Southern “Freaks”

My dog passed away last week. After 14 years of love, joy, and mutually agreeing upon distaste towards other people’s pets it was time to put her down. I cried. I cried a lot.

I was going to leave Miami four months ago. I was going to walk away from Miami employed, satisfied, and morally conflicted for having not finished my YAV year. I cried. I cried a lot.

2000 years ago (give or take) Lazarus passed away. After a few years of love, joy, and friendship Lazarus passed away. Jesus cried. Jesus cried a lot.

I don’t cry.  I don’t choke up. I cried in front of my best friend once via the telephone, my supervisor here in Miami, once and choked up in front of our Board of Directors when we had to check-in at our Board meeting the same day my dog had been put down. You (the reader) now know my entire history of crying in front of people in the past three years. And on the rare occasion that I do cry I, like Jesus,  just freakin’ lose it like a big baby!

In her piece “Word Hoard” from Parabola, B.K. Loren writes about either herself or a character experiencing aphasia. The loss is devastating for the writer or someone in love with words and obsessed with how we speak them. The author tackles the traumatic event with humor—i.e. word associations, “fish: bagel, lion: table, pelican: funicular.” Causing her sentence to be, “the funicular skimmed the surface of the ocean searching for bagels.” They write about it with anger—“I was dead in the water without language,” and they write about it with sadness, “a year into it, I was depressed…I couldn’t stand to see words played with as if they were in some writing workshop.”

The other day I was talking to my roommates about what it means to be southern—the pain, the struggle, and the wounds left behind from a racially charged, extremely queer-phobic, and to top it all off very “Christian” past. I opened up about my families painfully white southern history. In their eyes glazing over was the mirror held to my face realizing I am not homesick, I am home chronically ill. Ann Powers’ review of Alabama Shake’s new album Sound and Color seems to perfectly sum up the southern experience and has stuck with me since reading the review in February:

“In the six years I’ve lived in the region, I’ve developed a mantra: Southern freaks are the best freaks. For me, the word “freak” can be both positive and downright spiritual. It describes serious individualists who are tolerant of others whose own paths may diverge from their own; people whose ways of thinking connect to form an antidote to the deep conventionality that often surrounds them. Southern freaks, like the four young musicians in Alabama Shakes, face multiple challenges: not only the love of tradition (and defensive attitude about it) that their neighbors nurture, but also the prejudices of those who live elsewhere and expect Southerners to be somehow limited by their native surroundings. Southern freaks are the best freaks because they have the resilience to flourish in a home that can feel foreign, while also recognizing that legacies can’t be simply processed. They must be lived, confronted and altered from within.”

Powers is alluding to what I did and exactly how I now feel about it. Running from our past is not just human nature, it’s ingrained in our DNA and it is also profoundly biblical. I speak to so many people like me who either did time away and never found a place quite like being at home, worked for years to make a new home, or the small number of success stories of people who found a home in the south. I think of the southern “freaks”—the friends and mentors that shaped who artistically shaped who I am today, the pastors who nurtured my spirituality, and the family that taught me a love of tradition—and I’m resurrected.  I want to be back home. I want to put an end to the work of a hateful southern past and embrace a brighter southern future. I’m tired of pretending like I fit in, I’m exhausted trying to be from anywhere else but the south, and I’m tired of pretending that I don’t love southern culture, because I do.

I’m secretly a sentimentalist. I secretly want everything to be exactly the way it was before. I say secretly because outwardly, defensively, and selfishly I am distant. I don’t call people regularly to check-in. Sometimes I see a text and then put the phone away in my pocket. I’m a compulsive Instagram and Facebook “liker,” but don’t post a whole lot about how I feel, articles I think are brilliant, or comment to dialogue among other friends for fear of “trolling.” My habit of being distant gets worse when I’m home. Usually I’m home with this nagging of flight, flight, flight, flight in the battle verses fight. Instead of embracing the awkwardness of running into parents of friends I know downtown, I want curl up in an introverted ball and say, “well, actually I’ve got to run!” And then my worst habit of all shows through—talking more about me than listening to what’s going on in the listener’s life.

But it wasn’t that way this past weekend at home. I caught myself talking too much if I wasn’t listening. I embraced some of the awkwardness of not having a lot to say when their used to be non-stop chatter. I walked into the local brewery and saw a few friends, two of whom had really been huge support systems earlier in my life. A friend reached out and visited when I invited her over from about an hour away and we picked up on a conversation three years had passed in between. A visit with a friend turns from short chat to hours of theological and personal reflection. I spent quality time enjoying traditional barbecue and southern comfort food with my family instead of instantly running to see my friends.

None of this happened to me in Miami. I didn’t realize how much I missed the south and being southern until my flight back to Miami reading B.K. Loren’s final paragraph from “Word Hoard” when the divine reached down:

“Once, I was aphasic. The condition lasted, to some extent or another, nearly ten years. When I came back to words I came back like a lover who’d had a mistaken affair. Once the damage is done, it’s done. But there’s a carefulness that follows. You don’t take things for granted. You speak from the soles of your feet, a current of meaning running through your body, each word carrying with it its history and the intimate mouths of your ancestors speaking it. Their lips touch yours as the word leaves you.

This is what connects you to who you are. What you love. What you caress. Whatever it is that leaves you and in its absence makes you lonelier than God.

When it returns, it becomes holy. When it returns, you see the sacred in the profane. You do not fall prostrate before it. You hold it close. You let it go. You live with it. You live.”

A Year of Free T-Shirts for a Lifetime of Change

It’s time to talk about a somewhat serious but I hope you will find a little light hearted topic, t-shirts. We have a motto in the Miami YAV house which we call the “unofficial YAV slogan.” Whenever approaching an event and our director asks our shirt size we say, “a year of free t-shirts for a lifetime of change!” At first getting a free t-shirt at every single volunteer event we went to was great! It’s kind of cool to have one or two t-shirts from different events you attended. But when your life is dedicated to service people (for whatever reason) want to dress you. My wardrobe now includes (but is not limited to) my YAV shirt, a Habitat for Humanity service work day shirt, the shirt from the Paint Day event I helped coordinate (in both the staff grey and participant white might I add), a shirt from the Paint Day from the year before that my boss gave me, a waterway cleanup I did in Broward that lasted all of two hours and I maybe picked up three pieces of trash (no exaggeration…but I have the t-shirt!), a shirt from the Miami Rescue Mission Good Friday Day of Service, and the list goes on.

Let me be abundantly clear, I LOVE free t-shirts! I’m a huge advocate for a good free tee. Ask my roommates! I love collecting them, wearing them, lounging in them, and showing my pride for service (stride of pride!). But it is seriously time for America to re-consider t-shirt culture. I had always joked about writing this blog post until today when I was sitting in my office frustrated trying to come up with a t-shirt design for an upcoming event.

Let me also be abundantly clear that I’m not here to shame a group for wanting to do t-shirts for an event. In fact t-shirts I believe is the best way to show solidarity, unity, and depending on where you bought the shirt are stimulating local economy. It’s what happens afterward that needs to be addressed. Ask yourself, what do you think happens to a t-shirt after it’s given to goodwill? I can tell you! It either sits on the rack with other free t-shirts bought up by a hipster thinking, “wow, this is a cool ‘ironic’ tee” (I would know, I used to be one of those “hipsters”) or the Goodwill does the thing you were afraid to (dare I even say it) throw it away or donate it to a third world country*! Even organizations passing out clothing for free don’t want your free tee from that one event that you one time went to. There’s no dignity in passing out old t-shirts from Community Day 2015.

What I should also preface is that I realize the sentimentality of free tees and I think this is why I love them so much. Volunteer events rely on strong volunteers and as someone who has coordinated these events, I don’t want the volunteer who wore the wrong shirt. These events are good excuses to take time to give back to your community, foster and build relationships, and above all to get really messy. You can’t say at a Paint and Beautification Day, I wore the wrong shirt! Because guess what? We brought one for you! But what we as a culture do need to do is change our thinking. How do we either re-purpose our tees or how do we responsibly recycle them?

Here’s another question, how do we show unity at an event by giving away something other than t-shirts? How about backpacks or planners? Things we will use for longer than one day. Even calendars are relatively inexpensive and serve more purpose than the free tee. A huge bonus to calendars is that they advocate for your organization 365 days AND are more recyclable** than tees!

Need to show solidarity or one collective unit? Hand out a black or white t-shirt that maybe can be repurposed to become a canvas for sorority letters or tie-dye!  I like this idea that people are turning old t-shirts into quilts. This genuinely repurposes a t-shirt to be something helpful. And donating a quilt? Definitely on a “much needed” list somewhere! What about a wedding dress or the five thousand other offerings from Pinterest? No time like your big day to tell the world that you one time went to that one event!

The last thing I’d like to address is we are pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars for a t-shirt worn once before it hits the can or the “to go” box. Again, I understand and don’t want to demean or take away from any local economy that may be getting business, but it’s time to re-think this giant t-shirt mess. I would know, my t-shirt drawer is gasping for fresh air.

*I claim no idea to what the third world needs or does not need. I also do not claim an idea on how to solve global poverty. I simply offer the idea that tees may not even be as useful in places we think they are.

**where applicable

Take Care of Each Other

My heart is heavy this week from the riots in Baltimore revolving around the death of Freddie Gray (“what happened to Freddie Gray?”) and heavy from the opening arguments for and against marriage equality in the United States to be heard by the Supreme Court. For my audience that has been living under a rock (or possibly in a foreign country), let’s just say I’m surprised that Facebook and other social media outlets haven’t broken from pure unadulterated feelings. Feelings legitimate some of which I agree and some of which I don’t.

Here is my quick unsolicited opinion before I move on to the bigger pictures. What is happening in Baltimore shouldn’t be happening, but was inevitable. I’d like to offer a possible solution before the end of this blog post? As for DOMA, a bad argument is, “well, we haven’t had marriage equality yet, so why start now?” I’m not trying to be funny, but I think there are records showing that someone made similar assessments of illegal abortion and segregation. Then again, not an expert.

But let me go back to these pure unadulterated feelings that have outpoured onto Facebook walls out of heavy hearts and troubled minds. You are entitled (as am I) to every single thought you think and every feeling you feel. They are valid feelings and you shouldn’t feel shamed or bad for having them.

Systems of oppression are hard to understand. A lot of people sitting at the top don’t understand that systems of oppression thrive on people not taking care of each other. So what happens when we let down our own community? What happens when we stop taking care of our neighbors? Are we contributing to a system? That to me is the scariest part not just about race relations, but all of the systems in the entire United States and the entire world. We don’t care for each other and I don’t think that’s what the divine wants. And while we are out here not caring for each other, those at the top of the system continue to thrive in a comfortable environment whether we want them to or not. I don’t know how to hold these people accountable. Lots of people offer the advice of looking in a mirror? But what I’ve learned this year from my job as a Community Organizer is that systems change from the bottom up. Organizing is hard because in our minds, we think we can recruit or find 5,000 people who think like us and that will walk with us and be able to change a system. When in reality it’s more like 2. Yes, 2. 5,000:2, that’s what you’re working with here! But remember that 2 becomes 4, then 8, then 16 and then a system is over turned! Yay! But not quite because sometimes there are hundreds of years during that recruitment/retention phase.

So I’d like to propose that we take better care of each other in order to begin a long journey of overturning a system. Today, I think we were granted with a small picture into what it looks like when we take care of each other with the rescue of hundreds of girls in Nigeria from the power of Boko Haram. There will be months of reconciliation, minds damaged may never recover, and the world may never truly understand exactly what happened. But what we should acknowledge is a determination and a desire to take care of each other and that rescuers took time to take care of people they don’t know. I love the images from Baltimore that media tags as, “the images they don’t want you to see!” because I always click them with great enthusiasm to see clergy members standing in solidarity with one another, the community reinvesting in itself by leading clean up crews, and images of people passing out water bottles to their brothers and sisters on the police force.

In my own YAV life, I just finished teaching resident leadership classes in a neighborhood here in Miami. We did the class in a neighborhood that was so broken and in such desperate need of repair but it took ten years before the residents saw true change in the system. I reflect on this neighborhood because the community before its complete renovation shared eerily similar qualities to the housing project in which Freddie Gray was a resident. These housing projects and the fact that they still exist are a prime example of a failed system, broken, and the fact that it’s hard for people to take care of each other.

A lot of my facilitators left class frustrated with residents tardiness, disruption, and to be honest a few facilitators wrestled with the fact that the group had a diverse range of educational backgrounds. I saw a facilitator a few weeks later and she REALLY wrestled with the above listed qualities of the class. When I saw her I said, “your presentation was the best. It was truly the first time the leadership cohort heard from someone with respect and someone with authority that they were an asset and not a hindrance to their own community.” And watching my facilitators’ reaction to giving her that information and residents’ reactions to someone saying that was a moment the divine reached down.

This is for everyone. This is for everyone reading this blog post this is for everyone not reading this blog post. You can live in a housing project, you can live in Coral Gables. You could be on a college campus right now, you may be in a transition house, or you may be in jail. You could be a YAV living with three people you didn’t choose to live with. You could be considering a YAV year next year. You may be in your comfortable family home, neighborhood, or high rise chic city apartment. I don’t really care where you are or what community you identify with. YOU are an asset to your community. You always have been and you always will be. Taking care of each other is as easy as offering a hand, a thought, a hug. Now go forth with the knowledge that you are an agent of change, take care of people, and do good.

Regards: Justice

Recently I’ve been thinking about forgiveness, what it means, what it looks like, and who gets it. And what no better timing could this post come with the controversy surrounding the execution of Kelly Gissendaner. For those not following #KellyOnMyMind, Kelly has been given the death sentence from the state of Georgia because of her involvement in the 1997 murder of her husband—to put her story lightly. For as we (Christians/Troubled Believers) know, stories run much deeper than 140 characters.
It’s important to note a few things from Kelly’s trial. The first is the Huffington Posts description of the trial points to church workers, community advocates, Kelly’s children, and former inmates begging the decision be revoked. But this is the part that got me—Kelly is a graduate of the Arrandale State Prison’s certificate in theological studies. Holy (you know what)! If that’s not hypocrisy beyond belief then I’m sorry because I must not know what hypocrisy is! Lord, in your mercy! This woman devoted her life to studying principles of retribution, forgiveness, and grace and this jury still believes her life should be ended? I don’t have the facts and figures in front of me, but I don’t think this is what these guiding principles look like. Moreover, the jury was probably made up of a majority of Christians. A lot of Christians are currently worried over the persecution of Christians by the Islamic state ISIS, but are blind to the Christian persecution of other Christians.
The second major event to note is that as of today the jury is seated in Boston for the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnov where Tsarnov will face either a life in prison or the death penalty for crimes committed against humanity in the bombing of the Boston Marathon that took place in 2013. I remember a few weeks ago texting a good friend, “they’re putting off the trial because the lawyers are arguing for a more unbiased jury! I hate people!” But I began to process this feeling this sentiment after she texted back, “everyone’s entitled to a fair trial.” And I think that’s what’s ignited a new passion in me over the past few months. What is forgiveness? Who gets it? How do we love our enemy? Where do we find Bondye (God)? Is Bondye in the lawyers requesting a more fair trial for Tsarnov? I say, yes. Initially, I accused and felt rage that the trial wouldn’t move forward—here is someone who has committed an atrocity, the trial won’t go anywhere, everyone will have a bias. *I* thought the trial should end with a life in prison with justice being served if Tsarnov can prove that what he did was wrong while on his sentence. *I* believed that justice was in this opportunity to change or “better” oneself—a notion inherently American. But that’s not justice. And if it is, *I’m* not the person who gets to make that decision.
If we are to be followers of Christ, then we are called to listen. We are called to listen to our neighbor who wants to tell us about how he’s the “baddest Pimp in the game” and about the people he takes down for pleasure. We are called to listen to Bondye breath through the lawyers requesting a more fair trial for someone in need of a little compassion. One of the hardest things for me to do is to have my own opinion as a Troubled Believer and what is Bondye’s will. I want so badly to have an opinion and I want to express it because not expressing it feels like blind believing and I can’t stand blind believing! If we can’t bring our fears, our doubts, and our ideas to Bondye and the church, then why follow? But then *I* begin to think and *I think* the answer lies in trust. When we trust that Bondye will decide, and when we trust that Bondye will serve justice (possibly not on this earth) then maybe (just, maybe) that’s a reason to not be as troubled.

A letter to someone maybe possibly considering a YAV year

06 February 2015

Dear Reader,

Whoever you are I am glad you have stumbled upon this blog post because I know February a year ago I wanted to collect as much information as possible about Miami, the YAV program, the current YAVs, and what they were doing. Reflecting back on this last sentence I sound a little crazy, but I’m not crazy as much as last February I was in a place in my life where I was leaving a full time job in a beautiful place with beautiful very dear friends. Leaving was not going to be an easy decision, so I really needed to know everything I could possibly know. It was odd, because I felt like I learned a little from the current YAVs blog post and that they didn’t blog enough. I wasn’t getting a lot of information.

And then I got here. So much has happened to me. Should I write every detail, every emotion I have experienced, and about the people I have met that have shaped, molded, and re-shaped who I am and my beliefs we would be here all night.

So here is a short list. And it’s a list I’m titling, “A list of ten things that if you had told me a year ago that these things would happen to me, I would have laughed at you and said, ‘whatever’ and ‘nunh-hunh’ in my most sarcastic voice.” Reader, I hope you find humor, more questions, and more doubts in this list. But above all, I hope you find answers.

1.) that my roommates and I would participate in a dance party with Eve Ensler.
2.) that I’d be hands deep in twenty plus pounds of frozen chicken legs and thighs.
3.) that I would “pick up” and be concerned about my grasp of the Spanish language.
4.) that I would spend four months relying on public transportation with a myriad of stories one of which beginning in, “he don’t got no gun.” First day on the bus, might I add.
5.) that I’d begin to grasp concepts of root causes of poverty.
6.) dance the wobble in front of 100 volunteers at our paint and beatification event. I’m still embarrassed.
7.) that I would begin to grasp and embrace thoughts on privilege.
8.) that I’d have friends whose families were victims of gun violence.
9.) that I would meet change makers, movers, shakers, and non-profit workers working too hard for too little money to causes I didn’t even know existed but are beyond important.
10.) this is big. That come December (four months) into my year of service that I’d be discerning a call to seminary–something I NEVER expected from this year. But hey, they don’t have that whole “spiritual discernment” clause in the YAV mission statement for nothing! So, I’m just saying, it happened to me and it could happen to you, too.

Be open, be bold, be resilient, listen before you speak, but when you do speak speak loudly, be ready to not “go with the flow,” be loud, be quiet, but most of all never forget the number one rule, “don’t short…(just kidding that’s an inside joke),” don’t get lost.

Hope this helps,
Russ

Regards: Fear.

As the advent season peaks, I’ve been deep in thought about fear. There are so many examples of fear in the bible including Mary being fearful of the angel that appeared to her which in reality you would think would be a really awesome awe-inspiring experience. But no, she was scared. It makes her human, and that to me is important. I think about my own fear. I think about my doubt, my insecurities, and what happens when we finally conquer these fears.

For Daniel and David, it’s courage. But what was this courage? How did they get it? How did they find it? How did it come to them? Because however they did it, I want that. Was it a vision? Was it a physical sign like a billboard reading, “take thy sword and slayeth this lion!”-God. Because that would be an awesome billboard. And poor Mary. In her fear, she was instilled with more fear and the onset of anxiety brought on by motherhood.

But the joy! Think of the joy! The Christmas season asks us to remember this joy! The joy in conquering our fears! The strength we have gained when we have conquered our battles, the things we have learned. When we abandon our fear, when we conquer it, this I believe to be where work (real, true, honest, dedicated work) gets done. This is where we are truly the closest to God when we live without fear. I would like to share with you all some of my hopes, fears, and battles for the upcoming months in a project I am beginning work on with Neighborhood Housing Services of South Florida.

The Partners in Progress Initiative is a group of various non-profit, for-profit, and community stakeholders working together in a total revitalization effort of the Northwest 79th St Corridor. The eastern boundary being I-95 running about 40 blocks west to the tri-rail/metro-rail transfer station. The corridor was once the thriving center of “black” Miami pre-integration. As integration occurred, people began to leave the area heading to Miami Beach, Hialeah to the west and Broward County to the north for shopping, living, and entertainment leaving most of the corridor empty.

Of course, to the greater Miami community, the corridor holds a poor reputation. But I want to stop looking at and entertaining this poor reputation. I look one block past 79th St, I look at 81st St, I look at 78th St, and it’s just a neighborhood. Well kept lawns, neighbors interacting with each other, families, and people who are employed. In this, I see opportunity. The greater goal of the PIP Initiative is to create jobs and a thriving safe place of economic opportunity and that the 79th St corridor is a place of choice for residents to live. This has included construction of affordable housing options and new businesses bringing jobs. Wal-Mart (yes, Wal-Mart) is even part of this revitalization simply because it brings people and jobs to the area. Here there is a need to bring people to the area—to once again make the area thrive.

Under the supervision of my boss, I’ve been assigned the task of Community Engagement for the Initiative. After extensive research on the area as well as various community projects that have “worked,” I made my project proposal on Wednesday. I proposed that we simply post fliers on three different blocks that read, “Do you talk to your neighbor?” and a tear away portion some that say “yes,” and others that say, “no.” Our number is on the part of the sign that the person can pull off so that they can get more information about our work as an organization and how they too can engage their neighbor. The piece is a grassroots piece based on the work of Boston based community organizer, Tim Devin. You can read more about this and some of his other projects on his website. I highly recommend his work for anyone looking for an artistic community project.

The second aspect of the project is to connect recent graduates of our Miami Community Leadership Institute with residents of these three blocks that we identified to encourage civic engagement among residents as well as establishing connection between residents and the initiative. To me, this is what I identified as the most important aspect of civic engagement. We want residents to feel that their voices are being heard and that the initiative is keeping residents in tune with what is happening.

My fears are that it won’t work. That it won’t happen. That no one will listen. That voices will be silenced, that people will feel like they’re not being heard. That our outcome of a self-expanding project is an unrealistic one. But if I don’t find the courage, if I don’t take the first step. If I don’t listen for the angel, if I can’t find my courage, if I walk away then I’ll always live in regret that I never stood up.

Fear feels temporary. It feels like it can always be conquered even when you see no light at the end of the path. The hardest part of the journey is the first step. Lord, in your mercy, at least grant me that—the courage to take the first step.

The GATE Program

Last Friday’s Community Day was one of the best we have had thus far. We worked with a program called GATE, whose exact acronym escapes me, but is a gun violence prevention program run through Jackson Memorial Hospital here in Miami. Mimi (the director/former brain surgeon/visonary) in her words, “got tired of seeing so much trauma caused by gun violence in Miami.”

So, she did something about it. GATE serves as a program for young men caught with guns at school. The program is court ordered and is not a class as much as it is a community. The program focuses on the logistics of the body after it experiences trauma. This includes a tour of the ICU where students learn the logistics of comas, the morgue and the process of claimed and unclaimed bodies. Finally, the kids visit a funeral home where they learn the logistics of casket, burial, cremation, and funeral and its expenses that many families can not afford. Each of the men is to write their eulogy. As Mimi put it, she has never seen anyone wanting to be remembered as, “thug” or “gangbanger.” Finally, the children learn from their “Peer Mentors” (who have previously graduated from the course) topics of anti-bullying, friendship, and anger management. Most of the men graduate successfully from the program and continue to stay in touch with the program as either Peer Mentors or visitors.

Recently in a coalition meeting led by, “Gangs Alternative, Inc,” a few people cited young men as a hindrance to moving forward in race, gender, sexuality, and class relations. In light of recent events (Lord, in your mercy!), it brings up these issues, again. Who’s empowering young men in our society? Who’s telling them it’s no okay to steal, cheat, or lie? Who is telling kids it’s okay to be “nerdy” or to be passionate about a school subject and that you should pursue that love?

I don’t think I can be a leader in the black community, but I always will consider myself an ally. Over and over I hear, “well our leaders [in schools, gov’t, etc] don’t look like us [re: black].” And that may be true. But that won’t stop me from talking to my neighbor, saying hello as I pass you on the street, greet you and ask you how your day is going, and continue and have feelings from stories told to me about forgotten “black” Miami. As well as continue honest discussions about our differences.

I’d like to close on a note about bullying as this was identified by the Peer Mentors at GATE as our number one source of violence among young men. If you think for a second that bullying transcends race, class, gender, and sexuality you are absolutely incorrect. And if you think for a second that you have not ever been bullied, think harder. You have. Somehow. Somehow you have been oppressed, put into a box, and told to think or act a certain way.

The GATE programs begin to dissect some of these bigger questions, stereotypes, and issues. The GATE program is not the answer to all of Miami’s issues. It’s not the final solution, but it’s a start. And Mimi is a visionary. When I think about the leader inside and who I am becoming, I’ll carry a piece of Mimi and the Peer Leaders at GATE. They’re on the frontline and I want to be with them.

As I begin to see the vision and the direction of my life, I ask these questions. I ask them openly. I ask them honestly.  And I hope that you will ask them with me, too.

Quick Update!

The work I’ve been doing with Neighborhood Housing Services of South Florida (NHSSF) so far this year has been amazing! Here is the video from our fall event and looking forward to the upcoming 11th Annual Community Paint and Beautification Day here in Miami-Dade. Hope to see you all in Coconut Grove on March 14th!

Lazy Sunday

There are so many reasons why I love Sunday. It’s the one day you can walk down the street in Miami and the city feels like it’s at peace. The chaos has calmed itself.

Halloween was excellent. My roommates and I were able to attend a large block party in the arts district as well as Mark and I rode in the Critical Mass. Critical Mass is a bike ride that happens every fourth Friday and consists of at least a few hundred persons on bikes taking over the street. Here are a few words on that: it. Was. AWESOME! I had a small speaker and played my music while I rode over the bridges and streets through Little Havana, by the airport, and Allapattah into the block party in Wynwood. Another great part? The weather has finally dropped below 80 degrees and a thousand percent humidity. Of course it was Halloween, so everyone was dressed up. It’s funny riding a bike next to Jesus and a zombie.

A few other highlights from Miami? I am absolutely loving my job. I work hard and a lot, but it’s been really good. We are currently working on leading the Miami Community Leadership Institute which is seven three-hour courses on various topics of leadership. It has gotten me really connected with various leaders in the community. Our speakers range from pastors to city planners to University of Miami professors and staff. It’s also beginning to inspire my own ideas on community leadership and what that looks like.

We just finished coordinating our huge service project this past Saturday. It was a paint and beautification project of six houses in Broward County with over a hundred volunteers. I throughly enjoyed working with the homeowners for the past few months getting to know them. The volunteers ended up having a great day and the project overall was a great success. Definitely worth the 3:45am wake up call (ha)!

As for everything else, it’s been good. Learning about Miami and exploring has been really fun! Our community days have been very successful from service projects to Friday seeing, “Dear White People” we have done a variety of different activities. I’m gearing to vote this week as a Miami resident which is very exciting. And finally, I wanted to include a picture of my roommates and I.

Until Next Time,
Russ

It’s Been a Minute…

16 September 2014

Dear Readers,

It’s been a minute, but I wanted to update. Life is good! There is so much to do, see, learn, and explore. My roommate Kelli and I almost have what seems like a silent commitment to ourselves to explore each and every nook and cranny the city has to offer. From long walks at Bayfront Park over to Brickell, long train rides from Downtown to Coconut Grove and South Dadeland, and simply challenging myself to run further and further over the Biscayne Bay. Here are a few pictures from my first few weeks in Miami. They include Downtown, our visit to the Everglades, Calle Ocho, South Beach, and my two roomates.


City Tour. South Beach.


City Tour. Everglades. Look closely…


Lazy Sunday morning wandering before church at Miami Pres.


City Tour. Calle Ocho.

Well, that’s about all I have time for today! Hope you enjoy the photos and I will post more about my job later!

Until next time,
Russ