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- SiD Fall 2020 Goes Virtual (Join the club!)
- Alumni Perspective: Ali Elatrache
- Reflections on Voter Outreach with Frontline Detroit
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Welcome to my Semester in Detroit journal! When I started SiD, I already had a feeling it was going to be a special experience. It was a feeling I got by going to some Detroiters Speak sessions, attending SiD.10 (Semester in Detroit’s 10th Anniversary weekend), and hearing alumni speak about their experiences and feeling second hand nostalgia (if that’s a thing). I think a lot of times I overestimate how great things are going to be, but SiD was definitely not one of them. My SiD experience was everything I wanted, and everything I didn’t know that I wanted. Therefore I’m quite proud of myself for managing to keep up a journal throughout the spring/summer, because I experience my own nostalgia now looking at the pages. It’s now a memory book filled with notes from class, notes from my internship with 482Forward, reflections, grocery lists, to-do lists, and a miscellaneous assortment of doodles and scribbles. But this learning didn’t just happen in classes, it was at 482Forward meetings headed by youth, field trips graciously led by community leaders, and events highlighting racial injustices and the people who were fighting against them. I still reference my notes from this journal for class, as so much of it is still very relevant. Looking back on the pages now, I realize just how much I was learning through my experience, and how fortunate I was to learn through such memorable in-person interactions. Moreover, keeping the journal helped me to make connections amongst all of the diversity that I witnessed. I think that was truly one of the biggest takeaways from my SiD experience: everything and everyone is connected.
One of the first events I went to was seeing adrienne maree brown--a prominent Detroit-based activist, writer, doula, amongst other titles--speak at the Detroit Public Library to talk about Pleasure Activism, what was at the time her newest book. I remember writing furiously trying to capture all of her wise words and witticisms, which I got some of them. But there is no way I captured the way that her words touched me. I was so struck by the way that she effortlessly connected pleasure and activism, things that I had previously thought were mutually exclusive. I feel so lucky to have been introduced to adrienne’s wisdom so early on because I carry the mindset of making community organizing and movement building a pleasurable and joyful experience rather than a job where you work yourself to the bone.
This same day, I mapped out the connections I started to see emerge. In the morning, before I saw adrienne speak, I had gone to the First Universalist Unitarian service to hear Siwatu-Salama Ra--a racial justice and environmental organizer--speak about her experience. Little did I know, I would be seeing her at the Detroit Public Library. I was so struck by this moment where she walked in, and how adrienne celebrated her entrance by stopping what she was talking about and greeting her. So I decided to map out the connections I was seeing already within my first month.
And below, a to do list of internship and class work in addition to a grocery list and a sorrowful attempt at meal planning after living off dining halls for a year. I got better at it though!
I came into my internship with 482Forward excited to understand more about education organizing and the issues students face in their schools. However, I was not expecting how personal and emotional it was going to be. I think I was expecting a more rigid internship with the boundary between intern and formal staff was wide, but everyone that I met at 482 were so open to sharing their experiences that I feel I got a deeper understanding of education injustice than I ever would have from a purely academic standpoint. One of the pages is from the spring conference where I sat in on a workshop led by some of the Muslim students a part of 482Youth explaining what Islam is and how they have been misunderstood by their schools.
Another page is from a meeting that was to generate ideas on how to understand the School to Prison Pipeline and dismantle it. In both of these instances, folks shared where in their personal lives they experienced these very large issues. I think having this kind of personal understanding of an issue is so important because their voices are the most important to consider when we write about these problems in papers or read about them.
I took the Grassroots Organizing for Environmental Justice class with Diana Seales for my elective course. Getting to take this course With Diana was so amazing because she is a grassroots environmental organizer herself, so getting to hear her first hand experience was so valuable. She also provided Indigenous knowledge frameworks for the class, which I really enjoyed. As I have written, “claiming something as ‘non-biased’ rejects other forms of knowledge,” which is a lesson I have carried with me since then. So much so that I have continued to study Indigneous ways of knowing and declared American Culture as my major as a commitment to always seeking alternative ways of knowing.