Scholar Post: By Shantell Johnson
Of all my direct service experiences during my period as Michigan Service Scholar, the Alternative Break I co-site led to New Orleans was hands-down the most fulfilling. We served with the St. Bernard Project working on final home restoration projects. The house we assisted with was in dilapidated post Hurricane Katrina shape. Sure, our strong direct service was stimulating and enriching but nothing compared to the community that welcomed us.
What we experienced in NOLA was a buzzing atmosphere of life, optimism and beauty. I have struggled my entire life to feel a sense of attachment to my community; a struggle I hadn’t conceptualized until walking through the lower ninth ward of NOLA. So many people I encounter in my life as a Michigander disasterize their everyday lives and fuel their insecurities through comparing themselves to everyone else. Down in NOLA, the outlook on life is different. It is organic and fresh; promotion of individuality is central. This eclectic melting pot electrified something in me that had since become jaded and hardened. I had become cynical to the daily worshiping of celebrities and other physical forms of beauty, bitter to the hollow personalities of many college students, and discouraged over the lack of global-minded morals.
Our site supervisor, Ryan Bowen, an AmeriCorps intern for the St. Bernard Project, made our experience unforgettable. Ryan’s guidance and passion for serving NOLA definitely lit a visceral fire for the community deep in the souls of all twelve of us. This sense of community in NOLA is what transcended this little week into the bigger, global, picture for me. Ryan skillfully weaved in key components of AmeriCorps and Alternative Breaks mission statements into each and every activity and conversation that transpired. This altering of life values, and subsequent teaching/investing/transmitting them to others, I believe, is indicative of true personal growth and commitment to the lifestyle of being an active citizen. And for that transmission, I will forever be grateful.
What my experience as AmeriCorps Michigan Service Scholar did was give me an avenue to this city of lush life. But this Alternative Break literally revitalized my outlook on the world. My optimistic pulse has since strengthened. I am confident that I can enter the world of graduate academia with a global lens and attempt to polish others’ through my stories. I fell in love with the area and the family I gained through this process, but more notably, I finally started to fall in love with myself and this new person I am becoming.