Dear Friend/Family of a BayUPer,
Thanks so much for partnering with your friend as they participated in BayUP this summer.
I wanted to offer some suggestions to you to help your friend transition back to their lives at home and school. You may be surprised to know that the transition home is often harder than the transition to the new culture of the city. This is because students often come back and have trouble communicating what they learned and experienced. Sometimes they have a hard time finding people to listen to their stories. Sometimes they are overwhelmed by the relative material wealth they return to their lives compared to the poverty that they saw in the middle of Oakland.
As their friend, it is good for you to be aware that the transition home can at times be difficult. This can help you set appropriate expectations for your friendship in the first few months after they have returned home. And there are some ways that you can help your friend make the transition back home:
Talk to your friend before they return. What would they like their first week to be like when they get home (they may not know for sure, but talking about it doesn’t hurt!).
If you are picking them up from the project, remember that they are coming off of an intense summer emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually. THEY ARE TIRED. They may not be up for an immediate welcome home party, or all the relatives to descend on the house, or dinner out. Most likely they will want a shower and some sleep. Ask them what they would prefer. They will appreciate your warm welcome.
If you are not meeting them at the airport or picking them up, a card waiting for them at home or a phone call the day after their return is a great way to let them know you are glad they are home.
The thing your friend will most need from you is your listening ear! They want to tell the story of their summer, but often find it hard to know where to begin. The question “How was your summer?” can be hard to answer because it is such a broad question. Asking LOTS of specific questions is the best way to find out what the summer was like. Here are some examples:
What was a typical day like?
What was your favorite thing about your summer experience?
What was the hardest thing about your summer experience?
What was the thing that was most interesting to you about the culture you were in?
What is different about how people relate to each other here compared to the culture you were in this summer?
What was the funniest or most embarrassing thing that happened to you.
What was the food like? What did you enjoy? Dislike?
What was your team like? Who were the people you were closest too?
How were your expectations about your summer met or not met?
What did you learn about yourself? About others? About God?
What are some ways you want to apply what you learned now that you are home?
How does it feel to be home? What did you most miss about home?
What do you miss about your summer culture now that you are home?
You don’t have to ask all these questions at once! Consider having a couple of extended times (at least) with your friend where you ask questions about the summer. Maybe once shortly after their return, then again when the pictures are developed (if they are not already on a digital camera!)
Periodically ask how they are thinking and feeling about their summer and how they are applying what they have learned throughout the fall semester.
Some other fun things you could consider:
If your friend learned to prepare any traditional food from their summer culture, have a night where they make dinner (or at least one dish!) for you.
Look through whatever souvenirs your friend returned with and ask questions about them: were they given as a gift? by whom? what was that relationship like? If it wasn’t’ a gift, what prompted them to buy this particular souvenir?
Invite other friends of yours and your BAyUP friend to hear about the summer. Consider hosting a little dessert and let your friend tell his or her story and show some pictures to a group of people.
It is ok to remind your friend that you had a summer too! Life in your world did not stop just because they were on a summer project. Tell them about your summer . . .
Your friend may seem weird or respond to situations differently than they did before they left. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the changes you notice. Let them know you want to care for them while at the same time giving them the freedom to change and grow.
Help them to re-engage with their friends on campus and their responsibilities in classes and with InterVarsity by helping them brainstorm ways to integrate their summer experience into what they are doing now.
Most of all, continue to pray for and with your friend. Encourage them to take time for reflection and to be with Jesus.
The most important thing is just to be patient and ask a lot of questions. Returning home is often as much a part of the growth process as the summer at BAyUP. I believe the Lord is using all of these experiences to make your friend more like Him. Thanks again for blessing your BAyUP friend with your prayers, support and encouragement. May you also be blessed.
Visitor’s Day is this Saturday! We will have an Open House Program Night at 7pm at Regneration Church E. 15th Ave Oakland CA.
I started working at my site, Freedom School, about two weeks ago, and I love it. Freedom School is a literacy program for African American youth. I absolutely love the program and what it represents because it takes African American kids and surrounds them with peers and teachers who look like them ( which is something some of them may never see outside of this school) and encourages them to respect themselves, their ethnicity, and education. As a black woman, I truly appreciate encouraging the next generation to love themselves the way God made them and to encourage them to be different from what society portrays and what society expects.
At freedom school I help with a class of 8 and 9 year old boys, and it’s not easy. This is a class of all boys, I am the only girl, and it is one of the toughest classes in the school, behaviorally. It has been quite a challenge physically, emotionally and spiritually because every day I cry out to God. Why? Why are they so violent? Why don’t they listen or respect me? And why do they constantly put each other down by bullying and stealing from one another? This is hard to be part of because these boys are going to be Americas next black men, and I don’t want them to be the statistic of men who either end up in jail or dead.
On our lasts program day, we talked about the prisons system, and I already knew that black men flood the prisons but a new piece of information for me was that they judge the number of prisons beds needed based on the reading level of black and brown, third and fourth grade boys. Not only is this disgusting because they are planning on my boys and my people in general to fail, but I am hurting because I know some of my boys have low reading levels, and I don’t want them to have a bed in San Quentin. They need a bed in UC Berkeley, Stanford, and Princeton. Every day I go to school, I am chasing kids, chastising them, playing with them, laughing with them, and loving them because I care about them and their future. I have learned at Freedom School that we are a community and if one person fails, we all fail, and I don’t fail.
I feel truly blessed to be working at this site. I consider it the best site. It is definitely the best for me because as I teach these boys to read and love themselves and others. I am also learning about my heritage and how important it is for me to own my ethnicity as an African American woman because although I have grown up and identified as a black American, Africa is part of me and because of Freedom School, I am inspired to explore my African culture after BayUP.
Every day is a challenge but every day I see Jesus whether it is when we go around and tell a student who feels the world hates him that we all love him and give him a reason why, or when a student reads out loud to me, or when I see them having fun learning at different museum. When I see this, my heart smiles. Thank you Jesus.
The first week of Bay UP is complete and we have begun working at our sites. Orientation was quite the experience in itself, and I can see already that this summer is going to be full of lessons to be learned and experiences to be had. In just a week I have bonded with many different people in my Bay UP team and the whole Bay UP crew which includes many different schools such as Mills College and UC Santa Cruz. As I spoke and connected to these people, we all laughed and chatted about how grateful we were for the opportunity God has given us to serve this summer.
There was too much in orientation for me to explain but there were a couple days that really changed the way I see Oakland and people of different ethnicities.
The first day of orientation we dove right into Bay UP by being split into teams to go to areas of Oakland and ask residents “What does Oakland mean to you”? My group walked around Lake Merritt and although we were instructed to talk to multiple people, we ran into Bill, and Bill had a lot to say. We talked to Bill for around forty-five minutes. Bill was angry, and I think he was just waiting for someone to ask him about Oakland so he could explode.
He said, despite Lake Merritt’s beauty and the wealth that surrounds it, Oakland is dysfunctional. Lake Merritt deceives many, especially me, because the lake is simply gorgeous by itself (the perfect tourist attraction) and the buildings around it scream wealth but two or even one block back is full of “dysfunction” with poverty, violence and police neglect. Bill explained that he has called the police many times to ask that they tow cars sitting in his neighborhood for months but the police take weeks to respond to him.
Bill was so furious with OPD he went as far to say, a woman victim of rape would have a better chance of getting help if she called the local pizza parlor than if she called the police. This sickened me because if the city of Oakland can’t rely on their law enforcement to promote peace and keep order in the city, who can they count on? The sad stories of Oakland that have come to stereotype Oakland as a “dangerous place” are not going to cease if OPD can’t at least show the residents they are there to protect them and help the city. The conversation saddened me, but I left with the hope that this summer, I will have a hand in fixing some of the dysfunction with God and my team all working in this journey to make a difference in the lives we contact.
Race day was impactful as we ran around San Francisco and Oakland listening to and observing some of the challenges that minorities go through in this country. We went to Chinatown in San Francisco, 67 Suenos, an organization that informs about immigrants and helps immigrants, the intertribal friendship house of Native American tribes, and E-legal tag-team came and delivered rap and spoken word to represent a portion of the black community.
This day had the biggest impact on me because I have never been to Chinatown and while we were there, we visited the SRO’s (single room occupancy). These were incredibly small apartments ( 10 X10) that approximately three people live in and with three hundred people living in the building, they all share a few kitchens and bathrooms. I was speechless with I saw these because honestly, I had the wrong stereotype that Asian Americans were wealthier than other minorities but God broke that stereotype, and I realized we are all struggling to achieve the “American Dream” and it is wrong for me to make up their life without ever trying to understand it completely. I was shocked by the living conditions and my own previous stereotypes. By stepping into the SRO’s, I realized I was a person of privilege and I should not take what I have for granted and I was astonished that we allow people to pay $425 for a living space that is smaller than many people’s bedrooms. This is not the way it is supposed to be but I saw God move when a man living in the SRO ( with son and wife) cheerfully allowed each of us to walk in one by one and observe his home, he was not embarrassed because he is doing what he can for his family. This softened my heart but makes me ready and hungry to make a change so people don’t have to live in those positions.
Jesus did not stop pushing back my stereotypes because when we went to 67 Suenos, my preconceptions of immigrants were challenged. I was teary eyed when I heard the stories of real people depicted on the mural. They are all immigrants with dreams determined to make it in this world but are constantly being presented with the hurt of “illegal immigration”. The mural read, “No human being is illegal,” this bold statement made me stop and think of how hard it must be for my Latino brothers and sisters to hear their family being referred to as illegal. Many people come to this country as immigrants, including those who founded it, and it’s disgusting that I got caught up thinking of immigration as simply policy and not hearing the people. This experience forced me to mold my views on immigration to healthier thought s.
Lastly, E-legal tag team with poetry, spoken word and rap hit my heart because spoken word and poetry are a big part of my life as I walk with God through each struggle. I was inspired by their boldness to step out in Jesus name and preach through rap and mentor children by connecting to the black community in a way that is familiar but often hurtful. They changed the hurtful part of rap in the black community to something beautiful to worship God. These are my people who also share my talents. I was glad to take part in this experience.
Orientation, in one short word was supercalifragilisticexpialidocious! I loved minute of it, the people, the places and experiences, but I have to remember that orientation was just the beginning and I have to just stay prayed up and buckle my seatbelt because Bay UP is going to be quite the ride! Let’s Get It!!
We have been in Oakland for just about a week now. It has been a week full of challenges, excitement, and new experiences. I am thrilled to say that the entire BayUP team has bonded quickly as the Holy Spirit is bringing us together with clear vision to love and serve Oakland this summer. As a staff, it has been most joyful to see students take risks to be in uncomfortable situations and learn what God has for them.
We spent a day in the shoes of the working poor. Often when society thinks about the poor in the United States we think just of homeless people. However, we spent much of our day thinking about the working poor, those who are trying to make it day to day in often tedious and laborious jobs where they are the invisible.
Students were assigned to different groups. Some of us were day laborers, some of us custodians at schools, some of us housekeepers or contractors. We worked from 8 to 5 and were paid the little amount the most of these individuals receive after a long day of work. At the end of the day, each student had a profile telling them how many kids they had, if they were single parents, and the expense that they had to pay such as day care, health, among other bills. We hoped this experience even thought the numbers were arbitrary would illustrate just how quickly the money goes leaving it impossible to save let alone care for your family in a sustainable healthy way. Some students had to go to the “emergency room” because they couldn’t afford health insurance and their child was burning up with a fever. Student then had to pay for dinner, shower, and rent to stay in the church that night. After paying all the mandatory expenses many students were left with no choice but to sleep outside.
My assignment was to be a custodian at two schools. We spent our time cleaning and scrubbing countertops, organizing classrooms, and disinfecting chairs and desks after having to lift them and move them. After several hours of spraying the strong disinfectant, I noticed my lungs started to burn and wondered how custodians deal with the chemicals for long hours every day. People were very welcoming to us, but as we reflected as a team we realized that this is probably not the experience for most people who do this kind of work. The custodian, a young woman of 24, explained what she normally does on a daily basis, and while she was grateful for our help, she expressed how we barely hit the surface of the work she does daily. When I asked her how long she had been working at the school she said since she was 19. Overall, she said she enjoyed the kids, but was often tired. She said, I work so hard so that my daughter can have a better future. You do your best to raise them up right, but there are so many influences outside that door, like prostitution. If I had a son I would be even more worried, with the drugs and all. I was grateful, that she shared a little bit with us and even though we were their scrubbing counters, I was still very aware that this was not a permanent thing for me, but it was for the beautiful young women in front of me. Please pray for me as I wrestle with this tension being a privileged person learning to empathize with the poor in the inner city.
This week has been very impactful for me and the students participating in BayUP. I am so excited to share with you all that we have been learning. We start at our work site this week. So please pray for us as we start at Covenant House and Freedom School.
Hello Family and Friends,
We are leaving for Oakland very soon. I will be gone friday and students will arrive monday. For the next six weeks we will be living and serving in Oakland. We will use our miminal internet time this summer to update you on our time in Oakland. We hope this will be a place to express what we are learning as well a share joys and challenges with you.
The team consists of five people. Sarah, Christiana, Mike V., Michael A., and Micah. Please be praying for us as we are away this summer. We hope you enjoy reading!
Blessings to you all!
Sarah and the BayUP team