Edwidge Danticat began her remarks in Cleveland by drawing attention to another artist, the painter Jacob Lawrence, whose migration series was on display last year at the Museum of Modern Art. Danticat, who has family in Brooklyn, New York, said she often walked the long rectangular room, soaking in the art as a way to reflect on the massacre at Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charlotte, South Carolina.
“What kept me glued to these dark silhouettes is how beautifully and heartbreakingly Lawrence captured black bodies in motion, in transit, in danger, and in pain,” she said. “The bowed heads of the hungry and the curved backs of mourners helped the Great Migration to gain and keep its momentum, along with the promise of less abject poverty in the North, better educational opportunities, and the right to vote.”
Danticat won a 2005 Anisfield-Wolf Book award for her novel “The Dew Breaker” about political violence in Haiti and the consequences in New York. She returned to Cleveland to speak at Case Western Reserve as part of the Cuyahoga County Library’s Writers Center Stage series.
Case President Barbara Snyder praised both Lisa Nielson and Kaysha Corinealdi, Anisfield-Wolf SAGES scholars at Case, for their work teaching and mentoring on campus. Snyder then turned the lectern over to Corinealdi, who introduced Danticat from the breadth of her own scholarship on the Caribbean diaspora. Read her introduction, below.
Over the years I have had the great joy and honor to read and also share with my students a number of our guest speaker’s works. I can still recall my first readings of Krik? Krak! (1995) and The Dew Breaker (1998) and how with each story I asked myself, who is this Edwidge Danticat? How can she capture in such a nuanced and unflinching fashion the nature of being a young girl in a new country, the voices of ordinary women and men caught in the middle of brutal geopolitical and national events, the daily making of diaspora by exiles and migrants, and the experiences of parents, children and lovers having to make impossible choices and hoping that in time, they will find forgiveness, if not from within, at least from future generations.
I am not ashamed to say that in reading these stories and many of Danticat’s later works, I would find myself both eager and afraid, jubilant and sad, to turn the next page.
Teaching Edwidge Danticat’s work has likewise proven to be an inspirational and humbling experience. Few authors have the skill to elegantly navigate between fiction and non-fiction. Indeed, Danticat is one of a select group of writers to be honored for her work in both genres. It is this ability to illuminate the fictions in history and the historical resonance in fiction that most impresses my students.
Through her intricate story telling and her acute awareness of the histories that live with us, and the histories that at times haunt us, Danticat also dares us to include ourselves, our most vulnerable selves, in writing, living, and remembering history. This semester, in a course inspired by Anisfield-Wolf Book Award winners, my students are reading Danticat’s memoir Brother, I’m Dying (2007). With a mixture of admiration and general curiosity, my students have wondered aloud about Danticat’s own journeys, her experiences with displacement, and her choice to write about love and responsibility in ways that crossed the boundaries of bloodlines and geography.
Today they had the opportunity to share some of these questions and observations with the writer herself, and in watching these exchanges I emerged an even greater fan of tonight’s speaker.
Before I turn over the stage to our speaker I must take the time to note some of her remarkable achievements. Edwidge Danticat is the winner of numerous awards, including the American Book Award (1999), the Anisfield-Wolf Book Prize in Fiction (2005), the National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography (2007), a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant (2009), the Langston Hughes Medal by the City College of New York (2011), the One Caribbean Media Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature (2011), and her latest novel, Claire of the Sea Light, was shortlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction (2014).
In addition to her literary achievements, our speaker has over the years put into practice the notion of activist artists and artists as public intellectuals. In particular she has spoken out against dehumanizing portrayals of Haitians and Haitian Americans in the U.S. media, shed light on the deplorable conditions of U.S. immigration detention centers, urged us to mourn and collectively denounce violence against black bodies in the Americas, and most recently, helped educate the U.S. public about mass deportations and denationalization targeting Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent in the Dominican Republic.
Through her literary and public intellectual and activist work, our speaker gives us much to aspire to as readers, students, scholars, and concerned citizens of the world.
Readers wondering what to pick up this spring can crack any of the six books just awarded the National Book Critics Circle prize – and enjoy a flowering of the mind.
Begin with “Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude,” a poetry collection that leaps from the Bloomington (Indiana) Community Orchard, and, as Ross Gay tells it, “I write these things with my friends, I really do, and some of the truest things about these poems come from their eyes and ears and were discovered by them: Chris and Ruthie and Poppa and Bryce and Simone and on and on and on.”
The 24 poems begin with an ode called “To the Fig Tree on 9th and Christian” and end with “Last Will and Testament.” Gay, an orchardist, suggests that paying keen attention to the garden may yield — from our sorrow — insights to nourish us. He describes placing his father’s gray ashes around the roots of a tree, he sings the praises of buttons and his feet and the humble mulberry tree. This brilliant book, like “Leaves of Grass,” is one to carry outdoors.
Follow this book with “The Argonauts,” Maggie Nelson’s razor-sharp meditation on starting a family with a partner in gender transition. Nelson paid for her in vitro pregnancy with her Guggenheim, and she accompanies her spouse to Florida for his top surgery while spring-breakers party around them – each of these moments sparked by her sweeping command of critical theory. This book could not have existed a mere 20 years ago, and it thrills as it poses old questions about family, freedom and love in a queer context, all in fewer than 200 pages. What could be more spring-like than birth and re-birth?
“If you read ‘The Argonauts’ you’ll know that this book, it literally stands on the shoulders and makes itself come into being on the wild, revolutionary work of so many feminist, queer and anti-racist thinkers, writers, activists and artists,” Nelson told the gathering at the New School in Manhattan. She thanked both these predecessors, “the many-gendered mothers of my heart,” and her actual mother, who was in the audience with her partner, the artist Harry Dodge.
The critic Margo Jefferson followed Nelson onto the stage, beaming over her surprise win in autobiography for “Negroland,” a chronicle of her upbringing in upper-class Chicago in mid-century as the daughter of a doctor and a socialite. She defines her title as “a small region of Negro America where residents were sheltered by a certain amount of privilege and plenty” even as she waved off any misunderstanding that she might be advocating a return to the term “Negro.” Her memoir is meticulous, a work of coiled fury and tinkling ice cubes, thoughts about “Little Women” and the cutthroat rigors of cheerleading. Few books have more to say about class, and none say it with the forensic acuity of Jefferson.
“Mother’s eyebrows settle now,” Jefferson read from “Negroland” last week. “She sits back in the day chair and pauses for effect. I’m about to receive another general instruction in the literacy of race and class: ‘We’re considered upper-class Negros and upper-middle class Americans,’ mother says, ‘but most white people would like to consider us just more Negros.’”
Charlotte Gordon won in biography for one of Western civilization’s most famous mother/daughter pairs: “Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley.” More than a decade in the making, this book beautifully conjures its time, when both women were publically mocked as “whores.” It seats them firmly in the world of ideas and demonstrates a rigorous, primary-source scholarship that refutes any recent grumbling that Shelley perhaps didn’t write “Frankenstein” on her own.
“The women I wrote about were such outlaws,” Gordon told the New York audience. “I wrote this book to bring them into the fold . . . I didn’t feel they had been properly understood for their incredible bravery. Everyone hated them; no one would speak to them . . . I really wanted to honor their courage, their independence and their ferocity.”
In nonfiction, Sam Quinones won for “Dreamland: The True Story of America’s Opiate Epidemic,” another revelatory book many years in the making. It details the unholy confluence of Big Pharma’s goosing of opiate prescription with the explosion of cheap, black-tar heroin. Mexican entrepreneurs deliver it like pizza around small-town America, capitalizing on cell phones. Other innovations: the dealers wouldn’t carry guns or use their own product. Quinones’ reporting in “Dreamland” is jaw-dropping and his topic ringed in urgency.
The novel of the year, according to the book critics, is “The Sellout,” Paul Beatty’s blistering satire of American racism. Boris Kachka in New York Magazine describes it well, a “satirical, centrifugal novel,” starring “a black man — a weed and watermelon dealer — hauled before the Supreme Court for keeping a slave, a surviving Little Rascal named Hominy. The Sellout abounds in slurs and stereotypes re-appropriated in the service of saw-toothed humor.”
None of these books are for the faint-of-heart. But in each of their subversive narratives, a reader can take heart. Spring awaits in Gay’s actual garden, and in Beatty’s demented imagined one near South Central Los Angeles.
The Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards is sponsoring “Good Luck Soup” at this year’s Cleveland International Film Festival. The two screenings are 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 31 and 5 p.m. Saturday, April 2.
Director Matthew Hashiguchi calls “Good Luck Soup” a comedy. Yet this appealing new documentary takes up the forced internment of some 140,000 Japanese Americans and Japanese Canadians during World War II. And Hashiguchi places several generations of his own family in starring roles.
He characterizes the internment camps as “well-documented but seldom discussed.” He uses World War II-era propaganda footage from the National Archives in the film, as well as the photographs of Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange. Some 140 Japanese American families have flocked to the interactive web version of “Good Luck Soup,” often adding private images and documents.
At the center of the movie is Eva Hashiguchi, the director’s grandmother, now 90. Her comic persona enlivens this 72-minute film. It is sobering to learn this woman merrily hunting for Dove bars in the movie trailer spent three formative years—from ages 16-19—incarcerated in Arkansas internment camps. Authorities forced her entire family from their California fruit farm after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor.
“The way my family has dealt with these issues was through laughter, through positivity,” the director said in a telephone interview. “I don’t think they’ve let bigotry or prejudice hold us back. It’s made it possible to not let the past hurt so much. My grandmother, she always looks for the light.”
Nevertheless, Hashiguchi says, he can’t recall a time as a boy growing up in a mostly Irish Catholic neighborhood when he was unaware of the camps. His grandmother spoke about them to his third-grade class at Gesu Elementary School in University Heights, and again to a gathering at Ohio State University. “I grew up with it, but I didn’t realize the gravity of it until later in my life,” he said. “When I was listening to her in Columbus, I think it dawned on me: this was an experience that caused some damage.”
In the 1940s, the Hashiguchi patriarch, Eva’s father, was making regular mortgage payments on his Florin, California acreage when the war in the Pacific started. The next year the Hashiguchis were forced from their strawberries and watermelon fields and sent to “relocation centers” in Jerome and Rohwer, Arkansas.
“Our family farm was taken away,” Eva Hashiguchi tells the camera. “Me, especially, felt California kicked me out, why should I go back and be a tax-paying citizen in California? So I call Ohio my home state.”
After the war ended, Eva and her older sister decided to leave the rural South. “Cleveland was one of the few cities inviting Japanese Americans,” Matthew Hashiguchi said. “There was a cultural committee reaching out, saying, ‘We have jobs; we have space.’”
Eva earned her first paycheck as a maid, but was ill-matched to the work. She righted herself through her knack with small children. “A number of women were hired by Jewish families,” Hashiguchi said. “I think there was a sensitivity within the Jewish community for what Japanese Americans went through.”
The director, 31, grew up with a brother and a sister in Cleveland’s eastern suburbs, regularly playing tennis at Gordon Park through the Nise Tennis Club, founded to bring the post-war Japanese diaspora together. The Hashiguchi children went to Sunday Mass at Gesu alongside their parents, Don, an engineer, and Roslyn, a librarian.
Matthew, who studied photojournalism at Ohio State and earned an MFA in Visual and Media Art from Emerson College, said he resisted making “Good Luck Soup,” which takes its title from a traditional broth made with vegetables, rice cake and seafood. It marks an auspicious start the Japanese New Year.
“This was the story I never wanted to tell or address,” he said. “In 2011, I finally said, this is the one film I have been thinking about for so long. I didn’t want to admit what I’d experienced with bigotry or racism, or to hear it from my family. At times, it was kind of a struggle to get them to talk about it.
“My cousins, my siblings, were more open. My father’s generation was less willing. And my grandmother was taught not to stir the pot, to keep quiet. In their day, who knows what might have happened if they spoke out?”
Subtitled “The American Experience through Asian Eyes,” this documentary tracks the nuanced experiences of multiple generations. Twice, the Anisfield-Wolf jury has honored books about the internment camps: “The Great Betrayal” by Audrie Girdner and Anne Loftis in 1970 and seven years later, “Years of Infamy” by Michi Weglyn.
“I think it was important not to make a one-note film,”’ Hashiguchi said. “I wanted it to have a fluctuation of emotions. And my grandmother is a character. She knows how to work a camera.”
Both Hashiguchis – grandmother and grandson — will answer questions at the two screenings. Tickets are $14 for film festival members, seniors and students; $16 for others. Moviegoers can receive a $2 discount at the box office, online or ordering on the phone, by using the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards code: ANWO.
Spread over the opening pages of Angela Flournoy’s “The Turner House” is a family tree, its branches enumerating the 61 members of the Turner clan, the Detroit family at the heart of her engrossing debut novel. Inspired by her father’s Detroit upbringing and his 12 siblings, Flournoy makes her mark in modern literature with the Turners.
The Turner family home — a mint-green and brick single family structure on Detroit’s fictional Yarrow Street that served as its “sedentary mascot” — has seen 13 children come and go, and many more grandchildren and great-grandchildren walk through its doors. With matriarch Viola in failing health and patriarch Francis long deceased, the question of what to do with the house, its value plummeting, calls the Turner heirs together.
The home is more than just a childhood sanctuary; it’s the place where mysteries reside and secrets linger. Flournoy cuts to the quick, offering the defining mystery of the book in the first sentence: Are there haints (ghosts) in Detroit?
Turner family legend has it that eldest son Charles (nicknamed Cha-Cha) rumbled at midnight with a pale figure emitting a strange blue light. Even when five other Turner siblings corroborate the sighting, Francis Turner firmly insists, “There ain’t no haints in Detroit.” End of discussion. Fifty years later, the reappearance of the pale blue light prompts Cha-Cha to explore his childhood in depth.
Newly available in paperback, “The Turner House” made a splashy 2015 debut as a finalist for the National Book Award, the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction and an NAACP Image Award. The skillful storytelling and realistic sense of history and place combine into an elegant and heartwarming narrative. The novel traffics in science-fiction, romance and historical fiction, but at its heart it’s a page-turner.
You don’t have to be a Detroiter to smell the Midwestern air, to see the crumbling neighborhoods, to feel the residential pride and worry as you flip the pages. After the youngest child, Lelah (now in her early 40s and newly evicted) seeks refuge in the empty Turner home, a neighbor comes over to check on the place, telling her of a recent squatter nearby: “Up in there like he paid rent, just living the life of Riley. Eatin her food and makin long-distance calls.”
Like most African-American families of the period, this story has its origins in the Great Migration, as Francis leaves Arkansas (and his new wife and son) to build a new life in the bright promise of Detroit and to send for his family after he gets settled. Stability proves hard to come by, however, and the reader is left wondering how Francis and Viola possibly reunite. Once they do (and eventually fill their hard-earned home with one child after another), it’s clear that the house means more to them than any mortgage deed could say.
The novel feels familiar to anyone with a sibling or two — the playful squabbles, the family meetings, the jockeying to be a parent’s favorite. There are very few missteps here, but a few siblings are barely present. Most of the story focuses on Cha-Cha and Lelah, the bookends of the Turner line. And a couple of outsider characters do prevent reader claustrophobia.
Flournoy told the National Book Foundation that she wanted to present both sides of life in Detroit — the well-documented struggles and the lesser-known cultural traditions that keep Detroiters smiling.
Numerous readers are likely to join in.
Join us for the world premiere of “Good Luck Soup,” a 72-minute documentary on the experiences of Cleveland’s Hashiguchi family before, during and after internment in the U.S. camps of World War II. The Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards is sponsoring the film at this year’s Cleveland International Film Festival.
Matthew Hashiguchi focuses on his grandmother, the 90-year-old matriarch Eva Hashiguchi, to explore the stories of three generations, weaving interviews, historical footage and personal mementos into a chronicle of Asian American Midwestern lives. In production for five years, the documentary is a labor of love for Hashiguchi, who served as director, editor, producer and cinematographer on the project.
“This is the place I really wanted to show it,” said Hashiguchi, 31, an assistant professor of Multimedia Film and Production at Georgia Southern University. “It was a relief when they called me from CIFF. Cleveland is a character in the documentary.”
Both Hashiguchis – grandmother and grandson — will answer questions at the two screenings: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 31 and 5 p.m. Saturday, April 2. Other members of the clan plan to attend.
Tickets are $14 for film festival members, seniors and students; $16 for others. Moviegoers can receive a $2 discount at the box office, online or ordering on the phone, by using the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards code: ANWO.
Pat Conroy, the Southern novelist and storyteller, was buried from St. Peter Catholic Church in Beaufort, S.C., surrounded by almost 1,200 mourners. Friends carried his unadorned casket into the sanctuary as a soloist sang “The Water is Wide,” which is also the title of the memoir that won him a 1973 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award.
It sprang from his year teaching in a two-room schoolhouse on Duafuskie Island, off the South Carolina coast. Conroy’s students spoke Gullah, a local dialect, and had little experience beyond their isolated, impoverished home. The writer said his unorthodox approach to teaching – including a refusal to use corporal punishment – led the superintendent to fire him after a single year. “The Water is Wide” grew from Conroy’s frustration with the racism and poverty he witnessed.
He intended to self-publish, but after a friend urged him to send his manuscript to the New York agent Julian Bach, Conroy got a phone call saying Houghton Mifflin was offering $7,500 for the book. According to the New York Times, the writer was unfamiliar with the concept of a publisher’s advance and replied that he could probably get the book printed more cheaply in Beaufort. “Pat, you do understand, they pay you,” Bach is quoted as responding.
“The Water is Wide” became a 1974 film starring Jon Voight, retitled “Conrack,” the first of four Conroy novels converted to movies. The best known are “The Great Santini,” a portrait of a sadistic father and fighter pilot, and “The Prince of Tides,” which cemented his fame.
When he died of pancreatic cancer March 4, 2016, Conroy was 70, the definitive chronicler of the South Carolina Lowcountry. He had sold more than 20 million copies of his books.
Their largely autobiographic content often distressed his family, as it did the administration of The Citadel, the military school that was Conroy’s alma mater and another rich source of his fiction. But the novelist and the school reconciled, and Conroy gave the commencement speech in 2001. He invited the graduates to attend his funeral and 30 did so. Here is what Conroy said:
“Usually I tell graduation classes I want them to think of me on their 40th birthday, but I’ve got something else I want to do for y’all, because I’m so moved at what you’ve done for me. I’d like to invite each one of you in the Class of 2001 to my funeral. I mean that. I will not be having a good day that day but I have told my wife and my heirs that I want the Class of 2001 to have an honored place whenever my funeral takes place, and I hope as many of you will come as you possibly can.
Because I want you to know how swift time is. There is nothing as swift, nothing. I’m going to tell you how to get in my funeral. You walk up toward them, you find the usher waiting outside. You put up your Citadel ring. Let them check for the 2001. And each one of you, I want you to say this before you enter the church at which I’m going to be buried. You tell them: ‘I wear the ring.’”
Of the five prompts for the 2016 Martin Luther King essay contest, Case Western Reserve University senior Shadi Admadmehrabi selected the following quote as her guide: “According to your own ability and personality, do not be afraid to experiment with new and creative techniques for achieving reconciliation and social change.”
Ahmadmehrabi’s reflection on solving inequities in the community surrounding the CWRU campus earned her a nod as a finalist in this year’s contest. Read her essay in full below and leave a comment if you are so inclined:
by Shadi Ahmadmehrabi
What does it mean to be a student in Cleveland? What is our role as a community member outside of just going to class and back? How do we understand our neighbors and the fact that the life expectancy of the average person drops 20 years just 3 miles from campus?
I do not know the answers to these questions, but I have begun to understand my role as a student in Cleveland in the last few months of my time here. In the Spring of 2014, I, along with other members of the Muslim Student Association, started the Case Western Reserve University chapter of Food Recovery Network. Our mission is to fight waste and feed people by recovering the surplus food from campus and donating it to the community. We work with Bon Appetit and several other businesses in the area to donate their unsold excess food that would otherwise be simply thrown away, ensuring that the food we donate is treated with the same care and quality control as food we would serve to our own families. In the past year, we have donated over 7,300 pounds of food.
Every Saturday, we deliver the recovered food from campus to St. Matthew’s United Methodist Hope Soup Kitchen. We stay at St. Matthew’s for three or four hours to help prepare and serve a warm meal using ingredients from the Cleveland Food Bank. The community members who come to St. Matthew’s receive a warm meal onsite and take home the food we brought from campus, providing a few meals for the week.
In the kitchen, I have learned how to cook lasagna for a hundred people and use an industrial can opener. But most importantly, the conversations I have had in that kitchen have taught me about myself, my community, and my sense of place in Cleveland.
The first time I was in the kitchen at St. Matthew’s, I talked with Stephen, the kitchen cook and self-proclaimed professional taste tester, about Lebron James’s return to Cleveland. Since then, I have talked with him and other members of the church about how more money is spent on surgical procedures for hair loss worldwide than malaria research, how our religions are much more similar than different, the history of Hough Street, and most importantly, how to get other students to have these conversations. St. Matthew’s, just two miles from campus, is where I have truly received an education.
I have taken classes on urban planning, how big corporations affect our society, research ethics, and religion. When I took those classes, I arrogantly felt like I understood the problems I wrote papers on. It was not until I put myself in my community, in an uncomfortable place, in front of someone whose life experiences were vastly different than mine that I could contextualize what I learned in class.
In classrooms, we read books by academics to learn about the problems playing out in our own neighborhood. We write eight-page papers reflecting, abstractly, on the macroscopic forces which have led to the pressing issues of our time. We travel hundreds of miles to volunteer for a week in a developing nation. We distance ourselves from problems like hunger, which we perceive as a starving child in a country far away, when we can see it a block from campus. In our focus on studies and on being impressive, we neglect the opportunity for a type of education unattainable in the classroom. We prioritize our studies and resume padding over using the incredible opportunities and ability we have on campus to achieve change.
Starting Food Recovery Network has been my personal way of doing what I can, given my abilities, to try to bring about an equilibrium between the vast excess of resources on our campus and the need in our community. But I am not a savior. No one is. Food Recovery Network helped me find purpose in my role as a student in my community, allowed me to practice my values, and empowered me as an underrepresented minority in leadership. In this regard, the value of giving back to my community is not just in benefiting others but also benefiting myself. It is impossible to distinguish service as purely altruistic because of this self-reward.
My community is full of assets and hardworking people and I have been privileged enough to find my space within that. If I did not have a car, disposable income, and free time, I would not have been able to start this organization. I have been careful as a leader of a service group on campus to make sure other student volunteers also view this opportunity as a privilege. It is a privilege to be able to serve our community. If it were not for the resources we have on campus including USG funding, administrative support, and the benevolent donors we work with, we would not be able to do what we do. Without our neighbors at St. Matthew’s opening up their arms and hearts for us to come to their home every week, we would not be able to do what we do. The first part of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s quote, “…according to your own ability,” is a reminder that we all have some ability and capacity to serve. Some people have more ability, and thus more responsibility, to serve.
I hesitate to call Food Recovery Network a “new and creative” technique. It should be common sense to use our resources to help our neighbors. If Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s wisdom were being followed, every restaurant owner around the country would already be thinking about how they can alleviate hunger instead of contributing to landfills.
But we as a society have created an environment where doing the easiest thing to take care of our individual needs is prioritized above all else; this prevents us from acting on our abilities to help alleviate the problems which this very environment has produced. We are indeed, despite Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s wisdom, afraid to experiment with new and creative techniques for achieving social change. In fact, sometimes effective social change can be made with really simple ideas that have been overlooked because the people they help have been ignored.
However, as I have also learned from my time at St. Matthew’s, achieving change is not just in showing up and doing the work. Nor is it in starting yet another service organization on campus. Through time, patience, and acceptance, we have to develop the right mindset of truly wanting the best for each other and believing that we all deserve the best. There is nothing that justifies my having the opportunity to eat in a college cafeteria with endless food at my disposal and someone from my community living in a food insecure household. Developing the mindset of genuinely wanting the best opportunities for everyone allows us to see creative techniques of bringing about change. By listening to the needs of those around us, we can make connections between our abilities and opportunities to serve.
At St. Matthew’s, the moments where I have felt most proactive were not in securing 500 meal donations but in simply seeing a need and fulfilling it without being asked. One weekend at St. Matthew’s, I was talking with the afterschool program director, Linda, who told me about her difficulties with managing 40 kids on her own. I reached out to a fraternity on campus looking for service opportunities and connected them with Linda. When a volunteer noticed that the church was running low on plastic bags, I asked my friends for their collections. When a CWRU medical student joined Food Recovery Network, we set up brief presentations on diet related health problems and health screenings at St. Matthew’s.
These acts were not particularly courageous or laborious but they helped my community in some small way. I would not have seen these opportunities if I was not at St. Matthew’s every weekend. If we just dropped off food to feed nameless people at a soup kitchen then drove back to campus, patting ourselves on the back the whole way, I never would have had those conversations with Stephen or Linda. I never would have seen how Food Recovery Network could expand from just recovering food to providing tutors and health access in my community.
If we broke down the artificial barriers we perceive between people in our community, we could all see these connections waiting to be made. If we developed the right mindset of truly wanting the best for ourselves and our neighbors, we could empower ourselves to use our abilities to enact change. Then, developing these new and creative techniques to achieve social change would not be so new and creative after all— they would be the norm.
Shadi Ahmadmehrabi is a senior Polymers Engineering student at Case Western Reserve University. She will be attending Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine after graduation and hopes to advocate for minority access to healthcare as a physician. In her free time, Shadi enjoys biking, reading, and cooking.