, and provide the resources that they assume the community wants or needs. But rather, they listen to the needs expressed by community members and take action.
Another incredibly important lesson that I learned while in Ferguson is about the attitude and thought process that should be held when entering a community. While volunteering, it is so easy to fall into the “Superhero” mindset. To feel as though the community and its members are helpless without us. One of my team members very eloquently stated, “We are not beautifying Ferguson we are simply helping to restore the beauty that already existed.” I feel that this mindset is crucial to hold when serving within a community.
I feel that I grew so much during my time at the ABCs, and Ferguson deserves a “Thank you”. Thank you, Ferguson, for showing me the power of grassroots organizing. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to serve alongside the amazing Green Turtles. Thank you for proving to me that Ferguson is not as broken as the media led me to believe. Thank you for showing me that Ferguson is just like any other city in the United States. And finally, thank you, Ferguson, for teaching me how to challenge the dominant narrative.