Keeping It Real

Tuesday, 11:44 a.m.

Hello, friends!

Welcome back to another blog post from the inner workings of my mind. I’ve been in a little bit of a funk lately, so I wanted to release my private thoughts into the universe..or at least here on the internet.

So let’s jump right in – shall we?

Something I’ve been struggling with all year long is being a person of color in what seems like a predominantly white world. Now I don’t mean the world in a literal sense. Instead, I am referring to my placement of Asheville, NC. It’s true that in a large majority of the spaces I frequent here that I am often one of the few (if not the only) people of color in any given space – in grocery stores, on the bus, at my weekly swing class, and even in my own household. As a person of color, you may not realize it immediately, but being in a headspace where you always have the color of your skin and how others will or will not interact with you because of it is pretty exhausting. And now I am at that point where I’m realizing just how much mental energy I’ve been consciously or unconsciously exerting on this reality.

And I feel myself beginning to shut down and become more closed off because of it.

I don’t really feel like being bothered with trying to explore this white world any more. I’ve been intentional about doing it for roughly seven months now, and honestly I have to say that I feel quite isolated from my sense of self, from my culture, from people who understand what it’s like to be a young black woman (in a predominantly white space) without me even having to say a word.

I have been so overwhelmed with any combination of change, loneliness, boredom, depression, etc. that for a moment I have seriously considered walking away from this program with only a few months until the end of it all. But I won’t do that because I’m not a quitter. (Truthfully I’m just a really stubborn person and won’t let myself back down.) After some time to reflect and an increased amount of time spent in my workplace, I have found that the most life-giving takeaway from my year of service has been the opportunity to go through a comfortable process of vocational discernment. Through this year, I have solidified the fact that I must have a career where I work to enhance the mental and social well-being of little ones. It brings me so much joy when I step into the community center where I get to hang out with the smartest, funniest, and most loving elementary school kids around. At this point in the year, I have formed a trusting relationship with each of them, and it feels great knowing that they look up to me. They look forward to me visiting them everyday. And they take comfort in knowing that I care for them and will be here to provide emotional support, academic assistance, a helping hand, or a listening ear whenever they need it.

These kids have truly been a blessing for me this year. And while I am eager to get started on the next journey in my life – because I am genuinely excited about what’s next and because it would be nice to not be caught up in the personal struggles of this YAV year – I am also careful not to wish the time away too quickly because I want to cherish each and every moment that I have with them.

“Is anybody else over this year?” Yes, at times. I totally get that. And that’s life. It’s not all good all of the time. That’s how you learn and hopefully become a better person. There’s nothing good to be learned about running away from conflict when it arises, so that’s what I’m trying to keep in mind. Roughly three more months left – I got this. And for those of you who can relate to overwhelming struggles of the YAV year, you do too!

 

~ B

 

 

Living and Learning

Wednesday, 3:24 p.m.

 

Bonjour, mes amies!

So much has transpired since the last time I updated you on my YAV journey that I’m not even sure where to begin. With that said, please bear with me as I attempt to organize my thoughts in this here blog. Anyone who knows me at least moderately well knows I like to enter into a situation with some skeleton of plan – that’s just what keeps me sane.  So the fact that I am sitting here right now while literally making this up as I go along is a little bit stressful for me.

 

Voila! I think what I would like to do in this blog is take you all on a brief photo journey that highlights some of the most salient moments of my year thus far.

Community

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2016-17 Asheville YAVs in the beautiful home of site coordinator Selena Hilemon

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The MSP trio: Amanda, myself, and Dr. Hylton at the Fall 2016 Donning of the Stoles Ceremony

 

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Me with some of the wonderful Multicultural Student Programs (MSP) family at the YMI Cultural Center for MLK Day of Service – January 2017

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The little kiddies in the Hillcrest Enrichment Program meeting Rocky at the Homecoming Tailgate – October 2016

Pictured above are some of the communities I have had the opportunity to explore during my YAV year. The first picture you see here is of my wonderful roommates. I have learned so much about myself and others through living with these people. I know it seems like a cliche thing that people often say when presented with new experiences, but I really do mean it. Perhaps the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that when offering generous amounts of patience to others during difficult times, I shouldn’t forget about myself. Being a person that generally radiates sugar, spice, and everything nice to so many others around me often means that at the end of the day, I have none left for myself. I’m human, and I need love, support, and positive encouragement too. Now more than ever I am beginning to understand that everyone’s journey is different. And although the end goal might be the same, the paths we take to get there differ dramatically – and that’s perfectly okay. Comparison is the thief of joy.

 

The second picture is of the three women who make up the department of Multicultural Student Programs for the 2016-17 academic year. On the far right is Dr. Hylton, my on-site supervisor and long-time mentor. And to the far left is Amanda, who serves as a temporary staff member this year. Working with these women taught me how to be a team player and take instruction from others to accomplish goals in a fast-paced environment. From them I’ve also learned how to be more assertive (an ongoing journey), communicative, and . Something I never realized prior to my YAV year is that I have trouble asking for help. And I don’t mean that in the sense of I’m stubborn and will refuse to ask for help because I think I can do it all by myself but in the sense of I’m so accustomed to being the only person on my team and having no choice but to work through problems on my own. Lastly, I have come to accept self-care as more than a buzzword, which it very much feels like when you hear people going on about self-care this and self-care that yet seeing the same people stressed out and burnt out beyond belief.

 

Third up is a group of UNC Asheville folks – including myself – that participated in service work for MLK Day of Service this past January. What I am learning from them is how to strike a balance between friend and professional-ish. I’ll admit that it is a bit challenging sometimes to be so close in age to these humans while also asserting myself as an authoritative figure. More to come when I figure out the foolproof answer to this one…

 

Last but certainly not least are the beautiful, intelligent, hilarious, and energetic elementary school kids I have the pleasure of spending time with through the S.T.R.I.V.E. Mentoring Program. This group of kids is where the bulk of my time and energy goes as a YAV. I visit them on a weekly basis to bring fun activities that encourage cultural and career exploration, self-esteem building, and character development. If you know me, you also know how much I adore working with and getting to know children. My eyes are watering now just thinking about how wonderful they are! These cool kids have been teaching me a thing or two about patience (big surprise), being committed, spontaneity, and remembering to have fun and enjoy the little things in life. Believe it or not, they’re also a big help to my vocational discernment journey. I’ve always known that I wanted to have a career that involves working with kids, and this YAV experience has only helped to solidify that for me. In fact, it’s even motivating me to being persistent while searching for post-YAV year job opportunities. I am beyond grateful for the opportunity to work with these kids!

 

It’s been real!

 

~B

Service in a Post-Election World

Friday, 1:30 p.m.

Salut!

In today’s blog, I want to switch things up a bit and talk briefly about why I feel the work I’m doing through the Young Adult Volunteers program is so important in America’s current post-election state. But before I do that, let me tell you a little bit more about what it is that I do.

Through the YAV program I am placed at the University of North Carolina Asheville in (you guessed it) Asheville, North Carolina. I work in the Department of Multicultural Student Programs and am tasked with helping increase community engagement efforts for the department. More specifically, I manage what’s called the S.T.R.I.V.E Mentoring Program in which UNC Asheville students are matched with youth in the Asheville City School system to foster opportunities for character building, self-esteem improvement, cultural education, and academic assistance. Once a week between 4:00 and 5:30 p.m. I join a group of mentors in hosting an enrichment activity for elementary school kids at a community center in one of the city’s oldest housing projects. Throughout the course of the academic year, I also invite these kids to join myself and the mentors on campus to participate in various university events – e.g. basketball games, trick or treating in the residence halls, the homecoming parade, etc. Essentially, the goal of the S.T.R.I.V.E Mentoring Program is to help students on campus get connected with the greater Asheville community while simultaneously empowering underrepresented youth to become global citizens and to see higher education as an attainable and fruitful option for their future.

With that being said, I am passionate about the work I do through the YAV program because I believe that it is important to have strong mentors and role models in place to help convey certain messages to the developing minds of children – messages of what it means to see the humanity in others, to be patient and gentle beings, to engage with people and things that seem foreign or unusual to us, and to use dialogue as a means of seeking out answers when we don’t already have them for example. If you’ve ever had any interaction at all with kids, then you probably know that they are highly impressionable beings. They very easily absorb the beliefs and values of the environments around them. Pause here for a moment to think back on a time where you realized that a particular thought, behavior, or belief of a child you know was influenced or brought about by some external socialization process in their life. Was this influence positive or negative? If positive, that’s great! I bet you, too, understand the value of positive role models and the significance of socialization in a child’s life. However, imagine if this influence had been a negative one. How difficult was it to change the thought or action that stemmed from the bad influence? Or has is been changed at all? How has this influence impacted the child’s interactions with family? With peers? With individuals that hold identities outside of their own? I raise these questions to encourage you to think about what it would mean for a child to grow up in a world where there are little to no opportunities for guidance and mentorship and what that would mean for them as they mature and enter what we so often refer to as “the real world.” I’ll let you rest with that thought for a moment.

After November 8, 2016, the thoughts and emotions of just about everyone around me seemed to have undergone a major shift. I observed a wide range of emotional and intellectual reactions to Donald Trump’s defeat over Hillary Clinton. And I grappled with how to interpret my own emotions and how to prevent myself from adapting an “us and them” mindset and closing myself off from people who supported what is now infamously known as a campaign ran on hate and bigotry. If you experienced any of the thoughts or feelings I just described, imagine what it must have been like to be a child caught in the midst of this whirlwind. The cognitive dissonance that likely came along with the messages of kindness, love, and respect that we try to instill in kids in conjunction with some of Trump’s comments and behaviors was probably quite frustrating for the young, growing mind. This brings me back to the significance of the work I do with S.T.R.I.V.E. A majority of the kids I work with are from underrepresented populations where they don’t always have the same exposure or access to certain resources and information as other groups might. Through my program’s efforts, we want to give all children (that we work with) the chance to experience healthy and holistic development by not only incorporating messages about positive self-worth but also of cultural appreciation to help teach these kids at an early age that they can love and celebrate who they are without having to devalue others because of real or perceived differences.

“A child’s life is like a piece of paper on which every person leaves a mark.”

Before the Parade

The S.T.R.I.V.E Mentoring Program at UNC Asheville’s Fall 2016 Homecoming Parade

In the meantime, if you would like to make a donation to support me in the Young Adult Volunteers program, you may do so by visiting the following link: donate here. If you have any questions about my year of service or about the donation process, I would be happy to chat with you more!

 

~B

The Season of Service – Part 1

Saturday, 1:42 p.m.

Greetings from Briana’s world!

This post comes to you as I am in the midst of the fall retreat for the Asheville YAVs. We have are posted up in Black Mountain, which is about half an hour away from Asheville, in this beautiful home with five bedrooms, a fireplace, and a porch that I may use for stargazing later this evening. Having my own room for a few days is also nice. Anyhow, I have decided to take some quiet time to reflect on why I have chosen to dedicate myself to a year of service. Recently, my site coordinator has assigned us a short reading called “What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Service” by Adam Davis. In this article, Davis explores the complex and various reasons that different people engage in service work. This inspired me to pause and list out some of the most important reasons I have chosen the Young Adult Volunteers program at this point in my life. Here’s what I came up with:

  1. To help in the continuation of the efforts to uphold the mission of a community that plays a crucial role in fostering cultural competency as well as an appreciation for the diversity of individual cultures.
  2. To take time to explore an environment that is relatively familiar to me through an entirely different perspective.
  3. To be committed to a cause outside of myself while also taking some time to discern what my next journey in life is.

Before I go any further, let me explain what I do through my volunteer position in this program now that I have almost three months of experience. I am an intern (I liked using the word intern when I’m explaining my work to people on campus) for the Department of Multicultural Student Programs at the University of North Carolina Asheville. In a nutshell, MSP’s mission is to promote cultural competency for all members of the campus community and celebrate the diversity of different cultures. The bulk of my responsibility consists of increasing community engagement efforts for my department. As such, I manage the S.T.R.I.V.E Mentoring Program where I send UNC Asheville students into one of several housing projects in the city to provide after school assistance to youth in the Asheville City School system. I facilitate orientation sessions for current mentors and information sessions for interested others. I meet with mentors for check ins on a bi-monthly basis. I plan socially and culturally enriching activities for the youth that help promote overall academic learning, and so much more.

Now, back to the topic at hand – shall we? I am passionate about the mission and values of the department I work for. I am also passionate about children and the trajectory of their development, which some of you  may have witnessed for yourselves – like that time I literally cried while watching this baby girl getting her hair washed. I have come to see this volunteer work as a beautiful marriage between my interest in child development and the YAV program’s goal of connecting young adults with those who live outside of society’s dominant culture. I mean, every Thursday between 4:00 and 5:30 p.m. I get to hang out with these very hilarious, intelligent, and beautiful young children of color. What better way to know what your dream job entails than to work directly with a population of interest? In a sort of selfish way,  I serve also because it makes me feel good but not in the, “Look at me with all my privilege, sacrificing my time to help you less fortunate people.” This self-centered reason for serving more so comes from me knowing that I am having an impact on young people that have the potential to grow up and become leaders of our future. Community building, healthy relationships, and empowerment of children are all things I get to experience through this journey as a Young Adult Volunteer.

Stay tuned for future blogs that will explore reasons number two and three on my list of reasons I serve!

In the meantime, if you would like to make a donation to support me in the Young Adult Volunteers program, you may do so by visiting the following link: donate here. If you have any questions about my year of service or about the donation process, I would be happy to chat with you more!

 

~B

Simple Living

Thursday, 4:11am

Simple living (v):

  1. taking only what you need and nothing more; being mindful of the resources you use
  2. making investments in time, experiences, and people rather than material possessions

Synonyms: minimalism, living on the margins, being resourceful like never before as YAVs who have probably never been challenged by the financial restraints we’re experiencing now.

Well hello! I hadn’t realized you were here, but I’m so glad you decided to join me for yet another post. Welcome back to Briana’s World! Today’s entry (if you haven’t already guessed based on the title and carefully selected excerpt quote) is about *drum roll, please* simple living. Simple living is one of the five core tenants of the YAV program. It’s a topic that we very vaguely touched on during orientation and one that was revisited as an intentional community when we arrived here in Asheville. 

First of all, let me just say that I found it very difficult to verbalize what it means to live simply. Prior to becoming a YAV, I had severely limited experiences when it came to living in this way. Sometimes it’s hard to understand the experiences of others when we have been socialized in a particular way, when our cultural values and individual upbringings have so strongly colored our outlook on life. I have never really had to actively think about or even try to live simply because I’ve always had the privilege of the resources and social capital that allowed me to avoid doing so. 

But now simple living is something that I have to keep at the forefront of my mind each and everyday. Living off of at most $300 per month is hella stressful for me – someone with a great support system of family and friends, wonderful mentors, good health, and even a Bachelor’s degree. I can only imagine what it must be like for those who are forced to live a “simple” life because of one shortcoming or another. With my monthly stipend I have to make sure that necessities are taken care of: food, shelter, and (public) transportation. Simple, right? But then I also have to factor in student loan payments, my phone bill, health care needs, and all sorts of other little things you’re probably not extremely cognizant of when you’re not living off of a smooth $300 per month. 

However, while it might seem like I’m complaining (and I am because 1. this is my blog and I’m allowed to say whatever I want here; and 2. I rarely bother to add more negativity to the world by verbalizing these complaints because they’re insignificant and what good would it do anyway?), I want to publicly announce this challenge that I have for myself – the challenge of staying true to the core tenant called simple living. Of checking in with myself on a consistent basis to see if I am truly living like someone on the the margins or if I’m just going through this year while allowing myself to be comforted and protected by the privilege I hold. I want to gain a better understanding of what it means to live in the margins by actually doing it. I want to understand some of the thoughts, experiences, and judgments these individuals are regularly subjected to. 

I definitely have a lot of work to do before I can honestly say that I have succeeded in my efforts to live simply. Just last week, I treated myself to dinner with friends at King Daddy’s Chicken and Waffles, where I had the best fried chicken and a fluffy Belgian waffle topped with strawberries and whipped cream. (Shoutout to Lezzles and Timmy if you’re reading this!) Admittedly, I walked in thinking, “This ain’t simple living, and I know I shouldn’t be here.” But those thoughts evaporated immediately after the waitress put my food on the table in front of me. I knew from the very start of this program that resisting the urge to eat out was going to be a huge struggle for me. (Note the whole chicken and waffle ordeal.) But now that I’ve put my goal out there in the universe, I feel an even greater obligation to stick to it. Stay on the lookout for updates pertaining to my journey of simple living. (And if you really want to call me out, ask me how I have been living simply lately.)

That’s all for now, friends! Thanks for reading. I’ll catch you in the next update.

Until next time – stay classy and keep it cute or keep it mute,

~B

You Never Know Where Your Journey Will Take You…

Saturday, 3:36pm

Hello, friends! I hope this post finds you in good health and spirit. This update comes to you after I have had the opportunity to digest the information-heavy week that was orientation for the 2016-17 YAVs. You may have already sifted through countless other blogs that this year’s YAVs have shared about their experiences during orientation, but I’ll give you an abbreviated rundown of that week’s itinerary in case you haven’t.

Monday was a both a long and short day, since part of it consisted of traveling to Stony Point, New York – my first ever plane ride AND by myself. After our arrival at Stony Point Center, we had dinner and were welcomed by the YAV family.

Tuesday consisted of an intense, challenging, and even uncomfortable conversation about white supremacy, racism, and arrangements of power – all of which are very broad topics. So do me a favor and just take a moment to pause now and think about the ways in which we might have unpacked these concepts with one another. “What do I do with unearned privilege? How am I complicit in systems of oppression? What can white people do to actively dismantle white supremacy? What does it take for us to follow the leadership of people of color instead of challenging them?” These are just some of the questions that surfaced during this discussion. Often times we ended up with more questions than answers.

Wednesday morning started off with a follow up to Tuesday’s Critical Cultural Competency session, which attempted to provide some “revolutionary action” steps that we might use moving forward. We followed with another heavy, though less emotionally draining, conversation about setting healthy boundaries when we got to our sites across the country and the world.

On Thursday we went into New York City, tasked with observing the areas there that catered to those that fell within the dominant center and then areas that were set aside for those on the borderlands. (By the way, the terminology “dominant center” and “borderlands” comes from a cultural theorist by the name of Gloria Anzaldúa. You may consider researching her if the arrangements of power concept is new or confusing to you.) Another challenge we experienced on this day was finding lunch in NYC with a budget of five dollars.

Friday was the first day that we divided ourselves into groups based on our site placements. We shared our results from different personality tests and talked about how they might affect household dynamics. Conflict management was also another point of discussion on this day.

Saturday through Monday was less academically and intellectually strenuous. We talked about how to share our stories throughout our year of service, the importance of self-care, and participated in commissioning services with various churches in the city all before being sent off in the world as a YAV.

Needless to say, orientation was very draining for me. Here I am, almost a week later, and still pretty socially exhausted. Not only was I being (re)introduced to so many important topics, I was also functioning with a lesser amount of organization than I preferred, and I was meeting so many new people all at the same time. Overall, I do think that orientation was worthwhile for me because I ended up learning a lot about the people around me. Several people even caused me to stretch my empathy by considering their anxieties about their upcoming YAV year. (Thank you to the members of my small group who allowed us to see them in vulnerable states.)

Anyway, I am settled into my cozy little home with all four of my housemates in Asheville, NC. We’ve gone through our own form of orientation, since they’re all new in town. But I won’t get into that now. My first day of work is Tuesday, September 6th, and I’m so excited!!! Once I’ve settled into my new position, I’ll surely be back with another update for you all.

ttfn,

B

 

 

The Right Decision?

Tuesday, 12:13am

So here I am – wide awake well over an hour past my bedtime. My mind is reeling, which is most likely the reason I can’t sleep. With just 13 days left before I begin my journey as a Young Adult Volunteer, I should be ecstatic that I have the opportunity to return to my alma mater and work for a department that had such a profound impact on my undergraduate experience. Yet I now find myself more insecure than ever about whether or not I’m making a smart choice by taking a chance with the YAV program. On one hand, I’m very grateful to support students of color through Multicultural Student Programs while simultaneously working to promote cultural competency among others. This is where I spent a great deal of my time as an undergraduate student when I wasn’t in class, at work, or in the dining hall. It only makes sense that I would continue to help provide the same resources that allowed me to comfortably transition from high school to a PWI as a woman of color wanting to learn more about herself and others. On the other hand, flying in a plane for the first time (and by myself)? A small monthly stipend and rules against holding an outside job? Friends and family being disappointed in me because I’m choosing to spend my gap year volunteering instead of getting a real job to save for the impending financial doom that graduate school will be…There are just so many unknowns involved in this process and it hasn’t even officially begun yet. I’m not used to not having answers and relatively detailed future plans mapped out, so this is all very stressful for me. It’s difficult to maintain a positive mindset with all these little anxieties looming over my head. But I’ve already put in a decent amount of work, and did I mention there are only 13 days until the start of the YAV year? I’m not a quitter. I’m also curious about where this year will take me, so I’m sticking with it! Now to try and get some sleep…

P.S. It feels very strange to disclose such personal thoughts and feelings for all of the world wide web to see, but I’m committed to documenting the emotions, insights, and experiences that come with this year-long journey. Welcome to Briana’s world 🌍
~ B