What Separates Us?

Introduction: 

In Miami, for the most part, the separation of groups of people is easy to identify. Looking beyond the obvious divides, such as the naming of immigrant neighborhoods like “Little Havana” and “Little Haiti”, I am more focused on literal separation. Infrastructure is booming in Miami due to the development of high-rise luxury condos, tourism, and a growing financial district. A consequence of this is a mass influx of people coming in and out of the city everyday. While Miami does have a transit and bus system, the building and maintaining of Miami’s highway system tells a much deeper story about power dynamics in the city. This blog is focused on I-95 and it’s direct impact on segregation. 

Background: 

Interstate highways are used as tool for development. They are needed to connect people to cities, and are symbols of urbanization and economic growth. The building of I-95 in south Florida is no exception. The building of I-95 in Miami took place in the 1950’s with completion in the early 1960’s. The interstate reshaped the city in many ways: More commuters could live outside of the city and drive to work, tourists were able to visit, and developers were able to make the city more assessable to winter residents, real-estate moguls, and big businesses. The question then became, where would the interstate be built? 

The Cost:

Through homes and a booming community, I-95 now divides the historic Overtown community- an African American neighborhood. Generations of families lost their homes due to this “public works” project. People were separated from community life because they lived on the “wrong side” of the interstate. One can see homes on either side up against the guardrails, and abandoned community centers, shops, and restaurants. What is most troublesome to me is that the builders did not include an exit for Overtown. What does this mean? It means that Overtown is not important or worthy of an exit because no one using I-95 would need or want to go there. This is where I see the power dynamic most strongly. Who can say a town is unworthy of an exit? If you have building power in this city, you can pretty much do whatever you want. 

The Lasting Impact:

 In Miami, this is not an independent story. People with power have been uprooting and disrupting vibrant communities for years. Because the have the power and money they can do this. They say “We are making Miami better!” or “This will lead to a boom in tourism!”. When really this is extremely harmful to the people who already live in the city. Marlins Park, the baseball stadium of the Miami Marlins, was built in the middle of the community in Little Havana (with the help of the tax payers!). There are restaurants, Laundromats, auto shops, and family homes built all around the park. Would you want this in your backyard? Currently there has been an ongoing debate in Little Haiti over whether or not to build a Soccer Stadium and bring a soccer team to Miami. The Board of County Commissioners just approved the sale of the land. Again building a multi-million dollar soccer arena next to homes, schools, and disrupting the community. The reality is that this will happen regardless of public outrage, because that’s how power systems work here. 

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Growing up, I was able to see how walls of separation can be torn down. I grew up in a large Presbyterian church in New Jersey. I remember that a Temple was being evicted from their worshiping space in town and asked the church if they could rent space from us. In Presbyterian fashion the session met multiple times to discuss this decision, but ultimately approved the merger. Offices for the Rabbi and Pastor were only feet away from one another. On Friday nights the cross was covered by a sheet, and people came to listen to the Torah. On Sunday mornings, the sanctuary was uncovered and Presbyterians listening to the Scriptures. In my mind this was beautiful. How cool was it that I was able to sit in the same pew for church and to see some of my friends be Bar Mitzvahed?! Looking back at it now, I understand that not all communities of faith would have been so welcoming. This is the challenge with “separation”, unfortunately, is not everybody is aware of the beauty that comes from tearing walls (symbolically and physically) down; yet many are active agents in using “separation” to do harm.  

-JG 

 

 

How Do I Recommit?

IMGP7509-800x36610 hours later I was back home in Miami smiling from ear to ear about the weekend I just had with my fellow southeastern YAV’s. Let me back up a little… 

Spring Retreat is something I had been looking forward to all year. A chance to connect with YAV’s, share experiences and take a relaxing break from our site cities. The Miami YAV’s all piled into our van and drove for about 10 hours to reach the retreat site in Americus, Georgia. Stopping along the way for Puerto Rican food and Southern fast food staples, I became more and more excited for the retreat. 

One of the best parts for me was the idea of this retreat serving as a chance to recommit myself to my year. Throughout the year I have seen how I have become more passive about my commitments. I recognize that I have viewed these next couple of months as a pathway to my next adventure at Law School instead of a destination in it of itself.

So how can I recommit? 

When I think of recommitment I automatically become stressed because my first thought is that I am going to have to pick up new daily tasks in order to feel like I have made a effort to be more committed. However, at retreat we reflected on “letting go” which made a world of difference for me. The ability to let things go that I have been holding on to during my year could be a way I could open myself up more for a chance at recommitment. Letting go of a lack of control over when the bus comes, spending money, or even what I eat for dinner. Letting go over that sense of control allows me to recommit to my community. 

Recognizing that I am part of a larger YAV community was also very life giving for me. Seeing familiar faces and being able to talk about our experiences showed me new ways to recommit myself to my year. I see now that I have so many people rooting for me and for the Miami house, and that makes me feel more supported than ever. 

Thank you for an amazing weekend to all the wonderful YAV’s I met and to Koinonia Farms for hosting us!

-JG

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[Here is a picture of me being a little sassy in front of President Jimmy Carter’s childhood home.]

¿Hablas español?

It does not surprise me that the most common question I get since moving to Miami is ¿Hablas español? Do you speak Spanish? An overwhelming majority of the time my response is, un poco/a little bit. I go on to listen to what the person is saying to me, nodding as they speak, and then when they are finished I usually slip into a panic. What did they just say? Should I say something back even if it is wrong? I did not realize it at first but my inability to trust in my Spanish was starting to hold me back from engaging with people. For me, this was a big problem. I love greeting people and engaging with those unfamiliar to me. Realizing this has given me two missions. The first, to be more open to listening without always having to respond. The second, to trust in my ability to communicate with those who speak a different language. 

Listening is a value I hold very high. I enjoy listening to my friends and community mates about their day and their joys and concerns. Listening attentively allows me to take myself out of the equation and completely be present for another person. Being able to do a year of service has allowed me to learn how to listen to others, even when I do not comprehend their entire message.

The Miami YAVs/Dwellers enjoy attending a Spanish Presbyterian church. At first I was a little hesitant. I was concerned that since I would not understand the message that somehow I would be missing out on my church needs that week. I could not have been more wrong. By attending church completely in Spanish I was called to fully listen. There were times that were familiar, like singing “Holy, Holy, Holy”/”Santo, Santo, Santo” in Spanish or listening to scripture. And times that were unfamiliar, like listening to a Sermon that I could only pick up bits and pieces of. All in all, engaging with the Spanish language on a spiritual level has only grown my understanding of what listening truly entails. 

I studied Spanish at college, but have always been challenged by the language. Conjugating verbs, the past and present tense, and using the correct pronouns always confused me. Seeing the language at work, however, has taught me more than I learned in the classroom. I was waiting for the trolley the other morning when a man sat next to me on the bench. He began pointing at his finger and saying “poca cura”!! I thought at first he was asking me if I had a ring or was married so I said no. Later on I looked over and saw his finger was bleeding. Immediately I reached into my bag and gave him a bandaid. “curita” means “little cure” and context clues would have shown me that. I like telling this story because it reminds me that even though I do not at first understand Spanish, I shouldn’t shy away from it. Often times I receive calls at work from Spanish speakers and pass them on to my co-workers, but I should begin to navigate communicating the best I can. 

Listening takes a lot of energy, especially in a different language. Now I see that this extra effort opens my eyes to learning new things, engaging in new experiences, and gaining a new perspective. 

Gracias por leer! 

-JG

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Short-term and Long-term Mission. What is the Difference?

I began thinking about mission while reflecting on the relationships I had made during these last 4 months in Miami. Relationships that took time to cultivate and were sometimes challenging, but ultimately relationships that I can not see myself living without. And I thought, a year of mission is just that– a year that allows you to live out your own mission and create relationships of solidarity, faith, understanding, chaos, intentionality, confusion, love, community, and to be challenged as to what all of those words mean. 

Could I have discovered this if I had only served in Miami for one week? My answer: No!

The terms “short-term mission” and “long-term mission” are used to describe type of mission and more specifically the time at which individuals and groups of people (college groups or youth groups) serve with a community. For the purpose of this blog, “Short-term mission”, to me, would be a week or weekend whereas with no contact after the experience and “long-term mission” would be a year-long commitment (like YAV or JVCs) or a partnership. I believe these terms differ in many ways, but they fundamentally differ in how building relationships are lived out. 

I have been on many short-term trips and have enjoyed each and every one of them. However, I noticed that by only spending a week with a community I tend to compartmentalize them; only thinking of the people I met in terms of their role in the soup kitchen we served in or only remembering them for teaching my group how to paint a house. After a mission trip it is a common question to ask, “How do we bring this week back to where we came from before?” I always said I did not want to forget the people I had met. But did I truly meet them? Did I really even know them? Looking back I wish I knew more about them and remember them for the people that there are and not were in that short week I spent with them. 

There is some potential for harm here. By not fully understanding where someone is coming from it is easy to make judgements about their way of life. It takes time and a willingness to understand someone’s values, culture, language, socioeconomic differences and overall worldview. Despite this, these challenge can be avoided on short-term mission. By preparing for a mission experience groups and individuals can take time to learn about the geographic, economic, and social structures about the place they are serving. They can send letters to hosts and begin a dialogue to initiate the building of relationships. With these tools, I believe, short-term mission could be more successful and impactful. 

A year long mission allows me to build full and lasting relationships. Experiencing the good days and the bad with my placements and community has allowed me to see the full scope of who the people I love so much truly are. I’ve learned about their passions, quirks, and what pushes their buttons. So far my year of mission as exposed me to experiencing emotions of empathy, grief, and celebration. In turn, the community I have built here in Miami have seen the person that I am too, but have gone a step further, and have pushed me to consider things I never thought possible and have give me the tools to be my best self. 

-JG

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[Pictured above is the Freedom Tower in Downtown Miami. The tower is a symbol of Cuban migration to Miami and sends a message of a safe harbor and refuge during the turmoil in their homeland. These past weeks have been particularly significant since the passing of dictator Fidel Castro. Mixed emotions have been felt throughout the city. I chose this picture because this year of mission not only had made me think of my immediate community but those who I share a block and neighborhood with.  It is important in a long-term mission to fully recognize the scope of relationships that I encounter everyday. Relationships, even those who I say “Buenos Dias” to on my walk to the bus, are significant. Long term mission has challenged me to think about the space that I am taking up in an already existing and thriving community.]

 

What Do I Want to Remember? (Part 1)

A mentor of the Miami YAV’s recently suggested that we take time to reflect on our time in Miami in short increments; this way we won’t forget the things that filled our days and clouded our heads. I think this is a wonderful exercise for me because, and I will admit, I am the type of person who always looks forward. Despite this being one of my favorite personality traits, it does have its drawbacks. This year of mission is going to be one of the most challenging years of my life so far. I want to remember the little moments. So with that short introduction, here are the memories I want to hold with me.

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[The picture above was taken of my housemates and I during our fall retreat to the Florida Keys]

Community– Living in an intentional community is more intentional then I first thought it would be. I know that statement is silly, but I’ve learned that living in community is truly a 24/7 job. It is challenging for me and incredibly life giving at the same time. Knowing that I have partners in community to rely on is something I wish I’d realized earlier. I am not alone in this. Community requires two feet in at all times.

When we first moved into the Dwell house in Little Havana we didn’t have any wifi. We used this to our advantage because it gave us time to “unplug” and really get to  know one another. Growing up when the power would go out or it was a gloomy day my family    always played the card game hearts. Its a 4 person card game with strategy, emotion, and lots of laughs. I showed the community this game during our “black-out” days and it really caught on. We have wifi now, but still make the time to gather around the living room table, listening to throw back music, and play hearts. (Sometimes I even let them win).

Job Placement– I am really enjoying working at both GATE Program and Riviera Presbyterian Church. Although they are very different, both jobs have allowed me to grow in so many ways.

At GATE Program for Juvenile Weapons Offenders I work directly with the Program Director by assisting on interviews with potential new clients and with the ins and outs of running the program. My first day at GATE was also the first day of a new group of clients. Groups usually have 6-8 clients in them and the clients learn together for about 6 months. I decided on my very first day to jump in and join this new group. Usually I would have chosen to wait so I could learn more about the program and watch behind the scenes. By joining the group I have been able to build relationships with the clients and truly see who they are and learn about the people they want to become. One time during the program we were learning about setting goals and a client turned to me and asked me if college was hard. 45 minutes later he wrote down that his goal was to get a job and go to college. The group, me included, continues to have great conversations about our goals; pushing each other to set them and also to achieve them.

At Riviera Presbyterian Church I assist with preparing for worship services, make flyers to promote the events, and post on social media about the mission of the church. It is no secret at the church that I am a PK (preacher’s kid), but working at a church has given me an entirely new perspective on Christian life. Recently, the church office has been preparing for the season of Advent. I have always looked forward to the season and some of my fondest memories of going to church as a kid was singing Christmas hymns in the choir (especially “Once in Royal David’s City”). At Riviera I have been thinking about Advent media, flyers, promotions, events and so much more since oh about… OCTOBER! I have felt so much anticipation just to get all of the work done that I had forgotten about what the season truly means. But it is finally here! I stopped for a moment in the church on Sunday and witnessed all of the greenery being set up for Christmas and felt a calm come over me. Reflecting on it now, being able to help design and create moments of fellowship at RPC  has been truly magical. I am so thankful to be part of the season here.

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[The picture above inludes myself and Rev. Martha Shiverick preparing to lead worship one Sunday]

I hope to reflect on community and my job every couple of months. Thank you for the continued support and prayers.

-JG

Fall? (What are Seasons?)

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Friends back home are posting on social media with their Starbucks cups, jeans, and long sleeve t-shirts. With falling leaves behind them and wind in their hair I am forced to ask myself what the season of Fall really means.

Officially one month as a resident of Miami, Florida and I am struck by one thing— the heat. No not the basketball team (although I assume I will be struck by that too), I am talking about the weather. I am talking about waiting for the bus in the morning and desperately trying not to get burnt. The seasons always marked transitional times for me. When it got cold, I knew that the school year was underway. Snow on the ground always meant that Christmas and the New Year was approaching quickly. Spring leaves indicated that school was almost over and  the time to relax in the Summer was coming soon.

Here in Miami the weather is always hot and the sun is always visible. Opening our front door in the mornings I brace for the strong sunlight that fills our front living space. And then, without much of a warning, severe thunderstorms come through and cause the roads to be filled with pools of sitting water, and sometimes wet packages on our doorstep. With a potential hurricane coming for the northeast, all we can do is keep checking the weather reports and praying that the storm does not cause pain in people’s lives. The rain always seems to come at the worst times.

The other day while I was working at my placement, GATE program for juvenile weapons offenders, I heard thunder in the distance. I ran to a nearby window and saw the most amount of rain I’d seen in a long time.  My first thought was, “Man that must really be hard for those people who have to travel in the rain”.  My second thought was, “…Oh no, thats me!!?” For the record, I did not have my umbrella or a rain jacket and I had to walk a couple blocks to get the Miami-Dade Trolley home. I let this worry about getting soaked in the rain control my thoughts for more time than I am willing to admit. As I shared these concerns with my co-worker he gave me a broken umbrella. He said it wasn’t much, but with some tape we could fix it. An hour later I was walking in the rain holding together the most broken umbrella of all time, but I was so happy to be somewhat safe from the showers. When I got off the bus the rain stopped, my umbrella was in pieces, my feet were damp, but my head was clear from worry.

I know I am going to be jealous of friends posting pictures of them in the snow and the trees on Hawk Hill in bloom in the Spring, but knowing that the sun is always shining when I is the most comforting thought imaginable. And yes, the rains may come and catch me off guard, but the sun will return again; brighter than I remembered it was before.

-JG

Where Do I Begin?

 

Hello friends! A lot has happened here in Miami and it has only been one week! First, I want to thank everyone for their continued support during this transition. And transition it has been indeed.

Where do I begin?

After arriving in Miami my fellow YAVs and I took a driving tour through the city. Each different region and neighborhood has it’s own unique presence which makes Miami a special city. There is no singular word or description I can use to accurately portray this diverse city for what it is. I guess you’ll have to take my word for it. After seeing the parts of the city I couldn’t help but ask myself, where do I fit in?

I have felt most at home with my housemates, bonding over shared life experiences as well as learning about new ways of life. I have felt comforted while drinking a cup of Cafe con Leche at the local Cuban market near our house in Little Havana. I have felt curious as I’ve stared at the behemoth that is Marlins Park. I have felt disoriented when we were dropped off in the middle of nowhere and were challenged to find our way home with our new bus passes in South Miami. I have felt excitement when I found a giant avocado at a market on Calle Ocho. I have felt at peace singing with the church choir, “Be Thou My Vision”, which is one of my favorite hymns at my new church.

I have a long way to go before I change my status from “visitor” to “resident” in the city of Miami, but I can not wait to live out this transition.

-JG

Why did Jillian move to Miami?

This question is harder to answer then you’d think it would be.

The easy answer: I moved to Miami to start seeing the world through a new lens, a new perspective. Coming from a comfortable life back in New Jersey, I moved to be part of something bigger. I am a Young Adult Volunteer through the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. and I hope to serve the community of Miami with an open heart, mind, and attitude.

The hard answer: I moved to Miami to become uncomfortable. Living in discomfort was never easy for me. I had an easy life with so many blessings that I can’t even begin to fathom why I am deserving of them. Seeing God in the face of social, political, and economic distress and dis-ease is not comfortable. By becoming aware of injustice and becoming a witness, I believe, I will change my feelings of discomfort into action.

This blog will allow me to attempt to answer questions that I am faced throughout my year of mission. By answering these difficult questions I hope to inspire others to ask themselves the same. Questions like: What had God intended for me to do with my gifts and talents? Is there a plan for me? What does it truly mean to follow God?  By asking these challenging questions I hope to create space to share ideas, perspectives, and stories.

Thank you for joining me on my journey,

-JG